Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Freeze Frame! - Blasting Off with Donna Reed

As we have discussed here at 2719 Hyperion a number of times, Walt Disney's various forays into futurism during the late 1950s tend to be little remembered here in the 21st century. But they did in fact have a dramatic impact on the popular culture of the post-war baby boomer era.

Case in point: the Werner Von Braun-inspired lunar rocket, featured in the Disneyland series episode "Man in Space," made a cameo appearance in a 1958 episode of television show The Donna Reed Show. The popular program chronicled the life of the Stone family, parents Donna and Alex and children Mary and Jeff, portrayed respectively by Reed, Carl Betz, Shelley Fabares and Paul Peterson. In the episode entitled "The Football Uniform," Jeff decides to donate his recently acquired rocket to the annual charity auction. He tells his parents, " . . . it wasn't as much fun as I figured it would be. Besides, all the kids are playing football." His father's response: "Well, there went two bucks into outer space!"

An interesting footnote: Peterson was a Mouseketeer, albeit briefly in 1955. Various misbehaviors, including punching a casting director in the stomach, led to his early dismissal.

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:

Man in Space: March 9, 1955

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Third Wonder of the World

Has it really been twenty years?

This teaser ad appeared in a number of high circulation weekly magazines released in early April of 1989.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Violent Mayhem of Hockey Homicide

In our current era of too-frequent overbearing political correctness, the 1945 Goofy cartoon Hockey Homicide stands as a shining example of a creative process not held hostage by studio executives overly concerned with pleasing soccer-mom demographics. The genius of this short is rooted in its parody of the sport’s reputation for excessive violence and the subsequent frenzy that that violence inspires in the game’s spectators. Rather than ignore or disavow this darker side of competition, it embraces it and celebrates it with an irreverent and sardonic glee. In the fifty-plus years since its release, Hockey Homicide has lost neither its humor nor its relevance. It is a hyper-paced, hilarious eight minutes of unbridled mayhem that also casts a satirical eye to sports fandom’s often unquenchable thirst for blood and brawling.

The cartoon is very much in the spirit of the classic quip of “attending a boxing match only to have a hockey game break out.” Beating and pummeling are the strategies of play with occasional hockey maneuvers peppered throughout. The short’s most memorable and now classic gag is the ongoing rivalry between star players Ice Box Bertino and Fearless Ferguson. When the two begin brawling even prior to the opening faceoff, it sets off a cycle of fighting and penalty suffering that extends almost the length of the cartoon. It is highlighted by the announcer’s oft repeated “Here come Bertino and Ferguson out of the penalty box . . . and there go Bertino and Ferguson back into the penalty box.”

The frenzy of the game builds and builds until it spills into the stands and ignites the spectators. The crowd storms the ice and chaos ensues, leading to an eye-popping montage of violence that incorporates scenes not only from other Goofy sports cartoons but from the studio’s features Victory Through Air Power and Pinocchio as well.

A couple of particularly funny gags: the two rival fans featured throughout the short are seated appropriately in Section 8; and when the ice is cleaned between periods, among the debris shoveled up are cowboy boots and spurs, cups and saucers, a bottle of Heinz 57, boxing gloves, an umbrella, a hair brush, a croquet mallet and even an extended hand clutching a cigar.

Especially notable in Hockey Homicide are the references by name to Disney employees. The aforementioned Bertino and Ferguson refer to animators Al Bertino and Norm Ferguson, while referee “Clean Game” Kinney pays homage to the short’s director Jack Kinney (and possibly also to storyman Dick Kinney). When a scorecard is examined early in the short, the teams’ rosters are a veritable who’s who of the Disney Studio in 1945. It’s a great screenshot, worthy of Freeze Frame status, and it is very likely the most extensive “in-joke” ever incorporated into a piece of Disney animation.

Hockey Homicide stands as one of the best Goofy cartoons produced and also easily qualifies as one of the studio’s funniest. Goofy in name, but certainly more sophisticated in content and humor, the short takes a not-so-subtle shot-on-goal at a professional sport and the antics of its passionate fans.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air

Special to 2719 Hyperion by Jim Korkis

Old time radio shows are a delight, but just like shows on television today, some were great and not to be missed, some were mediocre, and others just did not capture the potential of their concept. Unfortunately, the Disney Studios attempt at a radio show fell into the last category.

