Ian says Kungaloosh!

Written by Jeff Heimbuch. Posted in Features, From the Mouth of the Mouse

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Published on June 20, 2012 at 12:09 am with 10 Comments

Hello, and welcome to this week’s ‘From The Mouth Of The Mouse!’

Each week, we spotlight a different Cast Member story to give you more insight into some of your favorite attractions, resorts, and movies from all over the Walt Disney Company.

Today’s interview is a real treat. Sometimes you meet certain Cast Members that are so into a role, you’re not sure where the character ends and they begin. Ian, today’s interviewee, is just that type of Cast Member!

Ian has a clear love of Disney, and was one of the people lucky enough to portray a role that he’s always wanted to do since he was a kid.

He’s hilarious and entertaining, and I’m sure you’re going to love this one!


JEFF: How did your love of Disney start to begin with?

IAN: I’ve pretty much been a Disney fan from birth.  Both of my parents were school teachers.  My mother was known in the district for having a Mickey Mouse themed classroom and my father had visited the ’64 New York World’s Fair and had wanted to visit Disneyland after that.  So it should come as no surprise that they started visiting Walt Disney World in ’71.  When I came on the scene in ‘83, my parents took me for my first trip to Walt Disney World at the tender age of 3 months!  The Disney trip became an annual event, that is until we joined the Disney Vacation Club in ’92 and we started going about three times a year.  We went so often that there was a legend that constantly followed me through my elementary and high school days about my house containing a Disney themed bathroom.  So, during my 16th Birthday/Anything Goes Cast Party there was a 30 minute queue that stretched throughout my house just to see the fabled room!

Of course, whenever I was home in Pittsburgh I only wanted to be back in Disney.  Thankfully I was growing up when the Disney Channel was just coming on the air, and actually had Walt Disney programming (as opposed to whatever you want to call what plays on there now).  I learned so much, about many different subjects, from watching Walt Disney Presents (I swear I learned everything about Earth/Space from Prof. Ludwig Von Drake years before I took the class in high school) but mostly I came to learn how amazing of a man Walt Disney was.

I truly wish that I could have met Walt.  He has been an inspiration for me my whole life.  In every project I did for school or for fun, I always would put in the level of detail that Walt would have strode for.  I also recall at a young age that I went through a variety of Disney career plans: at first I wanted to be a inker in the animation department, then I wanted to be the person who tests the rides at the parks, finally I wanted to be President and CEO!  What can I say, Weird Al Yankovich actually wrote “Skipper Dan” about me (he was one letter off, for goodness sakes).

JEFF: How did you wind up working for Disney?

IAN: At the end of my Super-Senior Year at Thiel College in 2006 (I wasn’t lazy, I just couldn’t fit all the classes for my Business Administration degree in four years.  Most of them would have interfered with rehearsals for the Thiel Player productions and I couldn’t have that) I didn’t know what to do after graduation.  My mother suggested that I do the Disney College Program to get my foot in the door.  The problem was that all the info sessions in the area were long done for the semester, so I had to an online sign up and a telephone interview.  For the interview they asked that you did not use a cell phone and be in a quiet area, for the interviewer to clearly hear responses.  I was on a college campus, where would there be a telephone in a quiet area?  Well, I was walking around the campus and thinking about where I could do this on my cell, but in a place with great reception, and my eyes caught the roof of my theater.  “I have a key to the roof, and that place has the best reception in town”, I thought.  So I clambered up the rickety ladder and through the trap door and took a seat to wait for the call.  Then I thought, “This is a nice day and this roof is very reflective”.  So I took my shirt off and tried to get a tan and continued this well into the phone interview.  I don’t know how many people can say that they had a shirtless-rooftop interview with the Walt Disney Co.

Four months later I was checking into Vista Way and started working at Innoventions at EPCOT Center.  I stayed there for four months and then transferred to Ad/Lib (Adventureland / Liberty Square) at the Magic Kingdom, where I did my second College Program for eight months.  After my stint as a CP, I went home to Pittsburgh for a month of rest and returned in Oct. ’07 to begin working in Ad/Lib full time.

