Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On Disneyland Employees

Today, I have a reading comprehension exercise for you. The above excerpt is from the January 15, 1976 Disneyland Line. The text is rendered below:
Disneyland is one show that Ride Operator TOM PLETTS has been a Permanent Part-time cast member of for over 15 years. Currently in Fantasyland, Tom has been performing on stage since his preschool years and has continued his semi-professional career here in the Park with our Drama Workshop.

"Chicken Ranching for Fun and Profit," was a comic melodrama that Tom performed in one summer for our guests through the Entertainment Division. He has been an active member of our Drama Workshop since its inception in 1970.

Attending the Film Industry Workshop in Studio City takes up most of Tom's spare time. His main interests are in the motion picture business, however, he does enjoy photography, art and jazz.

"Walt Disney made the most lasting impression on me since I've been working in the Park," said Tom. "He was a childhood idol anyway and seeing him and talking with him were great experiences."
I'm sure it jumped out for you as it did for me. No, not the somewhat awkward grammatical construction ("of for"). No, not even that, according to this, "Chicken Ranching for Fun and Profit" was performed for Guests. No, what jumped out at me was there in the first line, where the Line refers to Tom Pletts as a cast member. This is the earliest such reference I have found.

Any regular reader of this blog is well aware that those employed by the Disneyland Resort are Cast Members. For all you can read about Cast Members, you might expect that this is how it has always been. Disneyland has always been a Show and therefore its employees have always been called Cast Members. (Even Van France's book Window on Main Street doesn't mention this 1970s shift. As Disneyland's founding trainer and a man intimately involved with the Disney University for many years, Van would have come up with this language.) But it took twenty-one years for the term to enter the Disney lexicon and several more years, at least, for it to displace the existing "Disneylander" and "Disneyland employees" references. This conscious shift to a show language occurred in the mid-1970s, as the Disney University professionalized its offerings and communication style, including improving the Disneyland Line.

Disneylander is the original term referring to 'those who work at Disneyland' (and the title of the monthly publication for such workers in the 1950s). It was used not just for internal communications, but also in the pre-opening newspaper insert, Vacationland, and the guidebooks handed out to Park Guests. Its vagueness meant it could and did apply to those employed by Disneyland, by WED (working on the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad or the Disneyland-Alweg Monorail System before Retlaw), or by the lessees. Today, when the number of lessee personnel is so small, this may seem like an unimportant matter, but in the 1950s the number of lessee personnel may have outnumbered the Disneyland, Inc. employees. Most of the shops, many restaurants, and some of the exhibits (i.e., most of Tomorrowland) had such outside personnel. The divide between those employed by Disneyland and those employed by others just wasn't there, and needed unity was doubtless aided by calling everybody Disneylanders.

The term Disneyland employee also has a long history. It wasn't as preferred as Disneylander early on, but Disneylander publications in the 1950s did use it, and it appears in the 1965 Park guidebook. When the Disneyland Line began publication in 1969, the term appeared in practically every issue. By the time of the Line, a much greater proportion of those working at Disneyland were directly employed by Disney, and thus the distinction between such individuals, Retlaw, and lessee personnel became a little more important. Disneyland had long ago assumed control of most food and merchandise operations, and there were far fewer exhibits in the Park employing outside personnel. Aside from the weekly references to Disneyland employees in the Line, The D.E.C. (Disneyland Employee Cafeteria) Backstage under New Orleans Square and the Disneyland Employees Federal Credit Union (today's Partners Federal Credit Union) incorporated this nomenclature.

The term Cast Member took several years to establish itself and resulted from the Disney University's communications professionalization. Under the editorship of former Attractions Hosts Joel Halberstadt and Ron Kollen, the Line itself became more standardized in appearance and more formulaic in approach. (The use of formulaic isn't meant to denigate the Line's content, as there were some great articles in the 1970s. It is merely to represent that previously the Line's content from week to week was unpredictable.) It makes sense that the text would also reflect greater Disney sophistication. The word Show itself in the Disneyland Line dates back to at least November 27, 1974, when the publication began an introduction to a Cycling Shop article thusly:
One of the qualities of the Park that consistently impresses our guests is the fresh, new look about most everything. Although every craft in the Maintenance Dept. is concerned with the "Show" aspect of Disneyland, this week we'd like to take a good look at the area that might be more intimately involved than most...
Backstage had been in the Disney lexicon at least as early as 1962, when the employee publication of the same name began publication. But, as I mentioned above, Cast Member (or, more accurately, cast member) didn't appear until January 1976. It's debatable whether the author intended that use of cast member in the sense that we now know (since Tom Pletts also performed in "regular" shows). The term did not appear again (this time familiarly capitalized) in the Line until April 22, 1976, in an article about the Inn Between. The first hint is on the front page:

