Sunday, September 18, 2011

People I've Met in the Past: Part Two

In Part One we explored what I think of as the "Cast of Characters" of early Walt Disney World souvenir guides, the people and pictures and places which are almost signposts on any pictorial trip back into the past. Walt Disney World has a memorable cast, as I'm sure does Disneyland, although my limited collection has really only ever indicated one memorable recurring character in their guides: Phone Girl. There is, however, another type of character we meet in the past, although these people don't generally come to us in one sitting with any one piece of paper, book or booklet.

We become familiar with these characters through collecting. One day you notice a slight difference between two photos you thought were identical in two different publications. You go looking for more of these discrepancies. Gradually more and more are revealed. Even at some remove and allowing for different cropping and printing of the various photos, it becomes possible to reconstruct a photo shoot.

Take this dapper quartet, for example.

They're sitting in the plush environs of the Magnolia Room at the Walt Disney World Golf Clubhouse. Actually, to be specific, they're in the Palm Lounge that adjoins the Magnolia Room on two of its four sides, as the lounge offered those large windows we see overlooking what I believe in the last hole of the Magnolia golf course. The distinctions between the two venues was hazy at best.

First, let's point out the obvious: the screaming colors. Not just that guy on the right's astonishingly orange blazer: even the table setting and glassware reflect that era's curious love of vibrant earthen tones and brazen textile patterns. The artificial splendor of potted trees and bushes is a hallmark of country clubs the world over but here reminds me of the "indoor forest" of the later Village Restaurant at Lake Buena Vista.

I've always been intrigued by Orange Jacket Guy's apparent annoyance at his glass of sweet tea. It's probably just an inopportune moment to have a picture taken, but he really seems sort of annoyed by it.

Hey, see that dinner roll sitting in the middle of the table at the front?

A mildly different angle of the same scene taken possibly immediately before or after the photo above. The lens has been changed and the photographer has moved slightly to the right. This is by far the more commonly printed version of this photo, despite being an arguably inferior one. It's possible it's been badly cropped, but I've yet to turn up a larger version. It's easy to see why it was more often chosen because Orange Jacket Guy doesn't look so annoyed. Notice the golf game progressing in the background?

That dinner roll is still sitting there.

Dinner roll is still sitting there. Apparently these people were not permitted to eat anything. Maybe the food was plastic?

Now the cocktails and soft drinks are gone and a bottle of wine has appeared. Also, Orange Jacket Guy is completely gone, and the stage belongs solely to his friend, who in fact looks remarkably like young Malcolm McDowell.

There's probably even more photos of the adventures of Orange Jacket Guy and Malcolm McDowell-lookalike, but it's sort of remarkable that any variants of the initial set of photos got printed in official publications at all. Disney tended to scrupulously avoid printing obvious variants of similarly staged scenes, so we have no record at all of, say, alternate takes of that couple dining in King Stephan's Banquet Hall.

That's one kind of game that can be played with early WDW publicity. This next example is even more diffuse in that these photos were printed over a very wide variety of brochures and leaflets and feature the same models in very different situations.

I call it the "Beard Guy" series : wherein he and his lady friend could be seen lounging at the Barefoot Bar at the Polynesian Village:

Or lurking at the beach:

Her super-prominent wedding ring here has always intrigued me. Was Disney concerned that their good intentions not be misunderstood or was that just something the model brought with her? Anyway it colors your perception of an otherwise unremarkable picture.

Following hi-jinx at the Polynesian, Beard Guy and Lady Friend leap time and space to the Village, where they may be seen investigating wares in the Candle Chalet:

This is the first example of Beard Guy performing his patented "dramatic reaching for something".

This photo irritates me to no end because it's a really good look at the interior of the Candle Chalet, possibly the only one in existence, and was invariably printed over the seam of two pages of various editions of World Magazine. To even stitch it together the way I've done here I had to undo those thirty year old staples and gently disassemble the book, then put it back together after scanning.

This one is a borderline case. It could be Beard Guy and Lady Friend (the telltale beard isn't visible to help), or it could be a similar couple who were photographed in and around the Lake Buena Vista Club and Treehouses. Whichever it is, it's a very rare look inside the original Flower Garden shop at the Village, so the era is correct, and nobody would likely have noticed the discrepancy had I not just pointed it out to you.

