That word covers a lot of territory, from Casper the Friendly to Hamlet's father, from trick-or-treat bag white-sheeters to the really scary ones in literature, cinema, and legend, to say nothing of reports of reputedly real hauntings. One of the fundamental decisions that confronted the Imagineers who put together the Haunted Mansion was choosing which ghosts and ghoulies to put before the public. It was like writing a recipe. How much should the Mansion rely—if at all—on cinematic ghosts? or Halloween decoration ghosts? or established dark ride traditions? The long gestation period of the Haunted Mansion and the conflicting concepts proposed by the many Imagineers who worked on it ensured that the recipe for the attraction would go through many permutations before it was finalized. But Marc Davis's famous verdict to the effect that this particular broth was spoiled by too many cooks is refuted by the ride's growing and often passionate fan base. Mmm-mmm good. Mighty tasty, that recipe.
This post takes a look at some of the approaches they seriously considered but eventually rejected, and why. Curiously enough, for anyone who is interested in this topic, there is a set of paintings that serves almost as an index of the Mansion's disused and discarded concepts: The "Sinister 11" portraits. These are found at WDW and Tokyo, but they were never used at Disneyland.
I'm sure that many of you are already aware that most of the Sinister 11 represent unused ideas for changing portraits. Two of them did indeed become changing portraits at DL (Medusa and "December" from the April-December set); the rest became static paintings with "follow-you" eyes. Until 2007 at WDW they were all in a nice neat corridor. At Tokyo, that's still so. Since 2007, most of the Orlando set can be seen in the load area, with a few placed elsewhere in the ride. However, they no longer stare at you as you go by. It's interesting enough to discover that many of these are really truncated changing portraits; it's even more interesting (to me, anyway) when you realize that they are, in several cases, signposts pointing to paths not taken.
Davis's concept sketch (upper left). In the upper right is Jack as he's seen today. The bottom two
are from the eyes-follow-you days, an effect made possible through the magic of half a ping pong ball.
Jack is all that remains of Ken Anderson's and then Marc Davis's ambitious plans to use a variety of colorful historical villains in the Mansion. Ken's 1957 show scripts included Anne Boleyn, Lucrezia Borgia, Anne Bonny, Jack the Ripper, and King Tut (not really a villain, of course, but fully historical and . . . sorta creepy). From that list, Marc kept Anne Boleyn . . .
. . . and Mr. Ripper. He also added a number of historical villains of his own, including Guy Fawkes and Ivan the Terrible. (By the way, these were not going to be changing portraits but talking portraits, I am told.) As an aside, it's always fun to speculate about the models Marc may have used in drawing his sketches—in these cases caricatures of historical figures.
portrait of the famous Gunpowder Plot conspirator. The lower left sketch is by George Cruikshank,
a famous caricaturist previously mentioned in our discussion of the Phantom Drummer of Tedworth.
It's very likely that Davis knew his work. In the present case, note the feather in the hat.
a model, almost by default. It's harder to say whether this other thing (below) was laid under
contribution. I kinda doubt it, but then again, there's that helmet-like crown, so maybe . . . .
Well, it's pretty enough to justify putting it up on the board in any event:
Marc was still open to this approach at the time they were planning Tokyo Disneyland, and he did a concept sketch showing an animated crypt full of "famous villians" [sic], including Nero, the subject of a Davis sketch GRD got hold of. Maybe the concept was for him to be a talking, moving statue. Nero, that is, not GRD. Whatever it was, this too came to nothing.
In the end, only one or two historical characters survived the sifting process. And at Disneyland, there is no Jack the Ripper portrait, so Edward, the Black Prince is all you get in the Anaheim original.
When we turn to ghosts and creeps from literature and cinema, the story is much the same: This was going to be a major source, but there is little evidence of it in the actual attraction. Anderson scripted in cameos by Marley and Scrooge, Little Eva and Simon Legree (from Uncle Tom's Cabin), the Canterville Ghost (from an Oscar Wilde play by that name), Captain Hook (at that time, probably inspired more directly by the Barrie play than by the relatively recent Disney treatment of the character), Dracula, the Frankenstein monster, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the Phantom of the Opera. Of these, Davis kept only Dracula, an obvious and easy choice for a changing portrait:
Upper right is some impressive concept artwork.
