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, After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (NY: Disney Editions; 2015). That's the
re-named third edition of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY:
Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009). Also essential reading is Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized
Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014; 2nd ed. 2016).

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.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Father of the Haunted Mansion, Part Four

After the ponderous parade of parallels in the previous posts, possibly you're a little pooped.  I can imagine an objection right about now:

"Sure, there are gobs of individual inspirations and hold-overs from Ken Anderson's two years of labor on the Disneyland Ghost House, but when deciding who (if anyone) deserves the title, 'Father of the Haunted Mansion,' you need to go beyond details and think thematically as well.  Who is most responsible for the over-all personality of the attraction?  Who set its tone?  Surely Marc Davis has to be considered here, and possibly X. Atencio, who wrote the final show script."

Those guys are certainly worthy of consideration, and a case may be made for either of them, but even in this arena there are two BIG reasons to award the palm to Ken Anderson.

Nuptial Doom

First, it was Ken's idea to use a wedding or marriage gone south as the central motif of the Mansion's backstory.  It plays a role in all of his show scripts.  In the oldest, "The Legend of Captain Gore," innocent young Priscilla has recently married (or is about to marry) a mysterious Captain Gore, who turns out to be a bloodthirsty pirate, much to her horror.  He kills her.  She haunts him.  He kills himself.  Now they both haunt.  Talk about your bad karma; it's doubtful that even Dr. Phil could have salvaged that marriage.

In the second script, "Bloodmere Manor," we hear a lot about the ill-fated, accursed, Blood family.  Their "supreme tragedy" happened on the eve of their daughter's wedding, when an event, "too horrible to mention" prevented the marriage.  On every anniversary of the non-event the spirits attempt to complete the ceremony, trying to lift some curse.  The show climaxes at the Grand Hall, where many famous ghosts from history and literature are assembled for the wedding.  The groom lifts the bride's head off her shoulders and gives it a kiss.  She slaps him.  "All hell breaks loose."  Wedding = epic fail.  Try again next year, I guess.

Anderson's "third" version seems more like a variation of the second. Walt Disney himself does the recorded narration,
and the wedding is now a match between Monsieur Bogeyman and Mlle. Vampire, but with no better results, apparently.

Let me be Frank. Ghost House Version #3 was a stinkeroo, even though the narration was to be done by Walt himself. The "Bloodmere Manor" script is chock full of historical and literary ghosts, but GH3 brings in monsters and such. Anderson spoke of this in 1992 to The "E" - Ticket Magazine: "At the time, we [he and Walt] talked about Dracula and Frankenstein and other Universal monsters...we were trying to get in everybody." The most important newcomer was the Headless Horseman, from Disney's own The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

The Horseman is usually cited as Anderson's "fourth" version, but that's even less justifiable than labeling GH3 a separate version rather than a development from GH2 ("Bloodmere"). The Headless Horseman was restricted to a single scene, and that scene in some form goes all the way back to GH1, a version of the Captain Gore backstory. Ken just added the HH to existing storylines. All of these had a wedding event at their climax.

So a doomed marriage or a wedding gone awry lies at the center of all of Anderson's Ghost House backstories.  Obviously, with the mysterious attic bride now emphasized and centralized more than ever in the Constance saga, we can point to Anderson as the fons et origo of this motif.

In 1992, Ken Anderson sketched his
lady ghost for "E"- Ticket magazine

Scary vs. Silly: So Silly it's Scary

The other reason for regarding Anderson as the Man is that he wrote the recipe for a haunted attraction combining horror and comedy, screams and laughs.  That claim requires some elaboration.  Fortunately (or unfortunately—take your pick), Long-Forgotten is all about elaboration.

In practically every account of the Haunted Mansion's history that you read, the "scary vs. silly" controversy is put forth as THE explanatory paradigm.  In the mighty struggle between kooky and spooky, so the story goes, you've got Marc Davis in this corner and Claude Coats and X. Atencio in that corner.  We're told that the warring parties eventually worked out a compromise, giving Claude the scary first half of the ride and Davis the funny second half.  That has essentially become the official Disney version, and some of the Imagineers (especially X. Atencio) have been happy to affirm it every time they're asked.

I find this explanation a little too pat, and it falls apart the minute you begin to analyze it.  While it is broadly true that the first half of the ride is spooky and the second half is given over to fun, note that you hit sublime silliness right away with Davis's stretchroom portraits, and later on, Davis's light-hearted second half is interrupted by the scary attic.  Davis is, in fact, the main problem for the prevailing theory.  Some people seem to think he always lobbied for the humorous approach, but that kind of pigeon-holing won't do.  Look at his changing portraits, both actual and proposed.  The majority of them are utterly creepy, with no humor to them at all.  Once, when he was asked about the funny/scary controversy, Davis referred immediately to Walt Disney's famous dictum that the outside of the HM should be kept up, but that inside they could do what they wanted.  "I took that to be a very definite instruction to me, and it meant we could be scary inside the ride if we wanted to.  And you know when you're in the ride that you're not in there for some 'sweetness and light' " (E-Ticket 16 [Summer 1993] 26).  That doesn't fit the sultan-of-silly stereotype, does it?  Davis wrote a show script in 1964 that certainly contained its share of whimsical elements, but at its core it featured a character known as "the most dangerous ghost in the mansion," who makes a frightening personal appearance near the end of the attraction.  It turns out that he is both your Ghost Host and the murderer of a young bride and her fiancé.  At that point, guests are expected to flee the scene.

