Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that its 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).

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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Monday, September 27, 2010

From Creepy Old Flicks All Over the World

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Be sure to check out the updates to this post HERE.
More material was added to this post Nov 1, 2012 and Feb 20, 2014.

When discussing the influences that stimulated this or that element in the Mansion, it would be a mistake to overlook the movies.  By their own testimony, the Imagineers watched spooky films as part of their research, looking for useable ideas.  Whenever this topic is raised, there are two cases that are routinely trotted out to illustrate the point, but rarely does the discussion go much further.  As usual, Long-Forgottenistas demand more.  We shall cast a wider net, and hopefully it will catch us some strange and interesting fish.

The two well-known examples are the bulging doors in the Corridor of Doors, a gag taken from Robert Wise's 1963 horror film, The Haunting, and the human-arm sconces in the crypt, inspired by Jean Cocteau's 1946 interpretation of the Beauty and the Beast story, La Belle et la Bête.  The latter film in particular was (I should say "is") a favorite of Rolly Crump.




Concerning each of these two there are a few more things to be said.  Fear not.  Your blog
administrator is willing to break down any door if it will provide further illumination.

With regard to The Haunting, we know exactly when the Imagineers had a private screening and who was invited.


So they had plenty of opportunity to examine the film frame by frame, if they so wished.  As it turns out, the bulging door gag is only one of several elements in The Haunting that left their marks in the Corridor of Doors.  Wise doesn't provide very many full-length views of the door, but if you've got a sharp eye you'll notice that the overall design is clearly similar to the Haunted Mansion design.  It's not just the bulging; the entire door is inspired by The Haunting.


Also, it's possible that the HM door jambs, with their fluting and their stylized skulls at the top, were inspired by door jambs that appear all over the place in the main hallway in The Haunting.



It has also been suggested that the COD demon-eye wallpaper owes something to the
creepy wallpaper in The Haunting that provides one of the film's best scenes.


So when you're looking at a bulging door in the HM, including its frame and the wallpaper
around it, you're probably looking at multiple borrowings from various places in The Haunting.

As if all of that weren't enough, the sound of heavy footfalls begins immediately after the door stops
bulging in The Haunting.  An almost identical sound effect was originally planned for the Corridor of Doors.

Similarly, there's a deeper debt to Cocteau's film than the sconce.  First of all, it isn't just the sconce
design itself but the way it is frequently presented in the film: several of them, lined up in a row:


The whole house is alive in La Belle et la Bête.  The fireplace has built-in busts on either side
of the hearth.  Like other statuary in the house, the faces turn and follow Belle as she passes by.




Actually, I sometimes wonder whether the fireplace guy provided a little bit of inspiration
for the animated Leota tombstone at the Orlando Mansion.  Maybe, maybe not.


More interesting, perhaps, is the very idea of statues that silently turn and
watch you as you pass.  Of course, the Mansion has some of those:


The tendency when discussing the follow-you busts is to focus on how the effect is done
and how Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump came up with it.  Here's a Gracey sketch:


By its very nature the effect is going to produce a face that appears to follow you, so I want to be careful not to claim too much.  But La Belle et la Bête was a favorite of Rolly's, as already mentioned, and you can reasonably suspect that he was struck by the way this effect duplicated the eerie statuary in the Cocteau film.  It brought some of the atmosphere of La Belle into the Haunted Mansion, something that must have pleased Mr. Crump.

There are other films known to have influenced the Imagineers.  In a previous post, we discussed an early proposed backstory for the Ghost Host, dubbed "Mr. Meaker," who had a mechanized canopy bed that smothered people with something other than affection.


Ed Squair argues in Disney twenty-three magazine (Fall 2009, pp 28-29), this gag
is taken from William Castle's 1960 schlockfest 13 Ghosts.  Filmed in Illusion-O!!!


The Imagineers watched this film with Walt himself.  I guess it proves that they were unabashed
omnivores when it came to cinematic research.  I wonder if Walt sprang for the popcorn?

Squair may well be correct, but it should be noted that this same gag can
be found in other, older movies.  Here it is in The Ghost Walks (1934):


One area generally missed in these surveys is the Imagineers' apparent penchant for 1920's era horror films, films from different parts of the world.  Lest we overlook the obvious, the Mansion organist, like any phantom organist, probably owes his very existence to Lon Chaney in the classic Phantom of the Opera (1925).



