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Why For? – Hotel Mel, Where’s my Mummy and Who broke Tik Tok?

Jim Hill tries to clear out the clogs in his e-mail queue by answering LOTS of your Disney related questions all at once. So you'd best get comfortable before you sit back to read Jim's answers to your questions about "Hotel Mel," Universal's "Mummy" attractions, Hill's fateful encounter with Tik Tok, even more info on "Geyser Mountain," why the large-breasted ladies got down-sized in Pixar's "Knick Knack," the 1970s version of "Fantasia II," "Aladdin" in IMAX, someone needs help with their video scrapbook and — last but not least — there's a new JHM Disneyland tour in the works.



A word of warning. This week's "Why For" is going to a really L-O-O-O-N-G one with a number of relatively funny stories. So — before you get started here — now might be a really good time to go take a bathroom break.

Okay. Everyone take care of business? Good. Then let's get started, shall we?

First up, Jeremy W. writes in to ask:

Dear Jim,

After reading an article on that was never fully completed, you talked about the Tower of Terror originally being called "Hotel Mel" starring Mel Brooks. Can you tell me a little bit more about what that was supposed to be like and how much involvement Mel Brooks had in that project?

Jeremy W.

Dear Jeremy W,

You know, one of these days, I really do have to get around to finishing that "Tower of Terror" series over at Kevin Boles' website. I feel just terrible about leaving all his readers hanging like that — for lo these many months.

Anyway … you asked about Mel Brooks and Disney. Okay … let's set the Wayback for the Summer of 1989. Disney-MGM Studio Theme Park has just opened and is a huge hit with the public. People are just pouring into that park. Which is resulting in 5 hour long lines for "The Great Movie Ride," 3 hour long lines for "The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular," etc. You get the idea, right?

So clearly Disney-MGM has some serious capacity problems. So Mouse House management turns to the Imagineers and says: "Go design a huge pile of new rides and shows that we can quickly drop into the studio theme park!" So WDI's wizards put their heads together and try to figure out what sort of attractions they should design next for Disney-MGM.

Well, back in the Summer of 1989, one of the park's clear areas of weakness is that it lacked rides. Particularly thrill rides. And — since that was the No. 1 complaint heard from departing Disney-MGM visitors (who were polled as they exited the theme park), that "This places needs lots more rides" — that's just what the Imagineers decided to do. Which is come up with "lots more rides" for that park.

But what sorts of rides? Ah, that was the question. So — looking for inspiration — the Imagineers began exploring all sorts of movie genres — film noir, action adventure, romance — but eventually zeroed in on horror as being the most likely candidate for lending itself as the appropriate theme for a new theme park thrill ride.

But here's where the problem came in: You see, Disney doesn't do horror. At least not very well. Sure, the Mouse was great when it came to producing slapstick comedies, heartfelt family dramas and animated musicals. But every time Disney ventured in the horror movie field (EX: "The Watcher in the Woods," that ill-fated suspense film … which I'll be writing about at length for JHM sometime later this month so keep an eye for that article), it wound up being a disaster.

So — given that the Walt Disney Company had no horror films of its own in the corporation's film library to build an attraction around — the Mouse looked into acquiring the rights to a number of other studio's movie monsters as the possible hook for their new studio theme park thrill ride. You name a movie monster from the 1970s and 1980s and you can bet the Imagineers looked into possibly building an attraction around that character: Jason from the "Friday the 13th" movies, Freddy from "The Nightmare on Elm Street" series, the zombies from George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead / Dawn of the Dead / Day of the Dead" trilogy, even Leatherface from the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" films.

There was even some talk of doing a show for Disney-MGM that would have been built around horror author Stephen King and the various characters that appeared in his best selling novels. But that idea eventually fell by the wayside … only to be resurrected later (in thrill ride form) as a possible attraction for Universal Studios Florida. But that's a story for another time …

Anyway … given all the problems that the Imagineers were having coming up with a viable Disney-MGM thrill ride based on a really-for-real horror movie character, the guys at WDI suddenly decided to try and go another way. I mean, if they couldn't bring ourselves to place an attraction in a Disney theme park that's based on a really scary movie, then why couldn't they build a ride around a fake scary movie? Something that's supposed to be frightening, but is actually funny.

And — of course — when you're talking about horror comedy, there's really only one guy that you want to talk with. And that's Mel Brooks, the cinematic genius who brought "Young Frankenstein" to life.

Luckily — in the late 1980s — the Walt Disney Company already had sort of a working relationship going with Brooks. You see, Michael Eisner himself had contacted Mel in mid-1988. Michael had asked the veteran comedy director to drop by the Burbank studio to check out the multi-million dollar recreation of NYC's Plaza Hotel that Disney's craftsmen had built for the 1988 Lily-Tomlin-and-Bette-Midler comedy "Big Business." Eisner was hoping that Brooks might be able to come up with a way to recycle the expensive setting. Mel took one look at the set and said "You know, this would make a great setting for a zany sitcom. Something set in a New York hotel that has this crazy staff …"

Sadly, the sitcom that Brooks dreamed up to make use of this underused "Big Business" set — "The Nutt House" — only ran for a couple of weeks on NBC in the fall of 1989. But Uncle Michael really appreciated that Mel had given it the old college try.

