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How do you earn the right to perform in Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe Revue? Make a left at Magic Mountain

How do you earn the right to perform in Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe Revue? Make a left at Magic Mountain

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Millions of people work in the entertainment industry. And of those folks, thousands of them make a living as actors. And of those thousands, hundreds of these performers are employed by theme parks. And of those hundreds of performers, only a couple of dozen actually work at Disneyland.

I bring this up because I want you to understand how long the odds were back in the late 1970s. When I initially set my sights on becoming a performer at that Anaheim theme park.

But wait ! The odds get longer still. I didn't want to be just a run-of-the-mill performer at Disneyland. I had my heart set on playing one specific role in one particular venue. A part that -- I should add -- had virtually no turn-over.

Back then, I wanted to be Wally Boag's understudy. I wanted to be the traveling salesman while Wally was otherwise engaged. I wanted to play Pecos Bill, spitting out those dried-lima-bean teeth, while Boag had split for parts unknown.

Mind you, it's not like I hadn't done any preparation for this role. At this point in my fledgling career, I had made dozens of trips to the Golden Horseshoe to watch Wally work. Marveling at the way that this veteran performer (who had literally performed some of these same gags tens of thousands of times) kept his traveling salesman & Pecos Bill routines feeling so fresh & new.

And what I learned from watching Boag ... I then applied to a character that I'd just been hired to play at Magic Mountain. One Prof. Samuel J. Spillikin, B.S., M.S., PhD. (“You know what B.S. Is? Well, M.S. is More of the Same, and PhD. is just Piled Higher & Deeper”).

 A young boy listens to Professor Spillikin's pitch at Magic Mountain

The Professor spent his days lurking around Spillikin Corners Crafts Village. Where he'd then try & convince the good folks who'd come out for the day to Magic Mountain to come buy a bottle of Grandma Spillikin's Herbal Cure & Indian Elixir.

The character of Prof. Samuel J. Spillikin? He was obviously a crook and a scoundrel. But a crook and a scoundrel with a very entertaining line of patter. Which is why I'd invariably draw a crowd as I launched into my Medicine Pitch.

And each day that I worked at Magic Mountain, I tried to improve my performance. Find additional ways to engage the crowd. All with an eye toward gaining the experience that I needed so that I could someday trod the boards at the Golden Horseshoe.

Now working at another theme park may seem like an odd way to win a headliner's role at Disneyland. But over the years, I have learned that the very best way to get a job at Disney is to already excel at the job before you apply. And in order to be able to fill in for Wally someday, I first had to become as strong a comic performer as possible.

That Medicine Pitch opens a lot of doors for me. I start picking up convention work and private parties. And since the whole act fits into one large traveling case, I can go just about anywhere.

 Bud Abbott (L) and Lou Costello (R) performing their
signature routine, "Who's on First?"

For example – Poppy's Star Restaurant. At that time, Poppy's was this new party place that had just opened in Canoga Park where the waiters, managers and kitchen staff are all musicians and variety performers. Working as a seater, I not only hone my "sales skills" with rowdy diners, I collaborate with many talented performers in a wide variety of formats. Partner Mitch Evans and I perform such classic variety turns as "Niagara Falls" and Abbott & Costello's "Who's on First?" Lou Costello's daughter Chris even praises our performance!

Alright ... It's 1979 and I've been pitching snake oil at Magic Mountain for 4 years when my sister happens to notice a small ad in Variety:

"Auditions for Golden Horseshoe Revue – Comics and Dancers needed for Disneyland's 25th Anniversary Celebration"

At last all my years of practice might now pay off.

The next time I'm at Disneyland, I sit in the Golden Horseshoe watching Wally and wonder what I should do for my audition. And I realize that the thing to do is my Medicine Pitch. That routine was different enough from Wally's traveling salesman bit to be reminiscent without seeming like a complete rip-off.

Wally's act always ends with his turn as Pecos Bill, in which he gets 'slugged' by the male singer and starts spitting out teeth. Dozens and dozens of teeth. It's a very funny bit, accomplished by using dried baby lima beans concealed in his cheek. On a whim, I catch one as it whizzes by me and put it in my pocket ... for luck.

 Photo courtesy of Davelandweb.com

On a December night in 1979, I check in at a backstage rehearsal hall in Anaheim for the cattle call auditions. About a hundred of the most beautiful women you can imagine are there in leotards and dance shoes to audition to be can-can dancers. After learning a dance routine, they all line up and -- one by one --jump into the air and come down on the floor in a full split. We comics just sit there, wincing noticeably.

