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Why For did Aeosmith wind up as the hosts of Rock'n'Roller Coaster?

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Why For did Aeosmith wind up as the hosts of Rock'n'Roller Coaster?

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First, Noel Aronson writes to ask:

Hello:

It's a little belated, but let me add to the list of people congratulating you on getting your own web site. The only problem is -- whenever I lose track of whatever site you happen to (be) writing for / on -- I always manage to find your new home just as I'm getting ready to go bed.

Yes, Mr. Hill, you cost me sleep. A lot of it.

My question for you today is fairly straight forward. (It) regards the Rock'n'Roller Coaster: Why Aerosmith? ...

If you could dig up some dirt, or offer any insight, I'd be very appreciative.

Thanks a lot,

Noel Aronson

Dear Noel:

Thanks for your kind words. And I'm honestly sorry to hear that reading all of my long winded stories here at JimHillMedia.com has been causing you to lose sleep. (Your complaint is kind of ironic, actually. Given that Nancy keeps telling me that my constant jabbering about the Walt Disney Company is what actually PUTS her to sleep ... But I digress ...)

ANYWAY ... Regarding your question as to why Aerosmith ended up with that "Rock'n'Roller Coaster" gig, Noel: I don't suppose that it would surprise any of you long term Disney Company watchers to learn that Steve Tyler & Co. weren't actually WDI's first choice for the rock super group to "host" this MGM thrill ride.

Truth be told, the Imagineers had initially hoped that they'd be able to land the most famous rock'n'roll still working today for this WDW attraction. And that act -- of course -- was the one and only Rolling Stones.

So -- in the Spring of 1998, even as construction was well underway on the coaster -- Disney discreetly approached Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and asked if they'd be interested in getting involved with the Mouse to do a thrill ride down in Florida.

As it turns out, the Stones WERE interested. The only problem was that the group's asking price was much too high for Mickey's taste. According to WDI sources that I've spoken with, Mick and Keith's representatives asked for an enormous licensing fee (something along the lines of $7 - $10 million per year) for the rights to use the Stones' likenesses as well as excerpts from several songs as part of the theming for this new Disney-MGM thrill ride.

Well, given that a licensing fee of that size was 'way outside of WDI's operating budget for the construction and completion of this particular attraction, I guess "You Can't Always Get What You Want" when you're an Imagineer. Which is why WDI began looking at second tier rock and roll acts. Groups that still had some name recognition, but weren't so well known that they could demand top dollar for the use of their likenesses and music.

Which brings us to Aerosmith. After more than a decade of being off the charts, this '70s era Boston-based band had a huge resurgence in the late 1980s / early 1990s. Wracking up a series of hit singles like "Love in an Elevator" and "Livin' on the Edge." Song titles that the Imagineers felt would make a perfect counter-point to the attraction they were creating.

So WDI quietly approached Steve Tyler, Aerosmith's frontman, about the veteran rock group possibly getting on board with the "Rock'n'Roller Coaster" project. (Mind you, this actually wasn't all that hard to do at the time, given that Aerosmith was already in bed with Disney. Tyler & Co. had just been signed by Touchstone Pictures to perform "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing," the song that Disney Studios execs had hoped would be the hit single from the "Armageddon" soundtrack.) Luckily, Tyler just loved the idea.

More importantly, the Imagineers were thrilled to discover that Aerosmith was infinitely more affordable than the Rolling Stones. Though I don't have access to the exact figures, I'm told that Disney acquired the rights to use Tyler & Co.'s likenesses -- as well as six hit songs from the Aerosmith catalog -- for about a 10th of what the Rolling Stones were reportedly asking.

So -- given that the Stones were supposedly asking $7 - $10 million to be part of the "Rock'n'Roller Coaster" project -- well, you do the math, okay?

Anyway, that explains how Aerosmith ended up "starring" in this Disney-MGM thrill ride.

Next, B. DeCaires of Pacific Grove, CA drops by to ask:

Jim -

Why was the theme and design of Tokyo Disney Seas theme park (so much) more successful than Disney's California Adventure? Weren't they produced by the same company?

Well, sort of.

Look, let me explain. The design and construction of Tokyo Disney Seas was paid for by the Oriental Land Company. A corporation that still adheres to the principles of Walt Disney Productions circa 1983. (I.E. You should always give the customers more than they were expecting. Cost doesn't count. But always delivering a quality product does.)

Which is why OLC has no problem greenlighting high-ticket items like Tokyo Disneyland's "Pooh's Hunny Hunt" and -- indeed -- the entire Tokyo Disney Seas theme park. They know that they'll eventually get a handsome return on every investment they make in their theme parks.

