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Getting Ready to Hit the "Reset" Button

Jim Hill

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Getting Ready to Hit the "Reset" Button

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Okay, where the hell is Hill? I've been coming to JHM for the past four days, looking for the last few installments of his "Star Tours" series. Only to find that JimHillMedia.com has become a Jim-free zone.

So okay, Roy. Tell the truth. You've got Hill locked in a closet somewhere, right? And you're not letting Jim out until he finally finishes his "Star Tours" series AND his "Light Magic" series AND his "Tower of Terror" series ...

Er ... You forgot about my "When You Wish Upon a Frog" series ...

Let's set the record straight, folks. I'm not locked in a closet somewhere. Nor is it Roy Mitchner (AKA JHM's new managing editor)'s fault that the "Star Tours" series stalled out this week. It's my fault and mine alone.

So what's going on? Well ... To be honest, the "Star Tours" series is the reason that I haven't actually posted anything of size on the site this past week. Why For? Because -- for the past five or six days -- I've spent virtually every waking hour doing research on this epic length article.

The good news is ... All this extra effort will finally begin paying off come Monday morning. When the brand-new, radically-improved version of this series debuts on JHM.

The bad news is ... You can expect the original first five installments of my "Star Wars" saga to disappear off of the site sometime later this weekend.

"Why are you pulling those stories down, Jim?," you ask. Because -- in the tradition of my old "Jim, You Ignorant ***" column -- I have to admit that I got it wrong.

Well, not wrong exactly. It's more that I left important parts of the story out. I inadvertantly forgot to mention people who played significant roles in the creation of Disney's first simulator-based attraction. I also skipped over key events in Disney Company history which had a direct impact on this project. Plus I left out lots of colorful little side stories that really add to the fun & enjoyment of this saga.

So, as I got deeper & deeper into the research phase of my "Star Tours" saga, I realized that -- in order to tell this long-form story properly -- I was going to have to go back to the beginning. To basically hit the "Reset" button on this entire series. So that's what I'm going to do come Monday.

I realize that this news is probably going to upset and/or offend some JHM readers. I know that some of you are really going to resent the fact that I'm basically forcing you to go back to the beginning of a story. That you really don't have any say in the matter.

But -- trust me, folks -- that extra bit of effort is really going to pay off. For the new version of my "Star Tours" saga is so much more ambitious. It covers so much more ground, giving you a better understanding of what was going on in Hollywood and/or Walt Disney Productions at the time.

So -- please -- come back on Monday and experience the newly enhanced version of my "Star Tours" saga. I promise that you won't be disappointed.

And -- speaking of disappointment -- I know a lot of you out there look forward to Friday's "Why For" columns. Which we'll be starting up at JHM again soon. But -- for now -- why don't I share some stories that I came across this week while doing research for my "Star Tours" series?

From Scott Eyman's "Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer" (Simon & Shuster, April 2005), here's a story about how the MGM lion let a money-making mouse just slip through his fingers:

While Mayer's instincts were excellent, they weren't infallible. Frances Marion enjoyed telling the story of a time in mid-1928 when she summoned Mayer to a projection room with Margret Booth, Victor Fleming and George Hill to watch a cartoon on offer from a young animator. A squeaking mouse ran across the screen, and Mayer immediately shouted, "God damn it! Stop that film! Stop it at once." He launched into a tirade about something so obviously offensive to at least half the audience. "Every woman is scared of a mouse, admit it. And here you are thinking they're going to laugh at a mouse on the screen that's ten feet tall, admit it. I'm nobody's fool."

He exited the screening room with a slammed door as punctuation. Leaning against the back wall of the projection room, Walt Disney realized he'd have to look for distribution someplace else.

Next up, as part of Sam Weller's "The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury" (William Morrow, April 2005), Ray Bradbury talks about how enjoyable it was to work on the "Spaceship Earth" project:

As the Disney company was moving toward bringing to life Walt Disney's vision of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, one of the names that was first bandied about as a possible creative contributor was Ray Bradbury. Executives John Hench and Marty Sklar could think of no other person who better reflected the ideals of the past in harmony with the concepts of the future. Ray's fond attachment to the small-town Americana of yesteryear, combined with the hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow, was a perfect match for Disney. Walt Disney created "Main Street U.S.A." as well as "Tomorrowland." But even before that, Ray had authored "Dandelion Wine" and "The Martian Chronicles," odes to these very two concepts.