At the auditor's table sit Wally Boag and Sonny Anderson, the then-head of Talent Booking for the Disney theme parks. When the dancers finish, they greet us funny guys warmly.

(Over the years I've attended dozens of auditions, and this is something I've always appreciated about Disney. Before they start seeing people, the folks in charge will welcome everyone and discuss candidly what they're looking for that day and what to expect at the audition. They answer questions and greet the folks they've seen before. Not every company does this, unfortunately. But it makes the whole experience that much less frustrating and frightening.)

Finally it's time to start seeing the comics. We all stay in that one room, so everyone will have an audience.

Everyone seems aware that Wally had been a mentor to Steve Martin, who was then at the very height of his fame as a stand-up comic. A few of the comics show up in Steve's trademark white suit with an arrow through the head and juggling balls and do his act. Some do one-liners or impressions. I begin to wonder if these guys have ever seen the Golden Horseshoe Revue.

I arrive in my traveling salesman rig with my medicine bag and bamboo cane. When my name is called, I start toward the front of the room. And as I pass the front table, I hear Sonny say to Wally “This is the kid I was telling you about.”

Photo courtesy of Davelandweb.com

That's what those four years at Magic Mountain had bought me. By building my reputation at that other theme park, I had not only prepared myself for Disney. I had prepared Disney to hire me.

Today's moral: Stay where you are and do good work. The way to get that dream job with Disney (or anywhere else) is to start doing your best work somewhere else. So that when opportunity knocks, you're really ready to answer the door.

I ace the audition, because I'm able to show them exactly what they're looking for. And at the point in my act where my cane slips and I 'accidentally' strike myself on the head, I shake it off and spit out that dried lima bean that I'd caught earlier at the show. Wally fell off his chair, laughing.

Three weeks later, a letter arrives from Disneyland talent booking. “We're sorry to inform you that we have nothing to offer you at this time. Thank you for auditioning.” Ah, well. I had my shot.

Three months pass. It's the morning of April 15th. Summer is approaching and -- resigned to another year at Magic Mountain -- I'm about to head north to search for an apartment in Valencia. But I never make it out the door.

At 10:30 a.m., I get a call from Mike Davis at Disneyland Talent Booking, inviting me to start training the next day for the comic's role in Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe Revue. Supressing my glee, I tell Mike that I'm free.

The very next morning, I show up bright and early and giddy-as-hell at the Disneyland Administration Building. Where Mike welcomes me and ...

I'll tell you the rest of this story next week ...

Image courtesy of Ape Pen Publishing

Speaking of next week ... On March 29th, Ape Pen Publishing will be paying tribute to Wally Boag with "The Golden Horseshoe Dinner Show & Celebration." Which will be held at the Sheraton directly across from Disneyland. There are literally only a handful of tickets left for this event. Which will feature performances by Dana Daniels, Dick Harwick and many of the other entertainers that Mr. Boag has inspired over the years. Plus -- of course -- an appearance by the great man himself. So if you'd like to get in on the fun, you should fire off an e-mail off to [email protected] ASAP

As for Mr. Schneider ... He's still hard at work on his memoirs, "Themes, Dreams & Schemes: 40 Years Behind a Nametag." Which should hit store shelves by the late Fall / early winter of 2008.

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  • WOW,  you really brought back youthful memories for me re. Poppy's in Canoga Park. That was FUN. We used to come over the hill from Beverly Hills to go there or to Farrell's after football games and things on weekends. Thanks for entertaining us in those days and for the great memories. Wally was such a class act in every way.

  • Wonderful article!  Can't wait for more.

  • Great article Ron. Looking forward to hearing more!

  • As the Disneyana community gets ready for tomorrow night's Golden Horseshoe tribute event, Ron Schneider remembers what it felt like when he first went on as Wally Boag's understudy back in the Summer of 1980

  • Duuuude, people who remember PS in Canoga Park, I also worked the one in Costa Mesa, Newport Beach till they closed it. I was the mime/dancer/server/cook. Good Times Good TImes. I also worked at Disney as a parade aide and background dancer from 78 thru July 1979.

  • Dude, I can't believe I caught up with you after all these years. I was the dancing mime at Poppy's in Newport Beach/Costa Mesa. I also got a gig as a dancer at Disneyland in 78-79. Good Times. And you are right, tough to be a performer in those days.

    With digital media these days, the opts are there as writers and producers. I even do gigs in local film festivals as director, writer, actor.

    Good to see ya standing upright.

  • Poppy's Star in Canoga Park - What great memory! It's where my wife and I had our first date in 1978.

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