R.J. painted Animatronic figures and "plussed" attractions. Suzanne drove monorails, marched in parades, and entertained as Sleepy the dwarf. Together, the Ogrens brought their unique skills to Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom during its formative years. This is their story.
R.J. and Suzanne were indeed "together in the dream": their adventures as husband-and-wife cast members spanned the backstage areas of iconic attractions, Main Street parades, and Disney executive offices. They worked with celebrities, Disney artists like Marc and Alice Davis, and the fun-loving, creative geniuses who called the "Animation Art Studio" home.
Among the stories the Ogrens tell:
JOIN R.J. AND SUZANNE IN THIS UNIQUE ACCOUNT OF WORKING AT THE MAGIC KINGDOM!
Chapter 1: The Unusual Journey to My Dream
Chapter 2: My Turn
Chapter 3: Now There’s a Stick in Sleepy’s Eye
Chapter 4: MAPO Stops and Electric Circuitry
Chapter 5: Keep Honking the Horn
Chapter 6: I’m Not Giving Up
Chapter 7: I Can’t Breathe—A Whale of a Tale
Chapter 8: The White Rabbit Story
Chapter 9: What the Hell Is an Artist Preparator?
Chapter 10: 5-6-7-8
Chapter 11: The Drunken Pirate Lost His Leg
Chapter 12: Never Routine
Chapter 13: The $1,000 Sandwich/Sliding Off Space Mountain
Chapter 14: Smiling Faces
Chapter 15: The Apple Is Missing Again! And Where Is Dopey’s Head?
Chapter 16: Now I’m Famous as a Dwarf
Chapter 17: Marc Davis, Alice Davis, and Wathel Rogers
Chapter 18: Hot Work on the Tarmac
Chapter 19: Lashed to the Ship’s Mast
Chapter 20: The Heat Could Kill You
Chapter 21: A New Moon Rising
Chapter 22: The Family Is on Set
Chapter 23: Leota Feeds a Gator
Chapter 24: When You Wish…
Chapter 25: Sliding on Ice
Chapter 26: Here I Go Again
Chapter 27: Jiminy Cricket Is Just Too Big
Chapter 28: Dream Re-Invented
Chapter 29: Bullet Holes and Spiders
Chapter 30: What Time Is the Three O’clock Parade?
Chapter 31: You Want Us to Trash the V.P.’s Office?
Chapter 32: I Am Your Host—Your Ghost Host
Chapter 33: Take the Bus to the Swamp
Chapter 34: After Disney
For those who might not know who my husband, Marc Davis, was, he was part of the group of animators Walt Disney named “The Nine Old Men”. Over the many years Marc worked at the Walt Disney Studios, he created many unforgettable characters, including Tinker Bell, Cruella de Ville, Maleficent, and Princess Aurora. He also designed attractions at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, while working with other Imagineers on Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, to name just two.
I was the lucky woman Marc chose to share his life with, and, during our early courtship, my artistic talents were strengthened when Marc asked for my assistance with his work on Sleeping Beauty. Eventually, I would design costumes for the Audio-Animatronic figures in the Disney theme parks.
Marc first met R.J. Ogren at Walt Disney World in the 1970s. At that time, Marc was responsible for overseeing the artwork being done in the attractions by R.J. and his three fellow artists. Marc was impressed with R.J.’s talent as well as his sincere interest in the history of Disney animation. As a result, a friendship developed between the three of us. We would later meet Suzanne on a visit to Florida, after Marc had retired from Disney.
R.J. and I have shared many amusing stories about our varied careers with the Disney organization in recent years. When I learned that he and Suzanne had been asked to write this book, I was certain it would be a testament to those early decades of Walt Disney World when they worked with many Disney greats in art and entertainment.
Reading excerpts from Together in the Dream made me giggle with enjoyment and delight. This is a book that truly captures those early days in Florida. I’m certain you’ll agree it’s a “great read”.