And as for that Plaza Hotel set? Well, Eisner was so determined to get some sort of return out of the millions that the Disney Company had poured into the creation of those elaborate sets that he had them shipped down to Florida. Where the "Big Business" flats were then used to decorate the now-closed-but-still-very-much-missed Soundstage Restaurant at Disney-MGM.

Anywho … Eisner was extremely grateful to Brooks for at least trying to find some way to recycle the "Big Business" sets. And Mel had liked working for the Mouse. So — for the next year or so — Brooks and the Walt Disney Company circled one another, trying to find out if there was some sort of project that Mel and the Mouse could work on together.

While all this was going on, the veteran director did do some work with Walt Disney Imagineering. But NOT as a director. But rather as a performer.

Some of you may recall a short film that was "Mickey's Big Break" (also known as "Mickey's Audition"). In that picture, Mel played the director who actually did give Mickey his big break. Playing the role of Mel DeMille, Brooks is the guy who supposedly hires the Mouse to appear in his very first cartoon.

Mel has a really great moment in this 5 minute short (Which was a really rather elaborate production, by the way. Shot on location at Disney-MGM and directed by Rob Minkoff of "Lion King" fame, the film featured a number of cameos by celebrities — including Carol Kane, Ed Begley Jr., Mark Linn-Baker, Dom DeLuise and Jonathan Winters. It also seamlessly mixes live action and animation for a highly comic effect. It's just too bad that this movie never gets shown in the Disney theme parks anymore. Anyhow …) when it appears that — due to some collapsing scenery — Mickey is out of commission. Without missing a beat, Brooks picks up his megaphone and shouts "Get me another mouse!" Funny, funny stuff.

Anywho … it was about this time that the Imagineers approached Brooks and asked him if he'd be interested in consulting on a horror-based theme park attraction that they were designing for Disney-MGM. Several highly productive (and reportedly hilarious) meetings later, an idea finally came into fruition: Hotel Mel.

The basic premise of this proposed attraction was this: As they strolled up Sunset Boulevard toward a large run-down looking hotel, Disney-MGM visitors were supposed to have heard told that a movie was currently being shot inside this structure. Soooo … would you like to visit this "Hot Set?" Or — better yet — be an extra in this movie? Well, then you'd better get on line over there …

So — as you wandered through the attraction's queue — you would have seen (via overhead monitors) that it was Mel Brooks himself who is supposedly filming a new horror film inside of this abandoned Hollywood hotel. Which may — or may not — be haunted. But Mel can't be bothered with stuff like that right now. He's too busy filming his latest epic to be worried about ghosts and ghouls.

We are then told that — if we expect to land a role in this film — we're going to have to audition for Brooks himself. So — as we reach the ride's load area — we climb aboard stylized golf carts. (Which Mel was supposed to make fun of as being "Special Disney Golf Carts. They're magical. These carts don't need drivers. They just follow some tape on the floor. Or bread crumbs. Or … look, I don't know exactly how they work. I'm a director. Not an Imagineer. But — trust me — they work, okay? These carts will take you right where you need to go. Which is where I am. Here on the set. So climb aboard already, okay?")

So we climb aboard our golf cart and then … well, this is the part where all the Imagineers who were working on "Hotel Mel" could never quite agree on. I.E. What exactly was the story of this new Disney-MGM attraction supposed to be?

Was it that the Disney-MGM guests — who were riding on golf carts toward an allegedly hot film set that was located inside of an old Hollywood hotel that was reportedly haunted — were encountering REAL monsters as they moved through the show building … or just actors in make-up who were supposed to appearing in a Mel Brooks movie? The guys from WDI (or Brooks for that matter) could never agree on the right way to go here.

Either way, the Imagineers and Mel did manage to come up with some really killer gags for Disney-MGM's "Hotel Mel" ride. These reportedly included:

A trip through the hotel's kitchen, where a coven of comical witches would be cackling over cauldrons as they prepared that night's feast. One memorable gag from this sequence: A tentacle emerges from the depths of one cauldron and – picking up a ladle – began stirring the contents of another cauldron located nearby.

In a fun nod to "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," a trip through the lobby would have revealed that the hotels' bellman was Quasimodo.

And — in perhaps the funniest scene in the entire attraction — our golf cart would take a sudden detour through the hotel's mens room. Here, we would have seen a trio of ghouls standing at the sink, getting ready for that night's festivities:

Dracula attempting to shave at the sink. But — because he's a vampire — Drac can't see his own reflection in the mirror. So the Count is constantly nicking himself with his razor.

Next to Dracula, the Wolfman is combing his face.

Next to the Wolfman, the Invisible man is admiring himself in the mirror. Saying things like "Don't I look stunning tonight?"

But truly the grossest (and funniest) gag in this sequence would have been revealed as our golf cart suddenly swiveled to face the bathroom stalls. Though the doors to the toilets are closed, we can look down and clearly see two sets of easily identifiable feet. The Frankenstein Monster is supposedly seated in one stall. While — right next door — the Mummy is perched on the other commode.