the Inn Between serves the year-round needs of the Disneyland Cast with the major emphasis on appetites. This Backstage Buffeteria serves a complete assortment of meals prepared by an expert staff.
The first familiar, capitalized reference is on the second page. Fittingly enough, the paragraph uses both Disneyland employees and Cast Members, seemingly interchangeably:

One of the unique aspects of the Inn Between is serving Disneyland employees, many of whom spend their day serving guests. Lead Karen Johnson commented that because Cast Members who use the Inn Between are there for such a limited time, "there is extra pressure to move them through quickly and still treat them with the kindness that they extend to guests."
There you have it. What appears to be the first official use of Cast Member comes not in a stirring tribute to the men and women of the Park, but in a buried comment about how it's important for the Cast to be served quickly at its cafeteria. It did, however, take several years before Disneyland employees became taboo. It still showed up in Disneyland Lines of 1977 and is in the Fall/Winter 1978-1979 guidebook. As I continue to closely examine each and every Line, I expect I'll be able to document this transition more fully--one of the most important language transitions in Disneyland's history. (Other important linguistic curiosities in Disneyland's history include the shift to Disneyland Park, the replacement of attractions for rides, and the origin of the theme park appellation.)

I'll leave you with this essay from the May 1957 Disneylander (periodical), entitled, "What is a Disneylander?":
A Disneylander is both male & female, comes in assorted sizes, shapes and colors. Never seems to have a last name, answers to Jo, Louie, Hutch, Chuck, Judy, Joan, Alice, Mary, Walt and Hey you!

He's a river boat captain; top-hatted gambler of the lawless West; rocket pilot with plexiglass helmet; angel of mercy in white; or an indian on the war path. He's an executive in an old Buick or a teen-age ice cream vendor with a 1957 Chevy; likes his steaks rare and Pepsi-Cola strong. His diet is unique and consists of large quantities of malts, coffee, hot dogs, banana splits, coffee, tuna sandwiches, coffee, Yankee bean soup, hamburgers, more coffee, french fries and fritos.

Now, it's a scientific fact that mice cannot live on this diet which seems to provide a real snappy comeback to the old "are you a man or a mouse" question.

He's a walking source of information; knows where to eat; most direct route to the comfort stations; drinking fountains and lost parent department, but never knows the best road to Knott's Berry Farm.

Disneylanders represent every profession; teacher, mother, artist, cowboy, Indian, carpenter, secretary, clerk, cook, painter, mechanic and photographer.

With a sticker on the windshield, I.D. card in hand, he's top-drawer with the local small fry who regard him with that special "gee, he works at Disneyland every day" look.

Naturally every red-blooded Disneylander is loaded with ride passes and is considered by the in-laws as a very soft touch. (We know this is just an ugly rumor)

By golly, this Disneyland character is pretty great, in fact, the most!

Welcome to the Magic Kingdom.
What a swell job!

16 comments:

Chris Merritt said...

Interesting work you are dong here Jason! You are documenting the history of some terminology that I never really thought about... Keep up the good work!

Major Pepperidge said...

Hmmm, I really thought that the whole "cast member" thing went back to the "Walt years"; I guess the concept was there (the employees were an important part of the "show"), but now we know the truth!

George Taylor said...

Fantastic! I can only imagine how long it took to get this far.

outsidetheberm said...

Jason, do you have the employee training materials from the early 1970s? Check these if you do. Seem to remember that the 'cast member' label was used in some of these...

Great work!

Westcot2000 said...

Great post. I worked occasionally with Tom in the mid-nineties when he was an Attractions Host (when did that term come into use?).

The last "Employees Only" sign (to my knowledge) lasted into the nineties and was located near the New Orleans Square restrooms.

Sometimes you'll find other titles (e.g., "Ranch Hands Only") in the park.

The article notes that Tom is a Ride Operator. What! Disneyland doesn't have rides. ;)

Westcot2000 said...

Tom was contacted through an intermediary and commented:

"Wow! Thanks for finding that. I was working on Motor Boats that day, and the Line reporter had wanted to interview Dennis Gaby, but settled for me when he couldn't find him."