From Hollywood we go to Germany, and F. W. Murnau's 1922 classic, Nosferatu.  A favorite gimmick throughout this first film adaptation of Dracula is to treat Nosferatu's shadow as something dangerous and substantial, emphasizing, I suppose, his unreal existence between the lands of the dead and the living.  In particular, the shadow of his hands is used a number of times to good effect.


Here's a justly famous shot:



And the door opens.  Compare that shot to this Yale Gracey sketch for an unused effect in the Mansion:


I have argued previously that the claw-like shadow of a descending hand, in the Clock Hall, is really the climax of Act One in the three-act play of the Mansion.  It's the closest thing to an actual attack on you in the whole ride.  I suspect that this thematically important gag was inspired at least in part by a scene in Nosferatu, proving, I guess, that shadows can be more dangerous than they look.



From Germany, let us go north to Sweden.  In that same year, 1922, a remarkable documentary film premiered, Benjamin Christensen's Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages.  One scene depicting the departure of witches for the Sabbat is very obviously a major inspiration for the similar scene in the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence of Disney's Fantasia.





If Häxan helped populate the skies of "Bald Mountain" with witches and fiendish spirits,
some of those in turn eventually made their way intact from Fantasia into the world of the
Mansions, as you can see from concept art for Phantom Manor.



There were also simpler, more neutral ghosts floating through the skies of the "Bald Mountain" sequence,
and these seem to have migrated through Ken Anderson's imagination and into the final ride.  



So you could argue that the scrim wraiths in the graveyard scene have a cinematic
pedigree, winding their way through Fantasia in 1940 to Häxan in 1922.

"Bald Mountain" was one of three in-house, Disney films that were heavily referenced as the various Imagineers brainstormed the future Haunted Mansion during the 50's and early 60's.  The other two were  The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, with its famous Headless Horseman sequence, and a 1937 Mickey Mouse short, Lonesome Ghosts.  Ken Anderson, of course, had a whole script worked out that would incorporate the Headless Horseman directly into the HM, as many of you already know.  That came to nothing, but that doesn't mean that incidental details from Ichabod didn't find their way into the finished Mansion.  The style of wraith found below is pretty generic, but the detailed correspondence to Collin Campbell's artwork and to the bikers in the attraction is certainly suggestive.


Lonesome Ghosts also gave Ken Anderson ideas.  He was going to incorporate a friendly ghost with that very name, "Lonesome Ghost," as a sort of host alongside the human tour guide during the walk-thru.  Didn't happen, of course, but a more substantial contribution from LG is the very idea of prankish, fun-loving ghosts turning a haunted house into their personal playground, scaring human interlopers just for amusement, and no harm done.  If you look at it that way, this little cartoon foreshadows the Mansion more fully than any other film.  Gorsh.


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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jean Lafitte and the "Mega-Theme" Temptation

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Note:  New information was added at the end of the post in January, 2012.

The solid, factual core behind today's topic is plenty fascinating in its own right, but the phenomenon goes beyond that core.  If you extend it both backwards and forwards in time, what was merely a fascinating example of "lost imagineering" (to borrow a phrase from 2719 Hyperion), becomes something mysterious and intriguing and perhaps a little ominous as well.  Something wicked this way comes.

We will start where everybody starts when discussing this topic.  There is a curious, bricked-up, sunken archway in the esplanade along the river front, out in front of the Haunted Mansion.



What that is, is the tip of an enormous imagineering iceberg, an ambitious concept that came to naught.  Or so we are told.  The first published discussion of it, I do believe, was by Kevin Yee, in a book he co-authored with Jason Schultz, 101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland.  Number 27 on the list is the mysterious archway:

A canal in New Orleans Square, labeled "1764," is all that remains of a plan to unify several themes in the land.

The plan called for a crypt next to the Mansion that led into an underground catacomb of treasure and dead pirates, culminating in a pirate-themed hideout on Tom Sawyer Island. The pirate theme would have focused on Jean Laffite, a real-life pirate from the early 1800s in New Orleans. Laffite’s name might be familiar to frequent Disneyland visitors from the Pirates of the Caribbean loading zone, where a sign reads "Laffite’s Landing." The date 1764 was derived by subtracting 200 years from the birth date of one Imagineer who worked on the project.
[Editor's note: this was Matt McKim, son of legendary Imagineer Sam McKim.] FURTHERMORE: Before its replacement with La Petite Patisserie, there was also a Laffite’s Silver Shop in New Orleans Square. Having a Jean Laffite identified as the "owner" of the Haunted Mansion would have united Pirates of the Caribbean with the Mansion and the island into one underlying theme, an unusual feat for an entire land. Though unrealized, the plan lives on in the form of this barricaded "crypt."

