In today’s From The Mouth Of The Mouse, we begin another multi-part series, but this time with Rory, an early employee of Disneyland. He started in the 1960s as a dishwasher on Main Street, and has a lot of wonderful stories to share!
Let’s hear what he has to say!
JEFF: Tell a bit about how you got into Disney as a child.
RORY: I was born in 1949. Of course, all children saw Disney cartoons at the movies in those days. We only had three channels on TV (and barely that!). There were Saturday morning cartoons, though never Disney. Then, in 1954, Disney came to TV! Unfortunately, it competed with boxing and my father often preempted the Disneyland TV show for his favorite fights.
We became familiar with Walt himself and, not only did we get Disney cartoons (which were always superior to the others), but we also got both Davy Crockett and previews of a fairytale world that would soon come true. My brother and I were proverbially glued to the set to see the latest update on what it was we were going to experience. At the same time, we wore our coonskin caps and were swept up in the wave of The Wild Frontier. Then, of course, Disneyland became legendary and every child’s dream was to go there. We lived in Northern California, were relatively poor, and could never quite get there.
Finally, in 1960, we made the pilgrimage. Rather than satisfying my childhood dreams, it deepened them further and I was hooked – as it turned out, for life.
JEFF: And then eventually you wound up working there! So tell me about what you did in the Park?
RORY: I worked in food services in the mid-60s. Specifically, I worked at the Hills Brothers Coffee Gardens on Main Street. Reputedly, Walt’s favorite place to have breakfast, with a quick stop (unfortunately!) at the smoke shop around the corner afterwards.
JEFF: What did you do there?
RORY: I washed thousands upon thousands of dishes! We used to rotate between four work stations. There were three bussing areas: the main patio (which still exists and is sometimes used for character events but little else), the small patio (which was around the area under the balcony where there is a sconce and a bench in the wall), and the small dining room (which is now part of the merchandise shop that currently exists, including some storage area).
The fourth station was in the kitchen area where we worked an industrial dishwasher. There was an open window-like area in one of the walls where the bus boys (and they were all boys) would put the trays full of dirty dishes. I would pull it through onto a counter area that formed an L shape along that wall and the adjoining wall beyond. There I would rack up the dishes in the industrial dishwasher racks and slide them along the counter to the corner of wall on my left. The dishwasher was situated in the corner and had two doors: one facing to the right to accept the dish rack and one on the left, perpendicular to the other, where the racks would exit onto the counter space on that wall.
While they washed, which only took a few minutes to complete, I unloaded the clean dishes rack, stacked the dishes and silverware, and restocked the waitress stations quickly. In addition, we had an industrial style coffee maker behind us (we were, after all, sponsored by Hills Brothers), where we constantly putting in fresh grounds and made sure that coffee was always brewing.
JEFF: How about the people you worked with? Were there any that stand out in your mind that you still remember?
RORY: We had a supervisor named Vic who was an older gentleman and very kind. However, one of the supervisors under him was an up and coming “young Turk” who was quite ambitious. He would walk thru and insist that the stainless steel coffee machine always be so clean and polished that he could tie his tie in its reflection.
JEFF: Was there anything about the job itself that was out of the ordinary?
RORY: Bussing was pretty straight forward and the advantage to bussing was that one had interaction with the guests. As an extrovert who loved the Disney philosophy, this was one of my favorite parts. We would see the flag raising and lowering ceremonies and the bands in the Town Square. My break area was behind the main patio area and, consequently, the Magic Shop (where Steve Martin once worked). I learned a number of handy card manipulation tricks as a result of hanging out with guys who worked there. By the way, I know now, though I certainly didn’t know him then, that I was there at the same time as Tony Baxter!
JEFF: Are there any other things about your job you’d like to mention?
RORY: Hills Brothers Coffee Garden (formerly Maxwell House before my time, and later the Omelet House) would only offer breakfast and lunch, and would close before dinner time. As opposed to the Magic Kingdom at WDW, where folks return to the Main Street area and eat at Tony’s, guests generally didn’t return to that area of the park after dark. And, eventually, because guests began to eschew breakfast in order to race to their favorite attractions when the park opened, the breakfast crowd died out over time.
I should mention a couple of other things. We were trained back in the Van France days at the “University of Disneyland” and one of the things that they insisted on, because Walt did this, was that everyone was to be called by their first name. There were to be only two individuals who were to be referred to as “Mr.”: Mr. Toad and Mr. Lincoln. As a result, even though I was quite young and my boss was much older, we always referred to him as “Vic.” The other is that when I was finally leaving the job, one of the waitresses mentioned to me that she and the other waitresses were sorry to see me leave because they saw me as the only bus boy who never stole any of their tips! The thought had never even crossed my mind! Besides, they shared a percentage of what they made with us bus boys and I felt quite lucky to get that. It was a physically demanding job, but simply great fun.
JEFF: Now, since Disney peaked your curiosity when you were growing up, when you finally got a chance to work there, did you do any exploring of your own?
RORY: I was young and single in those days and had moved down there on my own after having been accepted for college. I did not have many local friends. As a result, I would often hang out in the Park afterwards just to be in the milieu. Sometimes I would then go home and sometimes I would stay and explore. Actually, one of my favorite activities, and something I later introduced my wife to that we now do regularly, is hang out on that Main Street porch, watch people, and just soak in the atmosphere. It was also a prime place for watching parades.
I would often explore every nook and cranny I could find, just as every young child dreamed of if they had been allowed to run loose on their own. I saw many details that I would never have probably otherwise paid attention to and it gave me a deeper appreciation for this unique experience that Walt created. A small current story related to that: When I met my wife back in the mid-90s, she had grown up in San Diego and had gone to Disneyland a number of times over the years. I convinced her to go with me and see it anew. The first day we arrived around 9:00 or so and, by 5:00 in the evening we had only made our way up the left side of Main Street, walked thru Adventureland, and were up in the Galleria – at that time above Pirates. We had not been on a single ride. There was so much to show her and explain to her that we had spent eight hours simply doing that (including some time to sit on the aforementioned porch and eat a couple of corndogs!). We closed The Park that night at probably midnight and had been on three rides total (the, at that time, new Buzz Lightyear, the Matterhorn, and of course my eternal favorite, Mr. Toad). She turned to me and told me it was the best day she had ever had at Disneyland. I’ll always remember that. There’s so much to see if one takes the time, and especially if one has a bit of background in some Disney lore. This was one of the great advantages to being able to simply explore as an employee.
Come back in two weeks for more of Rory’s story!
A brand new book from a Disney Legend, as told to MiceChat’s own Jeff Heimbuch!
The Imagineers, those men and women who helped Walt Disney bring his creations to life, have achieved legendary status among theme park enthusiasts. It’s Kind Of A Cute Story is the life story of one of the most beloved Imagineers, Rolly Crump. Covering his long and varied career, including designing some of Disney’s most famous attractions and working directly with Walt himself, Rolly’s stories weave into a lighthearted yet riveting narrative of his life and accomplishments. Packed with over 200 photos, many of which have never been seen before, It’s Kind Of A Cute Story is a tribute to the life and work of a true original.
If you are, or know, a Cast Member who would like to share some of their stories and possibly be featured right here on MiceChat, please email me at [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you!
You can read older columns of From The Mouth Of The Mouse here!
Jeff can help you plan your perfect Disney vacation with Fairy Godmother Travel! Call him at 732-278-7404 or email him at [email protected] for a free, no-obligation quote for Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Aulani or Adventures By Disney.
Jeff also writes a MiceChat column titled The 626. We invite you to check it out!
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