Now here's where the gross joke comes in. It's clear (based on the noises coming out of Frankenstein's stall) that the Monster has somehow run out of toilet paper. So Frankie reaches down toward the floor of the Mummy's stall. Toward what he obviously thinks is the loose end of another roll of toilet paper.

Only that's NOT the loose end of another roll of toilet paper. It's actually one of the wrapping from the Mummy's foot, which has somehow come partially undone. So — as Frankenstein's Monster makes a reach for the wrapping — the Mummy jerks his leg away suddenly … and makes all sort of indignant noises as he does.

Sounds like a funny gag, doesn't it? To be honest, the proposal for "Hotel Mel" is loaded with great gags like this. But what this proposed addition to Disney-MGM DOESN'T have is a coherent story. Or much of a thrill factor for that matter.

As for the attraction's conclusion … that was supposed to have taken us by an Audio Animatronic recreation of Mel Brooks. Who — while riding on a crane-mounted camera — was supposed to have urged us to scream as part of our audition for his new horror movie.

But why were we supposed to be screaming? That was something that the Imagineers or Mel could never figure out. Which is one of the reasons that this project eventually fell by the wayside.

Of course, cost factored in here as well. I mean, given the large number of AA figures that would have had to have been constructed in order for "Hotel Mel" to succeed, the budget necessary for actually building this proposed Disney-MGM attraction would have been sky high.

And then there was the concern that — as funny and clever as the concept for "Hotel Mel" might have sounded — this ride proposal never really addressed Disney-MGM's main weakness. Which was that the studio theme park was really lacking in thrill rides. Not fake, funny thrill rides. But really-for-real thrill rides. Attractions that would get teens and young adults all excited about the idea of visiting WDW's new Disney-MGM Studio theme park.

Which is ultimately why "Hotel Mel" fell by the wayside and never get got built at Disney-MGM. Which — when you think about all the great comic possibilities inherent in this promising premise — is really a shame. To my way of thinking, in opting to go with "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror," WDW's studio theme park may have gained a thrill ride. But it lost out on one really funny show.

If it's any consolation … even though the theme park attraction that he collaborated on with the Imagineers never actually got built, Brooks still reportedly left on very good terms with the Walt Disney Company. In fact, if the rumors that I've been hearing lately are true, there's a very strong possibility that the Mouse and Mel may get together yet and produce something pretty magical in the not-so-distant future.

What am I talking about? Well, the word is that — thanks to Bob and Harvey Weinstein's sizable investment in the Broadway production of "The Producers" — the Walt Disney Company (through its Miramax Pictures division) now supposedly has the inside track to acquiring the motion picture rights to this Tony Award winning smash.

So who knows? Even though we lost out on our chance to take a hilarious trip through "Hotel Mel," if Bialystock and Bloom do end up as being part of the Disney family … maybe there's a "The Producers"-based theme park attraction in our future.

Soooo … Who's up for a trip through "Little Old Lady Land?"

Next, VDEF2 — via e-mail — wrote in to ask me:

Hey Jim,

Love your site. I've been reading you and the insightful articles for a while now. Anyway in your review for "Mickey's Philharmagic" you mentioned that Universal Studios Hollywood put "Shrek 4D" in the wrong theater unlike what Universal Studios Florida did with their show.

So my question is this: is this the same fate that will plague the upcoming Universal "Mummy Ride"? Is USH going to get the lesser version of this ride in the 2 stateside parks?


Dear VDEF2 –

Boy, I wish I had better news for you here. But — yes — based on what I've hearing lately, the Universal Hollywood version of "Revenge of the Mummy" really is going to be the "Shrek 4D" situation all over again.

No. Wait. It's worse than that, VDEF2. You know how the WDW version of "Pirates of the Caribbean" has always been considered the "Reader's Digest" version of the Disneyland original? The lesser of the two attractions? Well, compared to the Universal Studios Florida version of "Revenge of the Mummy" (which will be housed in the spacious old "Kongfrontation" show building), the Hollywood version of this new thrill ride will be the Cliff Notes edition of that attraction. The highlight reel, if you will.

Which is really a shame. But Universal really tied their hands when — instead of opting to build a whole new ride building for "Revenge of the Mummy" — they decided to try and make this attraction fit into the exact same footprint as the old "E.T. Adventure" building. But (forgive me for using a crude analogy here) you just can't fit 10 pounds of sh*t in a 5 pound bag.

This is not to say that the Universal Studios Hollywood version of "Revenge of the Mummy" will be a total piece of sh*t. Far from it, folks. There will still be plenty of cool effects to experience, lots of thrills to be had. But, in comparison to what the folks at Universal Studios Florida will be experiencing on their "Mummy" ride, you Hollywood folks (quoting from Doug and Bob McKenzie here) "got totally hosed."

Sorry about that, VDEF2.

Next, Mike L. writes in to ask:


Love the site – Congrats on a job well done!

Lately, there's been discussion about the Disney auctions at eBay (some folks support the sale of genuine Disneyland props, signs, etc and some are very much against it). In any case, it got me thinking about some of the cool things from the Walt Disney Co. and its parks that some fans are now lucky enough to own.

