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The Man Erased From Disney History

(L-R) Walt Disney, C.V. Wood, Buzz Price. Image Credit: Disney Revue

In August 1955, Vice President Richard Nixon visited the former orange grove fields that had been meticulously cleared and packed with towering rocket ships, flying Dumbo carts, and a castle. With cameras going off, Nixon was given the key to Disneyland by the park’s own Vice President and General Manager, Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood.

An engineer who had been hired away from the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) the year prior, C.V. Wood had selected the site in Anaheim, purchased the land, and supervised construction. He was Disneyland’s first employee; Walt Disney was known to refer to him as a “son.”

Six months later, Wood was gone—not just from the park, but from Disney’s official history. 

Possibly the biggest influence on Disneyland next to Disney himself, Wood studied petroleum engineering at the University of Oklahoma. He met Disney when the animator began consulting with SRI on the logistics of his long-planned theme park. Wood proved so adept at solving problems—and so enamored with the concept of a fantasy landscape—he was brought on full-time to supervise the project’s frenetic construction.

The park opened in July 1955 and was an immediate success. Wood had a one-year contract, but in January 1956, trade papers announced his departure from the company. That he’d leave a job he was so fond of so abruptly immediately raised questions. (Embezzlement was one popular theory.) Though there’s never been a definitive answer, Van Arsdale France, a Disneyland employee who knew both Disney and Wood, believed the two men were so fiercely independent that their relationship wasn’t going to last.

“In one week, Wood was holding his regular meetings as usual, with an office crowded every minute of the day,” France was quoted as saying in The Disneyland Story. “Just about overnight, he was out.” According to employee Dick Irvine, Disney had his brother, Roy, fire Wood after a heated argument.

But Wood was still fascinated by the amusement industry. With severance pay in his pocket, the year he separated from Disney Wood he started Marco Engineering, which specialized in the design and execution of attractions. Wood was a one-of-a-kind talent for investors who wanted to try and replicate Disney’s success. He hired away several key Disney staffers; to promote his fledging business, he even started to bill himself as “The Master Planner of Disneyland.”   

Marco got off to an auspicious start. They opened Magic Mountain in Golden, Colorado in 1958, but construction delays bogged down business and the park was operational only during the summer. He also developed Pleasure Island, a Boston park that opened in 1959. Both ventures soon dissolved.

By this point, Wood was invoking his Disney ties a little too often for his former boss' liking. When he opened Freedomland in the Bronx in 1960, he billed it as “The Disneyland of the East.” Lawyers for Disney sued in order to protect the brand's copyright, and the matter was settled out of court.  

While Wood had high hopes for Freedomland—which tried to recreate historical cities and events—a series of incidents garnered the wrong kind of press. A stagecoach toppled over, breaking a guest’s spine; robbers made off with over $28,000

Freedomland closed in 1964, unable to compete with the neighboring World’s Fair and its stockpile of Disney-endorsed attractions. Wood later became famous for moving the London Bridge to Arizona, piece by piece, for a tourist attraction in 1968. He also founded the International Chili Society before ending his career at Warner Bros., where he worked until his death in 1992.

There is no account of Wood ever reconciling with Disney. While the company has received criticism for not acknowledging his contributions to Disneyland, not everyone got the memo. In 2011, an official Disney travel magazine innocently offered a bit of trivia about the relocated London Bridge in Arizona and one of the men responsible for it: C.V. Wood.

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Sam Howzit, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
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Pop Culture
The Computer Virus That Brought Down Whac-A-Mole
Sam Howzit, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Sam Howzit, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Walk inside any pop-up carnival, amusement park, or retro arcade space and you’re likely to find a rodent infestation so stubborn that visitors are expected to bludgeon the pests to death with a mallet. Despite receiving thousands of concussive blows, these creatures are virtually guaranteed to continue being a nuisance—and for the game’s operators, their seeming indestructibility is a lucrative source of revenue.

Whac-A-Mole, first introduced in 1976 by the Bob’s Space Racers (BSR) amusement company out of Florida, is a cabinet game that features plastic-molded moles raised and lowered on mechanical sticks to be walloped by players wielding a foam club. Despite all of the moving parts, it’s generally understood that the games will require only minimal maintenance: a new washer every now and then, and maybe a cleaning.

That’s why the sudden failure of several Whac-A-Mole machines beginning in 2008 was so strange. BSR began fielding calls from unhappy customers who complained that their units were malfunctioning. After working fine for days or weeks, the units would power down without warning.

Some of them opted to deal directly with Marvin Wimberly, a computer programmer and contractor working for BSR who was able to diagnose and fix what appeared to be a defective module that was infected with a virus.

Before long, both BSR and local authorities would come to believe the repair came easily to Wimberly for a simple reason: They suspected he was the one who infected the modules in the first place.

