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.
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Friday, January 14, 2011

The Duelists

A major boost to the theory laid out in this post was added in December 2013.  See below.
New artwork added in October, 2019.

In a blog post last year I discussed Marc Davis's talent for telling a funny story in less than a second.  Under most circumstances artists try to avoid clichés, but for this task stock characters and stereotypical situations are your best friends (although I have to say that even here it is remarkable how few truly stereotypical situations Davis uses).  Another friend of the quick-joke artist is ritual.  If you show characters involved in a well-known ritual (say, a wedding or a funeral), you have already incorporated a good deal of story before you've even begun.  The best example of this in the Haunted Mansion is the pair of duelists depicted in the grand ballroom's portraits:

Marc hit on the idea of a ghostly duelist quite early. This sketch dates to mid-1964:

MDIHOW (341)

You've probably seen this sketch...

But have you seen this one?

MDIHOW (393)

Think how much you "know" within half-a-second.  A gentleman of some social standing believes his honor has been slighted by another gentleman of about equal social station, and he has challenged him to a duel.  The other fellow makes no apologies and so accepts the challenge.  The time period is not modern, but 19th century or earlier.  The two men are somewhat stuffy, humorless characters.  In particular, they seem almost melodramatically sensitive when it comes to their personal honor.  You know all of this at a glance, because you know the rules for this particular ceremony, and you probably share the current perception about the kind of people thought to be attracted to it.  A dueling scene is a brilliant choice for a drive-by joke.

And what is that joke?  Obviously, the duel settled nothing and continues ad infinitum in the afterlife.  What was supposed to be the ultimate way of settling a dispute in fact ensured that the dispute would never be settled.  It has always been my opinion that the two shot each other dead, leaving no winner, and so the duel continues, stuck in an endlessly repeating loop.  I know that GRD thinks there is a real winner, based on a slight sideways head movement by one of the duelists at the end of the cycle, and others who have worked on the figures confirm that the little movement is there, but it's virtually undetectable to guests, and I'm not yet fully convinced it represents a bullet hit rather than drawing a bead.  What would truly settle the issue is if one of the two guns went off before the other.  The pistols have a special bulb for a barrel flash as well as a bang, so it should not be an irresolvable question.  Perhaps one of you Forgottenistas has an insider's familiarity with the shot sequence.

Yer goin' DOWN, dude

While we're snooping around backstage looking at light bulbs and head nods, here are a few fuzzy pix that some of you might find interesting.  Top left is the actual set up at DL.  Directly underneath them the doombuggies are scooting along the balcony.  Top right shows them in the shop, not long before installation in 1969.  The bottom row gives you some close-ups.  Center and right are the same character, one recent (center) and one old (right).  As you can see, they've done up his eyes a little differently over the years.  That's the Auctioneer's head from POTC, by the way.

There are more unsolved mysteries with the duelists than whether or not one of them won the duel.  There is also reason to suspect that they are not located where they were originally planned to be.  Much of what follows may be filed under "speculation," but hey, nothing wrong with that so long as you admit it.

It all begins with Collin Campbell's artwork for the "Story and Song" souvenir record album.

These lush, colorful illustrations are beloved by Mansion fans.  But despite their breezy, painterly quality, if you compare them to the corresponding Marc Davis concept art you find that they are extremely conservative.  Campbell stayed very close to his sources.  This is typical:

Now let's take a look at the Grand Ballroom illustration, which spreads across two pages.  The left side would be the place
you might expect to find the duelists, but they aren't there.  Balcony railing gingerbread obscures that portion of the wall.

But that doesn't mean that Campbell ignored the duelists.  Over on the right side of the painting is a
little surprise, something unknown until this artwork was re-issued with the CD version of "Story and Song"
in 2009.  The painting as it was known from the booklet in the 1969 record album looks like this:

But the same painting in the CD booklet looks like this:

Note the portrait on the wall, fully visible for the first time in 2009.  Is that . . ? Is that . . ?
It is.  It's one of the duelist portraits.  What's it doing over here on this side of the room?

It wouldn't be so odd except that Collins is so consistently literal in his reproductions of Davis artwork.  Putting a duelist on the wrong side of the room is a little bold for him.  Unless Davis also had the duelists on that wall in his sketches.  Is that possible?  Alas, we don't have Campbell's source art.  Well, okay, what's on that right-hand wall in the actual attraction?  The fireplace.  And above the fireplace is the Mantelpiece Ghost.

Funny thing about Mantelpiece Ghost.  He's missing entirely from the two Effects blueprints produced in the first quarter of 1969.  If that's just an oversight, it's odd that it happened not once but twice and was never corrected on the blueprints, which were repeatedly updated as they were used.  This would also be the only such erroneous omission on these blueprints.  Mantelpiece Ghost should be in the red circle on the left.

