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The toughest critter west of the Alamo: The one, the only, Wally Boag

The toughest critter west of the Alamo: The one, the only, Wally Boag

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Jim Hill here. And it is now with the greatest of pleasure that I introduce you to JHM's newest columnist: Ron Schneider.

For those of you who don't know already, Schneider is something of a celebrity in themed entertainment circles. His credits ... Well, they are literally too numerous to mention. So let's just give you a few highlights:

  • You know that face character version of the Dreamfinder who used to interact with Epcot guests over by the LeapFrog Fountain at the "Journey in Imagination" pavilion? Back in October of 1982, Ron actually originated that role for the parks. He worked with the Imagineers who created that Future World attraction to help turn this nuts-and-bolts AA figure into a flesh-and-blood walk-around character ... complete with little purple dragon.

Copyright 1985 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

  • Did you ever laugh at the Marx Brothers' antics at Universal Studios Florida? Back in the 1990s, Schneider supervised the lookalike program at that studio theme park. He put together such a talented troupe of performers who were so dedicated to their craft that ... Well, whenever you strolled down that park's Hollywood Boulevard, it really felt as if all of these screen legends had come back to life and were now invading Orlando.

He was the pre-recorded voice of the engineer that you used to hear on the steam train that rolls around the Magic Kingdom. Not to mention Santa Claus at SeaWorld. A mountain man who had a real-live lion for a pet at Magic Mountain back in the 1970s. Lord of the Manor at many a dinner theatre show. The list goes on & on ...

FYI: Ron's not just a talented performer. He's also a gifted storyteller who right now is in the middle of writing his memoirs. I've already read a good portion of that manuscript, "Themes, Dreams & Schemes: 40 Years Behind a Nametag." And trust me, folks. This is one book that Disney enthusiasts & theme park fans are going to want to pick up. It's just chock-full of hilarious behind-the-scenes stories. Not to mention valuable lessons about how one can not only survive but thrive in the topsy-turvy world of themed entertainment.

Wally Boag during his 1955 appearance on "The Mickey Mouse Show."
Copyright 1955 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

Speaking of stories ... For his debut column on JHM, Mr. Schneider's chosen to pay a tribute to a certain traveling salesman. The Disney Legend who actually inspired Ron to pursue a career of performing in theme parks. So why don't I just shut up now and let Schneider have the floor:

Would you believe ... There used to be a live stage show at Disneyland that wasn't based on a merchandising franchise or an animated film? Where the cast and musicians were known by their own real names? A show that grew more and more popular throughout its 31-year run, but hardly ever changed?

Old timers and die-hard fans of Disneyland history will know that I'm talking about: The original Golden Horseshoe Revue. It was Disneyland's most popular show from opening day 1955 until its final performance in 1986, and was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World's Longest Running Live Stage Show.

The Horseshoe was Walt's idea. His friend Donald Novis had been working on the road as a singer for years and was looking for a place to settle down. Walt offered to build him a showplace in his new park, and asked if he knew a good comic. It turns out Donald had worked with a funny young man in Australia who had made quite an impression. This was Wally Boag.

Walt summoned Wally to a one-on-one audition on a soundstage in Burbank. Wally brought his whole act: ventriloquist dummy, bagpipes, Boagaloons. He demonstrated his skill at eccentric dancing and ran through his nightclub act. Some of which had been tailored for a mature audience. Walt watched, impressed but silent. Wally wrapped with “And that's the act.”

Walt looked thoughtful. “This thing we're doing, Disneyland ... This is going to be a family park.”

Wally's response? “I can clean it up.”

Wally Boag quickly became more than Walt's personal court jester. He was the new park's Senior Consultant when it came to anything comic or theatrical. He produced the Backstage Disneyland magazine, a quarterly collection of humor based on life as a Disneyland cast member. He staged comic reviews for employee functions, helped Walt with the staging of the 1964 Winter Olympics, and appeared as a bit player in many Disney films, including "Son of Flubber" and "The Love Bug." He even served as a live action reference model on "The Aristocats," providing the inspiration for that wobbly-legged attorney who periodically pops up in this animated feature.

"What's the matter? You from LA or something?"
Wally Bag's all-too-brief cameo in "The Love Bug."
Copyright 1969 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

Wally hosted a live radio show from the stage of the Horseshoe back in the 1950s, interviewing personalities of the day. And when it came time to flesh out that idea that Walt had for a new bird-based show for Adventureland, it was Wally who actually crafted the script for "The Enchanted Tiki Room." He also voiced the Barker Bird that used to sit on the outside of this attraction. Not to mention Jose -- one of "Tiki" 's 4 host parrots -- who still perches on the inside.

