With every May 1st, comes another birthday for the Disney Hollywood Studios. Now, if you read our blog regularly, you know that we don’t call it the Disney Hollywood Studios here. Most often, we go by the abbreviated MGM or Disney-MGM – even if the initials for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has long since been removed from the name.
When the park opened in 1989, I had no idea what a huge influence this park would have on me, or what a substantial role it would have in my life. I had watched all of the preview shows, and acknowledged the glitz and the glamour, but the opening of Walt Disney World’s 3rd Theme Park opened doors to entertainment that I had no idea existed. The first five years of MGM’s life greatly affected my formidable years (I was 14 when the park opened – and by ‘formidable’ I mean ‘arousing feelings of awe or admiration’). Here’s a few of them:
1) Streetmosphere/Citizens of Hollywood: These interactive characters from the 1940’s, from the starlet, to the girl off the bus, to the public works crew, to the detectives, set a tone for the park that was unmatched and unrivaled. When Sunset Boulevard opened in the mid-90’s they scaled back a bit to the ‘side of the road’ bits you see now. I am not saying one period is better than the other, it was just a different time and different place.
For me, personally, setting the tone soon became downright obsessive. I was completely fascinated with the actors ability to develop comedy gold with structured improvisation, staying true to their characters at all times. Then, in their moments when they weren’t striking comedy gold, many would take the time to have a one on one conversation with guests in character – thus personalizing a theatrical experience. Some of you today know him as Jack Diamond, but The Great H.P. was a master of this in addition to his sleight of hand skills.
In December of 1990, a cab driver named Rusty pulled me into a bit and my life was forever altered. It still took another year to realize I wanted to be in entertainment after this moment, but improvisation and interactive theatre became a huge part of my life… And still is.
2) Introduction to Classic Movies: In the days before TCM, maybe you would catch a classic film on a Saturday afternoon. I only remember Bruce Lee films. The Great Movie Ride opened my eyes to Jimmy Cagney and Bogart. I wanted to know every movie in the finale montage. And the idea of a dark ride attraction broken up with human interaction was another mind blowing concept to me. “Whattayou lookin’ at”
3) Re-Introduction to my Formative Years: By the time I visited the Disney-MGM Studios in December of ’89, I had already seen ‘Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade’ (my favorite of the the Indy’s), but the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular reintroduced me to ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. I had just missed the Star Tours opening in my first visit by a couple of days, but that ride (and its gift shop) reintroduced me to my childhood obsession, and reminded me of when, on my 1st ever visit to WDW, I wished that ‘all of the Star Wars men were here’ (https://dillosdiz.wordpress.com/2009/09/02/a-penny-or-four-billion-for-a-thought/) and now they were here (And Now, they OWN them!!!).
4) The New Mickey Mouse Club: I usually blame all my guilty pleasures in life on younger Sister Dillo. ‘The New Mickey Mouse Club’ premiered on the Disney Channel a week or so before MGM officially opened. Part of my liking of the show was that it was filmed on site in the theme park’s fully equipped working studios and, occasionally, filmed in the parks, thus giving this viewer glimpse of WDW on days he wasn’t there. But, again, not realizing my trajectory in life, I loved the talents of these kids – not just the singing and the dancing, but the goofy characters they would play. Most of them are lame in retrospect, but they had some abilities and I wanted some (the singing and dancing never came to fruition).
When I started working there in 1995, it was an odd attainable goal to reach. I was going to be working very closely with the famed Disney Characters. The Toy Story Parade had just opened. I can still close my eyes and picture the park as the sun rises before a breakfast shift. This was before Fantasmic & the Rock & Roller Coaster & when there was a residential Backlot…
It’s so easy to become nostalgic for it because it’s a park that was built for nostalgia.
That’s why it’s MGM to me.