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.


Monday, June 29, 2015

"Little Leota"

pic by Matthew Hansen at Tours Departing Daily

Whoa, what have we here? A new Long-Forgotten post? Already?

What happened, you see, is that as soon as I announced the blog's imminent hibernation, mainly due to a shrinking pool of suitable new topics, readers began throwing ideas out there. To be candid, many did not seem to me to rise much above the level of trivia for trivia's sake, but this one from reader Harry Peach was certainly worthy of consideration:

 I'd be interested in an article on little Leota i.e. why is she small? has she been shrunk? is she the ghost of a little person or a fairy? it could be an interesting article as I've come across ghost/myth lore of ghosts being 'trapped' or conjured in small vessels, such as bottles. also in the case of fairies - in European folklore fairy hauntings preceded 'ghost' hauntings i.e. people blamed faires and little folk for what would later be attributed to ghosts, i.e. poltergeist activity. Or indeed it could just be the notion that 'out-of-scale' humanoids whether large of small, naturally unnerve us! Anyway - just food for thought there

Not long after Mr. Peach posted this, long-time LF reader Craig Conley happened to send me an illustration from an 1894 edition of George MacDonald's fantasy classic, Phantastes (which illustration will appear below). It was increasingly obvious that a lot more could be said about Little Leota. Then, when I started looking into it, I discovered some fascinating, long-forgotten history. And so it happens that the blogosphere expands this day by one new LF post.

By Way of Review

We did discuss the Little Leota tableau at Disneyland once before, but only briefly. For convenience, here is what we said in that earlier post:

The actual tableau follows the scale model almost exactly. It's one of the most perfect things in the Disneyland Mansion. If you manage to be the last in your group, and the Mansion is not too busy that day, you can walk slowly backwards on the escalator and enjoy the little ghost as long as you want, all alone. Also, those of you who have never been to Anaheim may not know this, but if you lean over and look down in there, the walls descend a long way and disappear beautifully into the darkness. There is a convincing feeling of a bottomless pit to the scene, which somehow adds a great deal. The little ghost beckons to you and taunts you at the same time. In one way, she seems so close you could almost reach over and touch her, but in another way, she's separated from you by a "great gulf fixed" (cf. Luke 16:26). It's a memorable and deeply satisfying way to end your experience. This is one place where the Anaheim original is unquestionably superior to the other Mansions.

There are also some nice "magic eye" 3D pictures here. To date, that's all we've done with her.
So . . . who's up for not one, not two, but three more little essays on Little Leota?

Firstly, What's in a Name?

Little Leota is officially known as the "Ghost Hostess." That's what it says on the lead for the film loop they used for her projection until they went digital in the 90s:

Nobody calls her that. She's actually got two nicknames. The Ghost Host himself refers to her as "a charming ghost-ess" in the WDW spiel, round about the music room tableau, conflating "Ghost Hostess" into one word. Nobody calls her that either.  She is universally known as "Little Leota," not only because she has the same face as Madame Leota, but also because she has both the face and the voice of Imagineer Leota Toombs. Okay, most of you knew that already. What you may not know is that the Imagineers themselves were already referring to her as "Little Leota" by 1970. On the original 1969 blueprints for the DL Mansion she's "talking girl," "small female figure with blowing clothes," or simply "figure."

1969 Maintenance Checklists refer to her as "Small Girl" and "Ghostess":

Hat tip to reader Huck

But by the time they were drawing up plans for the Orlando Mansion in 1970 she was "Little Leota."
Notice the quotation marks. It's a nickname, but an official nickname, not a fan-generated nickname.
(It's also found on a 1971 WDW Intrusion Alert control board.)

The nickname even survived translation into French. At Phantom Manor, the Ghost Hostess tableau is labeled "Scene Petite Leota."

Secondly, Why is Little Leota Little?

Some people ask why Little Leota is little, as if it were a problem to be solved. Backstories have been devised and theories put forth endeavoring to explain it. I've never been terribly interested, because I think it's a pseudo-problem. Little ghosts are not unknown to spirit lore. Harry Peach mentions fairies in his Comment, and that may well be the right tree up which to bark. No one seems to be puzzled by the fact that fairies are typically represented as diminutive humanoids, and as a matter of fact, one of the many theories as to what fairies are is that they are spirits of the dead. Or consider the Banshee, who "appears as a young girl" and is "not quite a ghost, but a spirit of the fairy folk." That sort of middling category falls well within the generous bounds of the Haunted Mansion.

