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Why Clint Eastwood was a last minute addition to Disney-MGM's "Great Movie Ride"

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Why Clint Eastwood was a last minute addition to Disney-MGM's "Great Movie Ride"

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Greetings from the woods of Northern Georgia.

Nancy and I are still down in this neck-of-the-woods. Her Dad's funeral was on Monday, so we're still in the process of dealing with a lot of family obligations. And given that my laptop went belly-up on Super Bowl Sunday ... Well, filing new stories for this site has become even more challenging.

Which is why -- until Nancy can get the chance to properly format the Samsung Notebook that we purchased yesterday -- I thought that I might reach back into JHM's archives and resurrect a Why For column from February of 2005 that (given that Clint Eastwood is back in the news, thanks to his somewhat controversial "It's Halftime in America" commercial) is somewhat newsworthy. So here goes:

Copyright 2012 Chrysler Group LLC. All rights reserved

Jim --

I really enjoyed Thursday's story about how the Disney-MGM Studio theme park may be forced to change its name this summer. I was wondering: Will the expiration of Disney's agreement with MGM/UA also result in "The Great Movie Ride" being shut down too?

Rich G.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Dear Rich G.

Actually, no. Don't worry about it. The rights to use the various movie scenes and characters that you see in "The Great Movie Ride" were actually acquired under a separate series of agreements that involved a number of different movie studios. Not just MGM/UA.

Take -- for example -- the "Alien" sequence in TGMR. Disney got the rights to use those characters and that oh-so-spooky setting by cutting a deal with 20th Century Fox, the studio that actually produced this Ridley Scott film back in 1979. The "Raiders of the Lost Ark" Well of Souls scene? The Imagineers actually had to approach two different companies -- Paramount Pictures and Lucasfilm Ltd.-- in order to get permission to make AA versions of Indy & Sallah.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

That process sounds kind of involved, don't you think? Wait. It gets worse.

In addition to getting permission from the individual studios in order to recreate a character and/or a setting from a particular motion picture, WDI often times had to also persuade the surviving members of a performer's family to sign off on the likeness of that AA figure as well. Otherwise Disney's lawyers wouldn't allow the Imagineers to install the robotic version of that star in "The Great Movie Ride."

This is what actually happened with the Lee Marvin Audio Animatronic that was supposed to be installed in the Western sequence of that Disney-MGM ride. Directly across from the John Wayne figure.

Copyright 1965 Columbia Pictures. All rights reserved

"Wait a minute, Jim," you sputter. "You're telling me that there was supposed to be a Lee Marvin AA figure in the 'Great Movie Ride'? How did that deal fall through? What exactly happened here?"

Well, to put it bluntly, Lee Marvin's kids refused to sign WDI's release form. They were deeply offended that -- out of all the roles their Dad had played over the course of his 35-year-long career -- Disney had chosen to make a robotic version of Kid Shelleen (AKA The drunken gunslinger that Marvin had played in the 1965 comic western, "Cat Ballou").

Now it didn't seem to matter to Marvin's children that their father had actually won an Academy Award for playing Kid Shelleen. Or that many people had thought that Lee's performance in "Cat Ballou" was the very best thing that the late actor (Marvin died of a heart attack in August of 1987) had ever done.

Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Frank Wells, Michael Eisner, Goofy and Donald
Duck. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

All they knew was that everyone who ever rode Disney-MGM's "Great Movie Ride" was going to see -- for years & years yet to come -- was a robotic version of their dad, drunk. This was a concept that Lee Marvin's kids just couldn't live with. Which is why they flat-out refused to sign WDI's release form.

This -- as you might understand -- left the Imagineers who actually were in charge of completing this attraction in a bit of a lurch. These guys knew that they needed two well-known film legends in order to properly fill out the performance space that had been built into the Western section of "The Great Movie Ride." And now that the Kid Shalleen AA figure had to be pulled out of TGMR ... Well, that left one hell of a big hole.

Luckily, Frank Wells was able to come to WDI's rescue. He told the Imagineers: "Look, I'm personal friends with Clint Eastwood. I was his attorney for a while. And -- back when I was in charge of Warners -- I actually greenlit a number of Eastwood's pictures. Which is why I'm sure that he'd get a real kick out of seeing himself inside the 'Great Movie Ride.' So why don't you work up an Audio Animatronic version of him? And I'll then get Clint to sign your release form."