Whereas Disney's California Adventure was built under the direct supervision of Paul Pressler, the former head of Disney Parks and Resort (and now the CEO of the Gap retail chain). And the principles that Paul Pressler adhered to ... I'm sorry. It just feels weird to use the word "principles" and Paul Pressler's name in the same sentence. It's almost like those two should be mutually exclusive. Sort of like "military" and "intelligence" and "jumbo" and "shrimp."

Okay. Enough with the "borrowing" of George Carlin's material. Let's get back to B. Decaires' answer ... already in progress.

ANYWAY ... right from the start, Paul Pressler's goal was to keep cuts down on DCA. Which is why -- for a while, anyway -- Pressler tried to circumvent WDI entirely on this project and just have Disney's California Adventure be designed by some old Disney Development vets (AKA the folks who designed all of the non-theme park elements -- I.E. the shops, hotels, and restaurants -- that you find around the various Disney resorts).

Of course, once the Imagineers heard about this, they raised holy hell. WDI vet Chris Carradine (best known for his work on WDW's Pleasure Island) even circulated a petition that demanded that this sister park to Disneyland -- arguably the crown jewel of the entire Disney theme park chain -- be designed by actual Imagineers. Not Imagineer wanna-bes.

When Disney CEO Michael Eisner heard about this WDI rebellion, he immediately told Pressler to quash it. Do whatever he had to to make the Imagineers happy again.

Toward this end, Paul agreed to let veteran Imagineers design some of the areas in the company's newest theme park. Which is how an old WDI hand like Tim Delaney (best known for his outstanding design work on Disneyland Paris' delightful Discoveryland) ended up in charge of DCA's Golden Gateway, Sunshine Plaza, and Paradise Pier areas. And how Rick Rothschild (a 22-year Walt Disney Imagineering vet, best known for Epcot's "American Adventure" and WDW's "The Extra Terrorestrial Alien Encounter") ended up directing "Soarin' Over California" as well as riding herd on the teams of Imagineers that produced Condor Flats and Grizzly Peak Recreation Area.

But as for the other parts of the park ... well, Pressler was eventually able to find ways to backdoor some of his old Disney Development cronies into the DCA project. Folks who had lots of experience designing shops, hotels and restaurants ... but little or no practical experience when it came to building theme parks.

This explains Disney's California Adventure's somewhat schizophrenic nature. As you walk through that theme park, you'll find areas that are just loaded with great design. Where all the elements work together to create a coherent, cohesive story. And then you'll walk into a park of the Park like the Pacific Wharf area or whole stretches of the Hollywood Pictures Backlot ... where the story just falls apart.

Mind you, it's not because the designers for those particular sections of the Park didn't try. But rather, it's because they just didn't have the practical experience when it came to designing a successful section of a Disney theme park.

Which brings us to the obvious question: "What would Walt have thought of Disney's California Adventure?" Its good parts as well as its bad parts? That ... I can't tell you.

But I can tell you what several veteran Imagineers -- folks who actually worked with the Old Mousetro as he was building Disneyland as well as mapping out his plans for "Project Florida" -- said about the DCA model when they first saw it back in the late 1990s.

Okay. Picture this if you will: Ward Kimball, Alice Davis and several other members of WED's "Dinosaurs Club" were on a tour of WDI one day. They had dropped by Imagineering's Glendale headquarters for some anniversary luncheon. And -- after the festivities broke up -- someone offered to take Ward, Alice & Co. into the model shop to show them what the Imagineers were currently working on.

Their first stop was the room where the model for Tokyo Disney Seas was kept. This rendering was greeted with much enthusiasm, with Kimball and Davis loudly "Ooohing" and "Aaahing" about all of the obvious skill and artistry that had been poured into the creation of this particular theme park.

Then their Imagineering hostess / tour guide took Ward and Alice over to see the DCA model. There was an awkward pause as the Imagineering veterans peered down at what was going to be built in Disneyland's parking lot.

Finally, Alice Davis broke the silence: "A ferris wheel?! Walt would have hated that."

Kimball then said something to the effect of "Okay. Joke's over. Show us the real model now."

When their WDI hostess / tour guide insisted that this really was the model for Disney's California Adventure theme park, Ward cracked: "That's not a Disney theme park. It looks like Six Flags Magic Knotts Berry Land."

Obviously embarrassed, their Imagineer handler herded Kimball and Davis out of the model shop ... then hoped and prayed that this story would never, ever make it out of that room.

Well, so much for the power of prayer ...