You can see him in a WDW blueprint of the same area:

Hmm.  Is it possible that the duelist portraits were originally going to be on the wall above the fireplace but were subsequently relocated, while a new ghost was put in that area, the Mantelpiece Ghost?  There's plenty of room on that big, blank wall:

Joshua Harris

Complicating this theory is the fact that the duelists are right where they should be on these same blueprints (see the red circles on the right).  What may have happened is that they realized the duelists would work a lot better on the back wall, above the balcony, and they decided they would definitely move them there, even before they came up with something to replace them on the right.  That would explain the blueprints.  By this scenario, Marc Davis came up with Mantelpiece guy fairly late in the game, no earlier than mid-to-late spring, in fact.

Added December 22, 2013:

There is a compelling piece of evidence supporting the theory just advanced: the figure numbers.  All figures in the Haunted Mansion are given a number like "F-12" or "F-39."  (The "F" stands for "human figure.")  Also, the Mansion is divided into numbered "Areas" and the figure numbers in each area follow the flow of the ride.  "Area 1" is at the beginning and contains only F-1 and F-2, the two hanging corpses in the two stretching galleries.  The list next moves to Area 6, the ballroom, where figures 3—35 are found, beginning with granny and ending with the second duelist.  Area 7 is the attic (F-42 is marked "omitted"; guess who?).  Area 8 is the graveyard, featuring F-43 (the caretaker) through F-75 (the beheaded knight).  Area 9 is for all the hitchhikers, closing out the list with the ghosty-go-round hitchhikers in the mirror (F-80 to 94).  Projected ghosts like Mdm Leota, the singing busts, and Little Leota are not included on these lists.

So where do you suppose the Mantelpiece Guy is?  He's tacked on near the very end (F-79), a conspicuously out-of-place Area 6 interruption on the Area 9 list.  That can only mean that he was a Johnny-come-lately, one of the last AA figures added to the ride.

The only AA figures later than Mantelpiece Guy are the hitchhikers in the mirror.  That's not hard to explain; we now know with certainty that they didn't show up until the last minute.



  1. Fabulous post!!! The duelers are one of my favorite elements of the mansion, and this was super interesting to read about! :)

  2. If the duelist portraits were originally going to be on the wall above the fireplace and then moved to the present location, I think the best explanation would be that at some point they realized that more space would be needed between portraits to make the sequence look right.

  3. Looks like our mantle ghost is the same Pirates of the Caribbean "Large Lady" on the auction block! Just how many Pirates figures are used in the Haunted Mansion?

  4. Your post reminds me of an 80's Ridley Scott film called "The Duellists" where the duel literally never ends. Great film.

    i like the observation of having to tell a story in a glance. we talked about this at WDI using billboards and a speeding car as a metaphor. This is why dialog is so risky in shows because not only does the "sight gag" have to read in a single frame, listening to speech is next to impossible. That's why it's in the car, not left to the figures to deliver. I used to use the metaphor of a silent movie with few or no titles as an example. You had to put the expression into the movement or the face, forget trying to say anything.

    Rides are so much harder to do than movies in that it's all one big tracking master shot. No close ups or cutaways. Very hard to create drama or pace unless the ride itself changes speed. Pirates does this well with the dark caves and HM with dark transitions. That in itself changes the pace and acts like a curtain. It is a linear, eyewitness POV type of situation, almost documentary style as the GH narrator explains what you see. Reminds me of those noir films where the main character explains what happens. ATIS is exactly that.

  5. The other Duellist sits on a keg in POTC with a gun in the auction scene and I'm not sure if the mantle ghost isn't one of the three minstrel singers but you could be right about it being a her.

  6. Good observations about the many parallels with cinematic conventions. It's been pointed out that omnimovers allow the Imagineers to act like film directors, pointing you at the thing you are supposed to look at when you're supposed to look at it. These rides really are more like films than anything else.

    The list of head borrowings and repetitions from POTC would almost be tedious to draw up. In fact, the list of original heads that Blaine Gibson came up with for the Mansion is far shorter. You're both correct about Mantlepiece Ghost. What's more, the "Aunt Biddie" ballroom guest, coming in with her bonnet and basket, has the same head, just a few yards away. Some heads are borrowed from other rides. The Caretaker has the same head as the guy at the top of the Lost Safari pole, and "Granny" in the ballroom is "Grandma" from the Carousel of Progress.

  7. Wow. So the HM is much more of a "Greatest hits of AA" than I ever realized. Going even further with the cinematic analogy, you could even go so far as to say that the "Studio" has a "stock company" (Welles' Mercury Theater ) of actors to cast over and over in their films! This would make sense, in that Marc Davis, having a character style that is somewhat derivative of itself would have overall similarities in the faces as they come from one source. It's too bad we only know these faces for their first role, not as actors in themselves. I can't believe I said that!