A Whac-A-Mole game in Cedar Point, Ohio
Sam Howzit, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

According to a 2011 report in the Orlando Sentinel, Wimberly, then 61, had been with BSR since 1980 as an independent contractor. For 22 years, Wimberly wrote the computer programs that told Whac-A-Mole and other games how to interact with players. Wimberly believed his software was his property; BSR believed they owned it—a point of contention that would soon come into dispute.

The work wasn’t always steady, and Wimberly was apparently unhappy with his wages. Following a breakdown in negotiations for BSR to buy his software outright for $500,000, in 2009 he asked that his fee per chip be raised from $60 to $150.

A few months prior, in September 2008, modules began surfacing that were infected with a virus—or what some programmers call a “logic bomb”—that would render the machines useless after a set number of games: sometimes five, sometimes 50, sometimes 511. BSR bought equipment to examine the chips, found the virus, and became convinced that Wimberly had gone rogue. They told police he had sold them 443 infected modules for $51,000, then sat back as the company began to field complaints from operators. When BSR approached Wimberly with offers to fix the chips, he would—and then, according to police, promptly install a new virus that would begin the countdown all over again.

The authorities also believed Wimberly fielded inquiries from disgruntled customers who didn’t want to bother going through BSR for repairs, and even registered a website, bobsupgrades.com, that sought to solicit repair work from amusement operators.

The cabinet art for the Whac-A-Mole arcade game
Nick Gray, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Feeling they had sufficient information from BSR, Orlando authorities arrested Wimberly in February 2011 on charges relating to offenses against intellectual property. He was released after posting $15,000 bail. BSR CFO Michael Lane told the press that Wimberly’s actions had led to roughly $100,000 in losses for the company.

The news media found a lot of humor in poisoning the well of Whac-A-Mole, but Wimberly, who was accused of a second-degree felony, wasn't laughing: He faced 15 years in prison.

Except Wimberly wouldn’t be swatted away so easily. According to court records kept in Volusia County, Florida, Wimberly asserted the virus was a software bug that was a result of new diagnostic procedures, not sabotage. In April 2012, Wimberly argued before a judge that, as the owner of the software under question, he couldn’t be accused of tampering with it—as he owned it outright.

“He is essentially accused of modifying his own software,” read the motion to dismiss, which noted that Wimberly hadn’t been paid for the repairs and was therefore failing to profit from the alleged wrongdoing. The court agreed, and the criminal case was dismissed in April 2013.

But Wimberly wasn’t satisfied. In September 2013, he sued Bob’s Space Racers for misappropriation of trade secrets, accusing them of continuing to sell Whac-A-Mole and other games containing Wimberly’s codes after parting ways with him and without paying any licensing fees. He also alleged that BSR had failed to come to him with news of the virus’s discovery, preferring to build a case against him with local police instead; BSR countered that Wimberly had “intentionally programmed the [chip] software to include a virus” and that he was paid to repair the malfunctioning chips.

The case dragged on for more than two years, inching toward a jury trial. In November 2015, the parties finally reached a settlement with undisclosed terms. A spokesperson for BSR declined to comment to Mental Floss on the matter; Wimberly could not be reached.

If there was an attempt to sabotage Whac-A-Mole, it couldn't be proven to a criminal court's satisfaction. If Wimberly did indeed own the software, his argument that he was free to do with it as he liked would have been weighed against the harm done to BSR's reputation for having to service defective modules. But Wimberly insisted he did not write or install a virus: The accusation that he had, he claimed, was unfounded.

The next time you play, it may be a good idea to remind yourself that the people behind the game often have worse headaches than the moles.

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Matt Stroshane, Disney/Getty Images
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entertainment
The One Phrase Disney Theme Park Characters Aren't Allowed to Say
Matt Stroshane, Disney/Getty Images
Matt Stroshane, Disney/Getty Images

The 14 Disney theme parks located around the world attract so many attendees each year that the company recently decided to increase admission for peak times by 20 percent to help decrease crowd congestion. Anaheim’s Disneyland is such a popular tourist attraction that some days the park is actually at capacity.

What keeps visitors packed in like sardines? The promise of a suspended reality—one that treats the various Disney characters as though they had just stepped out of a movie. There’s a laundry list of employee policies to help sustain that illusion, and Travel + Leisure recently uncovered one of the most interesting ones: Actors dressed as Disney characters are never allowed to say “I don’t know” to guests.

The motivation is understandable: Disney never wants people to feel as though they need to wander around looking for information. If they pose a question to, say, a Disney Princess, the actor is expected to communicate with other employees or areas of the park in order to find the answer. If Elsa doesn't know where the nearest restroom is, she's tasked with finding out before your kid's bladder gives up.

If a guest is looking for general directions, there’s also protocol for how to point. Performers are not allowed to use their index finger by itself. Instead, they use it in conjunction with their middle finger. In addition to index finger-pointing being considered rude in some cultures, legend has it that the gesture was partly inspired by Walt Disney himself, who once roamed the park grounds pointing at structures with two fingers that pinched a cigarette.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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