Next, Jason Merrill writes to ask:

Back in the early '90s, I had seen a concept painting for a proposed Haunted Resort hotel for WDW. Years past and nothing ever got built. When I asked around later, I understand that it had morphed into Port Orleans. I can kind of see the reasons not to go ahead with such a project, but I was kind of wondering if you knew any details.

Just found your site and was up 'till 2 a.m. catching up on things.

Jeese, here's another JHM reader that I've been keeping up 'til all hours. I gotta start writing shorter stories.

Speaking of keeping things short ... let me see if I can do the Reader's Digest version of this particular story. According to WED Enterprises plans that I've seen from the early 1980s, WDW's Port Orleans hotel complex was actually originally envisioned as a resort complex that was supposed to have been built right next door to the Shopping Village at Lake Buena Vista (better known nowadays as WDW's "Downtown Disney" complex).

The backstory for this 800 room resort (which would have occupied the site where WDW's Pleasure Island was eventually built) was supposed to have built off of the theming and atmosphere that the Empress Lilly created.

To explain: this faux paddle wheeler wouldn't just look as if were sitting at the edge of a WDW shopping village anymore. Now it would look as if the Empress Lilly had stopped at the dock of this colorful riverfront town to off-load some supplies.

As for that town ... well, that would have been the Port Orleans resort. A series of structures that would have looked like something straight out "Gone With the Wind." Picture lots of ornate buildings with tall white columns, covered with elegant iron work. Wisteria and magnolia trees in full bloom.

The hotel's check-in area, lobby, shops, and restaurants were to have been centrally located inside a classic Southern mansion (think Tara on steroids.) The guest rooms were to have been elsewhere around the resort. Tucked away inside highly themed buildings all over "town" that were supposed to be places like the cotton mill, the boatwrights shop, etc.

Then-WDW resort head Dick Nunis pictured the Port Orleans hotel complex as being a moderately priced but still highly themed resort that (hopefully) would add a lot to the Shopping Village at Lake Buena Vista's bottom line. As in: people who stayed at the Port Orleans would be that much more likely to take advantage of the convenience of the shopping village. (I.E. Do most of their vacation shopping and dining there.)

Unfortunately, like so many of Nunis' 1980s era ideas for the Disney theme parks (I.E. a Matterhorn for WDW's Magic Kingdom which the steam train that circled the theme park would have actually rolled through, a flume ride for Disneyland that would have built off of the theming of that park's "Bear Country" area), his Port Orleans hotel idea never made it off the drawing board. Whether this was because then-Disney Productions Chairman Card Walker was just too cautious or because the company had all of its capital committed to the creation of EPCOT Center -- who can say?

But this idea went back into the drawer at WED until Michael Eisner & Co. came on board at the Mouse House in September 1984. Then -- once Eisner announced that he seriously wanted to up the number of hotels that the Walt Disney Company had on property at Walt Disney World -- the Imagineers immediately pulled out those plans ... and the rest of the story, you know.

And as for the Disney Haunted Hotel idea ... that concept has been floating around Walt Disney Imagineering for at least 15 years now. The Imagineers actually floated this story idea as a possible theming overlay for the hotel on board the Queen Mary (back when the Walt Disney Company was giving very serious though to creating a waterfront theme park / hotel / shopping / dining / entertainment complex right at the edge of Long Beach harbor). When that project didn't pan out, WDI also toyed with using the Haunted Hotel idea as a way to make the Disney-MGM Studio's "Tower of Terror" attraction that much more financially feasible.

As in: help recover some of the cost of constructing a theme park attraction of this size which was loaded with extremely expensive cutting edge technology and effects by having a limited number of WDW guests pay top dollar to actually stay in the hotel.

I could explain further ... but to do so wouldn't be fair to Kevin Boles, who's still waiting for me to finish up my "Tower Tales" series over at his own wonderful website, www.tower-of-terror.com.

So -- until I finally get around to handing off those last few chapters to Kevin, Jason -- I guess that's all I can say WDW's Haunted Hotel project.

Sorry about that, guy.

Okay, I've answered some of your questions. Now it's time for all you Disneyana fans to try and answer one of MY questions. Like ... whatever became of Lorraine Santoli's making-of-DCA book?

Some of you may recall -- in the Spring 2001 issue of "Disney" Magazine -- that there was actually this small story which hyped the upcoming publication of that book. Here's a brief excerpt of that article:

"What does it take to build a Disney theme park? Blood, sweat and Imagineers. In her new book, "Disney's California Adventure" (Disney Editions), Lorraine Santoli traces the evolution of the Anaheim must-see from its humble roots as an idea jotted down on a notepad in Aspen, Colorado, to its becoming the long-awaited 55-acre sister park for Disneyland.

