We're just a few days from our annual Halloween pilgrimage to Disneyworld and I'm getting a little antsy. I'm not sure if writing about Disney is helping time go by more quickly or grinding it to a halt, but either way, this was a fun topic to research. These days we think of "celebrities who started at Disney" as those mini-starlets on the Disney Channel: Miley, Selena, Demi and all of their protÃ©gÃ©s just waiting in the wings. But these celebrities were actually out there in the trenches, working in parades and telling corny jokes.
1. Steve Martin started his career as a magician at the Main Street Magic Shop at Disneyland. After spending a lot of time at the shop during his youth, he took a job there and mastered magic, juggling, banjo-playing and creating balloon animals. Steve showed that he's still got what it takes "“ he showed off a couple of his old sleight-of-hand tricks for an anniversary video that played in the park.
2. Teri Garr. Martin's co-star Teri Garr also spent some time working at the Happiest Place on Earth. I see her as Cinderella, myself, or perhaps Alice in Wonderland, but Teri was actually a non-character parade dancer.
3. John McEuen, a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. John actually worked with Steve Martin at the magic shop and is the one who taught him how to play the banjo. They went to high school together and remained friends even after they both got famous "“ it's the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band who backed Martin on "King Tut."
4. Michelle Pfeiffer. I guess Teri Garr couldn't have been Alice, because Michelle Pfeiffer had already claimed the position. Michelle was Alice in the Main Street Electrical Parade in the mid-70s.
5. Alyson Reed is another Alice. You might not know the name, but if you have kids of a certain age I bet you know the face "“ despite being an accomplished Broadway actress, she may be best known today for her role as Ms. Darbus in High School Musical.
6. John Lasseter, as in the chief creative officer at PIXAR and Disney Animation Studios, started his relationship with The Mouse long before Toy Story: upon his graduation, he got a job at Disneyland as a Jungle Cruise Skipper and later moved up to animator.
7. Ron Ziegler, Richard Nixon's press secretary. OK, none of these have probably really stunned you up until this point "“ they're all creative types. But Ron Ziegler? Yup. He was also a skipper on the Jungle Cruise while attending USC.
8. Joanna Kerns, best known as the mom from Growing Pains. Back in the day of the Main Street Electrical Parade, Joanna played the Blue Fairy (although that's not her pictured) from Pinocchio whose float kicked off the festivities. Picture by Deb Willis of AllEarsNet.
9. Richard Carpenter of The Carpenters. His story is kind of fun. He worked as one half of a banjo and piano duo, playing old ragtime pieces to fit in with the Main Street theme. At least, they were supposed to. They often took requests from park patrons to play more contemporary songs, like "Light My Fire." Their boss, Vic Guder, fired them after multiple offenses. Carpenter's response, the anti-establishment song "Mr. Guder," can be found on The Carpenters' LP Close to You.
10. Ronald Reagan, kind of. He was just an out-of-work actor the day Disneyland opened in 1955, and Disney hired him to host a live telecast of the park's opening. He may not have been a regular cast member, but Disney included him when they recognized all first-day cast members by giving them a lifetime membership to the exclusive Club 55 (not to be confused with Club 33, which anyone can eventually join if they have enough money).
And an honorable mention: Jen at Cake Wrecks was a skipper on the Jungle Cruise as well. The awesomely bad puns on Cake Wrecks totally make sense now!
Do you know any celebrities who sold Mickey ice cream bars or toiled all day under a hot costume? If I've left anyone out, share in the comments! And if you're interested in Disney tweets, I'll probably be chronicling my week in 140 characters or less next week.