He works DCA Attractions now.

Progressland said...

I have some information to indicate that "Attractions Host" and its ilk came into being around the same time as "Cast Member." Rest assured that I am documenting usage of "rides" and "ride operators"!

Thanks for tracking Tom down! Also nice to get a little inside story on how the "People Page" was put together.

The Glamorous Life Association said...

I was told, and always under the impression that the term 'cast member' was adopted in the 1970's after Disneyland received it first lawsuit from an employee who was asked to either cut their hippie hair or shave their hippie beard (or something else very UN-disney). So the lawyers advised and argued if they were CAST MEMBERS they could dictate the employees appearance.

So that is my 2cents. :)

Anonymous said...

Walt began to refer to animators as cast members after he returned from Latin America. The trip was to let tempers cool after a 1941 strike at the studio that hurt Walt deeply. Early sketches of Disneyland park refer to cast members as part of a show.

The term Disneyland employee was attached to the credit union in the 70's because you had to have a defined group. The name was changed at the demand of the studio legal department because they were trying to protect all the company trademarks from dilution from non-company use. They also removed all characters from personal notepad stationary. They were very concerned that the copyright of Mickey might fall to the public domain.

Walt called Disneyland employees cast members, Michael Eisner called us "Carneys."

To this day, there is only one ride at Disneyland, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, the rest are attractions per Walt. He did not like the condition or "show" value of the rides at ad hoc carnavals that were popular in the 40's.

The so-called D.E.C. came about when a contest was run to name the eatery under Pirates. Up to that time it was called "The Pit" by everyone. It was my favorite, it served Monte Cristo sandwiches from the Blue Bayou every now and then at a fraction of the price.

The Inn Between was a favorite of bus drivers and Anaheim police as well as Disneyland cast.

"If you have any real important questions about Disneyland, please feel free to keep them to yourself, 'cause we are not really interested."

-Keelboat spiel on final trip.

Progressland said...

Anonymous - Thanks for your comments.

Do you have a source for the early sketches that refer to cast members? I don't recall seeing those.

There's some question in my mind about the exact name of the Credit Union before Partners (I've seen about seven names used with about equal frequency)--but since "Disneyland Employees Federal Credit Union" is on former Credit Union manager Rick Scali's LinkedIn profile, that's good enough for me!

The term "rides" was used extensively in Walt's day--usually as part of "rides and amusements" or "rides and attractions." See, for instance, A Complete Guide to Disneyland (1957); Vacationland (Summer 1960); or Your Guide to Disneyland (ca. 11/1965).

To add to what you said about The D.E.C., Robert McKnight of Tomorrowland Operations submitted the winning name for the contest.

I have previously posted a 1972 question from a Cast Me...excuse me, employee...questioning why there were so many charter bus drivers at the Inn Between.

Yellows said...

Progress- I banked at the DEFCU in the 80s when I worked in Outdoor Vending. You are correct that the name before Partners was "Disneyland Employees Federal Credit Union."

Hans Perk said...

Winter 1972 saw the first issue, Vol.1 No. 1 of the magazine "The Walt Disney Cast," in which in several places there is talk of "the Disneyland cast" and "members of the Disney cast," also in the opening message by Card Walker, where he notes that "Everyone--all of you--is on stage."
Does this count? As far as I know there were only two issues published, though it states that it is "published four times a year by WDP for its employees and their families."

Hans Perk said...

As proto-cast-members, the 1964 Operating Procedures for the Nature's Wonderland attraction talks about an "animal cast" and a "people cast," and discusses the functions of the the hosts and hostesses, referred to as the "'on stage' cast."

Progressland said...

Hans, thanks for your comments. The Show terminology has been around from the beginning (I think it was part of Van France's first training program). It's interesting to see early references to the "cast," since such references were fleeting and the "cast members" were still called employees!

boby j. said...

I started work at Disney land in1958 on main street. I worked for a leasee at the China Shop. We were treated no different from Disneyland employees. We were taught that as soon as we walked threw the gate into the park, we were " on stage "

Richard said...

FYI, I worked with Tom Pletts at Disneyland on the Matterhorn Bobsleds in the early/mid 1960's. Great guy. He played a not-so-minor role as a doctor in the movie "Canary Row". Tom also came up with the idea for the Matterhorn's baseball team: "Mats". That's the era when the NY Mets were founded.