Garner Holt Wins Thea Award For Lifetime Achievement

Written by Dusty Sage. Posted in Features

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Published on April 06, 2014 at 3:00 am with 23 Comments

And the Buzz Price Award For A Lifetime Of Distinguished Achievements goes to . . . Garner Holt!!!

Yesterday was a milestone achievement for animatronics wizard and MiceChat columnist Garner Holt.  Theme park industry trade association, TEA (Themed Entertainment Association), bestowed their top honor upon Garner during their gala three day event at the Disneyland Resort.  Garner joins such prestigious talent as Harrison “Buzz” Price, Marty Sklar, Don Iwerks, John Hench, Bob Gurr, Tony Baxter, Joe Rohde, Kim Irvine and other industry leaders.

You might say it all started on TV when a 9 year old Garner Holt saw Kurt Russell and the Osmond Brothers detailing the making of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland on an episode of Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. He was enthralled with the latest Disney attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion and especially the mechanized animatronics found throughout the park. Garner told his parents that he wanted to build the things he saw at the park. And it didn’t take him long to do just that.

Garner began building a child’s version of several Disneyland attractions in his backyard. Pirates of the Caribbean was a trough filled with water into which Garner placed an old row boat and built simple scenery.  Later came a petting zoo, a skyway ride (quickly eliminated by his parents) and a haunted house.

One year, Garner wanted to advertise his haunted house in the local paper, but got something even better when a reporter wrote a long story on the 14-year-old’s creation.  More than 100 people showed up to tour the haunted house on Halloween night.

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Garner’s theme entertainment efforts became legitimate at the young age of 15, when an events promoter for a local mall heard about Garner’s haunted house and asked him to create one for the local mall the next year.  He bought an old construction trailer and set to work building “Garner Holt’s Haunted House of Mystery.”  It was a hit and was used in the mall for years. The success of the first mall attraction led to more haunted houses for Garner in other southern California malls.

In 1976, Garner created an animatronic Uncle Sam for America’s Bicentennial, based on his admiration for Disneyland’s Mr. Lincoln figure.  He sent a film of the figure’s performance to WED Enterprises, where it caught the attention of Wathel Rogers, celebrated father of Disney Audio-Animatronics.

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In July of 1977, Garner founded Garner Holt Productions, Inc. (GHP). He was just 16 years old at the time. For the first decade of its existence, Garner was GHP’s only full-time employee. Business was slow at first, a few more haunted houses, trade shows, projects for small parks and shopping venues.

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In 1989, he premiered Wendell, the world’s first animatronic figure to ride a unicycle. The figure brought Garner and his company recognition that led directly to his being awarded the contract to build all the animatronics and special effects for Grand Canyon Rapids at the then under construction MGM Grand Adventures Park in Las Vegas.

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GHP was soon awarded a continuing series of projects all over the world, in all sorts of venues, from small parks to museums, restaurants and malls. In 1998, GHP was awarded the contract to create an all-new Chuck E. Cheese animatronic show. To date, GHP has built nearly 500 individual shows for the global entertainment company.

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In 2001, GHP created the Jack Skellington animatronic figure for Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay, as well as dozens of other animatronic figures, props, special effects, and more. Since then, GHP has created more than 500 individual animatronic figures for Disney parks worldwide. The company has figures in every Disney resort.

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GHP has created nearly 5,000 individual animatronic figures, show action equipment, special effects, and thousands of props, sets, and scenic elements for Disney, Universal, Cedar Fair, and hundreds of other leaders in entertainment, shopping, dining, education, defense, and more. Today, Garner Holt Productions is the world’s largest manufacturer of animatronic figures.

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All of which is why, at just 53 years old, Garner Holt became the youngest recipient of TEA’s Lifetime Achievement award this weekend. An honor very well deserved. 

Please join us in congratulating Garner Holt on this amazing honor.

