Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An Assortment of Obituaries

My search for Disneyland newspaper articles and advertisements would be greatly simplified if I only paid attention to those that were obviously about the Park (e.g., "Disneyland Prepares for Job Applicants," Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram, May 7, 1961). Instead, I'll give at least a cursory glance to each article that mentions Disneyland to see how it relates, and then determine if it's worth saving. There are certain types of repeating articles that I can immediately discount: those that talk about YMCA trips to Disneyland; articles about meetings, conventions, and speeches at the Disneyland Hotel (while it would be very interesting to compile a list of all of these because of the incredible range of subjects discussed and organizations represented, the task is hopelessly beyond the capabilities of even this thesaurus); and references to something being "a" Disneyland. Yeah, those writers and columnists bandied the term about without regard for how much it clutters up my searches!

But all this effort is redeemed (somewhat) when I come across small bits of information buried in longer articles. I can't always determine the accuracy of this information, but it at least gives me something to check out. Obituaries are one such source for this information, and below I share a few such things for eight people all previously unknown to me before my newspaper searches. For each person I provide a few biographical facts and all I know about the Disneyland connection from the obits; if anybody out there has more information on these people and Disneyland, please leave a comment or contact me!

George W. Smith. Died July 4, 1955. George was a 40-year-old foreman at Disneyland and had worked at MGM's set department for 20 years before going to Disneyland. No cause of death is listed, which heightens my curiosity about this man and his role in Disneyland's construction.

Ford B. Dicker. Guest who died July 4, 1959 at Disneyland of a heart attack. He was an executive in the assembly division at General Motors. I don't know the earliest fatality in Disneyland's history (unrelated to anything mechanical), but this seems pretty early. Other noteworthy heart attacks: on June 22, 1960, a 42-year-old member of the royal party of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit of Thailand died of a heart attack while visiting Disneyland, and on October 21, 1962, singer Monette Moore of the Young Men from New Orleans performing group collapsed on Main Street and died from a heart attack.

Emil E. Mazenec. Died June 8, 1963. Emil was the 45-year-old director of the Disneyland Polka Band. He was previously a trombonist with "many big name bands" before coming to Anaheim or Disneyland (the obituary is unclear) eight years before. (Actually, the obituary gives the surname as Mazenec, but I think it might be spelled Mazanec.)

Kafpar Burgi. Died July 10, 1963. He was a 57-year-old president of his own landscape construction company, coming to Los Angeles from his native Switzerland in 1927 and entering the landscape business in 1933. He helped landscape Disneyland, Century City, and "a number of other projects."

Harvey T. Gillett. Died October 1963. Harvey was a 58-year-old WED Enterprises employee who served as art director of lessee activities at Disneyland. (Does anybody know what that even means? Did he interface with the lessees to make sure what they wanted to do fit in with the Disneyland aesthetic?) He had previously been an artist for film studios.

John Edwin Barber. Died October 2, 1973. John was a retired financial executive. He was apparently "closely associated with Disney Enterprises and was instrumental in arranging the financing of Disneyland." Unfortunately Buzz Price's book omits an index, so I couldn't easily check to see if he's mentioned there. I do not know how he knew Walt (which he must have if he were so instrumental!).

Daniel S. Hoblick. Died September 25, 1974. Daniel was president of Danly Engineering Co., "which installed the Haunted House ride in Disneyland and most of the rides in Disneyworld." Danly Engineering's web site can be found here. There's not much on the site: "Since 1965. Structural steel fabricators and erectors. Miscellaneous and ornamental iron." Maybe they have some interesting Haunted Mansion records! Daniel's son Stephen is listed as the owner in a recent listing of Huntington Beach business licenses, so I guess it's still a family business.