So there.

They've moved on to the Village Restaurant now, and I'd really like to know what Lady Friend is drinking, because if that's beer it's being served in a really unusual glass. It could be a mimosa or something. Notice also the hilariously over sized pepper mill. Massive pepper mills were a real trend there for a while, almost de rigueur to indicate a general shift away from the mid century tendency to use pre-ground pepper, as if the size of a mill made the difference more important. I wonder if she was allowed to eat any of that salad, or whether it was plastic too.

I call that one "Beard Guy Looms".

One thing I like about Beard Guy is that he has two modes: "Dramatically Reaching for Something":

...or: ZANY!

Look at that. Has anybody ever been happier to examine copper cookware than Beard Guy? They're in the middle of the Pottery Chalet, by the way, which besides offering pottery was an all-around housewares store. But seriously, Beard Guy, when he turned on whimsy, the fun never stopped:

"Wicker makes me act all zany!"

Here they are clowning around in Cane, Rattan, Wicker and Suns, a shop that was technically part of Port of Entry. I believe that's the shop's signature item, the wicker rickshaw. Back then, every shop at the Village was sure to stock items intended more for novel shopping than buying, and this was one of them. Not like Walt Disney World vacationers were likely to buy things like giant bamboo birdcages, anyway.

It's easy to make fun of photos like these and in the previous post, but you know what? They're still fun to look at, and not just from a historical perspective, either. We tend to look back with ambivalence at things like marketing from other eras because styles and fashions change; there's no way any of this could be used today to effectively "sell" Walt Disney World even if any of the things shown here still existed (hint: most of them don't).

But who really looks twice at the 2010-era marketing these days? The photos of gleaming pudgy-faced moppets cavorting with costumed characters or in princess dresses show a high degree of technical polish and sophistication, but as marketing has become more sophisticated, charm has been left behind. These photos shown unrehearsed, unretouched people behaving simply in places which were not treated like photo studios. These are real places and we respond to the simple "go out and take pictures" ethic of early Disney World promotion. It shows something far closer to what the actual experience of the place was rather than the MBA statistics-driven school of marketing now in vogue.

Me? I'll take Beard Guy or Sombrero Girl any day. I suspect you would, too.

ADDENDUM: September 22, 2011
Thanks to Mssrs. Jason and Alex, we now know the identity of "Beard Guy". And he is, surprisingly.... noted artist R. Tom Gilleon! No, seriously, look at his site. Tom, a Florida native, worked for WED for a time on EPCOT Center and Tokyo Disneyland before moving out West to paint his familiar vivid canvases. I've also been sent along this recent photo:

Beard Guy, thankfully, still has a beard. This casts entirely new light on these nostalgic promotional photographs: how many of these "unrehearsed" models were actually culled from the talent pool Disney had cultivated in Florida? Tom was probably chosen for his unique expressions and beard, looking as he does not like a Cast Member, but many of the people we see in these photos are fairly well-dressed and trim, which certainly explains some of the unique qualities of many of these early souvenir guides and photographs.

Over at Walt Disney World: a History in Postcards, Brian Martsolf has already identified a number of photographs which likely show the Magic Kingdom during construction, which means that the bulk of the people in those photos were currently employed by Walt Disney World and many of those earliest photographs show the Magic Kingdom very much still in a state of becoming. Take a look again at the "Gene Hackman in a Teacup" photo:

First, obviously, this photograph is from the first eight months of the resort as the roof has not yet been added to the Mad Tea Party. But look in the background, over by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. See that irregularly shaped object? Doesn't it look like something with a tarp thrown quickly over it?

And maybe there aren't as many people walking around the park as you might expect? And look again at "Gene Hackman". Doesn't it look sort of like he's... wearing a name tag?

I'm willing to bet that everyone in this photo is a Cast Member or Contractor for Walt Disney World, that this was taken during a preview day in August or September 1971, and that the object in the background is covering the fact that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is still under construction. The ride wouldn't open until December. Sort of puts a new - if you'll pardon the pun - spin on things, doesn't it?

Me? I'm very excited by this news. Now that we know Beard Guy is Tom Gilleon, who knows who Sombrero Girl is or who that kid facing off with one of the seven dwarfs grew up to be.

Maybe it could even be you, reading this blog, right now.