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A special behind-the-scenes version of Why For

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.

A special behind-the-scenes version of Why For

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Karen M. writes in to ask a special favor:

Dear Jim --

I just want to send you a quick e-mail to thank you for writing about Charlie Ridgway's new book, "Spinning Disney's World." On your recommendation, I picked up a copy and found that Mr. Ridgway's biography was just as you said it would be: Loaded with great behind-the-scenes stories.

The only thing that I found disappointing about "Spinning Disney's World" was its meager assortment of photographs. Given everything that Charlie's witnessed over his 30 year career with the Disney Company, it would have been nice to see some pictures of the stuff that the guests never get to see.

Beyond that, "Spinning Disney's World" was still a great read. Thanks again for recommending it.

Your loyal fan,

Karen M.

Dear Karen M.

Thanks for your nice note. I'll be sure to pass along your comments to the nice folks at The Intrepid Traveler (I.E. The company that actually published "Memories of a Magic Kingdom Press Agent"). Maybe by the time they get around to publishing the paperback version of Ridgway's book, The Intrepid Traveler can fold a few more photos into that version of the book.

But -- in an effort to make it up to you, Karen -- I contacted Jeff Lange, JHM's official photographer and asked him if he could root around in his files. Find something that Disneyana fans probably haven't seen before.

At first, Jeff sent me images like this one. Which showed how the front side ...

Photo by Jeff Lange

... and the back side of Epcot's France Pavilion were different. Revealing how the Imagineers only themed the parts of World Showcase that the public could actually see.

Photo by Jeff Lange

So out front, the view (Take -- for example -- the faux Canadian Rockies that loom behind the Canada Pavilion) may be majestic.

Photo by Jeff Lange

But when seen from behind, these mountains lose an awful lot of their majesty.

Photo by Jeff Lange

Now, as interesting as these images may be to some of you folks, I knew that a large number of JHM readers have already been on WDW tours like "Hidden Treasures of World Showcase" and "Backstage Magic." So seeing Epcot's backside isn't all that impressive to people like that.

So I continued to press Mr. Lange, saying: "Come on, Jeff. I know that -- somewhere down deep in your photo archives -- you've got something that few Disneyana fans ... Hell, probably even some WDW cast members ... have never seen before."

And Lange hemmed & hawed ... Before finally forking over this series of shots.

 Photo by Jeff Lange

"And what exactly am I looking at here?," you ask. Well, this is actually a unique artifact from the days when Michael Eisner was still running the Walt Disney Company.

To explain: It's well known that Mr. Eisner was something of a control freak. That he insisted on having the final word when it came to a great number of aspects of the Mouse House. And among the many areas that Michael liked having control over was the construction of all those new hotels that were built at the Walt Disney World Resort between 1984 and 2005.

And Eisner ... He wasn't a just-look-at-the-blueprints-and-then-touch-a-few-fabric-swatches kind of guy. If Michael was expected to sign off on a new $100 million resort ... Well, then -- by God -- he wanted to see what the proposed rooms at this hotel were going to look like first.

So for each new resort that the Disney Development Company proposed for construction on property, the Imagineers first had to create a mock-up of the interior & the exterior of a sample room for this new hotel. So that Eisner could then (in effect) test-drive that resort.

So the photo above? That's a shot of the mock-up that was built for Disney's Wilderness Lodge. And the one just below? This is the sample room that the Imagineers created for the Coronado Springs.

Photo by Jeff Lange

And as the story goes ... Each time that Michael Eisner would fly down to Walt Disney World to take part in some press event and/or an annual meeting, WDI would try to have one of these mock-ups set up for him. And then Disney's CEO would perform a thorough evaluation of the sample room. He'd check to see if the the furniture in the room was sturdy & comfortable, if the paintings on the wall were pleasing to the eye, even if the towels in the bathroom felt thick enough.

In some rare cases, I'm told that Eisner would actually spend the night in one of these mock-up rooms. Just to check if the bed & the mattress that the Imagineers were considering using were comfortable and/or if the comforter felt scratchy. Which meant that Disney Security would then have to stand watch outside the sample room overnight. Just to make sure that no one -- be it a guest or cast member -- disturbed the Big Cheese's slumber.

This practice reportedly continued well into the late 1990s (Below you'll see a shot of the exterior of the mock-up for the Beach Club Villas) ...

Photo by Jeff Lange

... As well as a series of paint tests that were done as possible house exteriors for Celebration.

Photo by Jeff Lange

Unfortunately, in the wake of Euro Disney's financial troubles (Which was directly tied to those five huge hotels that Eisner insisted on being built as part of the Parisian project's Phase One) as well as all the problems arising from Celebration's far-more-vocal-than-expected residents ... Michael lost most of his enthusiasm for architecture in the mid-to-late 1990s. Which is why the Imagineers eventually stopped building these mock-ups for Eisner to try out.

Now as to where this building (Which was re-themed over & over & over again. I once personally saw this structure with a 20-foot-tall maraca leaning against the sample room. Which was when Disney Development was trying to get Michael to sign off on the construction on the first All-Star Resort) was actually located ... Well, it was in a backstage area that no longer exists.

