Warning! There be secrets ahead. Disney secrets. Mickey doesn't want you to know how the magic is made, but Jim Korkis knows, and if you read Jim's book, you'll know, too. Put the kids to bed. Pull those curtains. Power down that iPhone. Let's keep this just between us...
If you've come expecting more of the same Disney trivia, you're in for a surprise. This is not a Disney trivia book. It's a book of Disney secrets, each exactly two pages long, and each brimming with backstage lore. Jim Korkis gathered these secrets when he worked at Walt Disney World as an instructor at Disney University. They're all true. They're all cool. And they include:
PSST! WANNA HEAR A (DISNEY) SECRET?
The Birth of Walt Disney World
Part 1: The Walt Disney World Parks
Magic Kingdom: Cinderella Castle
Magic Kingdom: Prince Charming Regal Carousel
Magic Kingdom: Partners Statue
Magic Kingdom: Roy O. Disney's Sharing the Magic Statue
Magic Kingdom: Tony’s Town Square Restaurant
Magic Kingdom: The Summer Magic Connections
Magic Kingdom: Beacon Joe
Magic Kingdom: Splash Mountain
Magic Kingdom: The Carousel of Progress
Magic Kingdom: The Birth of Space Mountatin
Magic Kingdom: The Country Bear Jamboree
Epcot: Spaceship Earth
Epcot: Inside Spaceship Earth
Epcot: The Fountain
Epcot: Japan Pavilion's Roy O. Disney Lantern
Epcot: Germany Pavilion's Railway Garden
Epcot: Remembering Body Wars
Epcot: The Original Figment and Dreamfinder
Epcot: The Purple Martins
Disney's Hollywood Studios: The Chinese Theater
Disney's Hollywood Studios: The Great Movie Ride
Disney's Hollywood Studios: The Cameraman Statue
Disney's Hollywood Studios: Gertie the Dinosaur
Disney's Hollywood Studios: On the Trail of the Rocketeer
Disney's Hollywood Studios: Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
Disney's Hollywood Studios: Mama Melrose
Disney's Hollywood Studios: Sid Cahuenga
Disney's Hollywood Studios: Echo Park
Disney Animal Kingdom: The Tree of Life
Disney Animal Kingdom: Bits of Disneyland
Disney Animal Kingdom: The Anandapur Reporter
Disney Animal Kingdom: The Yak & Yeti
Disney Animal Kingdom: Chester and Hester
Part 2: The Walt Disney World Resorts
Hilton Inn South: Training for the WDW Resorts
Wilderness Lodge: Humphrey the Bear
Wilderness Lodge: Grand Canyon Fireplace
Saratoga Springs: The Story Behind the Story
Dixie Landings: The Story Behind the Story
Polynesian Village Resort: The Story Behind the Story
Boardwalk Inn: Mutoscopes
Boardwalk Inn: Luna Park References
Fort Wilderness: The Dragon Calliope
Fort Wilderness: River Country
Port Orleans French Quarter: Scales the Sea Serpent
The Contemporary: The Myth of Removable Rooms
Part 3: The Rest of Walt Disney World
The Walt Disney World Monorails
Downtown Disney: In the Beginning
Farewell to Cap’n Jack’s
The Birth of Walt Disney World Golfing
Fantasia Gardens Mini-Golf
The Walt Disney World Casting Center
The Forgotten WDW Christmas Traditions
The Empress Lilly Story
Part 4: The Rest of the Story
Men Who Made WDW: Fred Joerger
Men Who Made WDW: Michael Graves
Men Who Made WDW: William Robertson
Men Who Made WDW: Marvin Davis
Men Who Made WDW: Peter Dominick Jr.
