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Wednesdays with Wade: Disneyland's First Tinker Bells

Wednesdays with Wade: Disneyland's First Tinker Bells

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With the announcement that Tinker Bell will be making a new flight path around Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland as part of "The Happiest Celebration on Earth," I thought I would dig through my files to find information about the three early Tinker Bells who created the tradition beginning with the first flight in the Summer of 1961.

That first Tinker bell was Tiny Kline. Tiny Kline came to America as a Hungarian immigrant at the age of fourteen as part of a dance troupe. Upon arriving in America, she lived in the Clara de Hirsch Home, a boarding house and industrial school in New York City for Jewish immigrant working girls. It was a place where young women could learn proper conduct in preparation for becoming domestic servants or needle workers.

Kline rejected that life to become a well-known and popular burlesque dancer. She also worked off-Broadway in theater productions and caught the attention of a well-known Wild West trick rider whom she married shortly thereafter. Five weeks after the wedding, he fell off of his horse and died, leaving Kline to begin her own career in the circus.

Starting at the bottom as a virtually nude, painted "statue girl," she worked her way up to "Roman rider" which meant she stood atop a charging steed in the chariot races at the end of the show and eventually became the queen of the aerial iron jaw act. That act became her trademark when she performed for Ringling Brothers.

Kline, at age 70, became the very first Tinker bell at Disneyland. Suspended 146 feet up in the air, she glided down a long wire from the Matterhorn to Sleeping Beauty's castle to signal the beginning of the fireworks.

Kline kept a diary and reportedly circus historian Professor Janet Davis is annotating it for future publication by the University of Illinois Press. The working title is "The Tiny Kline Papers: From Titillation to Tinker Bell".

Kline performed for the next three summers but in 1964, health problems required her to hand over the wand (and harness) to nineteen-year old French circus acrobat Mimi Zerbini. Zerbini was also a circus family veteran but only performed as Tinker Bell for that one summer.

In 1965, Judy Kaye began a career of more than a decade of flying across the night sky at Disneyland. Kaye stood five foot, one and seven-eighth inches tall. She was born into a circus family and paid her first visit to a circus arena when she was barely three weeks old.

She became an aerialist "since I was old enough to walk...Balance and natural strength have always been easy for me-I guess I'm half monkey!" Judy announced in 1977.

Her father, Terrell Jacobs, worked with lions and tigers for the Ringling Brothers Circus. Her mother, Dolly, was a dancer and an aerialist who eventually became grounded due to a series of falls and eventually turned to working with animals as well.

When Walt Disney began making films featuring live animals, many of the animal stars were owned and trained by Judy's mother. Walt even included the animals in the old Disneyland Mouseketeer Circus (that only ran from November 1955 to January 1956).

Judy remembers that in those days they had a young Indian elephant owned by her mom. Walt walked up to the baby pachyderm and exclaimed: "That's Dumbo!" Judy's mom corrected Walt, "But her name's Dolly." "From now on," proclaimed Walt, "she's Dumbo."

Years later, "Dumbo" became part of Judy's circus act as well as a personal pet. "My first love is Dumbo-but my second is Disneyland," stated Judy in 1977, "I love doing Tink because of the flying. I'm partially a ham anyway. I enjoy my work...I wouldn't otherwise do it. In show business I can put froth what I've been observing and learning all my life. I like satisfying people. Show people stay young-Tiny Kline was a classic example of that."

When not performing as Tinker Bell, Judy still trained and worked with animals as well as designing and making circus costumes. Her husband, Paul V. Kaye, had his own circus that toured internationally.

Judy and her husband also were co-partners in a talent agency and booked some of the talent that toured the U.S. and Europe as part of the "Disney On Parade" show.

A mid-Seventies issue of the cast member magazine "Backstage" described Judy's night routine as Tinker Bell. (Remember that at the highest point, she is on a wire about 150 feet in the air while most high wire acts in the circus are done no more than 50 feet above the ground.):

"Shortly before 9 p.m. each night during the summer, Judy steps through the doors of the Entertainment Office above America Sings, dressed in her street clothes, with her long dark hair tucked neatly up on top of her head. She's whisked into a nearby office with a Wardrobe Hostess and minutes later Tink herself emerges, ready for another flight.

A scarf securely covering her blond curls and a coat tossed over her sparkling costume, she moves discreetly through the crowds with the launching half of her crew out to the Matterhorn. Deftly reaching the top via a series of stairs, elevators, more stairs and ladders. Tink and her team now begin the crucial pre-flight preparation.

She's helped into her harness (a bulky contraption somewhat resembling a parachute set-up), her wings are attached, she's hooked up to the cable, the wire is given a last-minute test, the launcher takes her by the ankles and positions her for the impending take-off, and they wait for the go-signal.

In the meantime, three other team members are waiting high atop the catching tower behind the Fantasyland break area, ready for Tink's arrival.

And all this time, the Main Street Electrical Parade is winding its way through the Park. Once the last float has disappeared, guests are alerted by the 'Voice of Disneyland' to look into the skies over Sleeping Beauty's Castle where Tinker Bell will soon light the night with Fantasy in the Sky.

Back up on the mountain, another recorded click-track tape counts off the moments remaining before take-off. 'Tinker Bell, you have 45 seconds....35 seconds...25 seconds...15 seconds...10 seconds...5-4-3-2-1-Go Tinker Bell!' And down on the ground, thousands of eyes gaze up to see the glittering pixie breeze gracefully through the dark skies, turning on fiery color with the mere touch of her magic wand.

Approximately 30 seconds from the time she leaves the mountain top, she 'lands' at the tower, sometimes coming in easily, sometimes rapidly and packing a real whollop, depending on a number of factors such as weather and speed of flight. At this end, the other half of her crew 'catches' her in a large, padded body mitt, calls the mountain to let them know she made it and how, unhooks her from the cable, de-wings her, and she's down and off in a waiting van, back to the Entertainment Office where she becomes Judy Kaye once again."

And while we are talking about Tinker Bell, let's not forget that coming out this year is a much anticipated book entitled "Tink Talks: The Secrets Behind the Wings" by Margaret Kerry from Ape Pen Publishing. Margaret was the live action reference model for Tinker Bell for the Disney animated feature but her career is much richer than just that credit.

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