In the 1930s, radio was king and people would often change their entire lives around so that they could hear the latest episode of their favorite show. Many popular comic strip and animated characters had already made the transition to the airwaves and there were shows like “Betty Boop Fables” and “Popeye the Sailor” that entertained young audiences. Advertisers desperately wanted to sponsor a show with the Walt Disney characters and both Lever Brothers (makers of Lifebuoy among other products) and Lucky Strike cigarettes had almost convinced Walt Disney to take a chance. However, it was Pepsodent toothpaste and their commitment to a weekly budget of $10,000 to $12,000 that finally brought the Disney characters to the air in more than just occasional guest appearances on other programs.

“The Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air” premiered on radio on January 2, 1938 in the NBC Sunday afternoon slot previously reserved for the antics of “Amos and Andy”. That show changed sponsors from Peposdent to Campbell Soup as well as time slots, and Pepsodent desperately wanted something as popular as those famous comedians to take up the slack.

During the half hour show, Mickey and the gang would travel through time and space thanks to the Magic Mirror from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to have adventures with everyone from Robin Hood to Cinderella to Old MacDonald. The half hour was also filled by music not just from the Felix Mills Orchestra but from Donald Duck’s Webfoot Sextet, that like the later Spike Jones Band, played a variety of odd instruments from cowbells to bottles to an auto horn for comic effect.

Here is the list of all twenty episodes of “The Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air”:

January 2, 1938: Robin Hood
January 9, 1938: Snow White Day
January 16, 1938: Donald Duck’s Band
January 23, 1938: The River Boat
January 30, 1938: Ali Baba
February 6, 1938: South of the Border
February 13, 1938: Mother Goose and Old King Cole
February 20, 1938: The Gypsy Band
February 27, 1938: Cinderella
March 6, 1938: King Neptune
March 13, 1938: The Pied Piper
March 20, 1938: Sleeping Beauty
March 27, 1938: Ancient China (with a guest appearance by Snow White!)
April 3, 1938: Mother Goose and the Old Woman in a Shoe
April 10, 1938: Long John Silver
April 17, 1938: King Arthur
April 24, 1938: Who Killed Cock Robin?
May 1, 1938: Cowboy Show
May 8, 1938: William Tell
May 15, 1938: Old MacDonald

You can listen to seven of these shows at this link.

Walt himself was busy with the promotion of the just released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and in fact, supposedly only agreed to letting his characters on the air so that it could help promote that animated feature. The reason Walt hadn’t explored radio earlier was that he felt that his characters would not translate well to the medium, that audiences needed to see as well as hear the animated stars.. Unfortunately, Walt was only able to supply the voice of Mickey Mouse for the first three episodes. From the fourth show on, the voice of Mickey was comedian Joe Twerp (yes, that was his real name) whose comedy relied on being an excitable, stuttering person who confused words. He had been considered for the role of Doc, a similar personality, from Snow White, but Roy Atwell was chosen to supply that voice instead.

In fact, Walt got so busy that he couldn’t attend some of the recordings and that when the script called for Walt himself to make an appearance, he was sometimes impersonated by the announcer for the show, John Hiestand!

Minnie Mouse was performed by Thelma Boardman who would later supply Minnie’s voice in the some of the Disney cartoons of the 1940s. Pinto Colvig had left the Disney Studio by the time the show started so the role of Goofy was performed by Stuart Buchanan, who was the official “casting director” at the Disney Studios and had supplied the voice of the huntsman in Snow White. Donald Duck, of course, was voiced by the one and only Clarence Nash and Clara Cluck was Florence Gill. Both of them had performed the same roles in the Disney cartoons.

There were other voices on the show as well supplied by popular performers including Billy Bletcher (the voice of Pete in the cartoons who popped up as Old King Cole in the show), Hans Conreid (still many years from voicing Captain Hook who did a comical turn as the Pied Piper), Bea Benaderet (portraying Miriam the Mermaid in the kingdom of King Neptune), Cliff Arquette (“Charley Weaver” who voiced Old MacDonald), Walter Tetley, and many others including Mel Blanc. In fact, Blanc was a regular on the show but never voiced any of the Disney characters. He did do a character in several shows that got so excited that he couldn’t stop hiccuping whenever he talked. Perhaps this performance inspired Walt to use Blanc as Gideon the cat in the upcoming production of Pinocchio. The famous story that Blanc told over the years was that he recorded a voice for the cat but Walt cut everything but a hiccup from the final performance.