Fairies aren't always depicted as having wings, either. Some old artistic depictions of fairies, in fact, bear a striking resemblance to our little Ghost Hostess. Here's the 1894 illustration to Phantastes: A Faerie Romance that I spoke of earlier. In the story, a fairy appears to the narrator as "a tiny woman-form, as perfect in shape as if she had been a small Greek statuette roused to life and motion." If this doesn't remind you of the Little Leota tableau, then . . . you're lying, because oh yes it does too.

And check out this 1907 John Bauer illustration for Alfred Svedberg's The Seven Wishes. The look of Little Leota's hair has varied down
through the years, but most of the time it has been long and wavy, like this fairy's. In the 1990s in particular, LL looked a lot like this.

Here's yet another old sketch (hat tip, again, to Craig Conley). This time it's from 1895, an illustration by Laurence Housman for his novel, The House of Joy. In a chapter called "The Luck of the Roses," a gardener and his wife come upon a "beautiful small figure" under a rose bush who is about three feet tall. The "little lady" is obviously a fairy of some sort but is described and sketched as merely a small female.

So for all we know, fairies are ghosts, or at least sometimes ghosts, and Little Leota may simply
be a ghost of that sort. That's all the "explanation" we probably need for her miniature appearance.

Thirdly, Little Leota's Long-Forgotten History

Little Leota looks like a bride. She's holding a bouquet of flowers and wears a veil and a long white gown. It would take a lot to convince me that she isn't deliberately presented as a bride. In addition, the way she looks today is the way she's looked since at least the early 1970's. These shots are from 2008, but they could have been taken almost any time in the last 45 years.

But when the ride opened in August of 1969, she did not look like this. She had no long, flowing tresses, wore no veil, and her dress was the same translucent "shower curtain" material that most of the other ghosts wear (although Little Leota's was obviously thinner and finer, as befitted her smaller size). She did carry a bouquet, but that would hardly be enough in itself to identify her as a bride, and as we will see, there are reasons to think she was not supposed to be taken for one.

What would we do without Dave? This is a rare photo from October of 1969:

Her body appears to be made of the same material as the larger, audio-animatronic figures (i.e. butyrate plastic). In the photo there are shiny white spots on her, especially around her thighs and below her left knee. One immediately supposes that these are merely reflections of the camera flash. Some of them may be, but I think that some of them are in fact reflections of the projector off to the left, down and out of our sight, because there is other evidence that points in that direction. As it happens, this snapshot isn't the only or even the oldest photographic record of Little Leota in situ. That award goes to the same historic home movie reel that proved to the world that the Hatbox Ghost was indeed installed in the Mansion and was seen by guests. What you see here lurking in the purple haze is awfully blurry, but trust me, that's Little Leota in August 1969, the very month that the ride opened.

little leota in 69
                                                  Todd Pierce unearthed this amazing footage in 2011

Despite the poor quality, that clip really is a lot of fun. Blow it up and look closely at it, and I swear, in some frames you can recognize and almost read her talking face. The billowing gown is quite noticeable, and you can't miss the lights, which are in approximately the same places as in the October photo. Judging from the rest of the reel, the filmmaker did not use any artificial lighting, so those lights are not reflections of anything the cameraman is holding. They're remarkably clear and steady. I think the most plausible explanation of them is that they are reflections of the projector. That's one of the hazards of the "Leota effect" whenever there is anything shiny out there. That's why, incidentally, there has always been a candle on the table next to Madame Leota. It gives you a way to (mis)identify the pesky reflection of the projector beam on Madame Leota's globe! (Or gave you a chance, I should say; this whole thing is no longer a problem, now that she's inner-projected.)

Here's a gif alternating between a 2003 photo of Mdm L and yet another frame from that same 1969 film we've been gawping at, in which Leota's face is barely detectible. Notice that the flame of the candle and the spot of projector-reflection on the globe are both clear even on the old film. You're supposed to unconsciously assume that the light on the left is only a chance reflection of the one on the right. These guys were good.