About Dusty Sage

Dusty is the founder and CEO of MiceChat.com. He's long been a consumer advocate for theme park travelers and a consistent voice for high standards in the industry. When he's not visiting theme parks and writing and editing articles about Disney and theme parks worldwide, Dusty is busy running a telecommunications company and speaking at various theme park and communications events. If you've got news or photos to share with the MiceChat community, or would like to book Dusty for an upcoming event, please contact [email protected]

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23 Comments

Comments for Garner Holt Wins Thea Award For Lifetime Achievement are now closed.

  1. Congratulations Mr Holt!

  2. So does Disney even have the capability to produce their own animatronics? Or is this work now completely contracted out to GHP? I’m thinking the day will come when Disney will simply buy out GHP (sort of like they did with PIXAR).

    • I asked that question of an Imagineer at the last D23 Expo and was told that Disney does do much of their own specialty animatronics work. Many complex things and research projects are still done at WDI.

      But that’s not what this article is about. CONGRATULATIONS GARNER!!!! WELL DONE!!!

      • That imagineer sympathetically fibbed. WDI has dissolved its animatronic department. All they do now is come up with artwork and movement requests and they send the paperwork to Garner Holt Productions for fabrication and construction. I was disappointed to hear that Disney no longer makes its own animatronics, but towards the end, GHP was producing better and more life-like creations than modern WDI could do! Now I am glad GHP builds Disney’s animatronics, so congrats Garner!

      • @ayalexander Absolutely true.

        And, I concur with everyone else here. A hearty congratulatons to Mr. Holt. An award well deserved!

    • Disney will never buy out GHP. Keep in mind that the whole reason Disney farmed out their work was that Disney’s own Mapo staff had gotten very expensive over the years, and while they produced a superior product, the bean counters figured a small drop in quality was worth the big cost savings. As with many big companies these days, they find it’s cheaper to subcontract work where possible.
      GHP was initially used as a simple fabrication shop; since then WDI has given them reams of drawings with decades of design experience, so they also now have the benefit of Disney’s hard work. While WDI does still have limited in-house capacity for specialty and R&D work, the bulk work gets sent out elsewhere.

  3. We’re so lucky he grew up locally. The love he poured into his work at Knotts Berry Farm and Cars Land shows how much a fan can truly give back to his childhood parks. And modern kids will soon be just as amazed as he was as a kid riding the Calico Mine Train.

  4. Congratulations Garner
    Truly inspirational, you have to love a great success story as this. Garner is diffidently worthy of such recognition.
    Congrats, X CnDoCrw Member

  5. Congratulations to Garner Holt. Yours is a story of legendary proportions, being inspired by Disney’s creative your passion, drive and perseverance has led you to become Disney’s go to person for animatronics. Well done!

  6. Can’t blame you for being inspired by Kurt Russell!!! Oh…the Haunted Mansion, I mean.

    What an extraordinary life and achievement. Congratulations, Garner. Your passion and vision have touched us all. Thank you.

  7. Very pleased that Garner Holt is receiving the acclaim they deserve. I so miss the Grand Canyon Rapids from MGM park, it truly was one of the best rapids rides I have ever ridden, and that includes Disney. The animatronics and blasting tunnel (seen in photo) were awesome, it truly was like Big Thunder on water. Congratulations for years of great work!

  8. Congrats Garner Holt! I can’t wait to see what the future brings for your work!

  9. Wow, congrats Garner on a well deserved award!

  10. I’ve always been amazed by Garner Holts work.An award well deserved, congratulations! Keep up the good work and a special thanks to all you do for the youth intrigued by this industry.Great Job!

  11. Congratulations, Garner! Truly a legend who inspires generations of fans to continue in his love of theme park entertainment! And, the best part of this being, he’s NOT DONE YET!!! Thank you, Garner!

  12. Fantastic news Garner! Animatronics have always been what elevated theme parks to a new level of realism, wonder and entermersement. <–trademarked by me!

  13. Question for Garner: in the mid-70′s did you ever show one if your figures up in the San Mateo area? I seem to recall seeing a “Lincoln” animatronic figure at a mall up there at the time.

  14. Congratulations to Garner. Well deserved.

    Sam Gennawey

  15. Congratulations Garner!