The show was not memorable and suffered from the fact that Walt could not give it his full attention so it quietly disappeared after only twenty episodes but it is still an interesting footnote in Disney history. Thankfully, the estate of the musical director of the “Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air,” Felix Mills, donated all his original transcription discs of the show to the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters in California.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Revisiting the Disneyland Art Corner - Part Two

Editor's Note: Continuing our two-part series exploring animation art originally sold at the Disneyland Art Studio with guest contributor Rob Richards.

Special to 2719 Hyperion by Rob Richards

Continuing, here's an additional variety of Art Corner cels, as released with their original Art Corner backgrounds, then restored with digitally recreated key master backgrounds.

This original Mary Poppins cel was rather unremarkable by itself. But paired with a carefully digitized background adding the other musicians, it becomes a dazzler! As is often the case, the original paint adhered to the colored art board background. This particular cel (with ever-so careful prodding) was lifted without damage and all original paint intact!

This was a strange setup--the immediately recognizable penguins from Mary Poppins, a cel of Merlin’s carpetbag from The Sword in the Stone, and a background from 101 Dalmatians! The penguins, paired with a key frame digital background including Mary and Bert makes for a stunning Mary Poppins setup.

Coyotes Bent-Tail and Bent-Tail Jr. starred in theatrical shorts as well as TV specials. This Art Corner setup made its way to Australia and back to Southern CA. It shows two typical paint problems, cracking and bleeding (where the paint actually expands outside the ink lines, perhaps from cel shrinkage due to age). After a much-needed restoration, and a key digitized background from one of their few cartoons, it’s a fine setup of these genuinely rare characters.

The Chip and Dale setup features Captain Chip from Chips Ahoy (1956). The Dale cel has yet to be identified. Restored and placed on a Chips Ahoy digital master background it becomes a terrific piece.

The Donald and Pete setup is another unlikely pairing. Pete playing the trombone (from the "Donald's Award" TV show interstitials, which introduced the theatrical short Trombone Trouble) and Donald Duck from Donald in Mathmagicland. Restored, separated and with key backgrounds, each becomes a terrific piece. (Pete's new hand-painted background was created from looking at the original black and white footage, and re-imagining it in color!)

Imagine a Mickey Mouse cel for a dollar!!! This Art Corner Mickey played the piano for the Christmas TV special “From All of Us to All of You.” The new, custom hand-painted background beautifully showcases the original 1959 cel. A vast improvement over the original plain yellow art board!

Similarly, Mad Madam Mim transitions from a plain color background to a key digitized background from The Sword in the Stone.

The Jungle Book remains an all-time Disney classic. Two cels here, Shere Khan and “Flunky Monkey” needed and received restoration. With their added digital laser print key master backgrounds, they find themselves back in the jungle once again.

Prince Phillip and Princess Aurora are miniatures in this Sleeping Beauty cel. With figures just over an inch tall, the delicate hand inking is quite amazing to see. The full cel was heavily trimmed, but the tiny cel is still very spectacular when placed on the recreated key master background.

This is a tiny sample of the animation treasures that sold at the Disneyland Art Corner. Now, don’t you wish you had a time machine?

Visit Rob Richards at his website and also at his terrific blog Animation Backgrounds!

Animation art from the collection of Rob Richards.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Revisiting the Disneyland Art Corner - Part One

Editor's Note: Our previous article on the Disneyland Art Corner has proven to be one of our most popular endeavors here at 2719 Hyperion. Noted musician and Disneyana collector Rob Richards was instrumental in providing resources and information for that post. We are now very happy to welcome Rob as a contributor to 2719 Hyperion as he shares with us in a two-part series, more insight into the Disneyland Art Corner, along with some wonderful animation art from his own personal collection.

