When Walt visited the Park, he always created quite a stir behind the scenes. As soon as he drove through the back gate, the offices were abuzz. Phones would ring “Walt’s in the Park! “, “Who’s he talking to?” “Where is he now??” To us, he was like a Greek god, a towering figure of creativity, irascible and fierce in his pursuit of excellence, and a fount of originality.
So when late one Friday afternoon I was abruptly assigned to be his go-fer for the press opening of the Enchanted Tiki Room I almost fainted with excitement. I was to follow him and Mrs. Disney around the Park, at the ready to run an errand, find him a phone (no cell phones then), or deliver a message.
Most of the employees had seen a preview of the Enchanted Tiki Room and already knew how exciting this new attraction was. This was the first demonstration of “audio-animatronics” which enabled inanimate objects to speak, to sing, and to move about. It was magical.
Every southern California paper, as well as some of the wires, magazines, and TV stations had sent reps to this press opening. We all gathered in the Tiki Room, full of anticipation. Everyone was oo-ing and aw-ing over the flamboyantly colored birds – macaws, toucans, parrots, mynahs – not to mention the formidable looking Hawaiian god figures. Knowing that they would soon be singing and moving about brought high expectations.
Walt got up and addressed the group, explaining the technical details, and as he walked off the stage to return to his seat, he gave the signal for the show to begin. The lights dimmed, spotlights came up on the birds, the music started…but the birds didn’t move. The music restarted, and still there was no action.
I caught my breath as I saw Walt bound from his chair and stride purposefully toward the control room. Oh, oh, I thought, I’d hate to be one of those engineers. The lights came up quickly and an announcer said there would be a slight delay. Talk among yourselves.
In about 15 minutes, the lights once again dimmed, the spots came on, the music started and – glory be – the birds began to sing and talk and move about. It was as though Walt had wielded his sorcerer’s stick and all was well. The press quickly forgot the initial glitch, so entertained were they by this new form of animation. They were bowled over.
Walt never returned to the room during the show; he stayed in the control room to supervise the whole thing. After the show, he re-entered the room to a huge round of applause. He had a big grin on his face.
That night, there was a press party in Adventureland. It was one of those beautiful spring evenings, mild and soft. The Park was sparklingly lit. I hovered unobtrusively around Walt and Lillian’s table on the Tiki Terrace, waiting for an assignment. None came; I’m sure they forgot I was even there. A steady stream of press people came to the table to congratulate him. I loved being a witness to this talented man’s success. It was quite an evening.
Note: this post was originally published on February 23, 2013 and was updated and republished in May, 2020.