You're what I would describe as a pretty high-level Disney enthusiast and I am sure that you know a few people who are even more "into it" than you! So here's what I hope you can share………what's your personal Disney, Disneyland or WDW holy grail? Do you own a sky bucket? Maybe an elusive comic, mag or text? Also, have you ever visited someone's place who's been collecting things-Disney for some time now, and was impressed by a particular item they had?

Just wondering. Take care.

Dear Mike L.

When it comes to Disney collecting … well — to be honest — I'm really just in this for the info, Mike L. So I don't collect things so much as I collect stories … and friends. I've honestly met some of the nicest people through writing and talking about the Walt Disney Company.

Now, if you were to ask me if there was one truly rare, possibly valuable Disney collectible that I wish I DIDN'T have, Mike L … well, that question would be easy to answer.

"And what collectible is that, Jim?" you ask. Simple, I say. It's Tik Tok's key.

And how did I end up being the not-so-proud possessor of a broken plastic key that came out of the back of an animated figure that used to appear on a "Main Street Electrical Parade" float? Well — as you might imagine — it's a l-o-o-o-n-g story.

To explain: Way back in July of 1985, when I was working as a journalist for the U.S. Army, the Walt Disney Company was kind enough to invite me out to Anaheim to cover Disneyland's 30th anniversary party.

Now some of you (I'm sure) will remember that party. Hell, some of you probably attended this extremely strange shindig. You see — in honor of the theme park's 30th anniversary — Disneyland stayed open for 30 hours straight. The event kicked off at the stroke of midnight on July 16th, then continued on 'til 6 am on July 18th. And — during those 30 hours — all the park's rides and shops remained open 'round the clock. And Disneyland's shows and parades? They ran 'round the clock too.

Now it is one parade in particular that our story today revolves around. And that's the "Main Street Electrical Parade." Which — if I'm remembering correctly — was presented on the morning of July 17th at 1 am as well as at 4 am.

Now I have always enjoyed watching the MSEP. But that night was a particular thrill for me because … well … you see, the press tent for Disneyland's 30th anniversary party was located backstage behind Main Street U.S.A. So — by standing outside that tent — I had a front row seat as the parade completed its 1 am run.

I don't know how many of you have ever experienced what it's like to be backstage as a Disney theme park parade come rolling in. But it makes for some really great people watching. All of the performers — who have been dancing and waving to all the folks along the parade route — can now finally relax. So the pasted on smiles quickly come off. And the heavy costumes and masks immediately get shucked. And the sweaty, exhausted cast members stumble on over to the Inn Between for a well deserved cold drink or a smoke.

And those parade floats? They're all guided into these backstage parking places by Disneyland cast members who are frantically waving flashlights. Just so you know: There isn't a lot of room out behind Main Street U.S.A. and Tomorrowland. And things can get downright cramped back there when you've got an entire parade's worth of floats stacked up against one another.

Well, anyway … the MSEP is now parked out back behind Main Street U.S.A. after its 1 am performance. The floats are all dark and powered down. And the performers and the float drivers? They're over all in the Inn Between now. Drinking. Eating. Chatting. Smoking. Killing time 'til it's finally time to get ready for the 4 am performance of the Electrical Parade.

Whereupon all of the MSEP floats will reverse course. This time heading up Main Street U.S.A. back to the Small World gate in Fantasyland. Where the units can then be tucked away in their respective parade float barns for the night. To be cleaned up and charged up for tomorrow night's next round of parade performances.

Now — as I stood backstage, next to the press tent — I realized that I had never ever been this close to a Disneyland parade float before. I mean — sure — I'd seen them roll on by while I was standing on the sidewalk in the park … from 10 or 15 feet away. But standing in the dark behind Main Street U.S.A. that night — with the units being only three or four feet away — I was struck by how beautiful the individual MSEP units were when you stood up close. Particularly that "Return to Oz" unit.

Now, some of you may recall that — just for the Summer of 1985 — the "Main Street Electrical Parade" actually had floats that actually helped promote and pay tribute to Walt Disney Pictures' latest release, "Return to Oz." These units featured live cast members dressed as Dorothy and the Scarecrow as well as several citizens of Oz. The floats also featured animated figures of the Tin Woodsman, Tik Tok (the one-man robotic "Royal Army of Oz") as well as Billina (a talking chicken).

Now — given that Disney's "Return to Oz" crashed and burned fairly quickly at the box office — I know that a lot of you never ever got to see this Walter Murch movie on the big screen. Which really is a shame. Why for? Because (though — admittedly — the picture paled in comparison to that 1939 MGM classic, "The Wizard of Oz") "Return to Oz" had a certain charm. And — me personally — I loved how the designers of this movie tried to stay faithful to the versions of the characters that "Oz" illustrators W.W. Denslow and John R. Neill had created.

So here I was — standing in the dark at 2 am, right next to the "Return to Oz" float — admiring the craft of the thing. And the Tin Woodsman animated figure was standing right there on the unit. And it looked just like the version of the character that had been featured in the film.

And Tik Tok … well, he looked even better than the Tin Woodsman. From what I could see from where I was standing on the ground, it looked like the people who'd created the animated version of this roly-poly robot for the "Main Street Electrical Parade" had gone to extraordinary lengths to try and replicate the exact look and feel of the character as he was presented in the "Return to Oz" picture.

