9 Famous People Who Started as Disney Park Characters
A couple of years ago, I did a post on celebrities who got their first tastes of the entertainment biz by working at one of the Disney Parks, whether they did tricks at the Magic Shop (Steve Martin) or cracked wise as a Jungle Cruise skipper (John Lasseter). But which celebs might you actually spot next to your terrified little brother in your family photo album? Here are a few.
1. Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson kept pretty busy at Disney World in Orlando - he was Aladdin, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Prince Eric in the Little Mermaid show. I think I was in fourth grade when I visited what was then Disney-MGM Studios; I was super excited to see Donatello roaming the fake streets of New York. When I stood in front of him so my mom could snap a picture, he put his three-fingered hand on my shoulder and squeezed so hard I’m actually wincing a little in the picture. Was that you, Kevin Richardson? Not cool.
2. Check out young Michelle Pfeiffer. You can totally see her as Alice in Wonderland, can’t you? One of her first jobs in entertainment was portraying Disney’s version of the Lewis Carroll ingenue in the Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland.
3. Kevin Costner met his first wife, Cindy, at work in the Anaheim park. Cindy was busy signing autographs and posing for pictures as Snow White while Kevin apparently told terrible jokes on the Jungle Cruise. You can tell he's been influenced by the cheesy script - when a reporter once asked him where he found the guts to ask Snow White for a date, he replied, “Easy - I was her Prince Charming.” Unlike Snow White and her Prince, however, Kevin and Cindy divorced in 1994.
4. A lot of people think it’s air conditioned inside of those big costumes, but Wayne Brady is here to tell you it’s not. “Inside that costume it was about 90,000 degrees,” he said. A 16-year-old Brady was playing Tigger in a parade at one of the Orlando parks when he passed out from the heat. “I should have paced myself. But I fell flat on my face. They carried me off with my recorded voice still going, ‘Ooh-hoo-hoo!”
5. Alyson Reed has kind of come full circle with Disney - she played Alice at Disneyland back in the late ‘70s, but these days she’s better known as Mrs. Darbus from the High School Musical movies. In between her Disney stints, she had a ton of parts in some pretty notable TV shows and also did some Broadway.
6. I don’t tend to remember Miss Americas, really, but for some reason I remember Leanza Cornett. I think it might be the distinctive name. Anyway, before Leanza wore the sash and tiara of Miss America in 1993, she was the first live-action actress to play Ariel from The Little Mermaid. She didn’t sign autographs in the park, though - she played Ariel in the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. What’s slightly odd is that the next Miss Florida also played Ariel in the same show after Leanza left. Is there a Mermaid Conspiracy?!
7. Remember Katherine Harris of the 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida? Rumor has it that she played Snow White at Disney World when she was a teenager. The Washington Post actually called Disney for verification of this fascinating nugget of information, but they would only confirm that Harris was a “pageant hostess” at the park from 1973-1975. The Disney spokesperson then added, “We do not generally reveal costumed character identities."
8. British actor Kevin Sacre, probably best known for the British soap Hollyoaks, honed his acting skills playing Aladdin at Disneyland Paris in the late ‘90s. He should get together with Kevin Richardson and compare notes.
9. If the name Alexis Mateo doesn’t ring a bell, maybe that’s because you haven’t been watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. Alexis, the second runner up in season three, apparently worked for Disney as a character for five years, but wouldn’t reveal any more information than that. In fact, as of January 2011, Alexis was still a seasonal cast member there. Hmm. Any guesses? Here’s a picture.
Honorable mention: Writer Kate DiCamillo (The Tale of Despereaux, The Magician’s Elephant) worked at Disney and really wanted to be a chipmunk. Alas, she said the maximum height to portray Chip or Dale was 4’10” and she was automatically disqualified.
I’ve also heard but haven’t been able to confirm that Geena Davis once played Goofy. She certainly has the height for it... anyone know if that’s an urban legend or the real deal?