Special to 2719 Hyperion by Rob Richards

The artwork released at Disneyland’s Art Corner comprises a significant percentage of all available, collectible original Disney production cels. The studio considered these cels essentially worthless, just a necessary step in producing animated films. They were sold as souvenirs at Disneyland instead being thrown into the garbage. . . and sold cheaply at that. Some Art Corner cels were priced at seventy-five cents! Usually the price was a dollar for a single character. Multiple character setups went for as much as five dollars.

The artwork was thrown together quickly, haphazardly trimmed and stapled. Sometimes they were layered with another cel from the same production, but often not. On rare occasion the setups included an original painted production background. What a prize that would be! Most often the cels received a color print background (a reprint of Disney background art) or simply a colored piece of art board. The setups were usually uninspired. The preparation of these setups was undoubtedly a do-it-as-quickly-as-possible assembly line.

Whatever the circumstances, an incredible volume of significant art found its way to the Art Corner. Now, some fifty years later, that same art is still moving through galleries and private collections. Now the prices range from hundreds to thousands of dollars!

The examples here include all the Art Corner artifacts . . . in some you can actually see the staple used to assemble the setups!

Here, a variety of combinations typical of the Art Corner artwork.

Occasionally, the Art Corner created a really wonderful setup almost by accident. The Maificent shown is such a setup. It is trimmed, and paired with a non-key Sleeping Beauty print background. Marc Davis’ powerful character is beautifully represented by this single dramatic cel.

Another setup that works is Donald’s nephews in the backyard. The print background and trombone player are from unknown production(s). The party hat nephew is from “At Home With Donald Duck,” a TV production that paired new interstitial material with vintage theatrical shorts. The overall setup is pleasant and very satisfactory. (The ducks' white paint had cracked, and this was one instance where the paint was re-wetted by the restorer, enabling restoration with all original paint! This is not always possible.)

Unusual, eccentric pairings are never a surprise. One very bizarre combination is Tinkerbell (post-Peter Pan) paired with a Huey/Dewey/Louie, on a Sleeping Beauty background! Very strange. But, with cel layers separated and Tink put on the appropriate background of the Disneyland Castle, the art takes on a whole new feeling.

There are a great many setups that paired Donald Duck from the industrial/educational film Steel and America (1965) with penguins from Mary Poppins (1964). These turn up with some regularity on eBay. Here are several examples, followed by the separated cel setups with digitally recreated key master backgrounds.




Each collector is different. To many, the complete setup with a key background is essential to the presentation. In order to make this happen, the cel layers of the Art corner cels are separated. The character's key production background is digitally recreated and sized, laserprinted, then combined with the cels to recreate one magical moment (and one frame of film) from a classic Disney film.

Restoration is also part of the equation. The cels were never meant to last. In the early days, they were washed off and re-used!

When cels age, paint undergoes a variety of indignities: flaking, cracking, peeling, bleeding and glassing. Additionally, water damage is also sometimes seen. These problems can be repaired to perfection by professional cel restorers. There are many good ones. Never trust a company’s public relations alone. Always ask for references before you entrust your art to anyone.

Many Art Corner cels have survived intact. Others have fared badly. One theory is that certain binding agents which may or may not have been used in a certain batch of paint could cause problems. It’s as good a theory as any.

Take for example this Goofy from "The Adventure Story," a TV production which aired in 1957. The missing character is Goofy's son. They're together up in the attic reading a history of the Goof family. This cel was in the worst condition possible, a victim of aggressive water damage. After restoration, it reveals a great pose of Goofy. One day, a digital background with Goofy's son will complete the setup.

Return to 2719 Hyperion tomorrow as we continue Revisiting the Disneyland Art Corner with Rob Richards.

Animation art from the collection of Rob Richards.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Pana-Vue Slide: The Rocket Jets

An early version of the Birnbaum Guide noted that the Starjets was " . . . purely and simply a thrill ride and ought to delight anyone who loves Space Mountain, but doesn't necessarily want to get in line all over again." The attraction evolved into the Astro Orbiter in 1994. This Pana-Vue slide was part of the Tomorrowland set and was identified as WDW-675. The caption simply said "Rocket Jets," which was in fact the name of the attraction's Disneyland counterpart.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Goodnight, George... a Ghost Story

What follows may rate as a bizarre exercise in nostalgia, if you will permit it. It deals with issues which may upset some people, and so if you do elect to read it I most humbly suggest that it be read wth a whimsical and open mind as I will attempt to faithfully relate the colorful stories and myths as they were first told to me which make up such a vital part of the oral tradition of the Walt Disney World "underground". So much of this tradition is unrecorded and so the reader may, as she chooses, read the following merely as an account of the superstitions and urban legends which circulate through breakrooms and utilidors. Those of us who worked there, however, will probably never be as sure...