This solution obviously would not have worked with Little Leota. The reflections appeared in several places on her shiny body, to say nothing of possible issues with her reflective vinyl clothing fluttering like a flag. In her case, they fixed the problem by transforming her into a bride, wearing opaque clothing that eliminated all reflections at a single stroke.

By the way, we may be able to add one more photo to this tiny stash of '69 Little Leota photography. This snap is dated "1970s," but its resemblance to the other photo is so close that I suspect it may go back to 1969.* Be that as it may, the most useful bit of info this photo adds to the conversation is that Little Leota was definitely not wearing a veil back then but a sort of hooded cloak. That is even clearer in this photo than in the other, because in this one it's not even up on her head. (With regard to the matter under discussion, it appears that at the precise moment this photo was snapped, the cloak was hanging straight down enough to obscure the projector reflections.)

We don't know exactly when they redid Little Leota. The absolute parameters are October 1969
at the earliest and 1972 at the latest. I would guess earlier rather than later within that spread.

Whenever it happened, a gallery of images down to the present shows how little she has changed since that transformation.

Early 70s:





Aug 28, 1996:



May, 2015:

All they have done is mess around with her hair, making it sometimes more and sometimes less conspicuous.

Someone could argue that Little Leota was always intended to be a bride character, and the fact that she didn't very much look that way when the Mansion opened only reflects the mad dash to get the ride up and operating. According to this argument, her full and final costuming was slightly delayed, that's all. Telling against this is the fact that she is not labeled a bride on the blueprints. One supposes that "little bride" or the like would have been a lot simpler than "small female figure with blowing clothes" and a lot more specific than "figure" or "talking girl." I would also point out that her role as a bride fits her job description awkwardly: "Well, if you should decide to join us, final arrangements may be made at the end of the tour. A charming 'ghost-ess' will be on hand to take your application." Who would expect an application-taking hostess to be a bride? By the same token, if she was always going to be a bride, couldn't the Ghost Host's comments have been worded in a way that would have harmonized better with her nuptial character? I think it's safer to say she was neither conceived nor born as a bride but was changed into one sometime after the ride opened.

Curiously enough, this tardy role assignment reminds us of "Beating Heart," the attic bride, who didn't actually become a bride until very late in the game. In fact, the earliest irrefutable evidence that the spooky gal in the attic was going to be a bride doesn't appear until well into 1969 (i.e. the recording sessions for the souvenir records), unless this Marc Davis concept art can be dated earlier.

Even here, however, note that she's not in the attic. This sketch could just as easily be inspiration for Little Leota as for the attic
bride. Come to think of it, other than the size, it actually looks more like our little Ghostess than Beating Heart, doesn't it?

I find myself wondering if Little Leota became a bride when the Hatbox Ghost was removed and Beating Heart was put in his place and became the climax of the attic scene. It's sheer conjecture, but one can easily imagine imagineering along these lines:

"Hey, if the attic is now going to climax with a mysterious, isolated bride ghost, why not have the graveyard scene climax the same way? You know, just to stir the pot and get people asking questions and wondering what the heck's going on?"

Of course, the immediate and practical reason for revamping Little Leota—assuming our analysis is correct—was to eliminate the unwanted reflections of the projector, but all that was necessary to fix that problem was clothing her in an opaque material. It needn't have been a wedding gown. That was a creative choice, inspired perhaps by the Marc Davis sketch above. At any rate, the result is intriguing. On the one hand, Little Leota's identical face and method of presentation invite comparison with Madame Leota; on the other hand, her costume (and role?) invites comparison with the attic bride. I don't think there is any way to "resolve" this; it's probably nothing more than mystification for its own sake, suggesting that more is going on than meets the eye. That in itself, I submit, is justification enough.


*Misdating is easy to do. Sometimes film stays in cameras for months or even years before the roll is finally used up, and when it is eventually developed, it can be an easy thing in such cases to date with the latest shots on the roll photos that were actually taken much earlier. (You know, I almost put that entire last sentence in the past tense, but some people still use old-fashioned film cameras, kids.)