Pirates of the Caribbean holds a special place in the heart of many Disney fans. Aside from the franchise, which is releasing it’s fifth installment in May 2017, the ride has grown to be a part of Disney parks all around the world. But Disneyland’s Pirates, which was built in 1967, will always be remembered as the last ride that Walt himself personally supervised. And it holds a pretty gory secret.
Tim Kirk might be the most relatable Imagineer for us fans. He loves Disney, but he’s a fan of all things fantasy, particularly “Lord of the Rings.” When he studied for his Master’s Degree in Illustration from California State University, Long Beach, he completed his thesis with a series of paintings for the series. When I heard this, I knew I had to reach out and I was lucky enough to get an interview with him. Check out what he has to say about his “Lord of the Rings” love, his Disney creations, and what he’s doing today.
Alright, so technically speaking, he’s not the ghost host. Outside the Haunted Mansion, a tombstone reads, “Master Gracey, laid to rest, no mourning please, at his request.” It was penned by X. Atencio, in honor of his fellow Imagineer, Yale Gracey. When people saw the word master, they ran with it, thinking it meant the master of the house. In actuality, for that time period, master could refer to any man too young to be considered mister. But as far as fans, and many cast members, were concerned, Master Gracey was the master of the house and therefore his voice was our guide, our unofficial Ghost Host.
From 1989 to 1995, Don Carson was a major creative force in Walt Disney Imagineering. He worked during what is commonly referred to as the Disney Renaissance, particularly in films but also in the parks. He was the lead designer for Splash Mountain in Walt Disney World and he was also a lead designer for Mickey’s Toontown in Disneyland.
I was lucky enough to be able to talk to Carson about his previous work with WDI and what he’s doing today. To check out more of his work, his portfolio website is www.doncarsoncreative.com.
How did you get started with Imagineering?
Don Carson: I was an Illustration major in college and had no idea WED or WDI existed or that it was a job. I wrote and illustrated a book on drawings of Disneyland that never got published but it did get me a Show Design position, after much nagging and a hell of a lot of luck. I was always a fan of Disneyland growing up, and I love the theater. Theme park design always seemed like the perfect mix of theater and illustration… creating fantasy you could touch. Continue reading
When Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion” was being designed, the famed psychic, Madame Leota was almost Madame Harriet. She was put in a brace and filmed for the role, which she was so excited to be a part of. But, in the end, she was told that her features were too small and that she wouldn’t show up the crystal ball, so she passed the torch on to one of her staffers, Leota Toombs.
Leota ended up immortalized, but Harriet Burns can never be forgotten. In fact, in the Haunted Mansion’s queue, you’ll find a tomb in her honor: First Lady of Our Opera, Our Haunting, Harriet, Searched for a Tune, But Could Never Carry It.