JEFF: Just looking at your Facebook profile,I can see you have had MANY roles at the Park. Did you choose where you wanted to go? Reassigned?  Tell me a little bit about your journey to each of the roles.

IAN: A little known fact is that when you sign up for the Disney College Program, you have a check list of possible areas to work in: attractions, custodial, food and beverage, etc. and when you receive your confirmation letter, they tell you which area you have been chosen for, but not specifically where you are working.  They give you this vital piece of info when you are signing in to their housing…so if it is a place you don’t want to work, you don’t really have time to cancel doing the program, since you are already in Florida with many of your worldly possessions in tow.  When I was on my phone interview, I was asked where I wanted to work. I said attractions, since I had worked in attractions for five years at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh.  The interviewer said, “I know Kennywood!  Where did you work?”  “The Raging Rapids (Rapid Ride), The Gold Rusher (Dark Ride), and The Thunderbolt (Coaster)”, I said.  “I love the Thunderbolt!” she said, “Well, you defiantly should be in attractions!  Any you have in mind?”  “I would love to work Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion or the Great Movie Ride”, I said, and thought that I was bound for one of those three.  Imagine my shock when I checked in to find I was going to Innoventions.  Well, I learned the “House of Innoventions” show and was one of the first CPs to be trained on the Segway Central exhibit.  But, I have always been more of an Adventurer (The Adventurers Club being my favorite attraction ever built in the world), than a cutting edge technologist, so I put in to be transferred to the Jungle Cruise.

I had always loved Adventureland growing up, particularly due to one of greatest examples of Disney interactive entertainment, The Adventureland Challenge…and also the Jungle Cruise.  Never imagining that I would ever drive one of those boats, I had plotted a spiel in my head years before and surprised my trainer, “Triple B”, that I had such a working knowledge of the ride before I started there.  Because of him, I was one of the only Jungle Skippers to receive his Jungle Name before checking out.

As I was taking a “dead boat” around the river to practice my spiel, Triple B looked at me and said, “With that baritone voice of yours, I keep expecting to hear, ‘Anything less, would be uncivilized!’”  “What?” I said.  “You know, the old Right Guard deodorant commercial.  That’s it!  Your name is ‘Right Guard’…‘Right Guard Ian!’.”  He never expected it to stick, but I loved it.  And as new trainees came to the jungle, the true origin of the name was lost and new theories were presented to me such as, I sweat a lot (which is true), I don’t wear deodorant (which is not true) and that I guard the honor of the jungle with my right fist of truth (which is cool, and why should I correct anyone who believes this one?).

While working the Jungle, some of the Skippers that had been there for years began to recognize me as the “brat” who always won the Adventureland Challenge and was always on their boats.  However, when they saw that I had a genuine love for the Jungle, they quickly accepted me as one of them.  But my true claim to fame is a certain YouTube video.

One day I came into work not knowing that it had rained earlier that day. It just so happened that my father was riding to film my show.  As I came around to Schweitzer Falls, I leaned with all my might to guide my boat on the right course, and not capsize from the torrent.  At this point, my feet decided to fly out of the boat, I looked down to see the Rivers of Adventure directly below me, adrenaline shot into my arms, my grip became vice-like on the canopy’s support pole, and I swung until I ended up sitting on the bow. “I’m alive!” I thought, and scrambled back into the boat, and even that didn’t get a laugh out of that particular crew.  My dad then put it up on YouTube. To this day, new trainees are shown that video as a, “What not to do!” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfNfMMAbQWk)

What NOT to do!

