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May we please have another ... Dale Ward's Mouse FACTory?

May we please have another ... Dale Ward's Mouse FACTory?

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I know, I know. Everyone's eyes are on Anaheim today. Waiting breathlessly to hear which new attractions are going to officially be announced (Gee, do you think those rumors about a new "Monsters, Inc." ride for DCA will actually pan out?), etc.

But -- while everyone else obsesses about what the future will hold for Disneyland & California Adventure -- me ... I'm more interested in looking back. In seeing what came before. Like ...

May 1, 1989

The Disney-MGM Studio theme park ("The Hollywood That Never Was and Always Will Be" ... or so it says on the studio's dedication plaque) is finally officially opened to the public.

Though most folks are quick to credit Michael Eisner with coming up with the idea for MGM, truth be told it was Walt Disney that had always wanted to build a studio tour. As early as the late 1930s, Walt was toying with the idea of taking two acres of his brand-new Burbank lot and turning it into an attraction for Hollywood tourists. Among the fanciful structures that that Disney wanted to have built as part of his version of a studio tour were full-sized walk-through versions of Snow White's cottage & Geppetto's toy shop.

Unfortunately, Disney's Burbank studio tour (which would have also featured a glassed-in corridor which would have allowed visitors to watch the girls in the Ink & Paint Department at work) barely got past the talking phase when World War II broke out. And -- by the time the hostilities in Europe & Asia were over -- Walt's dream had already outgrown that two acre parcel on the Burbank lot. Which is why Mr. Disney began eyeballing that 16 acres of open land on the other side of Riverside Drive.

That version of the attraction that Walt was toying with building still had some of the same elements of the two acre plan. Including a carousel that was to have featured Disney characters to ride. But that version of project eventually outgrew the spot that Walt had picked out for it too. So Disney had to find a new site for his dream project ...

As I understand it, Walt eventually found some property out in Orange County. An orange grove in Anaheim, if I'm remembering correctly. But -- after that -- the story gets kind of vague. At least to me.

I wonder if Mr. Disney actually ever did anything with that dream of his? (Just kidding.)

Anyway ... It took another 34 years, but the Walt Disney Company did finally get around to building what Walt originally wanted. Which was a place where he could show people how he put his films & cartoons together. (FYI: Walt never really gave up on this dream. In the earliest version of the press releases for Disneyland, Disney talked about how the theme park was going to feature a glassed-in corridor where visitors could watch animators at work. Later on, there was also talk of turning the Main Street Opera House into a broadcast facility. Where Disneyland guests could be the live audience for a broadcast of "The Mickey Mouse Club." But obviously neither of these two concepts made it off of WED's drawing board ...)

Though I think that even Walt (who was known for being a forward thinker) could have ever predicted that his Disney studio theme park attraction would eventually be built on some swampland in Florida.

Here are some fun facts about the Disney-MGM Studio Theme Park:

 

  • Cost to build park: $500,000,000 plus
  • Size of park: 231 acres, (about ½ the size of Epcot) which includes 77 acres of parking;
  • Rides/Attractions on opening day:
    • The Magic of Disney Animation
    • Backstage Studio Tour
    • Superstar Television
    • Monster Sound Show
    • The Great Movie Ride
  • Theme park staff 5,100; not including production and animation crews.

Kind of a thin assortment of attractions, don't you think? Yep, isney actually opened the Studio with only six rides and attractions. I've heard that the theme park's opening day brochures actually listed MGM's information booth as an attraction. But I don't know if this is actually true.

To be fair, on this same day -- May 1, 1989 -- the Walt Disney Company did also open WDW's Pleasure Island, a highly theme array of nightclubs, shops & restaurants. Among PI's initial assortment of attractions was Videopolis East, The Rockin' Rollerdome and The Adventurers Club (Which was patterned after the Explorers clubs of the 1930's). Sadly, Videopolis and the Rollerdome are no longer with us. But the Adventurers Club soldiers on. Kungaloosh!

The Imagineers created a wonderful and complex backstory for Pleasure Island. If you'd like to more about WDI's made-up mythology for this odd collection of warehouses & storefronts, then follow this link to Wade Sampson's excellent two part story about the plaques that you used to find all over PI.

May 4, 1977

Space Mountain at Walt Disney World officially opens to the public: As far back as the 1960s, Walt had an idea for an indoor "Space Port" ride in Tomorrowland. Unfortunately, it took technology more than a decade to catch up with Disney's imagination.

The first Space Mountain opened at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World on Jan 15, 1975. Two years later, when this indoor roller coaster finally opened in Anheim, the VIPs on hand included Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, Betty Grissom (widow of "Gus" Grissom), Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard and Donald "Deke" Slayton. All members of NASA's Mercury project and the first Americans in space.

FYI: Until Space Mountain opened in 1977, the Matterhorn was the only roller coaster at Disneyland. Oh, sure. "The Happiest Place on Earth" had quite a few thrill rides. But can you imagine Disneyland actually remaining competitive in Southern California's cut-throat theme park market if the Mouse had actually stuck to that schedule? As in: Only adding a new coaster every 15 years.