Walter Fon Lee. Died October 1982. The 65-year-old Walter was a restaurateur; his grandparents had opened the Man Jen Low restaurant, which was LA's oldest Chinese restaurant (in its history it moved around a few times, became General Lee's, and closed in 1987). The article states, "At one time there were Men [sic] Jen Low restaurants at Farmers Market, Disneyland and Pacific Ocean Park." Now, the fact that the obit consistently misspelled the restaurant name as "Men Jen Low" makes me question its veracity. I know of no restaurant in Disneyland's history that fits the description. (The only possibility I see is the Adventureland Bazaar, but Lawson Engineering operated that. The Bazaar, also operated by Lawson, had a Lee Bros. store, but this did not sell food.) The fact that POP is mentioned makes me wonder if "Disneyland" really should have been another amusement park name. Anybody have a guess on this?


Major Pepperidge said...

As you said, the Bazaar had a "General Lee's (Bamboo Alley"), which you can see a photo of on Daveland's blog (August 23, 2006). But a restaurant? Hmmmm...

Chris Jepsen said...

Here's a roundup of additional details on some of these people,...

George W. Smith: Born 9-8-1914 in NY. Died in Los Angeles County. (If you pull death certificates from the County, you could learn more about Smith and others.)

Ford Bingham Dicker: Born 9-16-1890 in Michigan. He had worked in the steel and auto industries since at least the 1910s. His wife's name was Inez C. (nee Pierce). They had at least two children: George and Virginia.

Monette Moore: She was born 5-19-1912 in Texas. Her last residence was in La Habra, Calif.

Emil E. Mazenec: Born 12-31-1917 in Ohio. Died in O.C.

Kaspar F. Burgi: Born 10-8-1905 in Switzerland. Died in L.A. County.

Harvey T. Gillett, Sr.: Born 12-14-1904 in California. Died in L.A. County. As of 1930, he was living in Glendale with his wife, Ione E. Gillett, and his son, Harvey Jr. (then age 1), and was working as a "draftman" in a movie studio.

John Edwin Barber: Born 12-3-1886 in Ohio. Died in L.A. County. He had been an investment banker, running his own business. He lived in a huge home on Arroyo Blvd in Pasadena with his wife, Grayson. As of 1930, they had three children, (Carter, Mary and Elizabeth), and two servants living in the house with them.

Walter Fon Lee: Born 9-26-1917 in Los Angeles. Died in L.A. County.

I may be able to find out more about Dicker, Moore, and/or Mazenec. If I do, I'll let you know what I find.

None of these details may be that useful by themselves, but they may be helpful in tracking down *further* information that IS useful.

Jason Schultz said...

Chris, thanks for that information. I hope that didn't take too much of your time as the newspaper obits contained a fair amount of those details--I was only passing along a bare minimum in this post. I was specifically interested if anybody knew anything more about these individuals in relation to Disneyland.

wdi33 said...

Sad to hear about Monette Moore dying at Disneyland. She is featured with Louis Armstrong and the Young Men from New Orleans performing on the Mark Twain in "Disneyland After Dark." I always loved her duet with Louis on that show!

Matterhorn1959 said...

Harvey Gillett being an art director for lessee activities would be the person the lessees used to design signage, sets and other items. If you look at the blueprints for the Silver Banjo Barbecue Sign, it has WED approval markings. I will have to see if it has Gillett's name on it.

Anonymous said...

You can find more Disneyland deaths along with Disney world at Wikipedia.Thaey keep a very detailed account of deaths. Most, of the ones you listed I haven't heard of. But, just giving you a tip.

Chris Jepsen said...

No big deal. It was just a quick zip through the State death index and

Linda Pelletier said...

Gil Casados, a former imagineer for Disney, died this past week in California. April 12? 13? 14? 2010. Sorry I don't have any further details yet...have yet to find his obituary...but he was a friend. You can see his art (and the Disney influence in it) at or on the Canadian Baby Photographers website He was a widower with 4 grown children when he married Phyllis Nerenburg and moved from California to Toronto, Ontario (Canada) where he then ran Canadian Baby Photographers with her. He kept a house in California and was in California for the past several months prior to his death there.