After a year in the Jungle, I was finally able to cross train at The Haunted Mansion, another dream come true.  I have always loved the supernatural.  When I was taking classes at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, I became an unofficial historian and tour guide to all the haunted spots in the theater and was once shot at by the Lady in White (one of the resident ghost).  So naturally, the Mansion is among my all-time favorite attractions and I was extremely anxious to get trained there.  One of my best friends, and fellow skippers, Left Defenseless D.J., was trained at the Mansion a few weeks before me and told me about an area that I never heard of and HAD to see.  He told me that once you exit the Stretch Rooms, and just before you enter the queue funnel, there is a door to the right and through it was a staircase that led to Master Gracey’s Secret Puzzle Room.  Immediately, my head was filled with images along the lines of the old computer game, the 7th Guest, of dark mahogany panels that yielded to the touch to reveal room after room of cunning puzzles that you had to solve to escape from this chamber.  I was sorely disappointed when all I found were two folding tables, a couple of folding chairs, and about 10 boxes of jigsaw puzzles just across the way from the cast member bathroom.

I was one of the few Butlers who knew the amazing backstory the Mansion has.  Now, if you ask an Imagineer what the Mansion’s story is about, you will get the short and boring “retirement home for ghosts” line that they have been sticking by for years.  However, if you ask the right butler or maid, you will hear a tale of love, betrayal, lust and murder that has been passed down among generations of Mansion Servants as the Ghost Gallery.  My understanding of the tome is that some of the first cast members to work the mansion decided to write a story for each of the specters you see in the mansion. All of them revolve around the Gracey Family, and Master George Gracey Jr. in particular…as well as his two wives, Lillian and Emily. His Gypsy, Mme. Leota, also features heavily in the tale.  Here is a link to website for more details on this: (http://web.archive.org/web/20070117132452/http://members.aol.com/HtdMsn/gallery.html)

I based my Butler personality on Ramsley from the Haunted Mansion movie, not that I believe that the ride should ever have anything to do with that mess of a feature, but Ramsley was so deliciously evil.  My posture was perfect, my walk was slow and deliberate, my speech was slow and aloof and never, NEVER did I smile.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc6X4-_80kU)  I fondly remember three of the best legitimate scares I ever inflicted at the Mansion;

3.)  I entered the stretch room and gave my, “Drag your wretched bodies away from the blood stained walls and gather into the dead center of the room”, speech, and began to circle the perimeter of the room.  I saw that there was a direct path to the dead center, which is gold for butlers.  As soon as the lights went out, I made my way to the center, just in front of a 13 year old boy.  The lights came back on, and he saw me, yelled something in Spanish, and pushed me.  However, since his young muscles were unable to budge me, he ended up pushing himself to the ground.  I stared at him, dusted off my tailcoat where his hands had touched me, and then pointed towards the opened panel. He ran, with his family laughing behind him.

2.) I opened the Mansion’s Foyer doors and dryly said, “Master Gracey will see y. . .Mother.  Oh my Mother is here.  How nice.” And with that my mother, along with the crowd, entered the Mansion and, then, the stretch room.  Now, as I’ve said, my parents have been going to Disney World since ’71. My mother has ridden the Mansion countless times, so I thought that she must have seen the old “Butler stands in one place when the lights go out, and reappears in another when they come back on and scares the heck out of someone” trick before.  So, lights go out, I sneak up next to her, lights come back on…and she screams in my face and runs out of the room!  I stood there, shocked for a moment, turned away from the crowd so that no one saw my quick chuckle, turned back towards them and pointed the way out.  I was switching positions 10 minutes later and saw my mother exiting the Mansion. I said, “What was that?”  She said, “You scared the Hell out of me!”  I said, “In all the years you’ve been coming here, haven’t you seen that before?”  “NO!  How can you move through that room in the pitch darkness,” she asked.  “I’m just that good,” I said and continued on my way.

