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, November 20, 2019

More Silly, Scary Thoughts

It's a topic we've discussed more than once: The supposed conflict among the Imagineers over the question of whether the Haunted Mansion should be funny or frightening (Silly vs. Scary, Kooky vs. Spooky, Light vs. Fright).

I've also given my own opinion more than once. I think the "conflict" has been exaggerated. Scary vs. Silly makes for a good—suspiciously good—Disneyfied version of history, and since it has long been the official line, it does not surprise or particularly impress me that the Imagineers have routinely cited Silly vs. Scary as a key (or the key) for explaining the fits and starts that dragged out the ride's development and for understanding the odd amalgam of moods in the finished ride. It's frequently the case that if you repeat something often enough you may jolly well begin to actually believe it.

There are two reasons for bringing up the topic again. First, some new materials have surfaced which really should be part of that particular conversation. They shed additional light on the thinking of X Atencio and—less directly—of Claude Coats, both of them supposedly strong advocates of the scary approach. Secondly, we're soon going to be taking a long look at Marc Davis's contributions to the Haunted Mansion, taking advantage of the wealth of new material that came to light in 2019, and as Marc is considered the chief proponent of the funny approach, inevitably the Silly vs. Scary controversy is bound to crop up in that discussion at some point, so that gives us another reason to briefly revisit the topic beforehand.

Can You Spell Kooky With an X?

As we know, Atencio occasionally made remarks to the effect that he preferred the scary approach, and as we have seen, it is easy enough to trot out spine-chilling concept art from X. I might point out, however, that the genuinely horrific artwork he produced was all part of a single series, the "one-eyed black cat" concept, always identifiable by the evil eye present somewhere in the background:

Without that series, you do have some creepy stuff from X, but nothing really frightening (with the possible exception of the Man in the Web). We have also seen that some of X's stuff is much more light-hearted. Even his take on the hanging ghost host is surprisingly cartoonish, meant to amuse rather than frighten. No evil eye in sight.


Tom Morris has discovered something that may give us some further insight into X's frame of mind: the earliest draft of what would eventually become "Grim Grinning Ghosts." Remember that X's assignment from the get-go was to be the HM show writer. That might explain why we don't see concept art from him in anything like the quantity that we find in the case of Ken Anderson or Marc Davis. Anyway, the "Kook Spookin' Song" as it was called, doesn't exactly sound to me like an attempt to bend the ride toward the darker side. In fact, it's silly almost to the point of embarrassment:

The point here is that the man who wrote this piece clearly recognized that the ride needed to be silly as well as scary. To X, like everyone else, it was a matter of finding the right balance:

"We had two schools of thought—one group wanted it a little bit scary, and another wanted it a little more lighthearted. Walt wanted it to be funny—he didn't want to scare the hell out of people!  He wanted to just have a good, Halloween-type show.  He was very particular on the feeling of the audience that he wanted; he wanted to frighten them, but he didn't want to scare them to death, you know? So that's how they decided. John Hench and Dick Irvine [the Imagineers' immediate bosses], they said to us, 'Let's move in that direction' " (MDIHOW 340).

What all of that really amounted to was sticking with Ken Anderson's original formula, dating back to 1957-58. As Jason Surrell notes, one reason Ken was probably chosen by Walt for the project in the first place is that he had already demonstrated in the Fantasyland dark rides his knack for combining "fear with enjoyment" (Surrell, Haunted Mansion 2003 and 2009 p 14; 2015 p 12).

Campy Claude

It's hard to imagine Claude Coats actually quarreling with anyone. By all counts, he was as amiable and agreeable as they come. Coats too is regularly assigned to the scary camp, not because of things he said or wrote but because his acknowledged contributions to the Mansion are creepy and atmospheric. He gets much of the credit for the eerie first half of the ride, where—we are told—there is nothing silly or funny except for Marc Davis's macabre stretching portraits. Claude was a background painter, a stage designer, a creator in this case of moody and sinister environments, like the Corridor of Doors.

The problem is that settings are not enough. In many cases you cannot tell if you're in kookyland or spookyland until the characters show up, and Claude seemed happy enough to leave that part to Marc. What do I mean? Imagine, for a moment, that you are back in the '60s and know nothing at all about The Munsters TV show but have wandered onto its sets on a day when no one is around. Is there anything there to suggest that this is the stage for an ultra-campy, screwball comedy?

Nope, you could be on the set of a classic, 1930's Universal horror picture. No one would seriously argue that the Munsters' art director wanted the show to be scary but the show writers overruled him and went with silly. I suppose someone might argue that the cobwebbed, Frankenstein look is too picture perfect for serious horror, and it could be claimed that this in itself is a tipoff. It's a point, I allow it. And if we look at the Munsters' fraternal twin, The Addams Family, we find there a similarly creepy, Victorian, gothic look overall, but in this case there are some obvious sight gags thrown in to tell you it's a goof.

Right. Well. Let's take another look at what is arguably the Mansion's scariest environment,
the Corridor of Doors. Do we see anything there hinting that all of this may in fact be camp?

WDW Sampler

We can thank Doombuggies for noticing that the "Tomb Sweet Tomb" sampler may be a direct rip-off from The Vampira Show (1954-55), the first "creature feature"-type local program. Maila Nurmi came up with a cheesy formula that is now very familiar: a costumed, creepy-kooky host in a mock horror setting showing dumb old monster movies.

Before Elvira, before the Carolyn Jones Morticia, there was Vampira. As Jeff also notes in the link above, she referred to herself at least once as a "ghostess" and promised to supply "hot and cold running chills." Lotta smoke coming outta that gun. And note that it was show writer X Atencio who incorporated that exact language into his HM script already by 1968, so once again we see how someone in the scary camp nevertheless did not hesitate to draw from cheeseball source material.