Stepping even closer to the darkened parade float, standing up tiptoe now, I peered up at Tik Tok. I wondered: Could this actually be one of the figures that was used in the production of Disney's "Oz" movie? I mean, it looked like there are actually three keys on Tik Tok's back.

To explain: According to the mythology of the "Oz" books, Tik Tok ("The Royal Army of Oz") has three keys sticking out of his back. One controls his thinking. By winding this key up and keeping its springs tight, Tik Tok is able to make decisions. The second key controls his speech. By winding this key up and keep its spring tight, Tik Tik is able to … well … talk. And the third and final key controls his walking and action.

Now, don't ask me why I did this. For the life of me, I still don't understand what came over me that night. But — standing there in the dark, right next to the "Return to Oz" float — I kept thinking: "I wonder if those keys turn? I wonder if this is actually one of the Tik Tok robots that Disney used in the making of the movie?"

And the next thing I know … I was up on the "Oz" parade float. And I'm standing behind Tik Tok, looking down this marvelous looking little robot. And — just like in the "Return to Oz" movie — there's a little plaque on the robot's back that explains what exactly happens when you turn each key.

So I figure "What the hell? In for a penny, in for a pound." So I take one of the keys, give it a sharp turn to the right, just to see what will happen … and — with a loud SNAP — the key breaks off in my hand.

I look down at the now-clearly-plastic-but-painted-to-look-metallic key, clearly dumbfounded … I think to myself: "Good God, man! What have you done? You've broken Tik Tok!!"

Just then — 50 or 60 feet away — someone starts walking through the aisles inbetween the MSEP parade floats. I hear his footsteps and panic.

Stuffing the broken key in my pocket, I scramble down off the "Return to Oz" float and rush into the press tent. My heart pounding, I plop myself down at a table and pretend to read a press kit. But — inside my head — I'm going "Oh, sh*t! Oh, sh*t! I broke Tik Tok!? I'm a horrible person. Disney's going to find out that I did this and they're going to toss me out of the par. Bar me for life from the 'Happiest Place on Earth.' Why did I do THAT? I'm such a f*cking idiot!"

I sit there in the press tent for a few minutes, waiting for the Mouse Police to come and take me away. Punish me for my horrible crime. But then … no one ever comes in the tent to get me. That's when I realize: No one actually saw me do this. So no harm, no foul.

More importantly, if I were to just slip outside and casually toss the key back on the "Return to Oz" float, no one will then know that I'm actually the guy who broke Tik Tok. They'll just take this figure back to the Disneyland parade barns and repair him. Then he'll be fine and I'll be off the hook. Again no harm, no foul.

So I casually get up, nonchalantly walk over to the tent flap and throw it open to see … the "Return to Oz" float is gone! Or rather, moved. You see, it's now time for Disneyland's backstage crew to start getting the MSEP floats ready for the 4 am performance. So the technicians are jockeying the units all around. Trying to make sure that each of the parade floats are in proper position prior to launch.

And — as it turns out — the "Return of Oz" float makes its appearance about 2/3rds of the way through the parade. So it ends up being reparked 'way the hell on the other side of the backstage area. Far, far away from the press tent. And — given that there are now technicians and cast members swarming everywhere — I can't just casually walk over to the parade float now and drop the key on it. That'd be 'way too obvious. I'd be caught for sure if I did something stupid (and obvious) like that.

So I just stand backstage for a half hour or so, watching the Disneyland technicians prepping the parade, biding my time. Waiting for that one good opportunity that will allow me to reunite Tik Tok with his broken key. But that chance never comes …

So now it's finally time for the "Main Street Electrical Parade" to make its 4 am run. I'm still standing backstage. Only now I'm down by the Town Square gate, right across from the "Mr. Lincoln" show building. Still hoping that I'll get a chance to be able to toss the key I've got cradled in my hot little hand back onto the "Return to Oz" float.

Now I had never known this before. But — when you power up a unit from the "Main Street Electrical Parade" — the animated figures on those floats really take a moment or so to get their act together. They move slowly at first, as if they're just waking up … or something like that.

So there I am, standing by the gate, watching the "Return to Oz" float as it start to power up. And Tik Tok's eyes start to glow green. And his head … it swivels and looks straight at me. And his right arm? It slowly raises and points directly at me. As if to say:

"You did this, Hill! You broke my key! You bastid! I'll get you for this, Hill. If I have to stalk you forever, chase you to the ends of the earth, I'll get even with you, Hill! I will …"

And then, Tik Tok slid into his usual animation cycle. Which is to turn his head from side to side and raise his hands (as if he were looking at and waving to people along the parade route). And the "Return to Oz" float just rolled out on stage, beginning its long run back to the "Small World" gate and the parade barns.

I just stood there, transfixed. Thinking to myself: "Tik Tok didn't really just look at me and then point directly at me, right? This doesn't me that I'm going to be hunted down and killed by some cute little character from 'Return to Oz,' does it? AIIEEEEE!"