Things That Never Were: The First WDW Resorts
Things That Never Were: The Three Missing Magic Kingdom Resorts
Things That Never Were: World Showcase Pavilions
Things That Never Were: Wilderness Junction
Things That Never Were: Noah’s Ark, Alpine Resort, Typhoon Lagoon The Movie
Things That Never Were: The Enchanted Snow Palace Ride
Things That Never Were: Century 3
Things That Never Were: WDW Time Capsule
Things That Never Were: Fantasia Gardens
WDW History: Disney Family in Florida
WDW History: Disney in Disguise
WDW History: Getting Hired at Disney World in 1971
WDW History: Disney World's First Costumed Mickey Mouse
WDW History: Getting the Park Open on Deadline
WDW History: The Life Magazine Photo
WDW History: Disney World's First Ambassador, Debbie Dane
WDW History: Bob Hope at Disney World
WDW History: Disney World's First Christmas 1971
WDW History: Winnie the Pooh for President Press Event 1972
WDW History: The Only Magic Kingdom Comic Book
WDW History: A Few Extra Short Stories
Jim Korkis. Kind of a legend for us Disney geeks. For example, sitting on my desk is a large stack of Disney related books written by the man.
The first thing that I notice is the number of Post-it notes that line the edge of the pages so I can find material on that page for future reference. There is a good reason for this. For years, Jim has been my go-to-guy for anything related to Disney. I’ve quoted him in my books. I can feel comfortable that the information is reliable and factual. After all, he created the job of Disney historian.
Jim has been a good friend for many years, and lately I sense that he is on a mission. He is the guy who first noticed that Disney historical knowledge is moving more toward myth and marketing than fact.
And he is here to stop that. Jim rightly believes that truth is stranger and more interesting than fiction and continues to prove he is right in all the stories he has produced over the years. I agree.
There are a lot of WDW trivia books out there, but this is a Jim Korkis WDW story book. Many of these stories are printed for the first time based on Jim’s vast network of contacts including Disney executives, front line cast members, Reedy Creek officials, Imagineers, and others who worked at the parks for decades and had access to information that most people did not.
Ever the historian, Jim spent countless hours scouring the many different departmental libraries at Walt Disney World that were only available to members of that particular department. Some of those libraries like the ones for Feature Animation, Entertainment, and Disney University, no longer exist at all, so no one else will ever be able to use the resources Jim found there.
Because he wrote behind-the-scenes tours for guests and convention groups as part of one of his roles with Walt Disney World, Jim was given special permission to use those libraries to obtain the correct information, and we all benefit from what he discovered and now so generously shares.
All of this fact-finding is one thing. More importantly, Jim weaves together this knowledge in a way that does not destroy the magic, but enhances the understanding and appreciation of Walt Disney World. It certainly does so for me.
But this is nothing new. As I said before, Jim’s research has become a central part of my Disney library, and I am sure that is the case for many of you as well. This book will be yet another welcome and valuable addition to my personal Disney collection.
Okay, so now that I have finished this foreword, I think it is time to pack my bags, hop on a plane, visit Walt Disney World, and see things through a new perspective, thanks to these eye-opening stories that were new to me and probably for the rest of you as well.
Many thanks, Jim.
“You should write a book!”
Whenever I am with friends and family visiting Walt Disney World, I can’t help pointing out some of the interesting stories and details. Without fail, they usually ask if there is some sort of book that recounts this information, and I have to tell them that no such book exists.
Besides my own personal research and interest in Walt Disney World, I used to work there writing tours for guests, convention groups, internal cast member groups, and different departments as an instructor for Disney Adult Discoveries and Disney Institute. I not only facilitated those tours, but also trained others to give them.
I always had to make sure I had more information than what was shared during the tour in case someone had particular questions. I put together big binders with that additional information to help those who gave the tours. Once I was laid off five years ago, those binders disappeared almost immediately as having no value, despite them being filled with short interviews I had done with Imagineers and executives intimately connected to Walt Disney World.
I always went to primary sources, cross-checked the information with the Disney Archives and the multiple department libraries on property, and even then had to be constantly alert in case something changed.
I always hoped someone would indeed write a book about all the stories and details, because they were fascinating. I tried to actively encourage several others to do so with no success.
However, over the years, while there have been multiple books about Disneyland, most of the books that have appeared about Walt Disney World are usually trivia books.
Since most of these authors never worked at Walt Disney World nor had access to the information that I did, too often the material is out of date, misleading, incomplete, or outright false.
The same “secrets” seem to be cut-and-pasted to different books and websites over and over in the belief that since they appeared in print somewhere, they must be true.