This was the brainchild of Eddie Sotto, a brilliant Imagineer who joined WDI (then WED) in 1986 and eventually became Senior Vice President of Concept Design there.  He left WDI in 1999 to form his own company.  In subsequent conversations, both public and private, Sotto has vouched for the accuracy of Yee's report and supplied further details about this amazing project.  The esplanade was redone in the early 90's in order to improve the area for Fantasmic! viewing (and whatever other shows might come along).  Sotto had the cryptic archway put in at that time as a kind of "note to self" with regard to the Jean Lafitte project.

To elaborate the concept further, after entering a crypt near the Mansion (NOT the riverfront archway) you would tunnel through a series of secret chambers lined with skeletal victims of pirate/privateer Jean Lafitte (or "Laffite"; you see both spellings).  These tunnels were inspired by the catacombs of Paris.  It would represent a sort of macabre tribute to Lafitte's fallen comrades and shadowy conquests.



Rumors of hidden treasure.  There was a smuggling theme in all of this too.  Anyway, you would eventually emerge into the hold of a buried ship on Tom Sawyer Island, and ascend to the surface there.  Fort Wilderness would be replaced with another, capsized ship, full of treasure, covered with foliage and serving as a pirate hideout on the island.  There would be lots of things for the kids, like a cannon-firing arcade and a saloon where you could get pop-rocks mixed in your drinks (pop-rocks being a big candy fad at the time), this latter feature in imitation of Chinese pirates, who mixed gunpowder in their grog, Sotto tells us.


Like Yee says, the project would have combined Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and Tom Sawyer Island under an umbrella mega-theme, revolving around Jean Lafitte.  Disneyland's grand poobah at the time, Paul Pressler, looked at the proposal, said no, and that was supposedly that.

Sotto has repeatedly said that the original inspiration for this big idea came from (1) the "Laffite's Landing" sign in POTC, and (2) the historical fact that the island of Barataria lay off the coast of the real New Orleans and served as a hideout for Jean Lafitte and a base of operations for the clandestine smuggling and selling taking place between him and the residents of New O.  The presence of Tom Sawyer Island across from New Orleans Square naturally suggested Barataria to Mr. Sotto.



Sotto boned up on Lafitte and found him to be a fascinating character, very much tied into the history of America at the time (early 19th c.).  He sided with the U.S. against the British in the War of 1812 and was a significant player at the Battle of New Orleans, where he rubbed shoulders with another equally colorful character, Major General Andrew Jackson, who later rewarded Lafitte for his "patriotism" when he became the nation's seventh president.  Much of the fascination with Lafitte lies in his ambiguity: a pirate? a smuggler? a patriot? a hero?  Take your pick.



So far, what I've given you are just the facts, ma'am.  But at this point . . . mysteries begin to multiply.  First of all, it is hard for me to believe that the "Laffite's Landing" sign really is the Disneyland artifact that first inspired this grand idea.  However much the sign may have boosted it, I would think that the suggestion was ultimately *ahem* anchored in a different Disneyland artifact.  [NOTE: See now Mr. Sotto's remarks in the Comments section.]

When the esplanade was redone, a lovely garden patch was incorporated, with a ship's anchor in it.  Note well:  this was done on Sotto's watch.



.                                  You did notice the plaque, didn't you?



When I first saw that, I figured it must have come from the hand of Sotto himself.  It obviously fits in with the Lafitte über-theme.  No wonder it's so close to the mysterious archway.  The problem is, it didn't come from Sotto.  Previously, the anchor had been sitting out in front of the Golden Horseshoe.  Here it is in 1989:



The plaque, the plaque!  Lemme see the plaque.  Gotta see the plaque.


Hmm.  Okay.  But 1989, you say?  Then it could still be a Sotto artifact, theoretically.
Well, no.  Here it is . . . in 1964.



It gets better.  Before this, the anchor had been on display in front of what is today the River Belle Terrace area.  Here it is in the 1950's:


The plaque, the plaque!  You wanna see the plaque, right?  So did Dave.
(Daveland, you rock.  I want all you readers to go to one of his sites right now, and . . . I dunno. . . buy something.)


The fact is, the anchor has been around since opening day at Disneyland, and the plaque has always read exactly as it does today.



What is also curious is that the plaque has been lovingly maintained all these years, which seems a little odd for such a minor DL artifact.  It's been redone several times, as you can see from the photos above.  Even this one from the 90's, which needed a little touching up but was not really that bad . . . 