That's why — for years now, Mike L. — I've lived in fear. Listening to hear Tik Tok's distinctive footstep thumping up my driveway. Knowing that the day will eventually come when the "Royal Army of Oz" finally turns up on my doorstep and demands that I give him his key back. (Unless of course, it was his "Thinking" key that I snapped accidentally off that fateful night back in 1985. If that's really the case, once Tik Tok's thinking winds down, he won't be able to remember who I was. So I'll get off scott free. Woo-Hoo!)

Anywho … I'm tired of living in fear, Mike L. Waiting for the Mouse Police (or even worse, Tik Tok himself!) to turn up at my door. So — after 18 years — I'm finally decided to turn myself in.

So — if someone from Disneyland's parade office wants to contact me — I'd be happy to finally turn over that key. (That is if I can actually find it. By that I mean: Tik Tok's key has been stashed away in a box in Nancy's basement for nigh on six years now. And you know the last scene of "Raiders of the Lost Ark?" Well, THAT's what Nancy's basement looks like. So I'd probably have to dig for weeks before I could actually find that thing.)

But it'd be worth it, Mike L. Just to get a good night's sleep once again. Not to have to worry about Tik Tok's cold fingers closing around my throat some night. His green eyes staring down at me as the robot roars "WHERE'S MY KEY?!"

They say "confession is good for the soul." And — you know — they're right, Mike L. I feel great now. Thanks for bring this subject so I could finally clear my conscience.

Okay. Moving on now … our next "Why For" question comes from Tom Morrow, who writes in to ask:

Dear Jim or should I say dear Robespierre, as I read on your forum, ah ah…

Happy to read at last some information unveiled about that fantastic project, Geyser Mountain!! I thought that was a project specific to Disneyland Paris. I think it had been planned to be built next to Phantom Manor in the geysers area (lol) near the "Old Unfaithful" (if I remember well), the name of the biggest of them. Must have been open for the "Phase 2" of the French MK, too bad that the situation got wrong during the early years (well, the early and the present)…

As (with) the Californians, the Tower of Terror was not planned from the start for Paris. Today it is very very, very likely that we will see the beautiful tower (too) …. Someday

However, give me the opportunity to ask you a question, in the line of GM. Recently, we have heard many many rumours about a water coaster for Frontierland, to be located in the Chapparal Stage site, near the Depot… a project which could have included scenes from.. Western River Expedition…:) Trust me, I don't like extravagant rumors, I ask you such a thing because I honestly think that some kind of project was led (is led?) in this way. Are my """sources""" wrong or is there some truth out there???

Anyway, dear Robespierre, continue to make us dream with your stories from WDI and, as a reader pointed out very recently and very correctly, do not forget our lovely French resort!!!

Best regards

Dear Tom:

You know, I'm embarrassed to admit this. But our own Mickeyfantasmic — Andrea Monti — actually did do a fairly lengthy story about the DLP version of Geyser Mountain prior to my "Why For" story last week. As JoJo explains in the letter that he sent me this past weekend …

Hey Jim,

I read your site almost every day and I just love all the stories you and your colleagues churn out, especially the "Why For?" columns.

In last Friday's column you discussed the Geyser Mountain concept in detail, and I loved reading it. But then I remembered a story of MickeyFantasmic over at which discussed the very same concept. But he said that it was a Disneyland Resort Paris exclusive attraction. You can find the story here. If you look at the pictures on that site, you can see that Disneyland Resort Paris already has a special place dedicated to this 'future' attraction at the opening of the resort back in 1992.

The article of MickeyFantasmic says that this attraction was supposed to open during the second phase of the EuroDisney Resort. Which — if I'm correct — would (have been) around 1995/1996.

Unfortunately things didn't go as planned, so the attraction was never realized. In your article, you say that the attraction would open after 1998 in Disneyland. You see that the plans for this attraction were already there before the opening of the Disneyland Resort Paris in 1992.

So now I'm wondering: Which resort was supposed to have the attraction first (but — due to all sorts of problems — neither one got it)? Did they design this attraction for Disneyland or for its Parisian brother?

Keep up the great work,


Dear JoJo –

I think that it was Imagineer Bruce Gordon — co-author of the essential Disneyland history book, "The Nickel Tour" — who explained it best. In that book, using the analogy of a Lazy Susan, he described how attractions that had initially been designed for Walt Disney World would suddenly find themselves being constructed at Disneyland. Or visa versa.

You see, what drives these sorts of decisions, JoJo, in need. As in: What does that theme park need right now? When the "Geyser Mountain" idea was first proposed (in the late 1980s / early 1990s, just as the core components of the "Tower of Terror" ride system were falling into place), it was generally agreed among Imagineers that this was an attraction that would fit thematically in a Disneyland. Not in an Epcot or a Disney-MGM Studio theme park. But inside a Disneyland, particularly in the Frontierland section.

"But which Disneyland was this attraction proposed for first?," you ask, JoJo. Well, based on the research that I've done this week, it would appear that MickeyFantasmic (JHM's own Andrea Monti) was correct. That this new thrill ride was initially supposed to debut at Disneyland Paris in 1995 / 1996, with Tokyo Disneyland getting the second version of the attraction in 1997 / 1998 (just in time for that theme park's 15th anniversary).

