It’s not very often that six of Disney’s most legendary Imagineers sit down together to share some of their most personal memories with fans. But when they did on the first day of the D23 Expo, it was pure magic. Moderated by Disney Legend Marty Sklar, who retired this year on July 17 after 53 years of Imagineering brilliance — on the 54th anniversary of Disneyland — X Atencio, Alice Davis, Blaine Gibson, Bob Gurr and Don Iwerks spent two hours recounting some of their favorite Disney memories for an audience of a few hundred avid Disney aficionados.
This special group, who represented 220 years of combined years of Disney service, shared laughs as they recalled some of their favorite stories about Walt Disney, the man who dared to dream without limits. Don, who earlier in the morning was named a 2009 Disney Legend, remembered a time when Walt asked him to design the completely unheard of Circle Vision projection system. Don chuckled, “You never say no to Walt!” To which Bob added, “And you never tell Walt you’re not qualified to do anything!”
They covered every topic from working with Roger Broggie and Mary Blair to designing goats and writing scripts. But each icon had something special that they were the most proud of. For Bob, the answer was simple. “That’s easy,” he laughed, the Monorail! We were just trying to get stuff done, but now we can appreciate it because it became the icon of Disneyland! ” X said he was the most proud of having trained the next generation of Imagineers, and Blaine added, “We were all part of a giant orchestra and I am pleased that my little instrument, my sound, fit in with this giant orchestra.”
For Don his most cherished memory was building the equipment for Epcot center. “They were little things and they became big things. We built over 125 motion picture projectors and over 300 special-effects projectors, and it was all state of the art for the time. It was very satisfying, I’d say,” he said.
Famed costume designer Alice Davis, wife of legendary Imagineer Marc Davis, laughed, “What I was most proud of was to finally convince everybody that you have to have patterns if you were going to get the same thing over and over again!” She then recalled the story of when a fire occurred in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction — curiously enough in the fire section of the ride. Thinking ahead, she had secretly made duplicates of every costume on every character, just in case. So when the [Disneyland] president came running to her and asked how long it would take to make all new costumes, Alice smiled and said, “If you bring me the fish poles with the hats spinning on them [and other base materials], I’ll have everything for you in a half an hour! And I opened up the drawer of the cabinet and there was an entire second set of costumes. The show was only down for two days and now I make three costumes for everything.”
So what will the newly retired Marty miss the most? “Certainly not the meetings!” he laughed. “Seriously though, it’s the people.” And what unpretentious individuals they are. Marty continued, “There’s not one of us on this panel who would say we’re geniuses. We are just people who really loved what they did and had so much support around us and other talent outside of our own talent. I always say that to this day, there’s only one name on the door and it’s Walt Disney.”
Spending just a few hours with these extraordinarily talented, yet refreshingly humble Disney pioneers is a vivid reminder of why their creative teams were so successful. As everyone left the theater, there were smiles all around. Walt would be so proud.