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.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Changing Our Portrait of the Changing Portrait Hall (or, "Rewriting History Part Three")

Updated January 17, 2018.

Welcome to the third consecutive post dealing with the lost history of the changing portrait hall. This is the latest information about this still-unfolding story. It could have been appended to the previous post, I suppose, but the topic seemed worth blogging about on its own terms.

I've had a chance to exchange emails with the man who put up for sale the slides of the changing portraits that appeared in the recent Van Eaton auction and have been the subject of the previous two posts. He's a former WDI Imagineer (goes by "gerG"), and he tells me that he originally rescued the slides from the trash, and that there were no fewer than eight sets. A couple of those sets went back to Disneyland somewhere, a couple of sets went to WDI archives, gerG kept a set, and the other three sets were tossed out (I know, hard to imagine). Eight sets is a lot of back-up, and gerG thinks this is yet another indication of a heavy commitment. I would add that another indication is the size and complexity of the projection machines Yale developed for the effect. The Imagineers must have really and for truly expected to use this six-panel system.

When did they cancel those plans? I think it's safe to say that the concept must have been abandoned by the time they wrote the script for the "Story and Song" souvenir album (May 1969). The narrative describes the portraits as changing with the lightning flashes (which is, as you know, how it was done when the ride opened and how it is done now).

gerG is pretty sure it went like this: the six-panel changing portraits were going to be shown to each group of guests separately after they exited the stretchroom elevators. Each group would stop in the hallway and watch the five pictures run through their six-panel shows simultaneously, and then, after the group had moved on, the portraits would reset to scene one for the next group.

(No, I don't know that the Burning Miser was slotted for the middle position; it's just one of the many portraits
that were ready to go, and I'm using it to illustrate the system, since a six-panel Medusa has never surfaced.)

Clearly the walk-through portion of the ride was still expected to follow the same episodic show-flow that they had assumed it would have for as long as the attraction was planned as a walk-through, beginning with Ken Anderson's 1957-58 scripts and continuing through the Rolly Crump/Yale Gracey phase (1959-1964). That is, they planned for group movement from room to room, with a brief show in each. Remnants of that show-flow still exist in the Anaheim Mansion, but it is obscured by the fact that the first scene (the foyer) and the third (the changing portrait hall) no longer adhere to it.

It was supposed to work like this: A group of people would enter the foyer, and the doors (plural) would be shut. The show would then begin with the familiar opening spiel by the Ghost Host, and the scene would end when the group had entered the elevator. Only when the elevator doors were closed would the front doors be opened and the next group admitted to the empty room. You never saw anyone outside your group.

When I rode the HM during opening week, they followed that format in the foyer. Both of the front doors were closed between groups. And as late as 2000, it seems that could still do it this way if they wanted, to judge from this video clip.

Nowadays, of course, only one is typically closed. The other remains open for late-arriving guests dribbling in. The groups are hot on each others' heels, and there is little or no sense of separation between them. Guests-per-hour is the name of the game. The psychology is that the walk-through portion is really part of the queue. The "real" ride begins with the doombuggies.

Scene One

By way of contrast, scene two (the stretching gallery) continues to follow the original concept, because the room's design mandates it. You have one and only one group in there, standing still, and the scene has a clear-cut beginning and end, marked by opening and closing doors.

Scene Two

The changing portrait hall would have been the third scene, following the same format. Until the full group had exited the elevator and the doors were closed, the portraits would have all been frozen on their first panel. Everyone would stand still as the pictures morphed through their six scenes. gerG thinks they would have all done this simultaneously, and perhaps he's right, but it's also possible that they would have done it one by one, like falling dominoes. At scene six they would have frozen again, and the butler or maid would have shoo-ed the guests around the corner to the load area. As I said earlier, once the corridor was empty, the portraits would have reset to scene one, and the next group would emerge from their elevator.

Scene Three
(pic by Kevin Crone at Tours Departing Daily)

Conceptually, the show in the hallway would have been much like the show immediately preceding, where all of you watch all four of the paintings stretching before your eyes and they stay that way until you leave, at which point they roll back up.

At some point the Imagineers must have realized that this was not the most efficient way to do things between the elevators and the doombuggy loading zone. For one thing, they may have foreseen that people might not understand that they were supposed to stop and wait. The CMs would have had to herd them pretty carefully, that's for sure. There's also the matter of visibility. Unlike the elevators, not every place in the portrait hallway is a good vantage point for seeing the paintings as a group.

With the sort of show described here, one might have expected something in the Ghost Host's spiel tailored more specifically to this hallway. The fact that we have no Paul Frees outtakes talking about the paintings may be another indicator that plans for treating the hallway as a discrete show scene were already long gone by the Spring of 1969, when the Ghost Host recording sessions were done. If the GH originally did have a spiel for the scene, however, that would explain why the boarding instructions come so early ("And now, a carriage approaches..." etc.). That part of the spiel would originally have been intended for the next scene, the load area.

Frankly, I'm glad it ended up the way it did. With a little luck and planning, you can sometimes have the hallway to yourself for a few moments, and as I've said before more than once, that's worth a lot.


  1. Very good post as usual, nice reconstitution of what the experience would have been. However, in your animated gif, you make the paintings brutally change from phase to phase. Is it random, or do you think it's more likely than the slow morphing portrayed in the reconstitution made by one of the commenters of part 1, like this: ?

    1. That gif is actually a "rough draft." I hope to replace it with something slower and smoother, much more like the example you give.

  2. I could see this being a very creepy effect, with the doors closed and no way to progress and seeing the room morph around you.