Ray was hired by Disney Imagineering in 1976 -- the year of the American Bicentennial -- to consult on EPCOT Center. Just as he had done with the United States Pavilion at the (1964-1965 New York) World's Fair, he was asked to conceptualize and write the script for the interior of EPCOT's centerpiece, the geodesic sphere known as "Spaceship Earth." Ray worked at the Imagineering offices for a period of weeks late in 1976, four or five days a week. His hours were flexible. "They didn't care when I got there or when I left," said Ray. "It was very relaxed."

Cartoon from February 17, 1977 WED-WAY newsletter

Were that Ray's trip down to Orlando in October of 1982 (to attend EPCOT Center's grand opening) was as pleasant as working at WED was:

In October of 1982, Ray traveled to Orlando, Florida for the opening of EPCOT Center. He took the train, of course. From the start, his voyage was a traveler's nightmare. Ray first stopped in New Orleans to give a lecture at a local college. While there, he learned that he couldn't get continuing rail service to Orlando, and so he hired a limousine driver to take him on the five-hundred-mile trek. The driver was a courtly southern African-American gentleman in his midseventies with whom Ray enjoyed talking as they headed across swamp and 'gator country toward the city that Disney built.

Somewhere outside of Tallahassee, Florida, the limousine blew a tire. "We're out on the highway," said Ray,"repairing a ruptured tire, with cars going by us at eighty miles an hour. Of course, the spare was no good, and could barely run on a rim of rubber." So Ray and the driver went to buy a new spare. "It took us two hours to find one going all around Tallahassee," Ray recalled. "All the while, God was whispering to me, "Fly, dummy! Fly!"

A hundred and fifty miles farther down the Florida interstate, the limousine engine blew. "The limousine was going to hell!" Ray said. The old car drifted off the highway, coasting slower and slower, finally lurching into a parking lot of a Howard Johnson motor lodge. Ray and the old driver both got rooms and called it a day. The next morning, Ray called a taxi company to take him the remaining distance to Orlando. "Smokey and the Bandit showed up," said Ray, referencing the 1977 film starring Burt Reynolds and Jackie Gleason. When the taxi rolled up, Ray noted that the driver was a dead ringer for Gleason. To top it off, Ray learned that the driver was the town sheriff, who moonlighted as the town cabbie. The sheriff-cabbie drove Ray the remaining distance to Orlando, pontificating the entire way, acting as tour director, pointing out various Sunshine State sights. "The taxi trip must have cost me two hundred dollars," said Ray. "But it was a great trip because he was a great guy."

However, once Bradbury finally got on property, things began running smoothly again. Thanks to that Disney magic. Take -- for instance -- what happened on EPCOT's opening night:

Ray's twenty-seven-year-old daughter Bettina joined her father for the grand opening of EPCOT, a three-day multimillion-dollar extravaganza ... One evening, as father and daughter were strolling through the park's World Showcase -- a series of recreated international streets and buildings -- it stormed. Ray recalled with awe that the EPCOT staff appeared almost instanteously with complimentary umbrellas for the thousands of guests.

Speaking of Disney Magic, I just came across Morris Walker's "Steve Martin: The Magic Years" (S.P.I. Books, February 2001). Which -- to be honest -- isn't really much of a book. Though -- that said -- it still has some fairly interesting tales to tell about the years Steve Martin spent at Disneyland. According to Walker, Martin actually started working at the Anaheim theme park back in 1956 when the writer & comedian was only 10.

Steve supposedly started out by selling balloons & souvenir programs, but eventually found work at the Magic Shop on Main Street U.S.A. Once there, Martin -- under the guidance of the store's manager James A. Hume AKA the Great Aldini -- honed his craft. Continually practicing the many tricks that were sold in the shop until Steve's obvious talent came to the attention of the Magic Kingdom's main comic-magician, Wally Boag.

In "The Magic Years," Walker recalls how Boag gave Martin his first big break in show business:

I flashed back to the many hours Steve and I spent in the Golden Horseshoe Theater in Frontierland watching Wally Boag. Wally would do his vaudeville act almost the same everyday, but that wouldn't lessen our enthusiasm for the progra. He was a master with balloon animals and other vaudeville craziness. Of course, his balloon animals actually looked like animals. Steve would also create adorable little balloon animals, but in his act in the late seventies, he preferred to create a large, obscene monstrosity and call in an interuterine device for an elephant. After Steve had perfected many magic tricks at the Magic Shoppe in Disneyland, Wally Boag featured Steve in a show at the Golden Horseshoe that was supposed to be called "YOUTH AND MAGIC." Fate must have grabbed the painter's brush, because when finished, the sign accidentally read: "MOUTH AND MAGIC."

Speaking of "Mouth," I think I'll shut up now and get back to working on Monday's "Star Tours" story. You folks have a great weekend, okay?

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