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Wednesdays with Wade: Disneyland's Forgotten Founding Fathers

Wednesdays with Wade: Disneyland's Forgotten Founding Fathers

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"I've known people who say they designed Disneyland. But I know. I was there. It was Walt. People say how much they did on it ... But they were just the eyes of Walt."

Stated Peter Ellenshaw, who besides being an outstanding matte artist for the Disney live action films contributed his artistic skills to two early Disneyland attractions: Space Station X-1 and Circarama.

Having interviewed Peter on two occasions, I can confirm that he is the very model of a gracious gentleman and that his affection and respect for Walt is readily apparent. However, there were several people who contributed to the design of the early Disneyland and since the focus was always on "Walt Disney," their very significant work is unknown to many Disney fans.

While Walt came up with the idea of the "hub," it was Marvin Davis who determined where it would be and where the spokes would be placed. While Walt came up with the idea of a castle, it was Herb Ryman who came up with the direction it would face and the walls that extended from it to enclose Fantasyland. While Walt always had the final word on the designs for Disneyland, it was *** Irvine who organized and led the team of Imagineers.

So as we celebrate Disneyland's 50th anniversary, it seemed to me that it would be nice to recognize some of those "forgotten" names that helped Walt create a unique entertainment venue.

In 1952, Walt Disney hired Richard "***" Irvine away from 20th Century Fox where he was an art director to act as liaison between Walt Disney Productions and an architectural firm that was being considered for designing Disneyland.

Walt felt the architects were using "aircraft thinking" (concentrating on "bricks and mortar") rather than "show thinking" and needed someone to communicate his vision in their language.

John Hench recalled, "Because *** had worked with movie set designs, creating structures and settings, he understood our needs more than standard architects."

After a few preliminary meetings with the architects, however, *** concluded that the people who could best design the Magic Kingdom were members of  Walt's own staff. This was a recommendation that was supported by Walt's friend and neighbor, architect Welton Beckett. (Beckett actually lived across the street from Art Linkletter and was responsible for designing the Capitol Records building that looks like a stack of records among many other architectural triumphs.)

*** helped establish and lead the new team of artists, architects, designers and engineers, known as Imagineers. One of the reasons he was so perfect for the job was that he had previously worked at the Disney Studios as an art director on "Victory Through Airpower" and "The Three Caballeros" so he knew how Walt worked and the Disney Culture. *** eventually became the president of Imagineering.

He was also involved with the design and building of the Magic Kingdom in Florida as well and that was the reason the steamboat was christened the "Richard F. Irvine." His daughter-in-law, Kim Irvine has made some significant Imagineering contributions to Disneyland. (Not only does *** have a window on Main Street at Disneyland but there is also a window for "Alexander Irvine, M.D." who was the opthamologist father of *** and also Walt's eye doctor.)

Harper Goff had worked on the preliminary designs for Walt Disney's plans for a "Mickey Mouse Park" across the street from the Disney Studio. However, he was pulled from that project to work on the live action film "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" where he designed the exterior of the Nautilus.

So *** Irvine needed someone to work on the elevation drawings for Disneyland and he brought in Marvin Davis in 1953. Davis was also an art director at 20th Century Fox where he had worked on "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "Asphalt Jungle."

Marvin developed the first diagrammatic plan for Disneyland and remembered that on August 8, 1953, Walt dropped by his office and picked up a No. 1 carbon pencil and drew a triangle in the middle of the plan and said, "That's where I want the railroad to run." While Walt had the idea, it was up to Marvin to make it workable.

With a degree in architecture, it was Marvin's job to translate Walt's ideas into workable site plans. Marvin was the one who scaled the park to match the acreage.

Did you realize that original concept of the castle was to be Robin Hood's castle to tie in with the Disney live action film starring Richard Todd? Watch the documentary "Disneyland U.S.A." and you'll see Robin Hood's men sitting on the drawbridge welcoming guests into Fantasyland. One of Davis's first diagrams identifies Robin Hood's castle.

Marvin Davis was a very stubborn man, supposedly just as stubborn as Walt. Davis married Walt's niece, Marjorie. She was the daughter of Bill Cottrell, a Walt Disney executive for more than 50 years, who served as president of the Retlaw Co. but was also a key confidant to Walt during the development of Disneyland. After the theme park's successful opening in the summer of 1955, Marvin returned to art directing motion pictures, including Disney's "Moon Pilot," "Babes in Toyland" and "Big Red," as well as such television series as "Zorro" and "The Mickey Mouse Club."

In 1965, he returned to WED as a project designer for Walt Disney World in Florida. In addition to the master plan for the theme park, Marvin contributed to the design of such resort hotels as the Contemporary, the Polynesian and the Golf Resort.

