talks about his eclectic career
by Scott Wolf
I first met Greg Ehrbar we immediately hit it off. I'm a huge fan of
Disney music, but the more we talked we found out that our DVD
collection had a lot in common even beyond Disney.
His book "Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records" (available
is a really fascinating and fun read. You don't have to read it from
beginning to end in one sitting and you don't have to even go
chronologically. I like to just skip around and choose a story to read.
They are all interesting.
Much more than just an author, Greg has written for everything from
Disney taffy packaging to the Walt Disney World televised "Very Merry
I'm sure you'll enjoy reading what he has to say.
Greg Ehrbar: I never thought Disney (World) would hire me because at the time, being half Italian, I grew up with a lot of pasta. And my mother, well, food is love… “Eat some more, you’re too thin.” So I was overweight, I don’t mean I was gigantic but I was pretty overweight and they wouldn’t hire you for the parks in those days because of your size. It was under the laws of “casting.” Those rules have been relaxed a bit because there are so many parks and so much of a need that if you went back in a time machine you would not see the people of the girth that you see working there now because they didn’t need as many people. But back then you could not work in a visible onstage position because they would say they didn’t have costumes in that size. So my only chance was third shift Custodial, the big glamour job, and Reservations.
Meanwhile, I had freelance experience, I had written things but not a whole lot and the only way to get in to professional jobs was to have three to five years experience and the classic advice was, “Go out into the world, get your experience and come back.” I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to work for Disney, so I got a job in Reservations.
That was a great place to start because you have to know everything, and since I love knowing everything about Disney it was the perfect job for me. It was a hard job, and it actually pays more than most hourly jobs because it’s so demanding and so stressful and you have to have a lot of knowledge.
Eventually I was writing for them because somebody has to write the information that the people on the phones are using and I was also writing for other divisions in the company. So I was constantly networking and there is no path to prescribe to get to where you want to go. It just has to happen and you have to network and just keep being persistent and bang your head against the wall because there’s no prescribed program, especially to get into a creative area.
Eventually I went to an area called Resort Design which is now called Disney Design Group. What they did is collateral pieces like menus, swizzle sticks, just all the stuff that wasn’t advertising. It was a cool job, I got to name food.
At Ariel’s seafood restaurant, which is kind of an oxymoron, at Disney’s Beach Club Resort which is no longer there, I named the menu items for kids. It was Scuttle’s menu so you had to have nonsense names for the kids. So I had gupsnares and gozacki’s with spaghetti and meatballs. That was a little tribute to my dad because that was part of his childhood nonsense language. It was kind of cool, you’d go to Hurricane Hanna’s at Beach Club and you’d see “Hurricane tossed salad” and you’d say, “Oh, I named that dish.”
My wife grew up in the New Orleans area and when we were dating, for Disney’s Port Orleans Resort I didn’t know New Orleans but with the hotels being built I had to come up with names for everything from the boats and the launch and the shops to the laundry. So with her help and with a lot of research you’d give them lists of different names and then they’d go through legal and different management and then they’d pick the names.
So Port Orleans is kind of “our place” because so many of the things there we named together or I named. For example, Bonfamille’s Café which unfortunately isn’t open anymore, the way I got it through was it’s “good family” and that’s what they used to say, “It’s named good family and we’re welcoming you to our family.” But it was really Madame Bonfamille from “The Aristocats.” Right next to it was Scat Cat’s Café with a photo of Walt and Louis Armstrong (who the part of Scat Cat was intended for in “The Aristocats.”) Walt giving Louis Armstrong the “Mouscar” award. I believe we got that photo from the archives, but it was on the back cover of the “Disney Songs the Satchmo Way” album.
We also had a food court and my favorite name of all was Jacques Beignet’s, which was a coffee shop. If you think about it, it’s Jack Benny. I actually have mugs that say Jacques Beignet’s Bakery.
We also had “Laundry on the Levee,” you know from the song, “Waitin’ For the Robert E. Lee.”
SW: Or "laughter on the levee" in the song "Darkness on the Delta."
The Doubloon Lagoon is the name of the pool. The sea serpent where you slide down his tongue to slide into the pool is named Scales, many of the people that work there don’t know. The reason his name is Scales is because it’s all jazz themed and he loves music.
