talks about Disneyland's opening day
and employee's skepticism
by Scott Wolf
just love doing interviews with the wonderful talents that have worked
for Disney, but Harriet is a particular delight to talk with. I
immediately liked her the first time I spoke to her, and every time we
ever spoke after that, after she asked has my boys are, she always had
some wonderful stories about working for Disney.
It's almost hard to know what she did for Disney because she did so
much, but certainly not what you would expect from a lady in the 1950s.
She did everything from painting sets for the "Mickey Mouse Club" to
literally building Sleeping Beauty Castle for Disneyland.
Who couldn't be impressed with this lady who, with Fred Joerger and
Wathel Rogers, were Walt Disney's first three Imagineers? Harriet
was even in the meeting when the term Audio Animatronics was coined. I
know you'll enjoy my interviews with this incredible lady!
Scott Wolf: Were you at Disneyland on opening day?
HB: Oh yes. Oh, the crunch. Oh my gosh. We were all assigned different
places... each person at the studio. They didn’t want everyone in the
same area. They thought we’d be spaced out and sort of be “hosting” in
different areas. But, it was just so crunched. They had counterfeit
tickets and there was just this mob of people and it felt like 110
degrees. The asphalt was melting, every woman wore heels and my heels
would sink into the asphalt. It was a miserable hot day.
We never even tried to get over to the picnic area where they were
serving cold drinks and ice cream. I couldn’t even get to where I was
assigned, my husband and Pam (her daughter) and I.
People would say like, “Elizabeth Taylor is over there.” Or they’d
mention some movie star of the time like “So and so is over by the
island” but by the time anybody could get over there they’d be gone.
And the day before it opened Fred & Wathel went down… Walt said there
was a gap in Tomorrowland, I mean where nothing was. He said, “Take some
models down there and just put them in as fillers.” And Fred came back
and he said, “Oh my gosh, that place can’t open tomorrow. There’s rebar
in the street and there’s rolls of wire and lumber and stuff all over
the place.” He said poor Bill Evans hasn’t even planted stuff yet. “It’s
just awful,” he said, “I don’t see how it can open.” Well, of course
they worked all night and did it.
SW: Were you there that night?
HB: No, not that night. I was there for the opening, then Walt made his
speeches and all the ribbons were cut and all of (Art) Linkletter’s
stuff. It was quite dramatic.
SW: Did you see when he made the opening day speech?
HB: Yes, but it was at a distance. I don’t think he was nervous. He was
very confident. Always confident. He would tell us, “If it doesn’t work,
then we’ll do…” so and so. And you could always sell t shirts or
toothbrushes or something with Mickey on it and you’d be okay.
SW: What did you think about Disneyland?
HB: Well, I thought it was a great idea but I didn’t know if people
would go that far myself. When we first heard about it, all the animator
guys were coming down, talking to us. Some would say, “Oh, isn’t it
wonderful? It’s going to be terrific.” And others would say, “Who’s
going to drive that far?”
SW: Even in the company they weren’t sure?
HB: Oh no. Oh no.
A lot of people didn’t know much about it. It was pretty mysterious. At
first, Ken Anderson said that Walt came in one day and said, “Ken, I’m
going to put you in this room and we’re going to lock it, and I want you
to do this…” and so forth. And he did that with other major art
directors. Ken did a lot of Fantasyland stuff, Mr. Toad’s ride and
things like that. He had him designing those things. So people were
doing these things not knowing that anybody else was on this besides
them. Then Walt put it all together and boom, there was a park designed.
Photo provided by Walt Disney Imagineering.
More from Harriet:
Some great stories from
Pirates of the Caribbean and Walt's last days
Creating the robins for "Mary Poppins"
Working on Disneyland's original submarines
See other interviews