The most dangerous ghost in the Mansion . . . is out to get you!

In the same way, if you peruse the artwork produced by X., who is commonly assigned to the scary camp, you find both humor and horror.

In short, to the degree that there was a tug-of-war, it should probably be regarded as a disagreement between Marc and Claude over the relative balance of fun and fear in the total mix, not some sort of life-and-death struggle for the soul of the Mansion.

Where does Ken Anderson stand with regard to all of this?  When you look through his scripts and artwork, you find generous helpings from both ends of the spectrum, with no sense of tension, no disharmony between the two.  It's perfectly true that he found delight in the gruesome and grim, 'cause he's the magnificent, marvelous Ken Andersim.

It's just as easy to round up goofball artwork, though.

This, from a set of quick sketches he made in '92 for "E"-Ticket, makes the point about as succinctly as it can be
made, I think: In Ken's mind, scary and silly get along just fine together, peacefully co-existing in the same house.

The tone, the blend, the recipe for the Haunted Mansion is essentially Ken Anderson's.

A Tribute to Anderson

Originally, there were no hidden "tributes" to Ken at all in the Mansions. Most of the main Imagineers (and some second and third tier talents, too) got tributes somewhere, either inside or outside, but not he.  In fact—and as long as we're on the subject—some lucky guys actually got two tributes, like...

Robert Sewell

Cliff Huet

Fred Joerger

Claude Coats

...and X. Atencio.

For Ken, all you could point to was a caricature of him on a flyer advertising the Mansion's 30th
Anniversary program in 1999.  For the "Father of the Haunted Mansion," that's not much.

But in April 2011, a long-overdue tribute to Ken Anderson was finally added to the
redesigned WDW queue. (It's one of the only good things about that queue in my book).

Our final segment in this series will be a Halloween present.  Fair warning:  It will be quite different and may be of limited interest to many of you Forgottenistas; but for Disney historians, Imagineers, and the truly hardcore, it may be of intense interest.  Unless I'm badly mistaken, I believe I've discovered a hitherto-unknown "commentary" on Anderson's Ghost House in Anderson's own hand.


  1. And now the question is what will we as Forgottenistas do to get Ken Anderson the recognition he so richly deserves at the Haunted Mansion?

  2. A unique headstone added to the graveyard would be the most obvious way to do it, and it seems like the cost would be modest. That's how they've done it in the past. Maybe someone with access to Tony's ear should float the suggestion; I can't imagine he'd be completely disinterested.

  3. Wow...Thanks Dan for this incredible series. I can't believe, after all these years, that there is still a literal plethora of artwork and information that we have never seen before.

    PS: Though they will attempt, words cannot describe how excited I was to hear you on the Moustalgia podcast. I understand that you're a very busy man and have "real world" pursuits that require your time and attention. But know that if you ever decided to do an audio podcast, I, like many of my Mansionista compatriots, would look forward to each issue. (Which is somewhat of an understatement. But you seem to shy away from excessive adulation.)

    So thanks again for your diligence and your scholarly-yet-humorous blogs. The Mansion community would be threadbare without you.


  4. You're welcome, and thank you for the compliments.

  5. The pix of "the most dangerous ghost in the mansion" is just a b/w sketch of what were 6 full color paintings by Mr. Davis of: a fat old Miser sitting with treasure, the Devil appearing behind his chair, the chair and Miser going up in flames, and finally, behind the charred chair, the Devil holding a paper that says "Paid In Full" or some such thing. It's yet another of the unused original changing portraits in the Gallery.

    It's unfortunate that Yale's sequenced projection machine didn't work reliably enough to be installed in the Mansion. I know they planned on it. I've seen the 3x5 glass transparencies of at least 8 portraits, each with 6 stages. Six. WED wouldn't have gone to the effort to having all the portraits painted, registered, photographed and made into full color glass plates if someone didn't plan on using them. The waltzing ghosts, the hatbox ghost and the semi-silvered mirror ghosts weren't the only illusions that had major last-minute problems.

    It must have been an exciting install.

    And what the hell is this about Marc HIMSELF paying for an ad in the L.A. times announcing that the Mansion was open. WTF? No wonder d'land hates and has always hated WED/WDI.

  6. Exciting indeed. All the evidence suggests a chaotic summer in '69, with many last minute changes and several problems only half-solved by opening day. I would not be surprised to learn that Marc's apparently unilateral decision to open the HM several days earlier than planned inspired some choice words in certain quarters!

    I'm not completely convinced that the "most dangerous ghost" sketch is part of the "Faust" changing portrait set. Readers can compare the six-panel Faust set with the MDG sketch side-by-side here:

    Surrell identifies the sketch as the MDG (The Haunted Mansion, 2009 edition), and there are noticeable differences between it and the Faust set, such as the chair design and the scales on the table vs. a lamp. But the overall design is obviously similar. If I had to guess, I'd say that when the MDG idea was rejected, Davis salvaged the composition and re-used it in a new gag, the Faust changing portrait.

  7. Wonderful comparison for the MDG. Thank you!

  8. I remember reading somewhere (a description of the comic books I think) that Gracey was Gore, therefore bringing Anderson's ideas back again.