Now where this gets interesting is — according to my research — Walt Disney World was supposed to have gotten the third version of "Geyser Mountain" in 1999 / 2000 (just in time to help boost Millennium attendance levels at WDW's Magic Kingdom). Then Disneyland would have gotten the fourth and final version of this elevator-based thrill ride in 2001 / 2002 (to help guests back to the Anaheim theme park after DCA's grand opening in January 2001).

So — rather than being first — it turns out that Disneyland would have been the fourth in line to get a "Geyser Mountain" … had this project actually finally made it off the drawing board.

And you want to know the really funny part of this story? At WDI, they're already allegedly discussing attractions for "Phase II" at Hong Kong Disneyland. And guess which attraction supposedly just made the list? You guessed it. "Geyser Mountain."

So once again, JoJo — when talking about Walt Disney Imagineering — it's always important to remember that good ideas never die. Sometimes it can take years (Hell, decades!) before some of these really innovative proposed attractions finally make it off the drawing board.

After all, you can't stop cream from rising to the top.

And now — in the mother of all bad transitions — I'm going to talk about the boob-ectomy that all of the female figures who appeared in Pixar's short, "Knick Knack" recently underwent. Which is in respond to the e-mail that Chris A. sent me. Which read:

OK Jim,

I know you have a story you are just bustin-at-the seams to share with ous about this line in your "Finding Nemo" DVD Sorta-Review

"Plus that unfortunately-doctored-but-still-quite-funny version of the "Knick Knack" short."

Please share with the rest of the class

Dear Chris A.

For those of you who don't know: The version of "Knick Knack" that appeared in front of "Finding Nemo" this past summer had been significantly reworked. How so? Well, that lovely lady knickknick from Miami? In the original version of this short (which Pixar produced back in 1989), this character used to have enormous breasts. HUGE! On Pixar's own web page, they described the "Greeting from Miami" character as being "… A disproportionate blonde." Translation: This poor lass hasn't seen her own feet in ages.

And the pretty "Greeting from Atlantis" mermaid that you used to see at the end of the short? She too used to have memorable mammeries.

So what happened? Did the guys at Pixar all suddenly become revisionist prudes?

Not really. Just over-protective fathers.

To let a Pixar guy (who'd only agree to speak with me about this subject if I granted him anonymity) explain: "Look, Jim. We made that short back in the late 1980s. Back when we were all lonely, unmarried computer geeks. So putting big boobs on a cartoon character was like this major yuck for us."

"Besides — given that very few of us were even able to get dates back then — this was the only way that we were ever going to get to see a woman's breasts. By hanging an enormous pair on two of the cartoon characters in that short."

"But now it's 2003. And lots of us guys at Pixar now have wives and daughters that we love very much. And — when John (Lasseter) got the idea to put "Knick Knack" in front of "Finding Nemo" (to demonstrate how far Pixar had come when it came to doing CG water) — we took a look at that short again and thought: 'Yikes! We've got to do something about the giant titties on those two characters.'"

"I mean, we didn't want to be all embarrassed when we ran that short in front of 'Finding Nemo.' To have our wives and our daughters suddenly look at us and realizes what horny jerks we'd been back in the '80s."

"So this was a change that was made to a movie for the right reason, Jim. Not like what (George) Lucas did with "A New Hope" when he had Greedo shoot first."

"Besides, if people still want to see the original version of 'Knick Knack' and enjoy the bodacious boobage, all they have to do is pick up a copy of 'Tin Toy Stories.' The short in its original form is preserved for posterity on that tape."

So — to hear the guys at Pixar talk about this change to "Knick Knack" — it's much ado about nothing. A tempest in a D cup, if you will.


Next Randolph S. writes in to say:

Dear Jim:

I really enjoyed your "Small World" article on Tuesday. This Larry Pontius guy, he sounds like he has some interesting stories to tell. Like working on "Fantasia II" back in the 1970s. Is there any chance that you could Pontius to tell even more stories about what it was like to work for the Mouse back then? That's be cool if you could.

Dear Randolph:

Well, your wish is our command. I contacted Larry and asked him if he could supply a little more info on the 1970s version of "Fantasia II." His response immediately follows:

For whatever its worth, my idea for "Fantasia II" included quadraphonic sound and songs from the "classic" American music composed since the original. It would have included everything from West Side Story to the Beatles, with Elmer Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Somewhere inside the idea was the thought that we could get both adults and kids into the movie and help a little in getting them each to understand the other's choice in music. Again, Bob Moore did a poster – featuring an alligator playing a cello.

Best regards,
Larry Pontius

And — given that your e-mail, Randolph, was just one of many that I received this week saying nice things about Larry Pontius and his stories — I asked Larry if he'd interested in contributing a regular column to in which Pontius could detail some of the experience he had while working for what-was-then Walt Disney Productions.

Long story short: Larry graciously accepted my offer. So look for Pontius' first official JHM column to pop up on the site sometime late next week.

Next up, Jad J. writes in to ask:

Hey Jim – love the site.

A quick question – is Aladdin on IMAX this January still a go? I haven't heard anything about it for awhile, and it should be time for some promotional stuff to start showing up, shouldn't it? Any news? Thanks.