  8. BTW- I like the subtly sketched "hidden mickeys" in the top center of Davis's Duellist picture frames!

  9. Yeah, I'm undecided about whether those really are "hidden Mickeys." Were they playing that little game, back in the mid-60's? And for some reason, Davis doesn't strike me as the type that would play that game anyway. I dunno.

    Here are the heads Blaine & crew did specifically for the HM: All the popup heads, the "leering skull" (Ezra, HBG), Phineas the HHG, the Mummy, the Opera pair, the Knight, and the Executioner. I may have missed one or two, but I think all the rest were reruns. That includes the entire ballroom ensemble and the first half of the graveyard! It made economic sense, since they knew that guests would intentionally not be allowed to get really good looks at them. Ghosts, you know.

  10. As usual, very interesting post that got my brain juices going! I've always noticed the "re-purposed" Blaine faces in Mansion - how could they not reuse them? Each new figure is so expensive to make...

    "This is why dialog is so risky in shows because not only does the "sight gag" have to read in a single frame, listening to speech is next to impossible."

    Thanks for saying that "Dr.Bitz" - to beat a dead horse (bwahahahaha), one thing that I got from Marc Davis was his insistence that these rides (meaning the successful ones) are not "stories" in the traditional sense, with dialogue and a beginning, middle and end. He told me that this was something he and Walt had discussed many times - and that Walt in particular compared it to walking into a movie theatre 1/2 way into the film. If you miss those key plot points, the story will make little to no sense. This is one of the reasons the Davis gags work so well in Pirates & Mansion (heck - in all his "staged gag" shows) - the joke or situation is an instant read. You don't have the time or control necessary to force a story. And when people argue with me about the supposed story of Pirates and Mansion, I think they are assuming there is a story there because the environment and situations are done so well. I wish this was something that more people in our industry understood...

    I'm sure many people disagree with me - but that's what I believe! You can miss a lot in Pirates & Mansion, and still come away with a sense of the whole show because they don't (or didn't anyway) rely on a bunch of heavy dialogue. The immersive visuals and strong poses tell you all you need to know.

  11. Dr Bitz.....I'd suggest that EPCOT CENTER's WORLD OF MOTION was the real "Greatest Hits of AA"......that attraction used Pirates, Carousel of Progress, Jungle Cruise, Hall of Presidents figures! On a side note: Ward Kimball is always given so much credit for World of Motion.....but our hero Marc Davis created most of the scenes like the Train Hold Up ( a resurfacing of a Western River Expedition scene)the Barn Storming Field, Mona Lisa & Leonardo,Used Roman Chariot Lot the Bicycle Park, and the Sunday Drive/Picnic scene....complete with squirrels robbing a picnic-basket!

    Like Chris said, Marc was big on creating a series of situations....this is much more successful for these kinds of ride-thru attractions......each time a guest rides thru it, it is a slightly different experience.....not like reading the same book over and over. I think Rolly Crump approached the 1971 WDW Fantasyland dark rides this way......on these versions guests were experiencing familiar AND totally new situations........almost as if you were joining these characters on new adventures altogether.

  12. There's also a purely pragmatic reason for going with Marc's approach: you can't hear the dialog anyway. There is so much sound in these rides and so many visual distractions that you barely pick up a snatch of a phrase here and there. The geeks have every pirate's and every ghost's monologue or solo on a nice clean file and can tell you everything he says, but frankly, the average guest hardly hears half a coherent sentence, if that much.

  13. Interesting stuff, but I have a few minor disagreements with the article.

    First, I don't think the duelists look stuffy at all. The one guy I would say looks more grimly determined than stuffy and the other has a sly smile! If anything, they seem deviously mischievous more than pompous.

    Second, while your "plus" idea looks fine, I think it misunderstands the nature of the ghosts and the paintings. The idea is not that the painted images are themselves the actual ghosts of the duelists, but that the paintings are inhabited/possessed by their spirits. The "plussing" ruins that and I like it better the way it us because you have a double layer of the ghost and the painting at the same time which is more visually interesting and eerie than just the painting being the actual ghost.

    Also, I disagree about the dialogue comments. PoTC is supposed to have a cocktail party conservation ambiance in the first place, and it certainly is not *that* hard to catch more than just a fragment of a sentence. I see people come out of the ride all the time and repeat whole sections of the dialogue, so I think the public are better at hearing (and the use of the dialogue more effective) than you give them credit for.

    As for the HM, I'm not sure what dialogue you are referring to that is hard to hear. The only real dialogue comes from the Ghost Host and Madame Leota. It's impossible not to hear the GH since the speaker is right in your ear! Yes, he is harder to hear in the Foyer and Stretching Room sometimes, but that's the fault of the often rude and loud behavior of the guests, not an inherent flaw in the idea of dialogue and narration.