We created our own storyline and Peter Emslie and I did a children’s menu for Bonfamille’s that told the story as a photo album, almost as a sequel to “Aristocats” where Madame and the cats went to America, to New Orleans, fell in love with the jazz music, Scat Cat and his band went with them… they settled in Port Orleans, they met a friendly sea serpent who followed them because he loved the music, and they named him Scales, and that’s where they settled. The other reason his name is Scales is because there’s a song in the movie called, “Scales and Arpeggios.”
Eventually through talking to people I got a position in the marketing department as a writer and I’ve been there since 1990.
I’ve written pretty much any form of advertising and promotion that you can do there from print ads and radio spots which are very fun to do, to television… I did a national campaign with “Beauty and the Beast” for Walt Disney World that combined live action and animation with an actual football player and it was this big guy and we started with the Beast and it became this guy and it said, “Within every beast, there’s a prince waiting to get out.” His wife is dragging him thru the park, but at the end of the spot he’s saying, “One more ride! One more!” That ran nationally and that was pretty cool.
I did several of the Walt Disney World Very Merry Christmas Parade scripts.
Scott Wolf: You mean, what the commentators are saying?
GE: Yeah, it was Regis and Joan Lunden. When they’re speaking on there they’re looking at a teleprompter and their script is in a book and if you look at any parade they have a bouquet of flowers and stuff in front of them and there are notebooks behind them. The notebooks have their script and various things that they can speak about. The way the script was done in those days is on one side there was the words that they have to say which was matching on the prompter. On the other side are what we call “fun facts.” That way if there’s a character on the street and the director catches a shot of it, Regis or Joan can look and the other can make a comment. For example, “Look Regis, it’s Dumbo…” “Oh really, Joan? Did you know that Dumbo took place in Florida and it was the shortest Disney film ever made?”
Well, when they say that it’s because we’ve provided that. The year I worked on it I wanted it to be like geek heaven so I took the fun facts and wrote 52 pages of them, sent them to Dave Smith (in the Disney Archives) for verification and Joan Lunden was like, “Oh, this is great!” and Regis was like, “I love the fun facts!” Regis had never done the commentating. He was the “man on the street.” But, in ’91 he became the co-host. Joan was incredible. She was like his teacher. She was guiding him thru the process because it’s very difficult to do. You’ve got to back-time, one looks at what’s going on, the other one comments and Joan made it look so easy.
It was incredible but it was also frightening because it was two hours of live television on Christmas morning in those days. It’s not live anymore. They tape it usually the first week in December and anyone who wants to come to the Magic Kingdom is encouraged to come because they want the crowds.
Let’s see, I wrote some of those in-room television programs (for the hotels) that tell you about the parks. The one that was like a cable TV channel with different shows… one show was like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and one was like a game show with like a Vanna White. That was the one I did. It was almost like different little TV shows about the parks.
One of my favorite radio spots was for Annual Passholders. There was a campaign that one of our other writers came up with, “You’ll think you own the place” which we still use. He did a spot with people living in the castle like they live there so I did like the sequel. I did two sequels. It was like “Leave it to Beaver” with mom and dad and the kids and they’re talking about the attractions they’re going to go on. We had Corey Burton as the dad and B.J. Ward as the mom. They were just so flawless. It was so great to work with them.
SW: Those are great voice artists.
GE: Yeah, sometimes if you had the ability in the budget you could request people. When Animal Kingdom opened we did a preview and we did a little TV spot just for in-room. We had to have talking animals. They were not speaking with their lips but they were thinking what they were talking. We had Brad Garrett and Howard Morris.
I’d say, “Are they available?” and they’d say, “Sure.” I couldn’t believe it. It was this little spot. So those things were just a joy.
So if you’re in your Disney hotel room now and you go to the channel called Walt Disney World today as you’re looking at the times and information for the parks you’re also hearing music that I selected. We selected music that was sometimes well-known like, “it’s a small world,” but we also picked songs that we know the Disney fans would love to hear that they don’t hear as often like, “My, What a Happy Day” (from Mickey and the Beanstalk) and “Talent Roundup” from the “Mickey Mouse Club” and “I’m No Fool” and “The Age of Not Believing” (from Bedknobs and Broomsticks.)
A gentlemen named Michael Hurley in Orlando who also did the music for some of those “What are you going to do next?” spots on his keyboard did all of those and scored them himself. That was one of the most fun projects I got to do because I got to pick out all the songs.
More from Greg:
His book, "Mouse Tracks: The
Story of Walt Disney Records"
See other interviews