1.) I opened the Mansion’s Foyer doors and dryly said, “Master Gracey will see you now, enter if you dare.”  Two obnoxious college boys began to mock my speech, and I rolled my eyes as they passed.  Upon entering the stretch room I gave my “Drag your wretched bodies away from the blood stained walls and gather into the dead center of the room” speech, and again, they tried to mock me.  So I began to circle the perimeter and one of them started to follow me.  “Oh thank you” I thought, “this will make it perfect!”  So after two circuits of the room, I stopped opposite the boy that didn’t follow me, with the follower just next to me.  The lights went out, I dashed to the other side of the room just behind the boy that didn’t follow, and the lights came back on.  From the boy that followed I heard, “AH!  He’s gone!”  The boy that didn’t follow turned around, saw me and yelled, “AH!  He’s here!”  Both ran out of the room.  I stared at the crowd and simply said, “Never mess with a butler” and pointed toward the exit.

My time with Disney has unfortunately not been all positive.  Around the beginning of ’09 the area manager of Ad/Lib and I had butted heads a few times too many over Walt Disney and his philosophies, so it was time for me to move again.  This time I set my sights on the Disney M.G.M. Studios (which is what the park shall always be called by me, just like Port Orleans Riverside will always be Dixie Landings) and the Great Movie Ride.  I arrived at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Dec. ’09, and I’ve been there ever since. In fact, most of this interview has been answered while I’ve been sitting in the Bandit area waiting to hijack vehicles!

I started, as all GMR cast members do, as a Tour Guide.  As opposed to the Jungle Cruise, one MUST be word perfect, and there are certain days when our shows are observed (to make sure we are keeping to the script).

The world of Mugsy Toccatta in Gangster Alley is an interesting one.  There are few adrenaline rushes to compare with being shot at by the Farfella Family car, firing a real Smith and Wesson .38 (we also have Tauruses, but the S&W’s were the guns used at the Jungle Cruise for years and, since I missed out on using them there, by goodness I will use them now), and then hijacking a vehicle full of helpless tourists.  Well, almost helpless. There was one time that an old lady hit me with her purse, and when she was getting off the ride, our coordinators tried to tell her that she shouldn’t hit a gangster. Her daughter was shocked that they were being talked to about this. “She didn’t hit him that hard,” the daughter told the coordinator.  “Well she shouldn’t be hitting someone at all,” the coordinator retorted, but they just didn’t seem to get it.

But the greatest gig in all of Walt Disney World, (other than being Hathaway Browne at the Adventurers Club) must be Bandit.  Being Kid Carson means that you get to rob a bank, take a couple of shots at Thomas Jefferson, (he actually is the base figure of the Sheriff of Western Town) blow up said bank, and then hijack a vehicle full of helpless tourists.

JEFF: Most of those roles were “performance” roles. Have you always been a performer?

IAN: I have been in the theater for about 20 years.  I studied acting at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, Music at Steel Valley High School, Voice with Jennifer and Bradley Thompson and Dr. Michael Bray, and have a minor in Theatre and Performing Arts from Dr. Bill Robinson at Thiel College.  I have been in over 30 productions, with my favorite roles including: Sheridan Whiteside in “The Man Who Came to Dinner”, Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof”, Oscar Jaffee in “On the Twentieth Century”, The Narrator/Mysterious Old Man in “Into The Woods”, and “Algernon Moncrieff” in the Importance of Being Earnest”.  My most recent role was in the S.T.A.G.E. (The Disney Cast Member’s Drama Club) production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” as Teddy Brewster and in a few months I will begin rehearsing for this year’s E.N.C.O.R.E. (The Cast Choir and Orchestra) show (which will be the 10th anniversary show)

JEFF: Any times you can think of that you went out of your way to make a guest’s visit more magical?

