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Sunday, October 17, 2010


I know this isn’t Disney history per se, but Secretariat is a Disney movie so…

Anyone who knows me, know that I have diss’d the movie Titanic a bit.  Big unsinkable ship set sail on its maiden voyage, big unsinkable ship hit iceberg.  Guess what, big unsinkable ship is not unsinkable, and many perish.  In the process, someone tells stories that may or may not be true.  Yeah, I don’t normally go into for movies of which I already know the end, no matter how stylized.

Secretariat is different.  I’ve been a horse nut since I was a young boy.  My Mom loves to tell the story of me being place on the back of a steed in front of her at the age of 18 months old, me in my finest cowboy chaps and hat.  Sitting there with my Mother hat in hand, slapping the horse neck yelling, “Go DADDY, GO!”  I have ridden regularly since that time, though, in recent years, not nearly as often as I would like.  Each year the in my house, the Triple Crown races have become as big an event as any other sporting endeavor.  Those three races are, in my opinion, the most exciting 6 minutes of the year

In 1973 I remember this big red horse named Secretariat racing in the Kentucky Derby.  Out of the gate dead last and not given much hope, even though he’d been name “Horse of the Year” in 1972.  Suddenly, he surges and starts to make up positions on the field, finishing as the winner of the “Run for the Rose” by a couple of lengths, the first leg of the Triple Crown.  Oh yes, and a record time that stands to this day.   Two weeks later, the same result:  Secretariat wins the Preakness Stakes by a couple of lengths in another spectacular come from behind win, completing the second leg of Triple Crown.  Finally three weeks later, in the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat successfully completed his bid to become the first Triple Crown since Citation in 1948, in the most amazing race I have ever witness.  Secretariat broke to the rail and battled Sham for the lead for about half the race, after switch Big Red ran away from Sham and a distance field to win the Belmont in record time and by 31 lengths.  A feat that may well never be repeated again!

Secretariat is, in my mind, the greatest thoroughbred to ever live or race.  While hopeful for a great retelling of the story of a great horse, I was, of course, prepared for the movie to be another one of those stylized movies which relied on a rehash of his racing career to provide the excitement and impetus of the movie.   I was pleased to find an experience that not only exceeded my expectations, but also my hopes.  Secretariat, while definitely a story about the horse, is the amazing back story about how he became the super horse I remember fondly from my youth, and people who made it happen.   As with any story of greatness, there are points along the road where events of chance could have changed the outcome the narrative.  The chronicle of Secretariat is no different, and those chance events started before the foal is even born. Because of the breeding deal struck by Meadow Stud, Inc., the breeding arm of Meadow Farm Stables, Meadow Farms Stable had two broodmares carrying foal from Bold Ruler.  The deal struck was that the winner of a coin toss would be granted the right to choose which of the two foals would go to winner.  Bold Ruler’s owner, the Phipps Family, won the toss and selected the foal from the younger Meadow Farms broodmare.  Secretariat, not yet born or even named, went to Meadow Farms.  The real story, in my view, is about Penny Tweety, her belief in this “Big Red” horse’s chances to be a great horse, and her efforts and action to give Big Red that chance.  That was the part of the story I did not know, and what I think makes the movie Secretariat so good.  It is the archetypical story of struggle, belief, and ultimately the success that can be had by “Running at life.”

As I write this piece, I’ve been doing a little online research to verify some of my fact and figures, so I know that the movie’s producers have taken some creative license in the story telling.  That is to be expected as this is a story that covers 5 year period.  I am by no mean a movie making expert, but I understand that movies telling an historical story must often distill several events in one over arching event which provides the essence of those multiple activities.  This method use to bother me, as I thought of it as being unfaithful to intend of the story being told.  But in recent years with my endeavors to understand Walt Disney, and developing some friendship with individual involved in the entertainment industry, I have come to understand that the medium of film has finite amount of time to tell a story without risking losing the interest of the audience.  Also the story really needs to be told in a manner that will appeal to the broadest audience possible while trying to maintain as much faith to the storyline as possible.  Some do it better than others.  Now for the Disney hook; this is something I think Walt Disney understood, and it was probably the lead contributor to his success.  As for my final comments on Secretariat; I come away from this movie with an even great respect and appreciation of a horse of whom I was already a great fan know more about how he became the super horse.  While he had to have the seeds of greatness within him, without the right nurturing of those seeds, his greatness may never have been realized.  That is an idea that to translates to all of us.  Must all of us have those seeds within us; it is how they are nurtured that will determine how strong they become.  And finally, my favorite moment in the movie;  As Big Red wins the Belmont, the camera pans up to Penny Tweety (Diane Lane) in the stands celebrating this spectacular event with her family and friend, the camera pauses momentarily on a older woman just over Penny’s shoulder a couple of row up in the stands behind her.  I leaned over to my wife and whispered, “I think that is the real Penny Tweety.”  The final scenes were of the pictures of the actual key characters in story with a brief comment about them today.  When Penny Tweety came up, it was with that shot from the movie. A magnificent end to what is, in my opinion, a magnificent movie, and a tribute to the Triumph of Spirit.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

