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Bob Gurr's "Design: Just for Fun" isn't your typical Disney Legend memoir

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Bob Gurr's "Design: Just for Fun" isn't your typical Disney Legend memoir

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It's always interesting to talk with an author, have them tell you what they think is the most important part of their new book is. Because their answer -- more often than not -- will surprise you.

Take -- for example -- Bob Gurr's recently released memoir, "Design: Just for Fun" (APP - GurrDesign Publishing, May 2012). Just last week at the Cars Land press event, I ran into this Disney Legend while he was seated in the open-air patio area at Flo's V8 Cafe. Given that Gurr had had a hand in the creation in the Disneyland Resort's very first "mountain" (i.e. the Matterhorn), I asked Bob what he thought of Ornament Valley. Mr. Gurr was quick to praise the work that WDI's rockwork team had done, saying that " ... I've already spent a couple of hours out here admiring the view. Over the past decade or so,  I've spent a lot of time mountain-biking through our National Parks. And the level of detail here, the sculpting, the colors that the Imagineers used, it's like something straight out of Zion. They really did a great job of bringing the movie world of 'Cars' to life."

King Kong's head is winched into place in early 1986 as construction continues on this Universal
Studios Hollywood attraction. Copyright APP - GurrDesign Publishing. All rights reserved

And Bob Gurr, he does know a few things about bringing things in theme parks to life. Whether it was that 30 foot-tall, 13,700-pound King Kong animatronic which he helped build for the Universal Studios Hollywood tram tour and/or that 6' 4" version of Abraham Lincoln which Gurr helped create for the 1964 New York World's Fair. That project proved to be one of Bob's biggest channels, since ...

... Lincoln would have thirteen main structural units, all moving in dozens of directions. This would require a rat's nest of linkages, bearings, bellcranks, and a ton of monkey-motion doo dads to provide the articulated motions. These motions would be powered mostly by large pneumatic servo cylinders. All of this stuff had to fit inside this tall, skinny Lincoln. Oh, gosh, why didn't Walt want Grover Cleveland.

What Disney's Lincoln looks like on the inside.
Copyright APP -GurrDesign Publishing.
All rights reserved

That -- to me -- is what made this memoir such a pleasure to read. Though this Disney Legend has obviously worked on many hugely popular attractions for the Parks (EX: The Monorail, the Autopia cars, the Submarine Voyage), Bob is never one to flaunt his resume and/or hog the spotlight. If anything, Gurr seems to enjoy talking more about his failures than his successes. Take -- for example -- what happened on July 17, 1955 when Disneyland Park had its "International Press Preview." Walt had asked Bob to watch over the two young sons of a very famous actress who had agreed to take part in the nationally televised opening of this theme park.  Which is how Gurr found himself in an Autopia car with these young rascals as they whizzed around the Tomorrowland track.

The boys pointed (to a car just ahead of us which was occupied by) a short black guy in an eye patch and hollered "git 'im" (I thought that this guy was) obviously a friend of theirs. (So) we whacked the guy clear off of the (Autopia) track and up into the weeds. He gave me a startled look. I found out the next day it was Sammy Davis Jr. I wanted to apologize till the day he died, but never caught up with him.

Bob Gurr and friend takes a spin around Disneyland's Autopia track.
Copyright APP - GurrDesign Publishing. All rights reserved

Anyway ... Getting back to my meeting with Bob in DCA's new Cars Land area. As I sat with Mr. Gurr in Flo's V8 Cafe looking out at Ornament Valley, I told Bob how much I had enjoyed reading "Design: Just for Fun." And being the humble kind of guy that he is, Gurr was quick to point out the people like Bruce Gordon, Jeff Kurtti,  Doobie Moseley and Carlene Thie who had helped him pull all of these stories together over the years / helped Bob get his manuscript in publishable shape.

And (as I eluded to at the start of today's article) I asked Mr. Gurr what he thought the most important part of this book was. And Bob without hesitation pointed to the portions of "Design: Just for Fun" which talked about his troubled childhood.

Copyright APP - GurrDesign Publishing. All rights reserved

"I was a real handful when I was young. I wound up being expelled from third grade and then being sent to a military academy. A lot of people these days might of given up on a kid like that. Or at the very least used drugs or medication to help make a kid like that easier to deal with, more manageable. I'm just glad that I had relatives and teacher who stuck by me, who saw some potential in this incorrigible. They're the ones who got me in environments that had some real structure, where my classroom assignments were really challenging. Which is was then what made it possible to turn my life around," Gurr stated. "I wonder if a kid like me was coming up through the system whether he'd have then had the same chances that I did. Or if they'd just use Ritalin to tamp that poor kid down."

It's just those sorts of answers which show what an on-the-ball kind of guy Bob Gurr still is. That this isn't a guy who's obsessed with what happened 50 or 60 years ago. But -- rather -- that this is a memoir written by a Disney Legend who is still doing consulting work on interesting entertainment-related  projects to this day. Who is still regularly being sought out for his engineering experience, whether it's to create a 30 foot-tall animatronic Godzilla which was then used for live action practical effects shots for that 1997 film and/or figuring out how to sink a pirate ship several times nightly for the show that Steve Wynn wanted to stage outside of the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino.

A schematic for the sinking pirate ship at the Treasure Island
Resort and Casino. Copyright APP - GurrDesign Publishing.
All rights reserved

So if you're looking for a book that -- as the sub-headers on its cover promise -- will take you behind-the-scenes and then show you how it's done at themed attractions like Disneyland and more, then I heartily recommend that you pick up a copy of "Design: Just for Fun." Which is really the next best thing to spending an afternoon with Bob Gurr in the outdoor patio area at Flo's V8 Cafe, watching as the sun goes down over Ornament Valley.

Your thoughts?

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  • Awesome! Thank you for today's article. I'm a huge Bob Gurr fan and I didn't even know about this book until I checked your site today. I just ordered myself a copy, so thank you again!

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