IAN: I know that I’ve previously mentioned the Adventureland Challenge.  It was an amazingly fun scavenger hunt, which lasted from 1996 – Jan. 3, 2000.  Before the carnival/spinning ride was haphazardly thrown into the middle of Adventureland (believe it or not, no one who works in Adventureland likes the Carpets), there was a huge planter in the location. In front of that planter there was a giant stone head, and in front of that stone head there was a sign that said, “Save Adventureland: Find the Golden Idol and Win A Fabulous Prize!”  At scheduled times throughout the day, Col. Wayne P. McSwagger and his lackey (A fallen Jungle Cruise Skipper) would appear.  McSwagger had stolen the Mystic Golden Idol of Adventureland from the Jungle Cruise Skippers. As the legend goes, “He who controls the Idol, controls Adventureland”…McSwagger had grand ideas: The Enchanted Tiki Time Share, Swiss Family Robinson Resort and Casino, Jungle Cruise Yacht Club and Wet Bar (Oh why couldn’t that one have gone through), Pirates of the Caribbean Cruise Line, and so on.  The Skippers, not wanting to be fired, asked for the Idol back, but McSwagger said, “Not unless someone can beat me in a game of my own design.”  McSwagger and his Lackey would then pass out maps of Adventureland to the guests who wished to play. On the back of the map was a clue that led you to a gift shop.  You would go the shop and get the next clue and do this about five times until you had all six clues to flip over and unscramble the final clue on the back.  Then you went to that area of Adventureland and searched through bushes and decorations until someone discovered the Idol.  McSwagger would then ask the finder about things that the clues told them to observe while they were on their quest.  If they got the answers right, they were the winner!…and received a certificate suitable for framing, lining birdcages with, training small puppies with, etc. and Colonel Currency, which (before the dark times of Fast Pass) would get you to the front of the line at one Magic Kingdom attraction.  However, this was not a namby pamby Disney game where everyone wins.  The losers were taken to the Jungle Cruise and back doored onto a boat while indicating an “L” with their fingers in front of their forehead.  (For a video of 13 year old “Right Guard” and his friend John Olive running around Adventureland follow this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iURgIw46hOA).

I never lost when I was a kid, and when I got to the Jungle Cruise I tried my darndest to bring the game back, but the Area Manager at the time hated the game and wouldn’t hear of it.  Mid summer of ’09 I got a call from Wade Hobbie, who I worked with at Innoventions, and was the inventor of the Adventureland Challenge and one of the first Colonels.  He asked me if I knew that there was a Jungle Cruise Skipper Reunion planned for that October.  “Yes, and I’m all signed up for it too,” I said.  He then asked if I had heard that he was putting together a Challenge for the reunion.  My voice failed me due to my excitement, and Wade asked if I was still standing.  “Yes,” I said, “but just barely.”  “Well, sit down for this then, he said, “would you like to help me put it together?”  Silence on my end.  “Ian, breathe!  By the way, I’ve heard you have a Colonel costume, would you want to be the Colonel for the game?”  Deeper silence.  “Ian, are you alive?”  “You mean I have a chance to live out one of my lifelong dreams?” I weakly replied, “Yes to all of the above.”

So Wade and I put together the toughest Adventureland Challenge that we could, knowing that we had a mixture of Skippers attending who ranged from having been Colonel McSwagger (or Baroness Eugenia Nefertiti Von Swoon, the Colonel’s female counterpart) to CPs who had barely worked the Jungle for a month.  So on Oct. 23rd, 2009, with the help of Wade as my Lackey, I conducted the first Adventureland Challenge in 9 years for about 160 Jungle Cruise Skippers!  There was a bit of controversy over who won, but here is a link to the video of the game so you can see for yourself.  (Part 1: Skipper Reunion: http://newmexicast.com/nm0033, Part 2: Adventureland Challenge: http://newmexicast.com/nm0034)