At a high profile Disney event at the Contemporary Resort, I was served by a waiter who had worked at WDW for forty years. He confidently told me that Dick Nunis, the former chairman of Walt Disney Attractions, had told him that the primary reason Walt Disney built in Florida was that Walt once worked as a postman in Kissimmee.
That was not true, and I am sure that Dick Nunis never said anything to that effect. Walt’s father, Elias, who lived briefly in the central Florida area during the late 1800s, held various jobs there, including hotel manager and rural postman on a buckboard in Kissimmee, but Walt himself never worked as a postman in Florida. Nunis may have been referring to Walt’s father, if indeed he said anything at all.
It was obvious that the waiter had misheard or misremembered the information, and now shared it with great authority without verifying the facts. A little knowledge is often a very dangerous thing for Disney fans.
Walt had many reasons for choosing to build Walt Disney World in Orlando, from the weather to tourist patterns to inexpensive land. His dad’s job as a postman in Kissimmee was not one of those reasons, nor was the fact that his parents got married in the area.
The waiter refused to be dissuaded by this information. He knew what he had heard and no one had ever corrected him. If anything, he had great pity for my ignorance and lack of common sense to accept the truth.
Just this last year, I was on a tour where a Magic Kingdom Guest Relations guide proudly pointed to the upper window of the train station to tell our group that it was there where Walt Disney used to sit to observe the park. After the tour, I privately pointed out that Walt had died in 1966 and that the Walt Disney World’s train station had not opened until 1971.
Once again, the person just smiled condescendingly. Since currently I did not work at Walt Disney World, she thought I was just too stupid to know the real story. Of course, she didn’t want to embarrass a guest by telling him that he was stupid, but felt that the information in the script she had been given must have been checked by higher-ups somewhere, and was true.
Walt Disney World cast members are constantly changing Disney history, and not necessarily for the better. Cast members at the Haunted Mansion created the names for the hitchhiking ghosts that seem to be accepted by everyone as canon. But Imagineer Marc Davis, who designed the ghosts, told me that they never had names, nor was there ever any intention to give them names beyond “hitchhiking ghosts”.
WDW cast members also created the myth that Gracey is the master of the mansion. That isn’t true, according to Imagineer X. Atencio who wrote the epitaphs on the tombstones in the graveyard, including the one for “Master Gracey”. Atencio told me that the tombstone was supposed to be an in-joke about the boyish nature of Imagineer Yale Gracey. “Master” was a term used for a young boy who was not old enough to be called “mister”.
Cast members also insist on rearranging three of the plates on the table at the banquet so they form a “Hidden Mickey”, despite Imagineers’ constant efforts to change it back to the original configuration. Even though the Imagineers physically marked the table to indicate where the plates should go, the Hidden Mickey continually returns.
Other WDW cast members have fabricated stories that are told over and over to their peers and guests with an air of authority. Guests have been entertained by all sorts of falsehoods by bus drivers and accept the information as true because it is being shared by a cast member. Often these stories end up on Wikipedia or Google, which gives them an added sense of veracity to some people because they appear in print or on the internet.
So, I finally decided I should indeed write a book and get into print the actual stories, and have them available for people who want to verify what they’ve heard, with a reliable source.
These stories are only “secret” because they were often never told to the guests or even the cast members in most cases. That’s one of the reasons some cast members made up their own versions to fill that unknown void.
This book contains just a small sample of the many stories about Walt Disney World. They are self-contained so can be read in any order, but that means there may be occasional repetition of some facts. There are several stories that relate to things that no longer exist, but might be of interest to long-time visitors who once experienced them or who enjoy history.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no one is entitled to make up their own facts, especially when they conflict with the actual facts. Preserving the truth about Walt Disney World has become a greater and greater challenge as the years pass, people who know the truth die or their memories start to get confused, and the Disney company does not aggressively share the real stories with cast members and guests.
Sometimes even the Disney company itself no longer knows the real stories. In the rush to complete a project on an impossible deadline, there was often no time to properly document the project or make any last-minute changes in a document if they occurred. As soon as one challenge was completed, it was immediately off to a new project.
The philosophy was always “we’ll do that later”, but “later” never came. I saw it happen many times on WDW projects in which I was involved.
This book is intended to be a foundation to help others do further research and to enrich their understanding of the most magical place on earth.