Friday, October 1, 2010

First Ever Destination D - Disneyland 55

I not sure who’s numbers to use, I heard 1300 to 1500, but, what do you think happens when about 1500 extreme Disney fans get together?  Well, on Friday and Saturday, September 24th and 25th, D23 held their first ever Destination D for a group of Disney die-hards.  Since this year Disneyland celebrates its 55th anniversary (hey what do ya know, I celebrated a 55th this year too), D23 put together an intensive and in depth look at Disneyland over the last 55 years, and, well, about 1500 serious Disney geeks, freaks, and fans gathered in Anaheim at the Disneyland Hotel.  I truly use the terms geek and freak with respect, as I consider myself in that category of fandom, and so far all of the fans I’ve had the pleasure of meeting are some of the nicest people.

So how did we start this event, you may ask?  Why with the ever present Disney queue, of course.  Disney didn’t invent standing in line, but I think they certainly may have perfected it.  For anyone who has never been to a Disney park, and I really can’t fathom anyone in that group, every show and attraction has its own queue line which wind around the entrance to the event.  At the parks, there are stanchions and chains which can be continually reconfigured to control growing lines.  They don’t have this set up at the hotel, so the queue was controlled and directed by D23 Staff and Volunteers.  When we arrived at 7:30 Friday morning, the queue already contained a few hundred excited fans, and we end up a few feet away from the giant Mickey Statue that resides at the drive in entrance to the hotel.  We heard that there were people at the front of the line who had come in as early as 5:30 AM to secure their chance for choice seats at opening.  During the meal breaks they cleared the ballroom and I saw individuals head straight back to the queue line to be first to enter for the next sessions.

So the doors open, and this throng of people actually advances in fairly organized manner into the Grand Ballroom to take our seats, and then we wait for awhile as time is given for those who choose to arrive later at the schedule start time.  But that’s okay, because we had time to socialize with those around us.  Since there was no assigned seating, rarely did we end up sitting near the people with whom we’d share the queue wait.   And this was okay too, because I like meet new people, especially Disney fan, who I find almost always are willing to share the Disney passions and experiences.  So as we sit talking with the fans around us, waiting for the show to start, we are treated to some Disney background music and the occasional announcement from none other than Disneyland’s official announcer Bill Rogers.

As the lights dim, the screens at the front of the room change from the Destination D logo to a familiar sight, and then Jeffery “Disney Geek” Epstein appears on the screen with a special Disney Geek episode welcoming us, and giving a quick review on what was about to happen.  He then introduced Steven Clark, the head of D23 to the audience.  With a remarkable rendition of Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle as a backdrop, Steven kicked off the day by letting us know that this inaugural event had attendees from 39 of 50 state, and 7 different countries including Australia and Japan.  Now that’s dedication to one’s fandom!!  If I were to recap all the session for both days, since blog post would be several dozen pages long, and probably a bore to most readers.  If you’d really want a recap of the event, there are two reports on the D23 website (  And I know that DustySage over at MiceChat was posting as the event was unfolding and has a lot of info there in the MiceChat forums.

So my review is going to be a little more on my perceptions of Destination D, and some thoughts about D23 that occurred to be as we were driving back Sunday.  Interesting story there, as least to me, is that when we drive down to the L.A. area for events or Disneyland visits from the SF Bay Area, I get a LOT of time to think, as my co-pilot(s) spend most of the time sound asleep, or so engrossed in their iPods as to be almost non-present.  This blog came about from thoughts I had while returning from an event at the Walt Disney Studio.

First, let me say that my two favorite session of the weekend were Mickey Mouse Club 55th Anniversary Hosted by Tim O'Day,  and Imagineering the Magic of Disney Hosted by Marty Sklar.  And Tim, if you ever read this, I was the guy in the queue after lunch who thought you were Paul Anderson.  You’d already moved on when I figured out my mistake, so SORRY Dude!  But on the upside, you were my favorite panel moderator.   The Mickey Mouse Club invokes very fond memories of my youth.  Now since the show went off the air in 1959 and I was only 4, those memories are probably of the show in syndication, but they are fond memories none the less.  Thank you to my lovely wife, who took the time to stand in line and get autographs of the Mouseketeers for me, as my stomach decided on a mutiny at lunch.  Rin Tin Tin, Sky King, Roy Rogers, and The Mickey Mouse Club helped me get transcend some troubling time with temporary escapes from reality.  The only thing that could have made the Mickey Mouse Club 55th Anniversary session better would have been if Annette could have been present.  My two real crushes in life, Tinker Bell and Annette Funicello.  It was really nice to hear the wonderful things said about Annette.  As with my comments on Fess Parker, it is always gratifying to learn that people you look up to are as nice in real life as the characters they play.  I will be counting the days until we get to see Cubby, Sharon, and Bobby up at the Museum next month!

