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Wally Boag feted at Golden Horseshoe event

Wally Boag feted at Golden Horseshoe event

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It's a lonely business, being the devoted fan of a theme park show that closed 22 years ago.

Or so I thought until last Saturday's Golden Horseshoe Revue Dinner Show and Celebration, presented by the grand folks of Ape Pen Publishing and The Magic Makers.

The evening grew out of the friendship of Ape Pen's founder, Caroline Thie, and the children of GHS star Wally Boag. They felt it was time for a tribute to the people and traditions of Frontierland's Golden Horseshoe ... and they created something as much fun and as touching as the show itself.

(L to R) Carlene Thie of Ape Pen Publishing, Wally Boag and Carlene's daughter, Rachel.
Photo by Denise Preskitt of MouseSteps.com

Plans for the event were changing right up to the last minute, so I didn't know what to expect when I arrived at the Anaheim Sheraton – maybe a few dozen former Disneylanders; and indeed, I spotted some familiar faces. But mainly there were 300+ people I'd never seen before. They had come from all over America out of affection for the Original Golden Horseshoe Revue.

There's something about Disney events and anniversaries that you have to experience, like finding a connection with your past. I first learned this in 1980 at Disneyland's 25th Anniversary, surrounded by thousands of people like me who simply wouldn't have thought of missing the party. You can strike up a conversation with anybody, because you're all living with the same passion for one crazy corner of the world.

The folks at Disneyland Entertainment sent over the Dapper Dans to warm up the crowd with tunes we all heard growing up. Then the show started with a video tribute to Horseshoe History – a collection of vintage clips punctuated by bursts of applause as each beloved performer appeared on screen. Of course, the loudest ovations were inspired by the first sightings of Wally Boag, Fulton Burley and Betty Taylor at work.

The Golden Horseshoe Girls kick up their heels one more time.
Photo by Denise Preskitt of Mousesteps.com

Then the Golden Horseshoe girls... and I mean THE Golden Horseshoe Girls: Deedee Bozikis, Arlene Dragon, Janice Gilmore and Georgeen Whitney... took the stage in costume, singing and dancing 'Welcome to the Golden Horseshoe' just as they did when I worked there back in the '80s. Apparently dancers never age.

The current headliners of the Horseshoe stage – Billy Hill & the Hillbillies – were represented by emcee (and fan favorite) John Eaden and Kirk Wall's outrageous Elvis medley. It's nice to know that Frontierland's comic tradition is in such silly, capable hands.

At my table I was delighted to be reunited with Jim Adams, Wally's long-standing sub and co-star. We swapped stories of the old days of working with Fulton and the Band. Jim had to laugh while watching video of he and Wally rehearsing for a 1980 TV Special, because he had no memory of doing it.

Jim Adams introduces Wally the clown to his namesake.
Photo by Denise Preskitt of MouseSteps.com

Memories came flooding back quickly, though, when Jim took the stage with GHS mascot Claude Dog and his puppet pals. One adorable clown had trouble remembering his own name... until Jim revealed it was 'Wally'; he'd been named years ago in tribute to the evening's guest of honor.

Disney Legends Bob Gurr and Charles Boyer reminisced about Wally and the Horseshoe and Imagineering Ambassador Marty Sklar took us back even further to before the park's opening in '55, when Wally was hired under a 2 week contract.

Wally's son, Lawrence, shared stories of his youth and being raised by his mischievous dad. His sister, Heather, gave us a taste of what it was like to have all of Disneyland as a playground and second home. It was touching to watch Wally taking it all in, his lovely wife Ellen proudly at his side.

Wally & his dining companion listen in as Lawrence Boag reflects on his
rather unique childhood. Photo by Ron Schneider

Congratulations were read from Disney Legend Art Linkletter. Then author Gene Sands, who has been collaborating with Wally on his autobiography, announced that their book, "The Clown Prince of Disneyland," would see release by Fall, 2008.

As part of the personal tributes, Jim Adams told the crowd he'd been a star struck kid when – on a break from his Disney job – he knocked on Wally's dressing room door in a pair of monkey feet and asked to meet his hero. He said that Wally opening that door and taking him in was a blessing he'd always remember. “I wanted to BE Wally Boag.”

Dana Daniels, star of the 'Golden Horseshoe Talent Show', brought the house down with his comedy magic, ably upstaged by his partner – Luigi, the Psychic Parrot. Dana told the story of his first visit to Wally's room... also on a break from work, but wearing clown shoes. “I ALSO wanted to be Wally Boag!”

 Dana Daniels and Luigi wowed the crowd with their psychic routine.
Photo by Denise Preskitt of MouseSteps.com

Folks who work in themed entertainment may not make the big bucks, and we may toil in relative obscurity – known only as the characters we portray – but we make up for it in volume... the sheer numbers of people whose lives we touch on a daily basis.

The people who were there that night… and millions around the world… have had a Disney day brightened by seeing Wally perform. But for Jim and Dana and Dick Hardwick and myself, Wally Boag was an inspiration.

So by the time it was my turn to speak, the only thing I could open with was, “Stop me if you've heard this before... “

 Ron Schneider at last month's Golden Horseshoe tribute event.
Photo by Denise Preskitt of MouseSteps.com

I chose to reminisce about my days as a fan of the Horseshoe, when I would run to the GHS reservations podium, hoping that Wally, Fulton & Betty would be performing that day. I spoke on behalf of all of us who had wanted to 'be Wally Boag', thanking him for his kindness and generosity; and for giving each of us a start in our lives as performers:

“Some of us are here tonight... All of us are here in spirit. And we are so grateful to have been a part of this legacy, and proud of what we brought to this wonderful show created by Walt and Wally.

But it must be said that when it came to Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe – nobody could touch Betty Taylor. And nobody could touch Fulton Burley. And no one can touch Wally Boag.”

 The crowd shows its appreciation for the one, the only Wally Boag !
Photo by Denise Preskitt of MouseSteps.com

I said it Saturday night and I'll say it all my days: “Wally, thank you for my life.”

Speaking of Mr. Schneider's life ... Ron's hard at work on his memoirs, "Themes, Dreams & Schemes: 40 Years Behind a Nametag." Which should show up in a bookstore near you in late 2008 / early 2009.

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  • I have to admit I'm getting kind of tired of all these Golden Horseshoe Revue articles lately.

  • Ron, great article. I'm certainly not tired of reading about the GHR, but then again, I'm a fan and really appreciate both my own memories and the history of the show. The event was wonderful and definitely memorable. Your speech was funny and touching. I wish we could have events like that more often!

  • Anyone who gets "tired" of the original Walt classic can't call themeslves truly "Disney".  And you wouldn't say that if you had attended.  Wonderful people, and a spectacutlar one-time-only evening.

  • Ron - Thanks for the fantastic coverage of a wonderful evening; really enjoyed your touching tribute there as well. Clark - unless someone is standing over you with a gun, no reason you have to click on the links and read the GH stuff—plenty of us out there love it! Manners, anyone? Etiquette? Common courtesy? And besides, sure beats seeing all the small world stuff!

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