The month of May also includes the birthdates of two men whose skill with music has entertained many a Disney theme park goer: Howard Ashman & *** Dale.

Howard Ashman (1950-1991) was born in Baltimore on May 17, 1950. He moved to New York in 1974 and became an editor at Grosset & Dunlap. By day, Howard edited. By night he wrote plays.

One of Ashman's earliest plays, "Dreamstuff" was actually a musical version of Shakespeare's "Tempest." It was produced off-Broadway at the WPA Theater. Howard's association with WPA was a happy one. Which is how he became the theater's Art Director from 1977 to 1982.

As for Ashman's legendary partnership with Alan Menken: Howard & Alan first collaborated on a musical version of Kurt Vonnegut's novel, "God Bless You Mr. Rosewater." But it wasn't until they tried to turn Roger Corman's so-bad-it's-good horror film, "Little Shop of Horrors," into a musical set in the early 1960s that their collaboration really clicked.

The success of the off-Broadway show eventually got Hollywood's attention. Ashman & Menken were flown out to Tinseltown, where they wrote a brand-new song -- "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" -- for the 1986 movie version of their "Little Shop" musical. Howard & Alan's new song got an Oscar nomination. Which brought the song writing team to the attention of the Walt Disney Company's new management team.

And the rest of the story ... Ashman & Menken's amazing work on 1989's "The Little Mermaid," 1991's "Beauty & the Beast" and 1992's "Aladdin" ... you know.

But here's something that you may not have known: Because Ashman tragically passed away on March 14, 1991 due to AIDS-related complications, he never actually saw a finished print of his last two films for Disney.

While their creative partnership was relatively short-lived, Howard and Alan still received dozens of nominations as well as a half dozen awards. To be specific: 2 Grammys, 2 Golden Globes and 2 Oscars. Interesting little side note here: When "Beauty and the Beast" won the Oscar for Best Original Song in a film, Howard's posthumous award was accepted by his longtime partner, Bill Lauch.

*** Dale (1937- ) --What makes someone the "King of Surf Guitar"? Talent and timing. There were two things that *** Dale liked to do in the 50's; surf and play guitar and *** Dale was good at both. A left hander, Dale taught himself to play without changing anything on a right handed guitar. That means he taught himself how to play holding a guitar upside down and backwards, one of the things which contributed to his very unique sound.

In spite of his unusual way of holding a guitar, Dale could shred. He liked his music fast and loud, long before metal was invented. Being good got him talked about and that buzz lead to a meeting with Leo Fender.

Leo owned an electronics store in Fullerton California. He had started by selling handmade radios and fixing electronic equipment. Guys started to bring their guitar amplifiers around for Leo to fix. And -- in doing so -- Fender noticed ways he could improve these amps.

So Leo and his partner Doc Kauffman began to build amplifiers. And -- given that Doc had also designed guitars -- these two created the first guitar that actually went with an amplifier. This new guitar (called the Telecaster) was selling well. So the partners built a second model. And Leo was just beginning to test his second guitar design when he first heard about *** Dale.

Fender gave Dale his new Stratocaster & amp to test. For those of who aren't guitar people (myself included), there are only two guitars that matter: the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul. Many fight over the merits of each (like they were a Ford or Chevy). But I think it's safe to say these two are the yin and yang of 50's guitars. In short, the very heart of rock & roll.

Fender couldn't stop laughing when he saw that Dale played the thing upside down and backwards. The guitar felt good and Dale gave it a try but he blew the amp in no time ... and then another ... and another. Leo (who didn't actually play guitar) couldn't understand why Dale wanted it so loud until he went to one of his concerts.

*** Dale and his dad had bought an old ballroom at the end of the Balboa pier that had been closed for a while. They applied for a permit which the city approved. With the stipulation that all the guys who attended concerts at this facility had to wear ties. The Dales agreed and *** would show up at his early concerts with a box of ties for his barefoot surfer buddies. So that no local ordinances were broken and that he could then proceed to play ... Loud.

Leo Fender finally shows up in the middle of a concert with *** onstage and 4,000 screaming teenagers on the ballroom floor and he immediately gets it. Forty some amps later, Leo comes up with an amp and speaker combination that rocks and *** Dale uses it to make surf guitar history.

What's that you say? Where does the reverb come in? Well, *** didn't like his voice. He felt it was too flat. So Dale hunted down an old Hammond organ with a reverb. *** got Leo to build him a reverb tank to make his voice sound better and he was happy with the results. It didn't take long for him to plug his guitar into it to get a long sustain on his guitar notes. And the last piece of *** Dale's surf guitar sound was born.

In 1997, Imagineers decided to "plus" Space Mountain. They installed a speaker system in each car and got *** Dale to do the music for the revised Tomorrowland attraction. Until the current rehab, *** Dale performing "Aquarium" from Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns, was what accompanied you as you flew through space. Which wasn't a bad way to fly. *** Dale will be 68.

And that concludes this week's "Mouse FACTory." I'm glad to hear that you folks seem to like all of this trivial stuff. And -- given that Jim has given me the thumbs up -- I'm guessing that I'll be back with other columns in this series very soon.

Talk to you later, okay?

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