"The most famous faux fatality was 'George', the imaginary welder who was killed during the construction of Pirates of the Caribbean... [...] The imaginary victim is most likely a Disneyified amalgam of the actual fatalities at Disney World.." - David Koenig, Realityland, pg. 144

The first day I ever walked into Pirates of the Caribbean was a bright Florida winter morning in 2005. I don't mean I rode it - I walked into it, through a tunnel, around a large pool of water, opened a door which looks so real and textured from the boats but is really a painted plywood flat, and was looking right at a grotesque mannequin of a fat woman. She has no legs, just a pole extending up into her body, and up close the already garish makeup was like a clown's face. The building was quiet and still, the water glassy and calm, and the figures were twitching. Those things move after they're turned off, and sort of spasm occasionally at the wrist or neck. But the eeriest thing was the silence - it isn't until you've seen a Disney park utterly abandoned and quiet and left to the painters and pressurewashers and mechanics that you realize that they aren't places for human beings, and that all that warmth you feel in the bright light of day comes from that reassuring music, the faces, the people. Under worklights and powered down, those attractions are more like ghost houses, museums staffed by nobody for a crowd that may never return.

Eventually a voice issued from the PA system: "Good morning, George."

On page 144 of Realityland, David Koenig reveals a fact which I have long suspected, which is that in his years of research he has failed to find any mention of a fatality regarding the construction of Pirates of the Caribbean, the death of a young man named George. Since Koenig's research is otherwise maddeningly complete regarding all manner of death and dismemberment at Walt Disney World, I have no reason to doubt him. However, that does not remove the fact that for us working at Pirates of the Caribbean then and, I'm sure, to the Cast Members working there today, George was a day to day reality. He has a way of making a believer of you. A day of constant and inexplicable breakdowns, a door that will not open for you and only you, or the strange way you often feel followed while crossing one of the attraction's many crosswalks, eventually you will meet George. Who he really is and why he responds as "George" will probably forever be a mystery.

George, the typical story goes, was a young man who, while welding or perhaps bolting a high area of the superstructure of the building which would one day become Pirates of the Caribbean, met with a horrible accident and fell to his death. From day one of the operation of the attraction - December 15, 1973 - inexplicable events plagued the attraction. Breakdowns were constant and unmotivated. Female castmemebers were mysteriously patted on their rear or had their bra straps snapped. Stories of George grew. In the early years, it is said that an old woman would often enter the ride and ask for a boat to herself. On the in-ride security cameras, she could be seen weeping and talking to nobody. Eventually, it was discovered that she was talking to her son - George.

A second component of the story comes into play surrounding the downramp, or waterfall, and it is partially confirmed by Koenig on page 144 of Realityland - although his version differs significantly from the version traditionally told. At the very bottom of the downramp, the boats take a sharp left turn to proceed into the show building. This turn is the single point the sides of the metal troth the boats ride through during the attraction poke above the water... although it is a hazard for any hand trailing in the water, the boats are safely steered through the "downramp runoff" area and into the famous scene of the pirate ship attacking the fort known as Bombardment Bay. Legend tells us that for a few months these raised metal guides were not present, which resulted in one particularly light boat hitting the bottom of the drop, hydroplaning out of the troth, and killing two women sitting in the front row. Whether by George or by fate, "The Ladies" entered into myth and became perhaps the most feared inhabitants of Pirates of the Caribbean.

George casts a long shadow over the Cast imagination. The town scenes which constitute the bulk of the Florida version of the show are contained in a single, huge room which has a large, central pillar supporting its' roof. The top of this pillar is decorated to appear to be a multi-windowed tower, and can be seen to the right of Carlos' house in the Well scene. If you are lucky, you may even see a lonely little light burning in it. This pillar is supposedly the one which George fell from, and his initials, carved on the bottom of the pillar, cannot be painted over - they will bleed through the paint. The tower is called "George's Tower" - a play on the term for the ride's central control booth overlooking the Load area, called "Tower" - and has a special trick to it. If one sees a light burning in George's tower from the Well scene, it means that George is "home". If you get to the fire scene and look back up to George's Tower (the two scenes are only a few feet away from each other, on the other side of the village facades), and if that light is still burning in George's Tower - it often is not - then something bad is about to happen.