Lower left, another example from the Sinister 11.
Lower right is a painter prepared Drac for Tokyo
Disneyland, from Eyes and Ears magazine (Mar
27, 1981), a very nice find by Master Gracey
But as usual, Davis proposed a few such characters of his own. A couple were from classical mythology. There's Medusa, an original changing portrait at DL (as she is also now at WDW) and an original Sinister 11 member at Tokyo and WDW.
Just as the Sinister 11 "ogre" is actually a recycled design based on an unused Rasputin changing portrait, so also the S 11 "arsonist" is based on an unused changing portrait, this one depicting a wolfman. It's not clear whether Marc's wolfman owes anything to cinematic or literary archetypes. The same is true of Dracula, actually. In fact, you cannot find any indisputable case of borrowing directly from the movies to provide a specific character for the Mansion. The only example of this I can find anywhere in Mansion concept art is Ken Anderson's Frankenstein, which is obviously molded in the moldy mold of Boris Karloff.
Marc was big on the black cat thing, too. (Lower right: dude, Ken's weather vane lives!) But the only Davis black
cats that survived into the finished Mansion are to be found—surprise!—in a couple of the Sinister 11 portraits.
A few notes on the spiders: They originally had one of these orange guys in the big web of the DL "Limbo" load area through which the doombuggies descended (which web has been gone since about 2001) . . .
. . . . but they eventually changed it to a more realistic color scheme. I think it's a natural law: all giant spiders gravitate toward the Mexican Orange-Kneed Tarantula look (you know, the one you always see in the movies).
After this post was already written and in the can, lo and behold FoxxFur decided to take up the topic of Disney's giant spiders. That's karma for you. Anyway, if you want to explore Disney's arachnophilia further, check it out.
To sum up our study so far: All that is left of specific historical characters in the HM are the Jack the Ripper and (probably) Edward, the Black Prince portraits. All that is left of specific literary, mythological, and cinematic characters are the Dracula and Medusa portraits and Bluebeard's crypt. In the style and manner of Halloween decor, all that is left are some giant spiders at Tokyo—assuming that is a valid categorization for them in the first place—and probably the bat weather vane at WDW.
Hey, how about traditional dark ride phantasmagoria? Didn't they consider that approach? Well, there are the popup ghosts, of course, widely understood as a hat tip to the HM's dark ride roots.
Some would argue that the coffin guy is an adaptation of the coffin popper, or "Dead Dan" gag, a spookhouse perennial. That's probably valid. Maybe the hanging corpse. Beyond that, I don't see much reliance on the haunted house dark ride tradition.
However, in contrast to the approaches discussed above, I don't know that the Imagineers ever planned to use the spookhouse template further than they did, so it probably doesn't belong in a discussion of approaches that have left a smaller footprint than originally contemplated.
Time for the big "so what?" moment. Goodness knows, you've been patient long enough.
What is the common thread running through all of these ultimately rejected approaches?
All of them betray a basic insecurity, an attempt to borrow scare credentials from pre-existing, pre-packaged sources. In rejecting these approaches, the Imagineers voted for originality. The Haunted Mansion would stand on its own two feet, or it wouldn't stand at all. No shortcuts, no quick and easy goosebumps by putting a Frankenstein monster in there or having a Pit and the Pendulum scene. We have done a lot of posts ferreting out ghostly inspirations in myth, literature, and history for such things as the attic bride, the graveyard band, the hearse and coachman, the decapitated knight, and the mummy scene, just to name some of the more interesting ones. In every case the inspirations are inspirations only. The Mansion characters themselves are originals. After 40 years, they've made their way into the popular cultural consciousness, and you can speak of Madame Leota or the Hitchhiking Ghosts in the same breath as Frankenstein or Dracula, so familiar are they. But at one time, they represented a creative risk. In other words . . .