Please feel free to share these true stories with your friends and family. Everyone will think you are the Disney expert, and not one of them will ask if you heard the story from Jim Korkis, but they may ask if you checked it first with a WDW bus driver, waiter, or tour guide who had told them something quite different.
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for over three decades. He is also an award-winning teacher, a professional actor and magician, and the author of several books.
Korkis grew up in Glendale, California, right next to Burbank, the home of the Disney studios. As a teenager, Korkis got a chance to meet the Disney animators and Imagineers who lived nearby, and began writing about them for local newspapers.
In 1995, he relocated to Orlando, Florida, where he portrayed the character Prospector Pat in Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom, and Merlin the Magician for the Sword in the Stone ceremony in Fantasyland.
In 1996, Korkis became a full-time animation instructor at the Disney Institute teaching all of their animation classes, as well as those on animation history and improvisational acting techniques. As the Disney Institute re-organized, Jim joined Disney Adult Discoveries, the group that researched, wrote, and facilitated backstage tours and programs for Disney guests and Disneyana conventions.
Eventually, Korkis moved to Epcot as a Coordinator for the College and International Programs, and then as a Coordinator for the Epcot Disney Learning Center. He researched, wrote, and facilitated over two hundred different presentations on Disney history for Cast Members and for such Disney corporate clients as Feld Entertainment, Kodak, Blue Cross, Toys “R” Us, and Military Sales.
Korkis has also been the off-camera announcer for the syndicated television series Secrets of the Animal Kingdom; has written articles for several Disney publications, including Disney Adventures, Disney Files (DVC), Sketches, and Disney Insider; and has worked on many different special projects for the Disney Company.
In 2004, Disney awarded Jim Korkis its prestigious Partners in Excellence award.
If you have a question for Jim Korkis that you would like to see answered here, please get in touch and let us know what's on your mind.
I was about 15 when I interviewed Jack Hannah with my little tape recorder and school notebook with questions printed neatly in ink. I learned to develop a very good memory because often when the tape recorder was running, people would freeze up. So, I sometimes turned off the tape recorder and just took notes which I later verified with the person. I always gave them a chance to review what they had said and make any changes. I lost a lot of great stories, although I still have them in my files for future generations, but gained a lot of trust.
I was very, very lucky. I was a kid, and it never occurred to me that when I saw their names in the end credits of the weekly Disney television show that I couldn't just find their names in the local phone book and call them up. Ninety percent of them were gracious, but there were about ten percent who thought it was a joke and that maybe one of their friends had put me up to phoning them.
It was like dominoes. Once I did one interview and the person was pleased, he put me in touch with others. After some of those interviews were published in my school paper and local newspapers, it gave me some greater credibility. Later, when they started to appear in magazines, I got even more opportunities.
JIM: You know, one of the proudest things for me about my books is that not a single factual error has been found.
To do my research, I start with all the interviews I've done over the past three decades, some of which are some available in the Walt's People series of books edited by Didier Ghezz. When necessary, I contact other Disney historians and authorities to fill in the gaps. And I have amassed a huge library of books, magazines, and documents.
When I moved from California to Florida, I brought with me over 20,000 pounds of Disney research material. The moving company that had just charged me a flat fee was shocked they had so severely underestimated the weight, and lost thousands of dollars. That was over fifteen years ago and the collection has only grown since that time.
About The Vault of Walt Series
JIM: I was fortunate to grow up in the Los Angeles area at a time when I had access to some of Walt’s original animators and Imagineers. They shared with me some wonderful stories. I wrote articles about their for various magazines and “fanzines” of the time. All of those publications are long gone and often difficult to find today.
As more and more of Walt’s “original cast” pass away, I realized that their stories had not been properly documented, and that unless I did something, they would be lost. Everyone always told me I should write a book telling these tales and finally I decided to do it.
JIM: She actually contacted me. Her son, Walter, loved the Disney history columns and articles I was writing and would send them to her. I was overwhelmed that she enjoyed them. She was appreciative that I tried to treat her dad fairly and not try to psycho-analyze why he did what he did.