    Incidentally, Merry Christmas!

  3. I don't know what you celebrate, but one way or another, I love you for going to all this trouble over the winter holiday. Merry Something!

  4. Thanks for the great post as usual! However, at Phantom Manor in Disneyland Paris Resort the cast members close the foyer doors after each group to hear Ghost Hosts's first narration and late-arriving guests have to wait on the outside porch. Of course, on empty days the doors remain open until the group's big enough to start the tour.

  5. I just watched Martin Smith's latest video about the HM Holiday overlay, and noticed that there seemed to be only one exterior foyer door. Is the other door a sliding pocket door and I just never noticed? Or have they removed the other door to allow more guests to stream into the building?

    Thanks also for the blog post as Christmas gift to the HM fan community.

    1. Yes, the second door is a sliding pocket door. (Oh, and you're welcome.)

  6. In the old days at DL and MK, very often Disney would not schedule a cast member dedicated to the position at the head of the load belt, instead allowing the Stretch CM to walk guests to the load belt, load them, then go back for the next group. At MK this often involved opening the doors to the Foyer as well.

    I've always wondered why on earth this was done, but it occurs to me that the "6-phase" version of the portrait hall would have practically required this. The Stretch CM would have led the group down the hall and stopped them at the pinch point, then directed their attention to the portraits, before proceeding with them to the Load Area. This basically would have replicated the old walk-through plans, down to the idea of having a live host with a special effects ghost of some kind. I'm willing to bet it wasn't until Adventure Thru Inner Space saw its first big summer in 1968 that they began to realize just how much queuing space an omnimover requires.

    1. Fascinating historical tidbit about CM assignments. Everything reinforces the New View of the pre-doombug, walk-thru section. I should have added to this post (and maybe will note in the next) a reminder about the foyer scene in both HM's. Everyone complains about how there isn't time to see the full six-panel animation of "Master Gracey" at WDW, and now we know why (and didn't you say somewhere that it was actually going to be eight panels?). As for Anaheim, recall our "This is a Bust" post, detailing the talking bust effect planned for the foyer (briefly replaced with a raven before getting scuttled entirely). Obviously, there was going to be a discrete show in there, with the bust/raven coming to life, doing its thing, and then resetting once the guests were all out of the room. With the raven, it sounds very Tiki-Room-ish, in fact.

    2. The "Aging Man" actually did have eight panels, it's just that the first two were duplicates of each other and the last was a blank panel. Check out this video, you can see him blip between the two identical first slides right in the first second: I have no doubt that this is how it would've worked at DL too: two identical first slides, five changes, then it would hold on the last slide for a bit before cycling around and pulling up the blank slide between crowds, then resetting to the first slide again. Heck, for all I know the slide projector used at WDW until 2007 was built for Disneyland.

      It's interesting to me that basically the WDW Foyer show is more or less what they wanted at DL: walk in, stop, hear the Ghost Host, watch the portrait change, walk again. I'm in agreement that they must have decided on the flashing before recording the LP or Paul's lines, especially since we've never heard any extended patter for the DL Hallway show.

    3. Hmm...I'm not seeing the "blip," except the momentary blackout of the camera. Anyway, yeah, that's probably a good indicator of the pacing.

      Considering the (probable) length of the Anaheim foyer show (with bust animation, etc.), and the length of the stretching gallery show, I'm inclining more and more toward the theory that the portraits would have changed one by one. There's plenty of time. If each group of guests is going to be treated separately, the total show in the changing portrait hallway need not be much shorter than the stretching gallery show. Looking at the gif I and Captain Halfbeard (hat tip) put together for this post, I have to say that having all five change simultaneously isn't very effective. You can't/won't follow one story through, because you'll continually be distracted by the changes taking place in the others, and the net result seems to me unsatisfactory. A soft, domino effect would be much better.

    4. Hey Foxx - long time. When I started frequenting WDW and DL in 95, Florida's mansion was in rougher shape than the original. I was very surprised to hear some almost muted dialog coming from a speaker near the end of load - something in all my visits there since the 70s I never heard (and didn't realize was there until hearing it in Disneyland). I seem to recall this was finally fixed during the first major Florida updates, but it makes me wonder if there was other elements that were there all along, but just poorly maintained. I thought the "Dorian Gray" portrait used to cycle young to old to young to old... Was that not a thing?

  7. I think they probably would've changed one after another too, possibly some changing at different speeds than the others. For April, the Ghost Ship, and the Miser, you'd need those to change at a pretty steady pace in order to "read" what's going on. The Horseman and Cat Lady strike me as looking superior changing rather rapidly. The plan may have been to give the two portraits at the top of the hall a shorter, faster show than those at the far end, with the logic being that those last out of the stretch room could still see something happening. In this way they could've changed in sequence, but perhaps with April starting the change, then the next, then the next, with all five finishing more or less at once. This may have been an effort to find a middle ground between keeping the crowd moving and not shorting the intended show.

    It also strikes me that the duplicate first phase slides may be the only reason the fruit bowl and Witch survive.. anybody looking at a full set would conclude that two of the first image are unneeded!

  8. In reference to Medusa, I personally wouldn't be surprised if the full six panels never show up at all. Phantom Manor's portrait hall actually used some of the extended versions of the portraits until its refurbishment - the Black Knight and Cat Lady used all six panels while the ship and Medusa only used the first and last (or in the ship's case he fourth). Either the middle slides for Medusa were never made, or have been lost to time. What I wouldn't give to go through the Archives and see if they ended up in crates somewhere...