    As for Leota she is isolated from outside noise, her voice is clear, distinctive and loud, and the only other noise in the Seance Circle is some low continuous music and the sound effects (which play when she is *not* talking.) I don't see how you can not catch her brief snippets of chant unless you are deaf or *really* hard of hearing.

    The only other significant 'monologues' are the various renditions of Grim Grinning Ghosts in the graveyard. But since they all sing the same song, you can catch a large continuous portion of it as you go through the graveyard. And the singing busts are really hard NOT to hear, especially with Thurls booming voice.

    While I agree with MD to an extent, I still think the "traditional story" theory of attraction design has more merit then he gave it credit for.

  14. Point well taken with regard to the HM. I spoke carelessly. What dialog there is, is not hard to hear. With regard to the POTC, I'll stick to my guns. I would suggest that the reason people can repeat whole sections of the dialog is that they've been on the ride so many times, and/or they're big fans. Yes, there are certain phrases that are hard to miss ("We wants the red 'ead") and a few of the Auctioneer's lines, but the mumbling dialog of the prison inmates or the pig guy, for example, are mostly wasted, especially on the first time guest. Even now, I couldn't repeat for you a single line from either of those. The cocktail party analogy (Walt's own, I believe?) is right. If there were to be an actual story in the pirate show, I think it would have to be conveyed by some means other than the actors on stage. Of course, there are other ways to script a story into a ride (a narrator, a la Ghost Host, or storybooks lying open, or placards).

    As for the duelists, I think you may have missed my point. "Stuffy" may not be what you see if you look hard, but "stuffy" is what you assume whenever —flash— you see a duel. You immediately picture two humorless guys, guys who take things far too seriously. You are correct that Davis's sketch and the ride figures run counter to this stereotype (or at least one of the two, anyway), and I should perhaps have mentioned that, but in my opinion that aspect is sheer waste. I'd bet that not one rider in 10,000 notices that one duelist AA is smirking. Too hard to see, and not enough time to see it, and most importantly, you have no reason to expect it when you see a duel. Plus, the presentation (painted image + reflected AA) makes it even harder to make out what is there. That's one reason why I like the Datameister idea: the visual spaghetti created by that superimposition is straightened out.

  15. I’ve commented before about the similarities between THM and the gothic TV show “Dark Shadows.” (I don’t think one influenced the other, since they were developing at the same time – my theory is that they both arose out of the same zeitgeist). One of the rooms in the TV mansion held portraits of two ancestors who had dueled in 1795, facing each other across the room as if the duel had never ended.

  16. I'm wondering: Since Campbell only shows one of the duelists, where is the other? I had assumed that the missing duelist was on the opposite side of the room. One on each end shooting at each other. Never even considered the fireplace as the location of the other one...

  17. Yeah, my first thought was the same: maybe the duelists were originally going to be shooting at each other across the room. But I now think it's more likely they were going to hang more or less side-by-side over the fireplace, assuming the conjecture is accurate at all. Note that Davis has them side-by-side in his concept art. That doesn't prove much, of course, but it does show that they wouldn't look ridiculous that way.

  18. I've only ridden POTC once, two years ago, and it's definitely not one of my favorite rides. However, I can tell you one of the pirates in the jail says (regarding the dog) "Hit him with the soup bone".


  19. I think the CD artwork looks as if it were photo shopped/tweaked by a fan involved with the printing, as a way to plus the artwork to include perhaps a beloved element they felt was lacking in the original print. The quality of the image looks sharper and a little more forced than it should if it had been there in the first place

    1. That's not likely. It's an official Disney release, and they had access to the original artwork. The CD photo reproduction IS a lot sharper and the colors are more "metallic," but that sort of variation is not at all unusual. The artwork has been reproduced at least three times: (1) the original large-format booklet with the record album, (2) the small booklet accompanying the CD, and (3) the electronic file also included with the CD. In each case, you can see that the artwork has been cropped to fit the format. The CD booklet version is wider than the others, but look how much has been lost at the top and bottom in that version:


    2. Looking at the title, (the word DUEL in it), I thought of Marc Davis and Claude Coats and their famous (non-violent, of course!) debate over the atmosphere of it..Coats for the more sinister, Davis on the funnier side..

      BTW..Mel, was your lack of enjoyment on POTC at Disney World/Magic Kingdom/Florida? Because if it is, it's understandable, especially compared with Tokyo or Anaheim, Calif.(the original ride and Disney Park)_, as those two versions of Pirates are over twice as large.

      By the way, some excellent YouTube videos on this and other Disney Park attractions
      Offhand Disney starring Dallin Smith
      Provost Park Pass with Chris, Amanda, and almost as much their kid Miles
      Parallel Disney
      my own channel (Steve Carras) just those on HM and POTC as of now.,,hoping to start another ch. spec.themed to this
      Park Ride History.
      and you can see others by pushing related.