Every fall since the closing of Pleasure Island, there has been an Adventurers Club Convention, the ConGaloosh (Kungaloosh being the Club’s all purpose word mixed with the “Con” of a convention).  In 2009, it was held inside the Adventurers Club with a full compliment of characters and shows, yes even a HOOPLA!  As well as the greatest Jungle Cruise of my career (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-49nPPxepPA)  In 2010, it was held on the streets of Cairo in the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular theater.  Last year, Disney told us that they would not be using the Adventurers Club characters anymore, (Though they were used in November for a Cast Service Award Banquet once again on the streets of Cairo) and the convention was close to being canceled.  However, I contacted the planner and asked if he would want me to write a Challenge for the convention.  He emphatically said yes, and I asked what day he would want to play.  “October 1st,” said Bernard.  “Okay,” I said, not realizing what that date actually was. . .Walt Disney World’s 40th Anniversary!  Thankfully, Adventureland had a new Area Manager and one of my Jungle Cruise brothers (who might as well be my lawyer) Alan Shankle and I spoke with her to get permission to play the game.  She thought it sounded fun and said sure.  So once again I donned a pith helmet with my partner in crime Victoria helping me as the Baroness (she would like it to be known that this involved being awake until 4 in the morning the couple of nights before to complete it. As the copy editor of this interview, she assumes that Ian will not be rereading most of it. If she were aware of the ungodly hours this ((the challenge)) would entail…well, actually, she still would have probably done it, being an extremely indulgent partner in crime).  However, this time no one realized that they had special obligations to perform in order to win, so in the end, I won.  But everyone who played loved it and some even went to City Hall to shower the game with compliments. The Guest Relations people had no idea what these people were talking about. So I remain hopefully that I may yet officially be Colonel McSwagger, because it was too much fun being him unofficially!  Also, just about a week ago, I received an e-mail from the ConGaloosh Society, asking if I would be registering for “Ian Quest 2012: Finding Yeti”?  To which I cocked my head and said, “huh?”  So for those interested in playing a newly written “Asia Challenge” to take place at Animal Kingdom this September, please sign up here: http://congaloosh.org/home/.

Thank you, Ian, for sharing with us, and congrats!

Don’t forget come back each week to hear more of the magic directly From the Mouth of the Mouse.

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By Jeff Heimbuch

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!

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About Jeff Heimbuch

Jeff has been in love with all things Disney since a very early age. He writes From The Mouth Of The Mouse and The 626 every week for MiceChat. He also collaborates on The Disney Review every weekend. Aside from that, he is one half of the devastatingly good looking duo of the weekly vid/podcast Communicore Weekly (the other half being fellow MiceChat columnist George Taylor), which you can find at www.communicoreweekly.com Jeff is also writing a book with former Imagineer and Disney Legend, Rolly Crump. You can find out more about the book at www.itskindofacutestory.com

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Comments for Ian says Kungaloosh! are now closed.

  1. Thanks

  2. Glad to see the Adventureland Challenge getting some love. My family used to love participating in it! We were sad to see it go.

    • Me too! I did it every chance I got when I was a kid. I remember spending a whole vacation, every day, running to Adventureland to do it. Loved it!

  3. One of the great treasures of Walt Disney World was the Adventurers Club. The dedicated CM’s did a fantastic job making people feel part of the show. Disney magic took place each night there. It is too bad that DW management never realized that they had something truly unique and wonderful. It was my main reason for going to Downtown Disney.

  4. Kungaloosh, Ian, and thank you for a fantastic interview. If I had to pick attractions to work, Jungle Cruise and mansion would certainly be at the top of my list too. Though, I never would have guessed that the Great Movie Ride would be one of the greats too.

  5. Excellent interview! I remember playing (and winning) the Adventureland Challenge in the summer of 1997. It sticks out as one of my most unique Magic Kingdom memories. Looking forward to requesting Ian’s Bandit show next time I’m at GMR!

    • Agreed. They should bring the challenge back!

  6. Closing Adventurer’s Club was probably one of the worst post-Eisner decisions done by Disney.

  7. Agreed. I was not a fan of the Adventureres Club. I know, I know. I’m a soulless individual. But there was no denying the magic that happened there night after night. It was just not my thing. Despite that, I could see the unbridled talent and passion that each performer was delivering. You could also see visitors happily giving in to the madcap show on display. It was truly a memorable spot.

  8. Best one yet, Jeff!! Ian is AWESOME!! :-D