Copyright 1964 United Artists. All rights reserved

This WDI did almost immediately. They fabricated that AA figure in record time. Of course, given the limited amount of time that the Imagineers were working with here ... Well, I guess you can understand now why the GMR's "Man with No Name" robot has such limited movement.

Anyway ... WDI quickly produces an Audio Animatronic Clint Eastwood. The figure's then sent east and quickly installed in "The Great Movie Ride." But -- because Disney's lawyers insisted that the public wasn't actually allowed to see this particular AA figure 'til after Eastwood officially signs that release form ... During the "Great Movie Ride" 's entire test-and-adjust period, the "Man with No Name" stood stoically in that doorway with a paper bag over his head.

Meanwhile, the Imagineers keep calling Frank Wells' office, asking the Disney Company's president: "Did you get Clint to sign that release form yet." But Wells is busy running the Mouse House. And Eastwood was working on "Pink Cadillac." So neither of these guys really has a hole in their schedule. And meanwhile the date of Disney-MGM's grand opening keeps getting closer and closer and closer ...

Bernadette Peters and Clint Eastwood in "Pink Cadillac." Copyright 1989
Warner Bros. All rights reserved

Finally in April of 1989 (Less than 10 days before the studio theme park was due to open to the public ), Wells persuades Clint to get on a plane with him. So that the two of them can then fly on down to Florida and go check out Disney's newest theme park.

Mind you, Eastwood really isn't a theme park kind of guy. More importantly, he's not all that crazy about planes. So it takes an awful lot of weedling on Wells' part to finally get Clint on Mickey's corporate jet. But eventually Eastwood does agree to go to Orlando.

So Clint & Frank finally arrive at Disney-MGM and begin touring the theme park. And this whole time, the Imagineers assigned to the GMR are sweating bullets. They keep thinking about what could to happen if Wells is wrong. What if Eastwood absolutely hates the "Man with No Name" AA figure? What will they do then?

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Finally, the two old friends get on board the "Great Movie Ride." They've got an entire theater car all to themselves. And -- as it quietly slides out of the attraction's load area -- a very nervous lead picks up his walkie-talkie and says: "They're on their way. You can remove the paper bag now."

And that's literally what happens. Just seconds before the theater car that's carrying Clint and Frank rolls into the "Great Movie Ride" 's Western section, an Imagineer sprints on stage and rips the paper bag right off of the "Man with No Name" 's head. Then -- bag in hand -- he slips back into the shadows, holds his breath and watches what happens next.

The doors leading from the attraction's gangland shooting sequence now swings open. The theater car slides into the next room. Eastwood spies the "Man with No Name" AA figure leaning against that building. A big, very un-Dirty-Harry-like smile spreads across his face. He turns to Wells and says: "Hey, that's me!"

Right across from the Clint Eastwood AA figure is one of John
Wayne, recreating this Hollywood icon's classic role in John
Ford's "The Searchers." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Frank turns to Clint and says: "You like?" Eastwood says: "Yeah. Sure." Wells then whips out WDI's release form and says: "Okay. Then sign this, please."

And literally -- right in the middle of the action portion of the GMR's Western sequence (I.E. After the robber has tossed the dynamite into bank. Which is why all those flames are belching out of the windows) -- Clint initials and then signs that release form. Thinking that his old pal, Frank, had gone to such elaborate lengths to try & amuse and surprise him.

To my knowledge, Eastwood has never learned about all the problems that the Imagineers were having with Lee Marvin's kids. Or that his "Man with No Name" AA figure was really just a last minute substitute for the Kid Shalleen Audio Animatronic that the Imagineers had originally planned on installing in this attraction.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which is why I'm kind of hoping that this story never gets back to Clint. I'd hate to think that -- by posting this tale on JHM (Which was told to me by the very same Imagineer who reportedly raced on stage and ripped that paper bag off of the robotic Eastwood's head) -- that this will somehow undermine what must be a pretty fond memory of the late Frank Wells.