She also liked that I revealed things she never knew about her father. As we talked and I told her I was doing the book, I asked if she would write the foreword. She agreed immediately and I had it within a week. She even invited me to go to the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco and give a presentation. She is an incredible woman.
JIM: Obviously, the ones about her dad were a big hit. She especially liked the chapter about Walt and his feelings toward religion. She told me that it accurately reflected how she saw her dad act.
JIM: That’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. I tried to put in all the stories I loved because I figured this might be the only book about Disney I would ever write.
One chapter that I have grown to love even more since it was first published is the one about Walt’s love of miniatures. I recently found more information about that subject, and then on the trip to Disney Family Museum, I was able to spend hours examining some of Walt’s collection up close.
About Who's Afraid of the Song of the South?
JIM: I wanted to read a “Making of the Song of the South” book, but nobody else was ever going to write it. I wanted to know the history behind the production, why Walt made certain choices, and as many behind-the-scenes tidbits that could be told. I didn’t want to read a sociological thesis on racism.
Fortunately, over the years I had interviewed some of the people involved in the production, had seen the film multiple times, and had gathered material from pressbooks to newspaper articles to radio shows of the era.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Song of the South. I wanted to get the facts in print and let people make up their own minds.
JIM: I thought I knew a lot after being actively involved in Disney history for over three decades, but writing this book showed me how little I really know.
For example, I learned that it was Clarence Nash, the voice of Donald Duck for decades, who did the whistling for Mr. Bluebird on Uncle Remus’ shoulder. I learned that Ward Kimball used to host meetings of UFO enthusiasts at his home. I learned that the Disney Company tried for years to make a John Carter of Mars feature. I learned that Walt himself tried to make a sequel to The Wizard of Oz. I learned that Disney operated a secret studio to make animated television commercials in the mid-1950s to raise money to build Disneyland. And so much more.
Even the most knowledgeable Disney fans will find new treasures of information on every page of this book.
JIM: Walt Disney was not racist. That is one of those urban myths which popped up long after Walt died, and so he was unable to defend himself.
In my book, I make it clear that Walt had no racist intent at all in making Song of the South. He merely wanted to share the famous Uncle Remus stories that he enjoyed as a child, and he treated the black cast with respect and generosity.
Many people don't realize that the events in the film take place after the Civil War, during the Reconstruction. So many offensive Hollywood films made at the same time as Song of the South, even one with little Shirley Temple, depicted the Old South during the Civil War in an unrealistic manner. Walt's film got lumped in with them, and he was a visible target for a much larger crusade.
With John Cawley:
Before Tony's Town Square went to the dogs...
When Main Street, U.S.A. opened at the Magic Kingdom in October 1971, right there in Town Square was the Town Square Café with an open-air porch where patrons could watch the stream of guests rushing in and out of the park.
The food-and-beverage location offered breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and was themed to the elegant Victorian era. Originally, the venue was going to be sponsored by a coffee company, but the proposed participant backed out.
It ended up being sponsored by Oscar Mayer from 1971–1981. Little Oscar (affable George Molchan), the diminutive spokesman for the company, in his white chef’s hat, was there greeting guests and handing out the iconic wiener whistles to eager children.
However, it was not Oscar Mayer hot dogs that were served at the location, but upscale fare like Monte Cristo sandwiches and Crepes Jambalaya. Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola were also available.
When Oscar Mayer declined to renew its sponsorship, the location was taken over by Hormel which handled the operation from 1981–1989. The menu was a large four-page newspaper entitled Town Square Times with the first page devoted to the history of the Hormel company. The new sponsor still sold a Monte Cristo sandwich along with a Main Street Deli Plate and fresh catfish.
When Hormel decided not to continue sponsorship in 1989, the Disney Company did an extensive renovation of the location, converting it into Tony’s Town Square. It references the Italian restaurant in the Disney’s animated film Lady and the Tramp (1955), where two canines shared a romantic moment over a plate of spaghetti and meat balls.
The proprietor of the film’s eatery is a larger-than-life, black-mustached, friendly character named Tony, voiced by actor George Givot who was known for his dialect comedy and fine singing voice.
The waiting area has a television playing a clip from the film and the interior is decorated with Lady and the Tramp-inspired artwork as well as a sculpted fountain featuring the two characters.
