Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that readers are already familiar with basic facts
about the Haunted Mansion. If you wanna keep up with the big boys, I suggest you check out
first of all the website, Doombuggies.com. After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY: Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009)
and Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014).

This site is not affiliated in any way with any Walt Disney company. It is an independent
fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
All images that are © Disney are posted under commonly understood guidelines of Fair Use.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Ballroom Dancers: The Disaster that Wasn't

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Updated June 1, 2012

The Grand Ballroom scene is the Haunted Mansion's masterpiece, a jawdroppin', show-stoppin', eye-poppin', head-choppin' (Connie! get out) spectacle, and it's not surprising that some amusing trivia has come out of there.  Everyone knows that the DL organ console is Captain Nemo's, a prop from the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea movie.  Another bit of trivia that's fairly well known is that they failed to take into consideration the fact that the figures are reflected—and therefore reversed—and so the ballroom dancers depict the ladies leading the men, which is no doubt gratifying to someone with feminist inclinations ("See?  In the afterlife they finally wise up"), but it's generally regarded as an embarrassing goof.  "I screwed up," admits sculptor Blaine Gibson, with characteristic modesty.


Actually, dancing etiquette was the least of the problems they had with the dancers.  They almost had a disaster with this effect, but that bit of trivia has lain quietly hidden.  Sometimes something is "long forgotten" because someone swept it under the rug and hoped that it would be forgotten.

The effect itself is simple, just a bunch of mannequins spinning on turntables (perhaps too simple—Rolly Crump has been known to criticize it as too obvious).  There are six couples in all, two sets of three on two adjacent turntables.  The blueprints tell the story.



They store junk anywhere and everywhere inside the HM's.  Hey, if the guests can't see it, it doesn't exist.


Strangely enough, in some early photography, there are only three couples, not six.  That's what you see in this pre-opening publicity photo, probably taken in the summer of 1969:


It's even on film.  Filming the interior of the HM has always been difficult, so the detailed ride-thru footage done by WDI (then WED) for their own in-house use quickly became available in edited form as stock interior footage for the HM.  It's endlessly recycled, and you still see snippets of it any time they want to show something inside the Mansions.  The famous Disneyland Showtime TV episode featuring the Osmond brothers (aired March 22, 1970) made heavy use of the WED footage.  The main point of interest here is that this film was shot well before the HM opened, once again, probably during the summer of 1969.  And in the ballroom scene, there are only three couples swirling around ("You can see right through the dancers!" says Donny.  Yep, and it doesn't take long, since there aren't very many to see through.)

Some party.  Looks kinda lonely out there.

How come three couples, not six?  Because they thought they could get by with a single turntable with three revolving couples, multiplied with mirrors.  Again, the blueprints tell the tale:



Well, why not?  Multiplying objects with artfully arranged mirrors was by now an old Imagineering trick.  They had used it to create a swirling mass of ghostly spinning wheels in the original Sleeping Beauty Diorama walk-thru (and in the 2008 remake of this attraction, this scene was restored):



More recently, they had used mirrors to create a vast sea of water molecules out of just a few models, over at the Adventure Thru Inner Space:


So what could go wrong?  With a V-shaped mirror, you quadruple the object within the V.  See, like this:








Yes I know that the figures aren't reflecting themselves accurately in the mirrors.  This a rough sketch, just to give you an idea.  It actually looks pretty good.  I set up three chessmen on a phonograph turntable and grabbed a couple of mirrors, and it wasn't hard at all to visualize twelve couples gettin' down to that funky sound.

Alrighty, so what's the problem?  Well, the scene above is the view from the doombuggy when it's directly in front of (and above) the dancers.  But of course the dancers are visible the whole time you're scooting along the balcony.  We need to start with more of a side view, like this:


.       Whoops, wait a sec.  We forgot to put up the mirrors.


.         Oh snap.