Suzanne & R.J. Ogren are former Walt Disney World cast members who worked in a variety of roles at the Magic Kingdom during the 1970s and 1980s. They currently reside near Chicago, Illinois, where they pursue various creative endeavors. This is their first book.
Guests sometimes steal things from the Magic Kingdom. But then there was the time that a guest pulled off Dopey's head in Snow White's Scary Adventures...and nearly got away with it!
“That UV light is no good. It has to be replaced,” I pointed out.
“It’s still on.”
“I know, but when the black light slowly fades from a purple color to blue, it loses intensity.”
“But—it’s still on.”
I could see I was losing this argument—again. It was early morning. I was inside Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, talking to one of the electricians.
I had learned three things about the electricians from the Maintenance Department: 1) they were great people, 2) they were very good at their jobs, and 3) they hated to replace light bulbs—especially if they were still lit. The problem with the round, high intensity, black light bulbs was that they turned blue long before they completely burned out.
The black-light attractions were my favorite places to work. Mr. Toad, Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Adventure and parts of The Haunted Mansion. The other three artists weren’t as keen on black-light painting.
Painting for UV light required expensive, ultraviolet paint. We had gallons of these water-based colors which we mixed with regular house paint to create shading and hues. It was thick paint, and when you opened a can in a dark room, with just UV lighting on, the paint gave off an intense glow of whatever color was inside. It would literally light up your body in red, green, yellow, etc. A dark room with UV light; the conditions necessary for this special type of painting. We even had a black-light room in our studio for painting individual figures. This paint also dried within a few minutes, so when blending wet colors, we had to do it quickly and accurately.
If we couldn’t get the electricians to change a dying black-light bulb, we had no choice but to repaint the figures, and sometimes the set pieces, in brighter colors. This happened quite often. And that’s what I had to do that morning, after my unsuccessful conversation with the electrician.
Weeks later, when the bulbs finally burned out, and were replaced, I went to check the attraction and was shocked at how intense and overly-bright everything was. New lights, I thought to myself, and looked up. Sure enough, nice new purple bulbs! Well, I know what I’m doing this morning, before the park opens! Now I’d have to repaint everything to tone down the intensity.
We were all working in the studio one afternoon when a frantic phone call came in from a Fantasyland supervisor. Lee took the call, and his first words certainly caught our attention.
“Dopey’s head is missing?” He hung up and headed for the door. “Come on, everybody. They’ve closed Snow White.”
As we sped through the tunnel in the Pargo, Jayne asked, “What’s this about Dopey’s head?”
Lee shrugged, and half-smiling replied, “Apparently, a guest jumped out of a mine cart at the stairs, and ripped Dopey’s head off.”
“That’s impossible!” Tom said.
“Tell that to Dopey,” said Lee.
When we’d arrived at the scene in Snow White’s Adventure where the seven dwarfs are climbing the stairs to the bedroom because they think there’s a ghost, we saw the supervisor and the Attractions host standing by Dopey. The work lights were on.
The dwarfs stood about two-and-a-half feet high—except for Dopey, who was now somewhat shorter without a head! I looked in disbelief at the shredded fiberglass of Dopey’s neck.
“Where’s his head?” I asked the supervisor.
“Security is looking for it in the park. It’s nowhere in the attraction.”
“Seriously?” said Lee. “You mean someone not only ripped it off, but got out of here, and is walking around the Magic Kingdom with it?”
Just then, the supervisor got a call on his radio. We listened. I’ll always remember the look on his face, and how his jaw dropped lower as he listened to the Security host on the other end.
“We caught the guy, walking down Main Street with a friend. He had Dopey’s head under his arm. The head is being brought to you. The guy is going to jail.”
I began to laugh. “Who is this guy? Superman? And what does he tell other inmates when they ask him what he’s in for?”
Well. The attraction would remain closed until Dopey’s body could be unbolted from the floor and brought down to our studio. The next morning, the four of us, coffee in hand, stood around the big work table looking at the two halves of Dopey, lying there. It was kind of sad.