Behind-the-scenes accounts from the Imagineers include plenty of historic tidbits, such as the importing of greenery to create authentic-looking Golden State vistas and revelations about the staggering complexities involved in fashioning an entire theme park out of a parking lot."

Sounds like a pretty intriguing book, doesn't it? I certainly thought so. Which is why -- back when I was attending DCA's opening press event back in February 2001 -- I went from store to store at the Disneyland Resort, repeatedly asking "Do you have Lorraine Santoli's book about the creation of Disney's California Adventure theme park?" And -- to a man -- the Disneyland cast members that I spoke with had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.

Even when I'd pull a copy of that issue of "Disney" Magazine off the shelf and actually pointed to the article that promoted Santoli's book, no one at the DL Resort could tell me what had happened to this Disney Editions publication. "This just doesn't make sense," said one puzzled but very polite cast member at DCA's "Greetings from California" gift shop. "We've got dozens of Disney's California Adventure pins in stock. Several different variety of DCA T-shirts and sweatshirts. Postcards. Posters. Plush. Even a souvenir CD with music from the Park. But no DCA book. I wonder what's holding that up."

Well, it's been two years now ... and -- just like that very nice cast member -- I'm also wondering what's holding this publication up. Every time I get to DCA, I continue to ask around for Lorraine's book. Only to be greeted with puzzled looks and/or bemused sighs.

Mind you, I've heard rumors about Santoli's "Disney's California Adventure" book. That, on the heels of the press and public's underwhelming reaction to the theme park, Disney suddenly decided to cut its losses. And that -- even though Disney Editions had already started promoting the project -- Mouse House managers still opted to cancel publication of this making-of-DCA book.

Now where this gets interesting is that a portion of Santoli's original "Disney's California Adventure" manuscript supposedly emerged last year. But not as a full-blown, full-color book. But rather, just as a 30+ booklet that was handed out to all the Imagineers who actually worked on the DCA project. Allegedly on the one year anniversary of Disney's California Adventure's grand opening.

Or so I've been told.

ANYWAY ... I've actually seen a few "Disney's California Adventure" booklets similar to this description pop up on eBay every now and then. And I've even bid on one or two, with the hope that maybe they'll help me finally clear up the mystery that surrounds Lorraine Santoli's making-of-DCA book ... only to have my bibs get sniped seconds before the auction ends (Rats!)

So now, I'm forced to turn to you, my loyal JHM readers. Surely some of you must work at Walt Disney Imagineering. Or Disney Editions and/or Hyperion Press. Or maybe one of you actually knows Lorraine Santoli. So could someone (please!) tell me what actually happened to that "Disney's California Adventure" book? More importantly, is this long awaited (at least by me) full-length version of this publication ever going to see the light of day?

Speaking of hitting up JHM readers for stuff ... my apologies. But it's that time of the month again. My ex-wife, the wise and ever-patient Michelle Smith (AKA the Fabulous Disney Babe) wants me to remind you all that JimHillMedia.com still needs your green if we're to stay in the black.

I know, I know. It's really annoying that I have to keep hitting up you guys for cash. If it's any consolation ... I don't like asking anymore than you like giving.

But think about it: where else on the Web are you going to go to find brand new hyper-detailed Disney-related stories like this week's "Khrushchev at Disneyland" piece or last week's "Project Gemini" expose?

And then there's all that great stuff that I've got waiting in the wings ... the remaining installments of the revised version of my "Remembering Light Magic" series. Plus a trip to Walt's version of "Project Florida" (which will hopefully give you a real sense what Disney would have done with all that land outside of Orlando if Walt had lived long enough to develop WDW the way he wanted it to be developd). As well as an in-depth look at all the other storylines that Pixar had considered for "Monsters, Inc."

Plus new epic length series on the "Disney's America" debacle, those winter-time resorts that Walt Disney Productions wanted build in California's Mineral King and Independence Lake area, Westcot and the "Disney Seas" theme park for Long Beach, CA ...

So -- as you can see -- we're really just getting started here at JHM. There's lots of great reading yet to come ... if we can just keep the wolf away from the door.

Okay. Enough with the nagging and the noodging. You do your part (aka throw a few bucks in that Amazon.com honor box that you'll find on JHM's home page or buy some books from Amazon.com by clicking the links at the end of the articles each day) and I'll do my part (aka throw a couple of new hyper-detailed stories up on the site every week) ... and everyone will be happy.

Especially my ex-wife.

Anywho ... that's it for this week, folks. I'll see you all next Monday, when I finally get around to posting Part Two of the revamped version of my "Remembering Light Magic" series.

Til then ... have a great weekend, okay?
jrh

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