Dear Jad J.

You know, just the other day, I was thinking the same thing: Shouldn't we have heard something about "Aladdin" in IMAX by now?

I mean, the film's still listed under the "Coming Soon" section over at But — as for an exact release date — the only information that they have over there is that the film will be coming to large format screen in "2004." Beyond that … nothing.

Reading between the lines here, Jad: Given that the box office performance for the IMAX versions of both "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King" were disappointments to the Walt Disney Company, perhaps what's happened here is that — in order to keep costs down — the Mouse has just cut back on "Aladdin"'s marketing budget. Chances are, as we get closer to January 1, 2004 (which — allegedly — will be this 1992 film's official re-release date), we'll finally start to see some posters and ads for "Aladdin"'s large format debut.

Of course, if "Aladdin" also under-performs during its IMAX engagement, I'm fairly certain that Disney will just forgo their long-in-the-planning 2005 IMAX release of "The Little Mermaid." Which would really be a shame. Given the millions of dollars (and thousands of man hours) that the Mouse poured into getting that 1989 release ready for its large format debut.

Next, a special request from Jason, a loyal reader:

OK…first the obligatory stuff…love the site, followed you from MP to LP then to JHM…great stuff…and yeah like everyone else, sometimes wish those articles (no really more like entire novels in length) would be finished quicker…but on the bright side I'm just forced to reread the prior ones again…

but here's the real reason I'm emailing…I'm sure you've seen the Disney commercial "Souvenir"…they're in the elevator, the girls rambling on about how great the trip was when she then mentions her brother in the stroller that mommy calls her little souvenir, and mom starts blushing…our first child (due in 2 weeks) will be a Disney souvenir…and I really want a copy of that commercial…I want to put it in a video scrapbook…hey I need something to say he's a souvenir…anyway if you could put this out there as a request for this commercial, that would be great…if someone has it you can forward them my email address and I'll get in touch with them…if so, he promises to write a "trip report" of his first trip to Disney World in January (he might get some help from me)

Dear Jason:

Thanks for the nice note. Now let's see if we can't get some JHM readers to help you out.

So okay, gang. Does anyone have a copy of the Disney Cruise Line "Souvenir" commercial that Jason is asking about here? If so, could you maybe drop me a line? Then I'll hook you and Jason up … and then he'll get something special for his video scrapbook. And you'll get to feel good about yourself because you did something decent for another human being.

So — the way I see it — that would be a win-win situation. So — please, folks (pretty please with sugar on it) — could you check your video archives and see if someone of you out there has a copy of the commercial in question?

And — while I'm asking for favors — I myself have a request that I'd like to make of JHM readers. Particularly those of you who work for the Walt Disney Company.

You see, in order to crank out all of these stories that you folks seem to like so much, I have to do hours and hours of research. Burrowing through books, magazine articles, old newspaper clippings. All in an effort to find that extra bit of info that puts the cherry on the sundae, so to speak. That tiny piece of the puzzle that suddenly makes the whole picture seem clear.

Now what would help me greatly in my quest to make the stories that we present here at better is if I had better, more up-to-date info. So — if I asked nice — could I please get one of you Disney World employees to start regularly throwing me a copy of the latest "Eyes & Ears?" Likewise, if I could get someone at the Disneyland Resort to start sending me copies of the most recent "Disneyland Line," that would be very helpful too. Also — if one of you folks at the studio wanted to start throwing me copies of the "Disney Newsreel" as they come out — that would be great as well.

Thanks in advance for those of you who'd like to help out here. I really appreciate your generosity.

And — finally — our last "Why For" letter for this week. Which comes from Whiney Wayne:

Dear Jim:

What happened to the JimHillMedia tours? I thought that those were going to be a regular feature at the site. Something you were going to do every couple of months. But your last set of tours were back in – what? April? May? Have you stopped doing them forever, Jim? Does this mean – if we didn't get in on the inaugural set of tours – that we lose out for good?

If so, that's just not fair, Jim. I mean, some of us weren't lucky enough to live in LA and be able to drive down to Anaheim to take part in your first set of tours. So can you please do another round of Disneyland tours sometime soon?

And – this time – can you at least give people enough advance notice so that they can rearrange their work schedules so it's possible to drive down to Southern California?

Please? Pretty please? Please-please-please-please-please-PULL-ease!?

Whiney Wayne

Dear Whiney Wayne:

Okay, okay. You win. I'm honestly sorry that it's been so long between JHM tours of the parks. That's honestly what I planned. But what is that old saying: "Life is what happens while you're making plans." Or something like that.

So how's about this, Wayne? What if I announce here that — four weeks from tomorrow (November 1st) — I'm going to be out in LA. And that — if people are really interested in taking a tour with me of Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure — they can just drop me a line at And we'll take it from there.

That work for you, Wayne? I hope so.

God, this has got to be the longest "Why For" that I've ever written! You folks must be exhausted from reading this thing. Because I know that I'm sure-as-hell tired from typing the damned thing.

Anyway, that's it for this week, folks. Be sure to come back to next week to catch Larry Pontius' debut … as well as some other surprises.

Til then, you take care, okay?


Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling



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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont



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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage



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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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