The Imagineering the Magic of Disney session was great, and I will take every opportunity to sit and listen to the stories told by Imagineering, past and present, and this panel was fabulous.  As Marty told us, 307 years of Imagineering experience was sitting on that stage, with current Imagineers; Tony Baxter, Dave Durham, Kathy Mangum and Kevin Rafferty, and Disney Legends; X Atencio, Alice Davis, Bob Gurr, and Don Iwerks.  Even if some of us may have heard some of the stories before, or can read them in some book, there is no substitute for an opportunity to hear these people speak, while we still have the chance.  The back and forth between Marty and X, and Marty and Bob was priceless.  I heard some comment about Marty being his irascible self with Bob, but personally, I think it more of an act that has developed between the two. Anyway, I just love hearing all the stories, which brings again to the Museum.  Alice Davis and Marge Champion will be there in December, and I am looking forward to that event as well.  The Museum is a fun place to see people as the theater there is a smaller and more intimate venue, and we usually get a chance to see the guests afterward and get autographs.  I still can’t believe it when I wait to get an autograph, 55 years old, and I didn’t collect my first autograph until I was 54, go figure.

I am currently work on one of my final pieces on Walt Disney himself, for the blog, before I move on to some of the other interest Disney history items I have discovered so watch for that one, but now, for a brief synopsis of my perception of the event and D23. 

First off, I was a bit surprised to discover that D23 only has 7 fulltime Disney CM’s dedicated to it, and I think it is rather remarkable that these 7 individuals have pulled off any many events as successfully as they have in the past year plus since D23’s inception.  While I have heard, from various D23 members, some concerns about how some of these events have come off, and that this is just another Disney market ploy, I am a bit more willing to give them a break under the circumstances.  As for the marketing ploy, I am sure there is a marketing bent to D23, but I am beginning to think there is more to it than just marketing and just something for the avid Disney Fan… Tim O’Day’s Disneyland: The Happiest Place in Pop Culture on the second day got me to thinking about one of the possible unspoken goals of D23.  Is it possible that part of D23’s charter is to present a more accurate or real picture of Walt Disney?  Is the something they were even thinking about, or could this just be an ancillary effect?

Walt Disney, as it appears to me, has been elevated to an almost mythic icon idol with a nearly Midas touch and Herculean ethic by many fans.  I cannot count the times I have heard a fan complain, “that not the way Walt would have done it,” or “current Disney management isn’t paying attention to how Walt laid it out for them.”  Go to any fan board, and I guarantee you’ll be able to find comments like these.  Many Disney Fans are amazingly possessive of the Disney experience, and many have come to believe that it was Walt, and Walt alone, who is responsible for that experience, without considering all the other people involved in the beginning or since.  Those are some extremely big shoes to impossibly difficult to fill.  It would seem to me to be prudent to find ways to positively temper the truth in an effort to mediate the corporate message.  The Walt Disney Company is still a business and responsible to its shareholders in increase their the value of their investment, and I think it may be in the best interest of all to, as judiciously as possible, to dispel any notion that their founder is anything more than a special and very creative man, who with the help of many created an special place that has continued to experience creative rebirth long after his passing.  I know there are some who will read this that think I am being blasphemous, and I do think that Walt Disney was a marvelously creative person, and probably a genius, but he would not have been successful without the creative talents of many, many people in his employ.  But I’ll have more on this in the article that is currently in the works.

I only real complaint was the seating arrangements.  There were probably only a couple 100 really good seats to be had in the venue.  Other than those, you had to rely on the screens to get a decent look at what was happening on the stage.  For most of the panels, it wasn’t that big deal for me, because I was there to listen to more than see the panelist, and the presentation slides were clearly visible.  The conference type seating was also uncomfortable to my old backside after about 45 minutes, and the sessions went at least two hours at a time.  I think a theater seating arrangement might have worked better, but, I don’t know how D23 would have pulled that off, and been able to keep the event at the Disneyland Resort.  Finally, I will be interested to see just how many video clips show up on youtube?  While they were quite clear that there was to be no video or audio recording at the event, they did allow pictures to be taken without flash.  Wonder if D23 has forgotten that most digital cameras today are also capable of video capture?  And I saw a lot of that happening.

One the last note, I heard some complain about the cost of the event, comparing the cost of the expo per day, as opposed this one.  At the expo last year, attending the sessions consumed vast amounts of idle time sitting or standing in queues waiting for sessions.  We missed a number of sessions because we couldn’t be in two places at once.  At this event you were at least guaranteed a seat for very thing.  I think that was worth the added cost, and I’d do it again.  But then, I’m a Disney Nut!

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at