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Cast Member Corner: A not-so magical return to Disney World

Cast Member Corner: A not-so magical return to Disney World

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JimHillMedia continues to highlight the experiences of those who work as Disney cast members with Rob S. adding his story of going back to work at the Disney-MGM Studios. Here's Rob:

Dear Jim -

I have been reading your site for several months now and -- seeing as how many cast members have been telling you their stories -- I thought I'd contribute my (own) manifesto.

So here goes.

My beginnings with the Disney Company started, as many of ours do, at a young age. Growing up in South Florida, Walt Disney World was just a few hours away and being so, (I) visited (the place) frequently. I cannot know the exact number of times I had been before I started working there at age 19. but it had to have been a hundred or more.

I discovered that I was more than the average Disney fan at around six years of age. My father had bought the coffee table book 'Mickey Mouse - Fifty Happy Years', and upon flipping though the text, I noticed that Mickey's 'birthday' was November 18th. The same as mine.

Jim, I cannot tell you what a joy that was. Knowing that Mickey Mouse and myself were kindred spirits - birthday brothers of sorts. I bragged for years to come about this inconsequential coincidence to anyone who would lend an ear.

I still tell people to this day.

My first foray into being a cast member was in June of 1990. I was lucky enough to get hired as a cast member at the new Disney Store in Plantation, Florida. Store number 13 - the last store of the first group to be opened. I was thrilled. It felt as if I were our town's local Walt Disney World ambassador. It was like having Main Street's Emporium in my backyard, and I had free run of the joint. Hell, the place even smelled like Disney.

I worked at TDS for two years, mostly under a manager named Joseph Perotta. The man became a big brother to me. Far more than a boss, he was my mentor. I strove to be just like him. The man knew his Disney trivia better than I did. And I was a young man who knew his Disney trivia!

Joseph taught me how to sell. But not in an oily, car salesman way. He taught me how to sell the Disney way. Increasing the company's profits by giving phenomenal guest service. Selling by being excited about the product. Selling by getting the Guest excited. In one year, our store was the top store in the country in sales of animation cels and other more expensive collectibles. And never once did I feel as if we were bilking anyone, taking advantage. We were providing merchandise with a friendly smile and a warm attitude. Our guests appreciated it.

I should mention that at the time, minimum wage was around $5 an hour. Maybe $5.35 TOPS. I was making $6.25. It was as if I were a millionaire. A millionaire who got to work for the Walt Disney Company. Those were the days.

A year after I left the Disney Store, I moved to Orlando. My dream was to become an animator, and moving up the ranks at the Disney-MGM Studios (theme) park seemed to be (my) best bet. Sure, I was taking a pay cut by nearly a buck an hour, but it would be well worth it.

What a shock.

It seemed I was one of the very few cast members who had that 'Disney Spirit'. I couldn't believe it. Here I was -- at the happiest place on Earth -- and the other cast members BITCHED about working for Disney!

Not me, though. I loved every minute of it. I was in my Mecca. Working at the Animation Tour and "Voyage of the Little Mermaid" during the day, dancing away the nights at Pleasure Island. It couldn't have gotten any better.

Until I got fired.

Yes, hard as it is to believe, management at the Disney-MGM Studios decided that I had been late one too many times. It didn't matter that I made sure each and every guest had a wonderful time when they were in one of my queues. It didn't matter that when Ariel ended "Part of Your World" at "Voyage" that I clapped loudly, encouraging the weary audiences to applaud for her. It didn't matter that my education background was in animation, and that I made sure every little kid who came through the Animation tour got a FULL tour -- beyond the spiel, beyond the little video clips of Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite. What mattered was that I had been late four times in a three month period.

So I left. Went to find work elsewhere. Determined that one day I would return.

And I did. Six years later I rejoined the cast at the Studios, this time working at the water tank on the Backlot Tour. The same enthusiasm. The same attention to detail. The same pixie dust.

I hated it.

The company that I loved didn't exist (anymore). Benefits were not to be found. Full time employment was (like) the Loch Ness Monster, (this mythical creature that few had seen). Morale was low, show quality was lower. Cast members would often talk badly about Mr. Eisner. Not me though. I would defend ANYTHING Disney said or did, even though I was feeling the lack of magic. "Give him time," I'd say. "He brought the company from the brink of extinction in '84... He'll do it again," I promised.

But the damage was done. I had to leave. I felt that I couldn't be a Disney fan and enjoy Disney as much as I should (by working for the corporation. So) I said "Goodbye" and haven't returned (since).

(By the way: When I was working at the Water Tank at MGM, I was) making $5.65 an hour. (And this was) nine years after making $6.25 at the Disney Store.

Now with Michael in the dangerous position he is in and everyone questioning the future of the company, I have to wonder:

Will my Disney ever return?

Will traditional animation ever come back? Will Disney stop cutting costs and underpaying its hard workers? Will the quality of the show replace the company's bottom line?

I have nothing against Michael, personally. He's a man who is trying his best to make a corporation profitable. Unfortunately, his time seems to be past.

I hope that whatever happens, Roy returns to the company. Roy is a man of integrity, a man of passion and someone who really understands the magic that is the Walt Disney Company. He is indeed the company's best friend.

...And I wouldn't complain if I could run the place.

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