On a Saturday morning on September 26, 1953, Herbert Dickens Ryman received a phone call. Herb Ryman worked at the Disney Studio on "Saludos Amigos" and "Three Caballeros" but then became like Irvine and Davis, an art director at 20th Century Fox. He had left Fox to work for a commission by John Ringling North to illustrate the Greatest Show on Earth.

The phone call Ryman got was not from Walt Disney as we've all heard many times (even from Herb himself) but from *** Irvine who was going to ask Ryman to help on the Disneyland project. Before *** could extend the offer, Walt grabbed the phone and asked Ryman to come to the studio.

Marvin Davis, *** Irvine, and Bill Cottrell presented to Ryman the concepts they had been working on with Harper Goff. Herb Ryman was given Davis' layout for Disneyland as a guide for his drawing that sold the concept to the bankers in New York. After the forty-two hour session of Herb and Walt struggling on the drawing, Marvin and *** returned to find the two of them exhausted. Marvin and *** grabbed colored pencils adding shading and highlights to Herb's line art.

With time at a premium, many Imagineers worked on the same attraction. Wilson "Bill" Martin, art director at 20th Century Fox, was a major designer in Fantasyland along with Bruce Bushman. Martin laid out the track for the Snow White ride. Ken Anderson picked the scenes to be recreated. Anderson had worked on the original animated feature. Claude Coats did the black light color on most of the Fantasyland rides when Grosh Studios who had been hired to do the work announced they would be unable to complete the rides in time.

Sam McKim was yet another art director at 20th Century Fox who was recruited to work on Frontierland along with Harper Goff (who had his hands full contributing to Main Street and the Jungle Cruise). How many people remember that Goff was a set designer on "Casablanca" and "Captain Blood" as well as the art director on "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"? In 1975, Harper also contributed to EPCOT Center, designing the layout of the World Showcase, and designing concepts for the Japan, Italy, and United Kingdom pavilions.

Bruce Bushman worked on attractions for Disneyland from the beginning. He was the Imagineer in charge of the hand carved German horses of the Carousel pieces and took many of the non-horse pieces that were a part of the Disneyland Carousel and put them to use on the Casey Jr. Circus Train. He also helped with the design of the Mickey Mouse Club Circus and designed the Phantom Boats. Bruce was a large, husky man and Walt decided that his proportions would be used as a guide for the seating on the attractions. If Bruce could get into a Fantasyland ride vehicle, Walt assumed that an adult with a child would fit comfortably in that same seat. Bruce was the son of silent screen star Francis X. Bushman.

"All of us came from motion pictures. That's the reason the park is what it is, like stage design. You design the environment for activity, for action. Walt used a lot of techniques we'd used in motion pictures."

Said John Hench.I've written in the past about the contributors of others to Disneyland including Hench and Emile Kuri and I hope somebody is considering offering all of Bob Gurr's columns at www.laughingplace.com in some type of limited edition softcover book because Gurr influenced everything with wheels at Disneyland. And how come there hasn't been a book about Morgan "Bill"Evans and how he transformed landscaping into an artform at Disneyland?

Perhaps sometime in the future, I'll write about some of the other people who contributed to the early Disneyland including John Wise, Bud Washo, Sam Hamel and so many other now forgotten founding fathers. Their contributions don't detract from the fact that it was the vision, creativity and stubbornness of
Walt Disney that created Disneyland. However, their contributions helped enhance that vision and make it a reality and during this celebration, their efforts should be recognized and acknowledged.

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  • Granddaughter of Bud and Bill Washo. I loved this article. I'm 47 and Disney was all I knew as a child. As an adult I didn't realize how much my grandfather had a hand in the  technology of Walts dream. Thoughtyou are correct, what I have read My grandfather hasn't really gotten the recognition I believe he desearved. He consulted on the Japan park and then retired in 1985. Later passed in 1999.  I miss him dearly. As I didn't have a carrer with Walt Disney World. My son, has embarked on it. He is 22 and is in the Electrical Appretiship program that Disney offers. My Grandfather would be so proud as I know he looks down from heaven and smiles with that big huge grin of his. Thank you for writing about my grandpa, I loved him so much and miss him dearly.

  • Wednesdays with Wade: Disneyland's Forgotten Founding Fathers

  • Wednesdays with Wade: Disneyland's Forgotten Founding Fathers

  • Wednesdays with Wade: Disneyland's Forgotten Founding Fathers

  • Wednesdays with Wade: Disneyland's Forgotten Founding Fathers

  • Wednesdays with Wade: Disneyland's Forgotten Founding Fathers

  • Wednesdays with Wade: Disneyland's Forgotten Founding Fathers

  • Wednesdays with Wade: Disneyland's Forgotten Founding Fathers

  • Wednesdays with Wade: Disneyland's Forgotten Founding Fathers

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