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  • I a bit confuse by the timeline they choose Mr. Eastwood attire for this ride.  If he's 'the man with no name', then he represent the "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly" blonde era, before he got the poncho. From what people say, that movie was suppose to be a prequel to the whole "dollars trilogy". It's funny how much Mr. Eastwood is not a fan of some pop culture stuff, yet he tries them out. I remember the whole "Firefox" laserdisc arcade was a major deal since he loan out his voice for it. He even help out by co-produce with is company Malpaso production on that next-gen Dirty Harry video game that was sadly cancel. He also did that stalker movie "Play, Misty for me" before it became a stander genre in the 80's and 90's.  He always been one to push the boundaries long before everybody else. I do wish their would be some more theme park content from him. I read about the Italy movie theme park "Cinecitta World" which suppose to have the famous Sergio Leone spaghetti western setting. I wonder if we see Clint over there too.  Great story. I can't believe they use a "paper bag", I figure they have some lavish Disney made veil for his animations.

  • Great info. I didnt know this

  • Speaking of the Great Movie Ride....

    Remember when the ride first opened, and the Wicked Witch was the crown jewel of the attraction? In her day, she was THE most advanced AA figure at any of the Disney Parks. Fast forward twenty years, and we've got Carnotaurs that actually CHASE your ride vehicle, a twenty foot tall Yeti (still impressive despite needing a few metric tons of  TLC), and a Jack Sparrow so realistic that at first glance one would swear its a live actor who may or may not be Johnny Depp's long lost twin.

    Over the years, all of the Great Movie Ride's AA's have been getting clunkier and clunkier. The Wicked Witch seems to have a wicked case of arthritis, the Alien in the ceiling might as well be a static prop on an oversized drawer slide, and Jane's skin looks more and more plasticized every year I make it to Orlando.

    Then there is the finale clip reel....imagine what they could do with a digital projector and a high definition sound system!

    Is a refurb ever coming? Will the movie ride ever be GREAT again?

  • I can see where FettFan84 is coming from but I still think the Wicked Witch moves fantastically. The last time I was there was 2008 on my honeymoon but she still looked fluid to me. I'm a bit partial to the Wizard of Oz and I'd be heartbroken if they ever replaced/changed it too much.

    I do agree that TGMR needs some love. I'm not sure if I'd replace some of the "great" movies but I think I'd update and perhaps add some more. The reel at the end IS awesome but could be enhanced a bit I think.

  • Great article, as always!    I remember taking a tour of WDI in 1986, and seeing a model of GMR.  It was probably twice as long as it is now, and had such things as a Ghostbusters section, and a Bette Davis AA figure, but due to the above-mentioned legal clearances, it got whittled down to what we see now.  I also remember hearing something that John Wayne's family signed off only if they could choose who did his voice, and their choice was Chad Everett!  Anyone else hear this?

  • FettFan, I'm SO with you!  The figures look terrible these days.  They were once so grand, especially the wicked witch.  I think the problem lies in one simple truth: the ride has no sponsor (or does it?)  If it had a Siemens backing like Spaceship Earth, it'd get GREAT new figures.  The first time I saw the Alien figure was 1996 and it was already barely moving - did I miss something much better from 1989?

  • Spectroman,

    The first time I rode it was in 1992, when I was 8 years old.  I remember distinctly that the alien in the ceiling had moving arms, and it dropped about a foot lower than it currently does.  The alien in the pipes used to appear faster to attack the second car....while everyone's attention was on the ceiling, it would pop out and its second teeth would pop out.

    At my last trip, May 2011, both aliens were sluggish. The ceiling alien's head twitches back and forth, but the arms remain extended. Even worse was that the fog machine up there was barely putting out anything, so the alien just kind of lazily rolled out of the ceiling, twitched his head a few times, then slowly went back up.

    The wall alien was just as bad...slowly stands up, teeth already extended, shakes his head, and slowly drops back down. The good news is that his fog machine was in fact working, so it made it a little less obvious.

    The only thing I could think of is that maybe the powers that be decided it was too intense for small children so they turned it down a notch.

    At least that's what I'm hoping, because letting an animatronic showpiece run at B mode for years on end is so unlike Disney.

    You hear that, Animal Kingdom? SO. UNLIKE. DISNEY.

  • Regarding the ride's current state, it doesn't help that WDW Casting doesn't actually "cast" people anymore: not for this, nor Mansion, nor Jungle Cruise... you get the idea. Previously, one would have to audition - now they hire people with the attitude that anyone can be trained.  Sadly, this isn't true - the magic of these attractions hinges on the energy and talent of the person leading you through the world in question.

  • @Mike

    I'd love to see the model you saw back in 86'...do you know if it still exists somewhere? Ghostbusters is one of my favorite movies ever!

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