. . . was replaced with a temporary and then a permanent new one, which is at least the fourth version, and possibly the fifth.



Well, maybe Sotto just forgot about the anchor and left it out inadvertently when he was talking about his earliest inspirations for the Lafitte thing.  And maybe its careful maintenance is just that, an example of unusually good maintenance.  Interesting, but there are no mysteries here.

Maybe not, but there are mysteries a-plenty coming up.  Like I said, Sotto left in 1999.  But it is clear that someone has continued to carry the torch for this project.  First of all, there's the Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island thing.  You may think that it is simply Disney's attempt to cash in on the pirate mania sparked by the wildly successful POTC flicks.  Of course it is, but it is also obvious that it is drawing inspiration from several of Sotto's ideas; e.g., wrecked ships on the island, hidden treasure, secret tunnels, pirate hideouts.  Well why not?  Those were good, fun ideas, based on a pirate theme, all ready to pull out of the dead letter files when the POTC craze hit.

Yes, of course, of course.  But why this utterly unnecessary name-dropping, then?



Much weirder and harder to explain are the other Lafitte cameos from the 2000's.  Buena Vista pictures wrote an official backstory to go with the Haunted Mansion movie (2003), called "The Legend of Gracey Manor."  There you can read about secret passages and tunnels connecting the house with both a graveyard crypt and the river front, useful for smuggling.  This was all very handy since the builder of Gracey Manor had a "secret association with pirate Jean Laffite," and the Graceys could use the tunnels to hide, as they did, for example, during the War of 1812, when they hid from the British.




(screen caps from Doombuggies.com)

At the movie's official website, a condensed version of "The Legend" could be found.  The reference to Jean Lafitte wasn't there, but the hiding-from-the-British thing was retained:


None of this made it into the actual movie.  It's just needless name-dropping, with obvious allusions to Sotto's concept.

In 2006, Doombuggies.com premiered an exclusive audio file, "Nuptial Doom", an elaborate retelling of the original backstory for the Haunted Mansion, based on the old Ken Anderson sea-captain tale.  You know the one:  Girl marries mansion's owner and later discovers he's a bloodthirsty pirate.  Murder.  Suicide.  Ghosts.   The story is told by Kat Cressida, the voice of Constance.


It's credited largely to Kat Cressida herself, but a lot of WDI talent shows up in the "special thanks to" column, including some pretty big names.  Anyway, in "Nuptial Doom," we learn that the sea-captain owner of the Mansion was "a compatriot to Jean Lafitte himself," with a passing reference to the War of 1812 for good measure.  More completely needless name-dropping.

We've mentioned Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans alongside Lafitte.  Whole books have been devoted to exploring their rich and complex relationship.



Of course, if you had a special interest in Old Hickory, you would have wanted to drop by Fort Wilderness years ago and see his tableau there.


When the Fort closed in 2002, many of Jackson's props were put into the attic of the Haunted Mansion, including such personal effects as his uniform, his boots, and his chair (and LOTS of other stuff too).  When Constance moved into the attic in 2006, with all of her wedding junk, none of Jackson's personal items were removed.  If anything, they were placed in even more conspicuous view.

.                                      That's from 2002



The tendency to retire props from the Fort Wilderness tableau into the HM attic actually goes back to the 90's.  The second, gold-framed Geo. Washington portrait (seen above) moved there in 2002, but in doing so it was only following the lead of the first one—the one it replaced—which probably went there in 1995.


Recall that one element of the Sotto mega-theme ties the Mansion into the Lafitte universe by making him an owner of the house at some point, according to Yee.  Are Jackson's effects merely a typical example of recycling of props and nothing more?  If this phenom were standing alone, I'd say yes.  But in view of all the other creepy goings-on, I can't help feeling a little more conspiratorial.  For his part, Sotto denies any involvement in this transfer of Jackson props, and doesn't even know anyone from WDI personally who would be responsible.  He had no knowledge of it, and as far as he's concerned it's a big nothing.  A coincidence.  Similarly, he had no knowledge of the other Lafitte name-dropping and allusions to his concept in the movie background materials or in "Nuptial Doom" until they were brought to his attention.

There's more.  For awhile there were popular outdoor pirate shows in New Orleans Square, with comedy and music, another way to play off of the pirate craze inspired by the POTC movies.  They had a platform—not far from the anchor and the arch, actually—and some interesting props.



Hmmm.  Pirate smuggling activity.  Not really an element of the POTC movies, was it?