You know, I sure hope they figured this out before they ordered those huge, expensive mirrors.  There is no sign of the mirrors in the publicity shot or the film footage we looked at above, but I suspect that they knew by then that they had a little problem here and a second turntable with another three couples was in the works.  Maybe it was not yet built or not yet installed.  The thing is, they were still counting on the mirror effect in April.  That's when the blueprint above was done.  That means that there was a maximum of four months (and possibly much less than that) for them to (1) notice the problem, (2) kick themselves for being so stupid, (3) come up with a solution, and (4) build and install it.

By comparison, Blaine's little "screw-up" with the ladies leading the men was small potatoes.

14 comments:

  1. FINALLY, a blog with fresh new and fascinating info on our favorite attraction, instead of the same things we mansion fans have heard over and over again. Thank you Dan! I love your blog!

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  2. Thanks! I hope people are enjoying reading it as much as I enjoy doing it.

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  3. I no that it is a bit late, but since we are in the ballroom I have a question.

    The Organ faces and the atic Jack-in-the-box heads are the same but did the WDI get the inspiration in the famous painting by Munch "The Scream" (1893) because I also noticed it in the conservatory coffin.

    By the way nice blog you got there I love it.

    P.S. I am a portuguese HM fan and I'm sorry if my english isn't good.

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  4. The Munch painting is so famous that its image of a screaming face is probably somewhere in everyone's mind, so you can never rule it out as an indirect influence, but I don't think it was a direct influence on the things you mention.

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  5. Nice post. I never knew that. Gotta love those dancers!

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  6. Again - great research and information - I had never heard of this! The mirrors things are tricky. You'll notice that in that original Earle concept art, a dark, shadowy Maleficent is shown. We could never determine if they tried to put her in the 1957 show, as there were a few pages of blueprints from that scene that we never did turn up. We did know, however, that we'd likely get Maleficent images repeating to infinity if we tried it - and one of my co-workers on the project very wisely talked me out of trying (among other things)!

    Thanks for all the information!

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  7. Since the spinning wheel scene lasted until 1977, there should be a lot of eyewitness accounts around. My recollection is that there was nothing but spinning wheels in the scene. Of course, it could have been altered between the debut and the mid-sixties, which is about as far back as I can remember anything in detail. Strictly FWIW.

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  8. Another fascinating post!! :D

    The one thing that I have always wondered is where the actual ballroom dancers are?? Are they directly under where the doombuggies are?? And if you were to stand on the ballroom floor, would you be able to see them??

    Sorry...lengthy question. xD

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  9. The actual dancers are directly below you, under the balcony, just like all the other figures at floor level. They are all visible from the ballroom, on the other side of the glass panes.

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  10. Thanks for this utterly delightful post! Terrifically fun all around!

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  11. I see another even more compelling reason for not using the mirrors to multiply the dancers. The fastest way to wreck the suspension of disbelief of a pepper's ghost is to allow the ghost's reflection to appear outside the confines of the room, or to place an object in the stage room and not the same object on the ghost side of the glass called the "blue room." For instance, in the ballroom's blue room, the there is a dining table that mirrors the one in the actual ball room. If there wasn't you would be able to see all of the ghost laying on the floor; you would be able to see the ghost through the birthday decorations and table in the ballroom. This would ruin the illusion of the ghosts being under the table and translucent and make the table appear to be a ghost.

    The problem with using mirrors to multiply the dancers is distance. The mirrored turntable ghosts would look like they were dancing in a room beyond (and through) the back wall of the ballroom making the wall appear clear or the ghosts appear to be what they are, a reflection.

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    1. I've thought about that, and I think you're right about it diminishing the effect, but it's hard for me to believe they didn't realize the dancers would extend that far back. That would have been obvious with even the most minimum testing with models. Since the dancers as they are today dance right through the furniture, it may be that they thought it would be okay even if they pierced the back wall, as if they were on an eternal, unbounded dance floor that ignored the house walls. Whatever the reason, the mirrors would have been a disaster.

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  12. Love your blog! I've always wondered, if the direction of the dancers was such an embarrassment, why didn't they just reverse the direction of the turntable when they realized?

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    1. Good question! I suppose that they have never thought it was worth the bother.

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