In addition to this, Boag opened the Diamond Horseshoe in Walt Disney World as well as helping to adapt the very American comedy found in Disney theme park attractions so that this material would then play better for the Japanese guests who were getting ready to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

And all that while still doing 5 shows a day at Disneyland. That's what you call being a trouper.

Wally Boag retired from the Horseshoe stage in 1982, but has been working almost continuously for the Walt Disney Company ever since. He was made a Disney Legend -- along with the Horseshoe's other principals, Fulton Burley & Betty Taylor -- in 1995.

Betty Taylor & Wally Boag on-stage at Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe Revue.
Copyright 1962 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved
Image courtesy of Daveland

Oh, and one more thing he did. Through his endless energy, dedication to show quality and sheer comic talent, Wally inspired more than a few of us to follow in his eccentric footsteps.

I first caught his act at the Golden Horseshoe in 1970. And right then and there – just like Steve Martin, Dana Daniels, Dick Hardwick and many others – I then set my sights on a performing career, with the ultimate goal of someday gracing that Frontierland stage. I took all the theme park jobs I could, working at Magic Mountain and Universal Studios. All the time studying what made Wally and the Golden Horseshoe such a unique piece of Disney history.

And dreams do come true. For during the Summer of 1980, I was actually hired to be Wally's sub at the Golden Horseshoe. And on many an evening during Disneyland's 25th anniversary celebration, I'd get a call from Boag. Asking me if I'd be willing to fill in so that Wally could then go play the ponies the following day.

Now let's jump ahead 15 years or so. When I was lucky enough to attend a Club 55 reunion where -- for one night only -- Wally was coming out of retirement to reprise his classic Traveling Salesman & Pecos Bill characters for hundreds of lucky Disneyland alumni. I just couldn't miss the chance to see my hero, my inspiration on-stage one more time. Which is why I made a point of being at that theater that night.


But given our history ... I couldn't help myself. So that afternoon -- after Wally & the cast had finished rehearsing -- I made my way backstage and found Mr. Boag. And since it had been more than a decade since he'd last seen me, Wally initially had trouble placing the face. But as soon as I said ...

"Well, I had to come. Just in case you needed someone to cover for you while you went to the track."

... This big smile broke across Boag's face.

“Ron Schneider? I was watching a video tape of you just the other day. You made me laugh.”

If I hadn't been so very touched by my hero's comment, I might have said the same thing to him.

Wasn't that a great story?

Copyright 2008 Ape Pen Publishing. All Rights Reserved

Speaking of Mr. Boag, the nice folks at Ape Pen Publishing will be paying tribute to Wally with "The Golden Horseshoe Dinner Show & Celebration," which will be held March 29th at the Sheraton directly across from Disneyland. There are literally only a handful of tickets left for this event. Which will feature performances by Dana Daniels, Dick Harwick and many of the other entertainers that Mr. Boag has inspired over the years. Plus -- of course -- an appearance by the great man himself. So if you'd like to get in on the fun, you should fire off an e-mail off to [email protected] ASAP

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  • Great to see Ron writing for the site!  Welcome aboard, Ron!

  • Great article, surprised there aren't more comments about it.

  • Does anyone know if the "Wally Boag" book written by Bruce Gordon will be published soon? As a youngster I must have seen that show at least 25 times.

  • It's my understanding that 'Clown Prince of the Magic Kingdom' will be available at the GHS event.

  • I love the profile pic Ron.  I didn't meet Dreamfinder until 92, after your time probably, but I'm so very glad you created the face character - a happy memory from childhood.  Welcome aboard, enjoyed the first article!

  • And, of course, you can get a good filming of Wally's show at its peak (along with the rest of the revue and some guest acts, like Disney great Ed Wynn, for the one filming) in the Disneyland Secrets release from the Treasures DVD Wave 7!

  • We are so honored to have Wally at this event. www.thegoldenhorseshoerevue.com He is so dear to our hearts and one of the greatest guys I personally have known. Wally's book will be pre-sold at the event, the expect date for the book to be out is unknown to me at this time. We were told roughly two months after the event.

    I was fortunate enough to see the draft of this book; and its just AMAZING! I guarantee you will just love the book! Steve Martin & Julie Andrews contribute a little something in this book too. Great Job Wally and all those who had a hand in it!

    Wally Boag and his family are truly kind and giving people. Thanks you guys for everything!!!

  • Nice post. I learn something new and difficult on personal blogs I stumbleupon day to day. It will always be intriguing to read simple things content from the editors and practice a little something from their internet sites.

  • Good read. I find out something totally new and difficult on personal blogs I stumbleupon daily. It's always exciting to read content material from the other internet writers and practice a little something from their internet sites.

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