Bob Gurr is the design and mechanical genius behind many of your favorite Disney attractions. From the Autopia to the Monorails, the PeopleMover or the Omnimover, Gurr was at the creation. His new book, Design: Just For Fun, is a beautifully illustrated review of those projects and a lot more.
Gurr describes the book as a “saga [that] will span the early years of the creation of Disneyland through animated movie monsters. Included are new kinds of roller coasters, spectacular Olympic games ceremonies, new transportation systems, even outrageous Las Vegas extravaganzas.” He delivers. The book is loaded with rarely or never before seen photos and drawings.
Since Bob and I are shilling books at the same time, I have had the privilege of asking him many questions and find him to be amazingly approachable and a great storyteller. I can verify that reading this book is just like listening to the man himself.
I have always had the impression that Bob’s success came from living a life based on a simple proposition; When given a challenge, just do it. If you don’t know what you are doing, here is a good chance to learn something new and then just do it. If it didn’t work the first time, figure out a better way, and fix it.
As a child, Gurr was not very focused on school. In the subjects he was excited about, he excelled. But everything else…not so. His advice to parents is, “Your student is expressing his true passionate interests in life. Nurture it, ignore the “F,” and continue to support his natural direction, it will probably surprise you later on.”
Of course, my interest was in the development of Disneyland. In the world of the original Imagineers, Gurr was the youngster. He came to the Disneyland project through his friend Don Iwerks. Little did Gurr know that he had been pals with one of Disney’s key people. A tribute to the modesty of Ub Iwerks, Don’s father.
Gurr started part-time working on the Park but was soon drafted full time. His first job was to design the Autopia cars. Perfect, since his training was in auto design. What Gurr did not expect was to do the mechanical engineering. This was something he was not trained to do. Oh well, just do it. As he says, “Remember, all the rest of Walt’s guys were in the same boat, nobody had ever designed a Disneyland before.”
One of the things you quickly realize is that much of this stuff at Disneyland did not work very well at first. The monorail, Dumbo, Casey Jr., Autopia, the Flying Saucers, the Tea Cups, etc. regularly broke down. Gurr goes into great detail on how the problems came about and how they were repaired.
I would caution readers that sometimes the book does go into incredible technical detail on the mechanics of the rides. I find this to be an asset but some may will find themselves skipping through a paragraph and joining the story a bit later on. A positive to some and a quibble for others. My only other minor complaint is when a photo sits in the middle of the page and text wrap leaps across the very large graphic. Hard to read.
Another aspect of the book I find appealing is the tale of the changing culture of the Disney organization. Gurr started at WED Enterprises when it was a small group of people working in a very flat organization in a building used as a set for a TV show. He left the company in 1981 after it became a behemoth with many, many layers of management. We learn that Gurr was not all that fond of the change.
After Gurr left Disney, he started his own firm, GurrDesign, and worked with other firms on 126 different projects. They included the giant King Kong Audio-Animatronic that got cremated in a backlot fire at Universal Studios Hollywood, a flying saucer for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and the pirate battle in front of Treasure Island hotel in Las Vegas.
The book contains wonderful little stories like Bob babysitting two boys on opening day at Disneyland while they attacked Sammy Davis, Jr. with an Autopia car, the projects that never came to be, and how a Ford car man brought Disney and GM together.
Throughout the book, Bob directs you to other sources for the complete story on a particular topic. From that point, he adds new material and fills in some of the blanks.
Finally, he finishes the book with a few chapters dedicated to lessons he had learned over the years. How to invent a monorail, how to work with suppliers, and working with Walt Disney. I especially enjoyed the chapter outlining the various court cases brought against Disney (and Bob) over the years due to alleged injuries suffered while riding an attraction. Bob also served as a technical witness in non-Disney related cases.
For the hardcore Disney theme park geek, this book is a must have for your collection. For the casual fan, it becomes a story of problem solving on things that are familiar to you. I think that makes the book a worthy addition to any library. If you have somebody interested in engineering or design, I think you have just found the next birthday or Christmas present. I highly recommend this book.
The book comes in two flavors: red and blue. The red edition is a signed and numbered collectors edition. The other is an open edition which has a blue cover. They are both priced the same. If you’d like to pick up a copy of the coveted collectors edition of the book, they have sadly now sold out. HOWEVER, MiceChat has 100 copies of the red collectors edition saved for a special Bob Gurr luncheon and book signing scheduled for June 30th! You can find more information about the Bob Gurr event in the MiceChat forums HERE or purchase your tickets in the MiceChat Store. I’d recommend signing up fast because those 100 books won’t last long. I’ll see you at the event (and I understand there are going to be some surprise guests!).
Disclaimer: I received the book from GurrDesign at no charge for the purpose of this review.
[HR][/HR][FONT=verdana]Sam Gennawey is an urban planner, historian, and author.
If you enjoy reading SAMLAND, you’ll love his book. Walt and the Promise of Progress City is a detailed look into how Walt Disney envisioned the future of communities. Along the way, we explore many facets of a fascinating man.