Tom offered the first suggestion. “Let’s make the fiberglass thicker around the neck.”
“Why don’t we just put a threaded metal rod inside him, from the top of his head to the bottom of his body, and fill it with fiberglass resin?” I said, half-joking.
The other three just stared at me, but then Lee said, “That’s actually a great idea. It will make him a lot heavier, but he has no movement. And they definitely won’t be able to rip his head off again.”
Agreement by all. We did it that day. A maintenance crew put Dopey back in the attraction that night. We were amused when they left us a message we heard the next morning, complaining about how heavy Dopey was!
His head, unfortunately, wasn’t the only thing that went missing from Snow White’s Adventure.
Continued in "Together in the Dream"!
After many months driving monorails, Suzanne finally got her wish: character performer! That air-conditioned highway in the sky didn't prepare her for the sweltering hell that was Sleepy the dwarf's costume.
I would laugh at non-character cast members who thought we had it easy because we got so many breaks. They failed to understand not only the physical demands on us, but that during that thirty-minute break, we had to remove our costumes (we’d leave our boots on, making for some funny echoes in the tunnels as we stomped around), try to cool off with dry towels and cold water, consume liquid to replace lost fluids, even take a bathroom break if necessary, then re-dress to be back out onstage before that thirty minutes was up. So, basically, our relaxing time might only be ten minutes, if we were lucky. Oh, yes, and sometime around mid-shift, we would enjoy a lunch or dinner break.
In addition to a regular schedule, there were days when our set routine was interrupted because of a dance rehearsal. During my time in Characters, I learned routines for both the Mickey Mouse 50th Birthday Parade and the Electrical Light Parade, each very different and the dance steps could change at a moment’s notice, if I was assigned a costume other than a dwarf, since each unit had varying choreography. Challenging, but a bit daunting sometimes as well.
The dance rehearsals were held at the Production Center, in a rehearsal space about the size of a normal dance studio. Initially, the choreographer would familiarize us with the music, then perform the steps for us, and then we’d try it. The early rehearsals would be in our Zoo Crew shirts and shorts, but later we’d practice in our costumes, always viewing ourselves in the mirrors to see how our animation played to an audience. Lastly, we’d also do the routines outside as well, in costume.
For the Birthday Parade, we had a dress rehearsal on the street, after the park closed to guests. By that time, I was starting to feel comfortable doing the routine, and was working with the others in my unit as new friends. A camaraderie formed quickly because of the discipline and demands of the job. We all worked equally hard, and I was glad to be accepted in their ranks. It was a different kind of pride than what I’d had in Monorails, but just as special.
I’d only been in Characters three days when I got to perform as Sleepy in the morning parade. I just knew this was the permanent costume assignment I wanted. That same day, in the afternoon, I did Happy in a set just before the last parade. By then, I’d tried almost all the Dwarf unit costumes. Sleepy’s just felt right. I was too short for Dopey (his costume dragged on the ground too much), and the others all had at least one uncomfortable part for me, either weight or balance or vision impairments. By the way, at that time, our heads were up in the hat of the Dwarf costumes, looking through a screened open ing, obscured somewhat by the cloth of the hat. About three weeks later, I did get Sleepy as a permanent assignment, and he’s still my favorite dwarf.
The Dwarf unit marched beside the float that Mickey Mouse perched atop, near the end of the Birthday Parade (Snow White rode on the same float, on a lower level than Mickey and near the back of the float). Since the theme was Mickey’s 50th Birthday, the floats were designed as birthday packages of varying sizes, some with several presents in a stack. Lots of balloons and streamers adorned the floats, and some of the characters carried balloons; ours were tied around our wrists. The parade would stop several times for our dance routines—four of them when the parade began, at the end of January, but, by summer, the stops had been reduced to two because of the heat and humidity.
Continued in "Together in the Dream"!