.                                                                          (pic by Frogberto)

Plus, any Mansion fan worth his salt immediately recognized the portrait.  It's the greatly-missed April-December changing portrait, removed from the HM in 2005 in order to make room for "Master Gracey."


(Actually, to be perfectly accurate, it's neither "April" nor "December."  It's "June."  As many of you know, the April-December portrait was originally supposed to have four phases, not two.)




Looking at that platform, you'd almost get the impression that someone was trying to tie the POTC and the HM together in some way, and that the Someone was just as interested in the old Sotto mega-theme as in the POTC movies.

Furthest down the list of possible manifestations of this Lafitte shadow-theme is The Chair.  We thrashed this one around quite a bit over at the "Long-Forgotten" threads on Micechat.  Suffice it to say, it has been noticed that Connie's husband Reginald, Jack Sparrow over at POTC, and Edward Gracey in the HM movie, all use the exact same chair.


This was more interesting when we thought the chair was a unique design, but in fact it's pretty common.    The upholstery, however, indicates that yes, it's true: the Sparrow and Reginald chairs are probably recycled props from the HM movie.  And if we didn't know that there was this subterranean impulse trying to tie the POTC and HM together under one theme, "recycled movie props" would be all there is to say about it.

Not conspiratorial enough for you?  Alrighty, hold on to your tin-foil hats:  note that Reginald and his chair are precisely where a portrait of April-December hangs in the photo of the attic scale model.  Happy now?


Oh no . . . the tentacles!  the tentacles!
Okay, I'm sorry, but this is where I get off.  Time to get a grip and pull back from the brink.
"Set down the keyboard, sir, and slowly back away."

There's an argument to be made that this is all just a string of coincidences, because these things are far, far too subtle to be deliberate show elements.  For example, who would ever notice that Andrew Jackson's uniform or his chair from the old Fort Wilderness tableau is now in the Haunted Mansion attic?  Surely not one rider in 100 million.  The same goes for some of this other stuff.  It must be Disney thrift or laziness at work, and the (admitted) curious resonances with the discarded Jean Lafitte mega-theme must be put down to coincidence, since most of them cannot reasonably be considered show elements.

But I think we make a mistake if we box ourselves into a choice between "deliberate show element" and "coincidence" as the only two options.  There is also something I would call "manufactured karma," executed with an eye to the future.  If I were an Imagineer of standing, and I hoped ardently that this Lafitte thing might some day be resurrected and realized, then heck yeah I'd be tempted to plant little things around to make it feel more real, more inevitable.  It's a hyper-geek thing.  Manufactured karma.  Putting something tangible in there that gives you a private buzz, a creative tingle.  Some of it may be discernible by the public, and some of it not.  Of course, one reason to do some of it at a level that the public can sense is to make the thing seem natural when it appears.  Plaster a big "Lafitte's Tavern" sign on the building on TSI years in advance, and when Lafitteland finally debuts it seems a little less foreign; why, it's almost familiar.  Like it's been there all along.

Do I have a suspicion about who is behind all of this, who is carrying the Lafitte torch?  Yes I do.  Will I name this person?  No I won't.

Now, finally, the "mega-theme temptation" of the title.  It's exciting and fun to spin out a full-blown reality.  A master theme that combines several attractions sounds just too, too cool—to the person doing it.  Also to the people learning about it and experiencing it—for awhile.  Then it gets boring.  You need to have room to create an imaginative construct of your own and not have someone else's foisted on you.  That's why I'm against "official backstories" on principle.  I've been robbed.  Someone else's imagination is boxing in mine.  They can't see that, or feel it, precisely because it IS their own creation, the product of their own imagination.  "Why doesn't everyone else get off on my personal vision as much as I do?  I don't get it."

No mega-themes, please, Lafitte or otherwise.  In that regard, leave the Mansion (and POTC, and TSI) alone, so future guests can breathe and dream their own dreams, and so they can make their own connections, or none at all, as they please.
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NEW INFO

On March 11, 2011, Eddie Sotto ("Dr. Bitz" in the Comments) went from skeptic (pretty much) to believer (pretty much), when he saw the following new bulletin board at Disneyland:





This first came up in the Comments section, and I thought the new data belonged here in the post itself.  It ties Huck and Tom in with a certain "Jackson Island" and suggests that Jean Lafitte once used the island as a headquarters.  This gives a boost not only to the Jean Lafitte theme but to the shadowy Andrew Jackson connections in our grand conspiracy.