I've been to the bottom of that pillar, and can verify that it does indeed feature a set of initials, a G followed by perhaps a C. It also features dozens of other bits of graffiti, and cannot vouch for their ability to bleed through paint without the aid of a less ghostly agent. I have, however, seen the light in George's Tower go through its' disappearing and reappearing act many times and cannot account for its' cause. As the tower is some many dozen feet up, I was not about to climb the ladder and see if there's really a light installed up in that tower or not. I suspect that there is none; not even at Disney are lighting fixtures so unreliable that the tower is dark more often than not.

Continuing from the base of George's Tower, and proceeding further into the show building, one comes across an inauspicious set of steps which lead up to a door. On the "show scene" side of the door is the famous dog, keys dangling from mouth. This door is George's Door, and it must be closed at all times. If George's Door is left open, the ride should not be powered up in the morning. This is fine for show quality reasons in the morning, and building maintainence and Imagineering know well enough to shut it behind them. However, sometimes, the door begins the day shut and will, in the middle of the day, mysteriously creak open.... and if George's Door is open, it is said, a serious breakdown is sure to follow. As you can imagine, if the light is on in George's Tower and George's Door is open, it is considered to be an especially bad portent.

George is, for whatever reason, especially active in that part of the building, perhaps because it is indeed the most far-flung and least traversed portion of the ride. He seems to especially lurk around "Storage", which is a spur line that runs underneath the burning city show scene where boats may be moved on or off the main ride path in order to be sent to or released from the maintainence bay. The spur line begins at the end of the chase scene near "Old Bill", a figure who was in fact designed by Marc Davis especially for the Walt Disney World show so that audiences would not notice an unusually long gap in the ride; the figure was cloned and placed in a similar spot for the Disneyland show later on and the pacing of the gag is not as effective there as a result since at Disneyland "Storage In" is at the Bombardment Bay scene. Storage Out is near the Jail scene, and if you're one of many who sometime feel a little uneasy after going under the pirate with the hairy leg and before coming upon the Jail; you may have had an encounter with George. He especially seems to be near that particular bend in the track, close to his door. Behind the faux stone show walls, a few feet down, is the cement foundation of the building. To facilitate dry passage along the edge of the spur line is a number of plastic grates laid across the floor, which is often flooded with a bit of water. Many have crossed these grates during an evacuation or during after-hours events where Cast are stationed in the ride to watch guests and heard the second pair of feet walking behind them a few grates back, and even felt cold breath on their neck. On the opposite end of the spur line, a shadowy man is sometimes seen sitting in a prop chair near Old Bill, or crossing the bridge which divides the Chase scene from the Fire scene - an impossibility since such an action would set off several alarms.

I don't feel the need to comment too much on the customary habit of saying good morning and goodnight to George, as this is famous and needs little further explanation at this point.

What a textbook account of all these customs, traditions and/or superstitions fails to convey is the day-to-day nature of the 'reality' of George. The morning and evening greetings were in fact nearly mandated by management, and any deviation will result in the day's woes being explicitly blamed on the closing Cast Member in Tower of a previous night. Switches, doors, water sensors and other basic mechanics sometimes inexplicably malfunction, causing the ride computer to enter "cycle out" mode - the Load Area gates lock and the computer enters a countdown until it will shut down the ride. This will initiate the regulated but still mad dash to fix the ride with as little disruption to the operation as possible - and resulting in the single most feared task by any new Cast Member, the need for the Unload cast member to enter the ride building and re-open, or "key", the Downramp.

The Downramp is designed so that the bottom of the ramp must be opened before the top; just like a playground slide the bottom must be clear before the boat at the top can come down. This is facilitated with a key turned in a lock and, in order to reach the downramp, one must proceed on a labyrinth path through the guts of the building and emerge in what is known as the "Transition Tunnel". What follows is an endless-feeling wait in a very dark tunnel, and it is often here that your thoughts turn to those women in the front row of that very light boat.

