Thursday, November 09, 2017

Uncle Grumpy Remembers



Recently, I was contacted by the niece of a former Disneyland employee who found a vintage photo of her Uncle on my website. She was kind enough to interview her Uncle about his years there and share the information with me. This is the kind of stuff I love! One of these images contains Uncle "Grumpy" (not saying which one for purposes of anonymity!) and the rest are appropriate to the period that he worked at the Park.

Grumpy, my uncle, worked at Disneyland from 1959-1961. It was back in the day when it was mostly college kids working there. They had a lot of fun joking around with guests or hiding out on an attraction waiting to scare them...all in good fun of course! Grumpy’s Disneyland employment started with a friendship with a girl who already worked there. She arranged for him to meet her uncle who was a supervisor there. He met her uncle who interviewed him and then walked him over to the personnel department. He was interviewed by a few more people, then hired two weeks prior to the opening of the Submarine, Monorail, and Matterhorn rides in June 1959. His first job at the Park was as a driver on the Submarine Voyage. At the time the attraction opened, some local laws in Anaheim had to be changed to allow underwater vessels to operate inside city limits. With eight submarines, Walt Disney was the commander of the world's eighth largest submarine fleet.



There was a lot of excitement at the time with a movie being filmed to promote Disneyland. They were also testing the new attractions and preparing for the arrival of Vice President Nixon and his family for the dedication ceremony. Grumpy didn't get to see Vice President Nixon but he saw Walt Disney in the park many times. Walt was there during the testing for the new attractions and was spotted up by the loading area for the Monorail, looking down at the Submarine Voyage. One of the supervisors walked up to my uncle and told him that he had been promoted by Walt Disney to be a Monorail driver. It was quite an honor! Walt Disney and his family made the choices for all of the transportation rides, and Walt only had certain people that he wanted for these positions.



In the beginning the Submarine lagoon had live mermaids that swam around the subs, and they would also sunbathe on the rocks. It eventually became a problem when young men started jumping into the water and swam out to meet the mermaids! The girls practiced swimming in the Disneyland Hotel pool but soon realized that the chlorine was changing the color of their hair. There were also costume malfunctions; Grumpy recalled one instance when one of the girl's shell bras came off and she was sitting on the rocks yelling for someone to bring her a towel! They had him row out to her in a little boat and save the day. Disney eventually decided not to use "real" mermaids and they became part of Disneyland history.

Most cast members do not stay in one place; they get scheduled to work in many areas throughout the park. Grumpy also worked on the Monorail and the Matterhorn. These attractions (Submarine, Matterhorn, and Monorail) were the reason for Disney adding the "E" ticket to their ticket books. My uncle worked all three rides (and a few others) during his time at Disneyland. When he wasn't working, he would call his friend Bill and some of their buddies to go have fun at Disneyland. His favorite attractions were the Jungle Cruise, Matterhorn, and the Submarines. The park was especially fun at nite with all of the lights, and the lines for the rides weren't as long. He didn't really have a favorite place to eat since they were young and broke! But he has always liked to stop by the Carnation Ice Cream Parlour.



While driving the Monorail one day, a group of guests insisted on sitting in the back of the Monorail. Grumpy explained to them that it's winter and the windows in the back of the Monorail will fog up. The guests had heard that you have the best views in the back, and that's where they demanded to sit. When the Monorail came to a stop, the guests were pounding on the windows and yelling to get out. The windows had completely fogged up and they couldn't see a thing!



Since he worked on the Matterhorn, I asked if Grumpy saw a basketball court up in the top of the attraction. He did not recall it being there at that time. Occasionally there were technical difficulties on the Matterhorn. One day one of the bobsleds was stuck on the track, so Grumpy and an electrician ran up the stairs inside the Matterhorn. They reached the disabled bobsled and the electrician released it, but Grumpy didn't have time to get out of the way. He was okay but a little banged up. Disney scheduled him to work in Town Square over on Main Street for a while until he felt better. They had him dress up as President Lincoln and talk with guests. He saw a mother and her son walking toward him and decided to freeze like a statue. The little boy asked his mother if he was real, and the mother replied yes. Despite this, the little boy said he was a fake. She told her son to touch him and find out. The little boy hesitantly reached out with his finger and poked him. Grumpy yelled "Boo!" and the little boy took off running down Main Street. The mother looked at Grumpy and said, "I told him so!"



A painter was hired once to touch up some paint on the guns at the Shooting Gallery in Frontierland. All of a sudden the painter ran out screaming. When asked what was wrong, the painter turned around to reveal a dart in his backside. It turned out that a little boy had a dart gun and shot him in the rear!



Grumpy was also a Skipper on the Jungle Cruise. One day some guests ran up to him claiming that the natives in the jungle were real! No, he told them; they're mannequins that move. Just in case, Grumpy decided to check it out for himself. He and his supervisor walked back through the jungle to find some college kids that had hopped the fence and were dancing around with the Native Indian mannequins. Interesting fact: the water in the Jungle Cruise is dyed brown so that it looks real and you can't see the bottom, which is only 3’ deep. Walt had originally wanted real hippos and elephants on the attraction.

Disneyland still has a special place in Grumpy's heart. It is there where he can still be a kid and his memories will live forever.

MANY thanks to Uncle Grumpy and his niece for sharing these amazing stories!

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3 comments:

Anthony "Pants" said...

I love these kinds of posts. It helps the photos to come alive.

Stuart Powley said...

I think I'd like to dance with the natives! I'm pretty sure even my two left feet could keep up with their "need to go to the restroom" dance!

Anonymous said...

Uncle Grumpy's memories could have easily fit into my era of the early 70s. And when I went down under Schweitzer Falls, it sure seemed more than 3' deep! Stories like these are treasures. KS