UPDATE: Wow, these last two weeks have been action packed.
Disneyland’s Birthday week was full of excitement and surprises. It started on Tuesday when I enjoyed a few hours with my new friends Kelly and James from Texas. I got a special surprise as I went to meet them and had breakfast with my favorite cast member Chandler, his wife and his mother-in-law.
Wednesday, I was invited to be one of the special guest artists for DFC’s annual Ryman Arts Charity Dinner. I spoke about my mentor Herbert Ryman and was given the surprise of my life as Linda Rolls, President of the DFC (Disneyana Fan Club), presented me with the “DFC President’s Award,” for generosity beyond the call of duty. If you want to see me actually speechless and crying, check out THIS LINK HERE.
Thursday was the big day, Disneyland’s Birthday. As promised, I was seated at a table next to Coke Corner, just above the hedge at the Jolly Holiday from 9am – 4pm.
The day was full of excitement as Bob Gurr joined me and signed just 15 copies of my book as we visited with guests who dropped over to say hello. To all of you who dropped over, thanks so much for visiting! It was great fun.
Next year is going to be full of sparkle, I’m told, and I hope to create something for Disneyland’s 60th. Keep your fingers crossed. I plan to be in the same place at the same time.
For me, Disneyland’s birthday ended with a lovely dinner at Cathay Circle! All in all, a fantastic day.
That night I drove to Las Vegas for an event and returned on Saturday night; I was a guest at the DFC show and sale the next day and had to prepare. Wow, what a week.
But never fear. I still had just enough time to write something special for you!
STAR WARS: THE FILM THAT CHANGED MY LIFE – PART 1
I cut class to see Star Wars. Shame on me!
My friend, who is now my husband, had told me of a new science-fiction film that would be bigger than anything. On opening day we snuck out of class and ran down to Chinese Theater in Hollywood to catch the first showing . . . there was nobody there.
Imagine, it’s May 25, 1977 and there are barely enough people to fill the theater. The lights went down and the title exploded on the screen. My mouth was wide open and never closed until the credits rolled. My life would never be the same.
I sat shaking in my seat as I realized that what I believed to be a hobby was in reality a possible career. There was the proof right on the screen: all I had to do was figure out how to make it so. I returned that night to see it again and it was so overrun by people that I couldn’t get near the theater. In just a few hours everything had changed.
I loved science fiction, however there wasn’t much to watch, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Trek for the most part. Most of the films at that time were love stories and I was sick of love stories. To fill this void I read books and comics to get the sci-fi fix.
Star Wars changed this on so many levels. For me, it held the key to a career I only wished for, as I had no idea such artists existed until this film.
I’d been creating costumes for most of my life. But I did it for Halloween and for fun. This was a way for me to blow off creative steam. I just never thought it could be anything more.
Star Wars changed all that.
I decided I had to see this film again. I declared I would see Star Wars over and over, every day until someone threw me out. I came up with a plan and off I went to the Chinese Theater in time for the first show. I planned to stay for every showing of Star Wars that day.
After each show ended I’d slip into the bathroom, change my clothes and my hair, and walk back to a different seat. I have to point out to some of you, especially if you weren’t born then, that there were no DVDs or Internet in 1977. Going to the theater was the only way to see a film back in the day. I had a very limited budget, so I was unable to pay for each showing. This plan had to work as my new career depended on it.
I got away with seeing the film 66 times as I went every day for every showing, over and over for about a week. As I watched Star Wars, I’d sketch the characters and write down every name in the credits as fast as I could as they rolled by. I added more after each showing.
My plan was to later see if any of these people were appearing anywhere and make a point to meet with them and ask how they achieved their fantastic career.
I studied the film and dissected every inch of it. I sketched like a madwoman as I had to be ready when the opportunity came. All I needed was a break.
Then I looked up and right there before me, hands on hips, stood an usher looking down at me.
The jig was up; I was busted!
He asked me to come with him. I was sure I was on my way out. Instead, I was lead up the stairs and into a special office. I stood before a big desk with a man deep in his work.
The manager looked up from his desk and asked me if I’d been sneaking into the film. With my head down, I confessed that I had.
“Young lady, this is the Chinese Theater! How many times have you seen this film?”
His eyes widened. “Are you kidding me?”
“No sir, how did you know it was me?”
“I’m very smart if you must ask. Besides, all of your characters had the exact same bag.”
I looked down as I realized that I had been so clever except that I used the same bag to hold my disguises. Oops.
He asked me why. What was so important about this film? I explained my situation and passionately acted out how I had felt the first time I saw it. I showed him the drawing and my pad with all the names I had written down.
I stood there breathless. He looked at me and didn’t say anything for what felt like an eternity as he looked at all that I had placed before him. Finally, he smiled.
“Kid, How would you like to come see this film as much as you’d like and bring a guest?”
“Yes, I’d love that!”
The manager explained that I could come as much as I wanted, the full VIP treatment, as long as when my viewings were close to hitting 100, I had to let him know – he wanted to bring in the media to cover my 100th viewing.
I explained that I was leaving for Europe but I would be back in a couple of months; could I return then? We agreed.
Star Wars was not going to hit Europe until Oct. of 1977. I left for Europe the beginning of June ’77. So I’d seen the film 66 times in the month of May.
I returned from Europe and purchased a nice little used car, a 1968 Cougar. I put license plates on it that read Vader 1. My car had a cassette player and I recorded Darth Vader’s breathing and played it often so whenever I stopped for a traffic light, you could hear it.
In the industry, we call this type of obsessive person a squid, meaning that they take their tentacles and attach them to something and never let it go. I was a class A, #1 Star Wars squid. I collected and created everything I could that had to do with Star Wars. So if you’ve ever wondered if I had the bug, like many of you have the Disney bug, the answer is YES!
I decided I’d create a Chewbacca. I couldn’t figure out how to build C3PO and I was far too tall to be a Jawa, so I went with Chewbacca. I later transformed my friend Lee Forbes into a Jawa as he was the perfect height. In addition to my Chewbacca, I helped my friend and Disney Little Mermaid creator Philo Barnhart to create his costume of Darth Vader.
My Chewbacca had to be Chewbacca. I built lifts so I’d stand seven feet tall and sculpted the toes out of mattress foam using a pair of scissors. I glued the chin of my mask to my face so that the mouth would move when I roared.
In order to get reference photos, I had to go down to Little Tokyo and order the Japanese version of Starlog Magazine. There were no Star Wars books like today.
The Japanese Starlog had all kinds of detailed photos of many of the characters from Star Wars, as there were no copyright laws in Japan at that time so they printed everything they could. It took 3 weeks to get the magazine, but it was well worth the wait.
I finished the costume and began to work on my plan to meet anyone I could associate with this amazing film.
Who did I find and how did I succeed?
What happened when I returned to the Chinese theater?
Did I ever hit my 100 viewing and get media coverage?
What does Star Wars have to do with getting a spot on The Price is Right game show in ’77?
I realize this barely scratches the surface, but the Star Wars question is a big one that takes time to unfold.
Join me for part 2 very soon.
Although this article was off the beaten path from a Disney-type subject, this truly is a Disney-type article. Many times I hear young folks say that they’d like to be an Imagineer but they don’t have any artistic talent. This is really so wrong, as you all can be artists.
Thank you to those who came up to me at the Disneyana Fan Club’s Show and Sale last Sunday to share with me their stories of how much my article affected them. Many of you even gave me a much-appreciated hug.
Finally, I wish to thank the four of you who commented last time around. It’s very hard to look deep inside one’s self at times. Many seem to prefer not to share it on the Internet. I fully understand that.
See you next time. And I look forward to your comments below!