In today’s From The Mouth Of The Mouse, we begin another multi-part series, talking to Jeff (who is already awesome in my book!) about working at Disneyland during the late 1980s. He goes from Skyway…and then later on, finds his way at Disneyland Paris. But today we’ll start with his humble beginnings sorin’ above Disneyland.
Take it away, Jeff!
JEFF: So, tell me about your early history with Disney. How did you get into it?
JEFF: Growing up in California, some of my first vivid memories are when we would come to Southern California to visit my grandparents on their Sunkist orange ranch in Fillmore and my grandfather, a Union Pacific railroad engineer living in La Habra. However, all that was just a warm up for the pièce de résistance, the visit to the Magic Kingdom!!! I was enamored not only with my days in the park; I avidly followed Walt and the Wonderful World of Disney via television practically every week.
During my freshman year, my father was transferred and we relocated to Yorba Linda. As a result, I had the opportunity to visit the park often with family and friends, falling in love with the park all over again, now as a teenager. It was also a pretty good place to meet girls!
JEFF: You also mentioned to me before the interview that you got to attend a pretty special event at Disneyland. Tell us about that.
JEFF: In 1986, I was fortunate enough to win two tickets via a drawing to the television filming of Disneyland’s Summer Vacation at the park. It was a who’s who of the 1980′s including musical acts Culture Club, Kenny Loggins, and many other stars. A full Disney Dress Code (jacket and tie for gents) was in effect, so I had to search with my parents for several days to find the Miami-Vice pastel blue jacket complete with shoulder pads, accompanied by skinny tie! It was a lot of fun and a real eye opener to see the Disney production machine in full operation, with military-style precision.
JEFF: After that, you decide to work for the Park, correct? How did that go?
JEFF: Right. It was about six months later, early in my junior year at Esperanza High School in Anaheim, when I stopped by the Orange County Regional Occupation (ROP) fair where I met recruiters from Disneyland. Later that spring, I secured an interview at the Casting offices, which were located in the Disney University building right next to Harbor House, the cast member entrance right off Harbor Boulevard. I still remember that I interviewed with a gentleman named Joel Hicks (more on him later), a very personable gent who chatted with me about my interests and explained the different roles in the park. Following a long period waiting in the lobby, many of us were called back in to advise us of our roles – I was thrilled to learn that I had been assigned the role of Attractions Host in Fantasyland!!! My heart was pounding as I floated out of the Casting office and rushed home to call everyone I knew…no cell phones in 1987!
JEFF: And then the training process began, right?
JEFF: Yes, prior to my first day on stage, I had to attend a full day of class at the Disneyland University. This was very serious business indeed, with business attire required. All new cast members had to speak about themselves and reasons for joining the cast. Classes on proper Disneyland vocabulary, company policies, including grooming, cast dos and don’ts, and many other sessions were complete with several brochures that directly communicated the Disney company culture, values, history, and high expectations for each cast member. I still have some of those brochures, as well as my first badge. I left the Disney University that day feeling the weight of responsibility for my role. I felt so fortunate to have this amazing opportunity while many of my friends were working “just another summer job”.
On my first day, many new cast members were taken around the park for a front- and back-stage tour with trainers, which included a group lunch at a cafe upstairs from Space Mountain (where the queues are). Then the fun began…
JEFF: So where did they wind up putting you?
JEFF: Nearly all new C/S (Casual/Seasonal) male cast members at this time were assigned to the Skyway while many females were assigned to the Storybookland Canal Boats. So on Day 1, I entered Harbor House, physically punched my orange (seasonal) timecard with pride, and passed under the railroad bridge into the backstage area for the first time. Turning left, I saw a row of teller windows as far as the eye could see – this was Costume. I frantically searched for my window and hit the large red button that rang the bell. Here I was issued my first pair of lederhosen and related costume. After I changed in the sweaty old locker rooms, I headed out on stage for the first time. It was truly a transformation! Walking from a utility area, breaching the facade and entering a world of fantasy via discrete passageways and seamlessly entering the crowds, it was amazing each time, honestly!
When you were scheduled on the Skyway, it could either be on the Fantasyland Skyway (“F-Sky”) or Tomorrowland Skyway (“T-Sky”). This was interesting because, in most cases, Attractions Hosts/Hostesses could not cross lands. I by far favored the Fantasyland side because the costume was so much more comfortable in the heat of the summer. The Tomorrow Skyway costume was a hot, itchy “space age” light blue polyester pantsuit complete with a shirt with a short zipper, something out of the late 60′s or early 70′s, really unpleasant. Also, as Fantasyland Attractions cast, we didn’t really know anyone else in Tomorrowland and were sort of outcasts.
JEFF: Did you enjoy working on the Skyway?
JEFF: It was a labor of love. The work was often hard physically, especially in the summer. Pushing Skyway cabins – and especially bringing them to a screeching halt – especially when loaded down with four (or more) guests, could be downright dangerous. Keep in mind that I was an athlete in high school and in pretty good shape. That first summer I lost something like 10 pounds and who knows how much water weight every day. I would return home and fall into bed. When on occasion I had to work overtime or even the occasional double shift, I was a wreck for a day or two after. I can’t even imagine doing that now! Also, that first summer I developed heavy callouses from gripping the rails, they took at least 10 years to finally disappear.
A big thank you to Jeff for sharing his story with us! Check back in two weeks for more!
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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