For over thirty years, Don “Ducky” Williams has been a senior character artist at Walt Disney World. During that time, he supplied artwork for memorable pieces of merchandise and special projects. He told me:
I did the artwork for all the china, signage, menus, etc. In fact, when it first opened, it had plates, saucers, creamers, and more with my Lady and the Tramp artwork on it. They found the guests loved it so much that they kept stealing it, so they replaced them with regular china. The remainder they had they sold at Disneyana conventions.
Do you see all those framed paintings on the wall? There are twelve of them and I did them all. Those are the original paintings framed under glass, not prints or reproductions. If they ever change out that place, I would love to have those back to put up in my house.
In front of the restaurant, on the side walk, just like in the movie, someone outlined a heart when the cement was wet and there are two sets of dog paws. To the left of the restaurant is a sign for the Chapeau shop that features a hat box exactly like the one that little Lady was in at the beginning of the film. Details like these enhance the overall experience for sharp-eyed guests.
Continued in "Secret Stories of Walt Disney World"!
From water boat ride to Beastly Kingdom to miniature gold: the evolution of Fantasia Gardens.
Sometimes at Walt Disney World, it will take years for a project to be built, and over the course of those years, it may evolve through many changes.
A Fantasia Gardens was built, but originally it was not meant to be a miniature golf course. In the mid-1960s, Imagineer Marc Davis designed an overlay for Disneyland’s Motor Boat Cruise attraction that would have incorporated elements from Disney’s Fantasia (1940).
Because of the landscaping already in place, as well as Davis’ selection of the more bucolic segments from the film, the project was called Fantasia Gardens. Several challenges were unable to be overcome, including Davis’ proposal to create “water sculptures” and finding a way to filter the ambient, disruptive noise from the nearby Autopia attraction, so the plans were shelved.
In 1983, with the closing of the beloved Swan Boat ride at the Magic Kingdom in Florida, Imagineer Claude Coats re-examined Davis’ plans and came up with a suggestion. He planned to re-theme the water pathway that the Swan Boats took to a Fantasia theme and to include new boats that had higher capacity.
Working with Katy Moss Warner of Walt Disney World Parks Horticulture, Coats envisioned topiaries of the Fantasia characters along the route.
Coats, along with show producer and writer Mark Eades and vice president of Concept Development Randy Bright, divided the ride into six show scenes, each themed to a sequence of Fantasia.
As Eades told me, the first section was going to be a simple, beautiful, colorful garden based on “Toccata in Fugue”. There would also be sections devoted to “The Pastoral Symphony”, “The Rite of Spring”, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, and two for “Dance of the Hours”. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” section, for instance, would feature giant broomsticks that dumped fountatins of water in the path of the oncoming boats, but miraculously stopped just before the arrival of each boat.
Coats even staged a proof of concept ride-through for Disney executives by taking two water craft from the Seven Seas Lagoon and setting up colorful show cards along the bank. The attraction was estimated to cost approximately $20 million, but no sponsor could be found to fund the project.
Bill “Sully” Sullivan, then the vice-president of the Magic Kingdom, recalled:
It would have been a beautiful ride. Just beautiful. The pitch and the demonstration went very well. I said I just needed ten minutes with Michael Eisner. I followed Eisner to the bathroom and we were talking and I said, “This is no good to me. I need something with high volume. When it rains, this ride shuts down and I can’t use it. I need a bigger bang for my buck.” So Eisner comes out and goes to Bright and says, “We need to think through a few more things.” And that killed it.
Finally, there were plans to include Fantasia Gardens as part of the Beastly Kingdom section for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The boats would have sailed past Greek architecture, including columns and temples, and Mount Olympus, as well as floated beneath a brightly colored rainbow archway.
According to the Disney press release:
There is also Fantasia Gardens. A gentle musical boat ride through the animals from Disney’s animated classic, Fantasia. Both the crocodiles and hippos from “Dance of the Hours” and the Pegasus, fauns, and centaurs from Beethoven’s “Pastoral” are found here.
When the Beastly Kingdom area was indefinitely postponed, the concept and the name were repurposed for a miniature golf course near the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort hotel.
Continued in "Secret Stories of Walt Disney World"!