I cannot here exaggerate when I say that those times I have spent at the bottom of the downramp, waiting to be called on the park phone by Tower, count as among the most miserable moments of my life. The mild illumination is not helpful, the water continues to rush past you, and you fully expect for a boat to turn the corner into sight at any moment, perhaps with two bloody figures seated in the front row. The walk to get to the downramp is traumatic, dimly lit and wet, with the chest-high wading pants used during ride evacuations slung every few feet over handrails providing a jolt, so easy are they to mistake for a just-noticed figure or dead, limb legs jutting from the shadows. At the bottom of the ramp, the atmosphere is oppressive - you expect to be jumped. Worst of all, the ear splitting volume of the ghostly narration which once echoed through this scene prior to the 2006 refurbishment:

No fear have ye of evil curses says you! Properly warned ye be, says I! DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES! Perhaps ye knows too much! Ye've seen the cursed treasure and you know where it be hidden... DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES!

The Ladies generally confine themselves to this small portion of the ride, and although the tunnel has been significantly relieved in atmosphere by the removal of those damned voices and the insertion of the upbeat Hans Zimmer soundtrack, I still shudder as I pass by the hidden exit point, and I know that those two women still linger. George, however, may be observed anywhere, at any time. Odd white points of light occasionally float out of boats and into the rafters of the ride, observable only on security cameras. Shadows sometimes crawl along walls where you know they are not supposed to be. One spectacular and probably fictional manifestation I was once told about involves a cloud of mist engulfing a boat before it plunged down the downramp.

Guests sometimes report seeing "someone" looking down on them from the Bombardment Bay fortress, but even more uncanny things have happened, especially if the guest makes idle chat about George in the Load Area and proceeds through the ride alone in their boat. One guest questioned me at length about changes to the dialouge in the attraction until finally I realized that they were telling me that the voice which ordinarily says "Dead Men Tell No Tales" was in fact saying something about the dead "not having a face" and furthermore had felt that many of the ride figures were visibly malfunctioning and appeared to be looking at them! Of course, they had mentioned George's name several times to themselves while entering, and although we will never be fully sure of the truth of this story, it does make a delightfully spooky addition to George's tale. And if it matters at all, the guest seemed to be honestly confused rather than deceitful and left looking unsure. I, for one, had trouble standing down at Unload for the rest of the night. As such, it is recommended that all guests who mention or pretend to "talk to" George while on his ride, treat him with proper respect and say goodnight to him as they leave.

Although the refurbishment changed this, the queue at Pirates has two sides; what was then known as Load 1 and Load 2. Load 1 winds past the famous skeletons playing chess, while Load 2 headed through a once uncommonly seen portion of the queue, with a dining hall and cannon pit. Load 2, however, had been modified to include a wheelchair ramp out of the building, and late at night we would have to lead guests in wheelchairs down to this side of the load area, turn on the load console, load just that group into a boat, turn off the load console, and push the chair back out the exit ramp because Load 2 was considered the "secondary" side of the holding area. The designation has since been reversed, but on many trips exiting Load 2 with an empty wheelchair I knew George was loitering in this usually quiet part of the building. I even saw him once. He was all black, like a shadow standing off the wall. This is his most common description, so perhaps I really did see something...

I don't often get nostalgic for my days at Disney but pre-Jack Sparrow Pirates of the Caribbean is a wonderful memory for me, a time when the lines were often short, steel drum music echoed through the plaza, and a green parrot by the entrance would have to be muted five minutes before the start of the fireworks. And George was there, perhaps just in our minds, but constant none the less. But then again perhaps he was really there, you know. I'm sure inexplicable breakdowns persist to this day, and those plastic grates laid down all over the foundation of the show building which let you walk dryly even though the floor is usually slightly flooded, I'm sure that to this day you can hear another set of feet clanging across them, just a few feet behind you at that one special spot. His name may have been any number of things, but we called him George, and in a way he is the protector of Pirates of the Caribbean. More than a nuisance when his door isn't closed or he isn't greeted by name, we knew George wouldn't really do anything to hurt us and we knew he would protect any of us from really getting really hurt if necessary.

That was, at least, the hope...