Do you know that massive cast member services building / laundry facility that the Caribbean Beach and the Pop Century Resorts now share? That's where this sample room complex used to be.

Anyway ... That's a look back (courtesy of Jeff Lange's fantastic photo archives) at a little-known piece of WDW history. Now wasn't that better than looking at Epcot's backside?

Speaking of Epcot ... Mr. Lange just put another one of his theme park DVDs on the market. This time around, Jeff pays tribute to the Universe of Energy pavilion with a special 25th anniversary collector's edition disc. Which features several different versions of this Future World attraction. So if you'd like to pick a copy of this sure-to-be-popular DVD, I suggest you follow this link.

And while I'm making with the gratuitous plugs here ... Robert Schooley & Mark McCorkle (AKA the creators of Disney's incredibly popular "Kim Possible" animated series) have written a new book, "Liar of Kudzu." Which the Disney Channel just optioned, given that they now want to use Robert & Mark's novel as the basis for a new TV movie.

Copyright 2007 Simon & Schuster

Anywho ... In support of the recent release of this Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing title, Schooley & McCorkle will be doing a book signing this Saturday at Storyopolis in Studio City, CA. The event is supposed to get underway at 3 p.m. (And FYI for all you "Kim Possible" fans out there: Robert & Mark have said -- in addition in signing copies of "Liar of Kudzu" -- that they'll be happy to autograph any KP items that fans of that show may want to bring along).

By the way, if you're on the wrong side of the country to attend the Studio City signing on Saturday ... On Tuesday, April 3rd, Schooley & McCorkle will be signing copies of "Liar of Kudzu" at Square Books, Jr. in Oxford, MS. That event gets underway at 4 p.m. And the same deal appeals for any "Kim Possible" fans who want Robert & Mark to sign any items related to their favorite Disney Channel series.

Copyright 2007 Walt Disney Home Entertainment

And speaking of the Disney Channel ... In celebration of the upcoming release of the DVD version of "Jump In," KeKe Palmer will be appearing at Disney's California Adventure this Saturday. From 2 to 4 p.m., this tween favorite (Best known for her work in "Akeelah and the Bee") will be greeting her fans and signing copies of this soon-to-be-released disc in an area directly adjacent to the Studio Store.

 Copyright 2007 The Intrepid Traveler

And to now bring things full circle here ... Getting back to "Spinning Disney's World: Memories of a Magic Kingdom Press Agent" now ... On Saturday, March 31st, Charlie Ridgway will be hosting a reading & book signing at the Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Merritt Island, FL from 2 to 4 p.m. Then -- on Sunday, April 1st -- this Disney Legend will be meeting with his fans at the Barnes & Noble in Daytona Beach.

Copyright 2007 Mousesurplus

Speaking of Florida ... For those of you who still mourning the closure of the old Mouse Surplus warehouse that used to be out on Tradeport Avenue in Orlando, have I got some great news for you ! The new owner of this great Disneyana collectibles outlet has finally located a new building.

Mind you, this new version of Mouse Surplus isn't officially supposed to open 'til May. But tomorrow, 150 lucky Disneyana fans will have the chance to tour this new facility as well as purchase furniture from Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, signs, snowglobes and other sundry items. Of course, in order to get into this special event, you're going to need a ticket. Which you can acquire by going here.

Okay ... I think that that brings us up-to-speed on all of this coming weekend's events. You folks have a great April Fools weekend, okay? And hopefully we'll see you all again come Monday morning.

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  • I love those photos!! I worked for WDW in the mid-90s and have never even heard of these structures nor seen them so THANKS for sharing.

    I've also just bought Mr Ridgeway's book and am thoroughly enjoying it, once more thanks for the great recommendation. With so many "Disney" books out there it is easy to buy something terrible so it's always nice to get pointed in the right direction.

  • Great pictures Jim.  Maybe in future Why For articles you could add one or two each time.

  • Sample room complex... what a colossal waste of money!  What a perfectly idiotic way to waste the time and energy of Imagineering.  I LOVE IT!  That totally sounds like something Walt would have cooked up!  And all these year I thought Eisner was a tight wad.  Who knew?!


  • This article is great except for the last part.  I am not a big Eisner fan but I know for a fact that he never lost his enthusiasm for these things.  In fact he visited the Saratoga Springs mockup and approved everything.  He never lost his interest in the 90's or in the 2000's.  I don't know how that was presumed because when I worked back there they were always prepping and getting stuff ready for the big cheese.

    By the way, this building is located in the service area of Riverside.  You can easily drive back there from the resort but there really isn't much too see except for this mockup and the Port Orleans service building.

  • And by the way it wasn't a colussal waste of money at all.  WDI always tested things like to see how it looked.  Not doing this would be a waste of money.....

  • Awesome story, Jim.  It reminds me of the sample room Col. Harland Sanders set up in his family restaurant in Corbin Kentucky so weary visitors to the first "KFC" could decide right away whether they wanted to also spend the night in the Sanders family's motor court next door.

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