And let's not overlook the fact that the COD is also home to the so-called "family portraits," which might seem to some more like something
from The Munsters or The Addams Family (or the set of The Vampira Show) than anything you'd see in a straight, no-nonsense horror setting.


[Edit Nov 22] As Imagineer999 has reminded me in the Comments section, the "family portraits" did not appear in the Florida Mansion until the "rehaunting" in 2007, and someone could argue from this that Claude Coats was indeed resistant to including anything so campy in the Orlando COD, where he had greater creative control. Unfortunately, that argument leaves us without any explanation for the inclusion of the Tomb Sweet Tomb sampler, which has always been in the Florida version just as it has been in the California original. Unlike the portraits, that prop is unambiguously cheesy.

(bottom pic: Hoot Gibson)
WDW pre-2007

I have to admit that I've never really liked the TST sampler. Maybe it's because it can only be explained as schlocky, camp horror, whereas the "family portraits" can be interpreted as ghostly manipulations intended to genuinely freak you out, changing portraits that are no longer bothering to change back. And of course, they are faithful reproductions of ghostly visages yet to appear, as pop-ups in the attic (pre-Constance) and in the graveyard, and those pop-ups are arguably among the scariest apparitions in the Mansion, so even if they're a bit cheesy, we might be making a mistake if we try to simply file them under "funny."

"The Kook Spookin' Song" and Vampira's "Tomb Sweet Tomb" sampler are more grist for the mill,
more evidence (in my book) that the Imagineers all wanted both fear and fun in the Haunted Mansion.
If they disagreed at times, I think it was simply a matter of balance, of fine-tuning that mixture.


Friday, November 15, 2019

With Each Beat of His Bride's Heart

No big deal, but I have sometimes wondered just how quickly the original Hatbox Ghost's head was supposed to flash back and forth between his shoulders and his hatbox.  It seemed to me that there were two realistic possibilities: a faster pace and a slower pace.

The Fast One (Options A and B)

The heart beats  LUB-DUB . . . LUB-DUB . . . LUB-DUB . . .  It could be that each LUB and each DUB signaled a switch. So the head appeared in the box every LUB, and on every DUB it appeared on his shoulders. That's Fast One Option A. It could be reversed, of course: With Fast One Option B, you get LUB (shoulders), DUB (box), but that one has never seemed likely to me. The heartbeat tempo is of course uneven, so the time between DUB and the next LUB is longer than the time between LUB and DUB.  It's always seemed more natural for the head-on-shoulders phase to be the longer one:

   box-and-back . . . pause . . . box-and-back . . . pause . . . etc.
   LUB      DUB                           LUB      DUB

The Slow One

Does that sequence seem too quick?  Sometimes I have wondered whether the swap occurred only once with each LUB-DUB.
You get a kind of swinging rhythm that way:

LUB-DUB (head is in the box) . . . LUB-DUB (head is on his shoulders) . . .

Like I said, it's not exactly a burning issue. But still, for what it's worth, is there any way to decide the question? The other day I was looking again at the now-famous film of the original HBG, taken in August of 1969, footage I've watched who knows how many times, and I noticed for the first time that you CAN see the head inside the hatbox flashing on and off. (Maybe some of you noticed it long ago?) Look very closely at the upper-back part of the hatbox, which is darker, and at one point you can clearly see a light spot turning on and off. Gotta be the head lighting up. You can see the back-and-forth at least twice, just enough to determine that the hatbox head was indeed off longer than it was on. The home movie film seen in its entirety shows people walking around. Judging from that and other considerations we may be confident that the speed of the film is correct, so it's definitely not the Slow option.

Verdict: The head in the box flashed on with each LUB and off with each DUB.

hbg film

Fast One, Option A it is.

LUB                                               DUB

Another cool thing is that you can actually (but just barely) make out the head in the hatbox at one point:

What about the head on the shoulders? That light seems to be turned off altogether, which jibes with the memories of some eyewitnesses. According to "Todd Hackett":

The hatbox ghost was probably my favorite figure in the HM. I got into a lively debate with Jack Janzen of the E Ticket trying to convince him that the HG existed. He even published a letter I wrote about it in the E Ticket years ago. Fortunately Chris Merritt found those pics to confirm it. The HG was positioned just right of the exit of the attic. The first time I saw the HG his face would disappear then would flash into the hatbox. The next time I saw it the effect didn't work right and I remember at one point his face was lit and the head in the hatbox flashed on and off. Then they painted his head black, and the other head in the hatbox flashed on and off  (our emphasis).
I wonder whether they actually painted the face black or simply doused the lights on it. In any event, my own memory from August 14 matches Todd's second description: head on shoulders lit continuously, hatbox head flashing on and off. All the available evidence suggests that they were frequently fiddling around with him during his short sojourn in the attic. 

(Maintenance record uncovered by Tony Baxter proving that the figure
was in use long enough to be a check-off item for the maintenance guys.)


Nothin' fancy, folks, just squeezing some old lemons and finding out that there is still juice in there.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Mariner

Updated Nov 4, 2020

The Mariner (aka "The Harpooner," "The Skipper," "The Sea Captain") does not appear anywhere in the Disneyland Mansion, and never has, but that didn't prevent the Disney Merchandising Division from including him when they were planning their trinkets for the 50th Anniversary of the Anaheim attraction:

They're probably still wondering why they sold so few Culpeppers. I remember looking at the "Madame Leota's Heirlooms of the Passed" merch cart set up to sell these and other little jars containing various HM characters, and after a day of sales the pile of yet-unsold Clyne jars behind the cart was noticeably larger than the rest.

The cart before opening. They even shipped in brand new Cast Members to work the registers! To the right you
can see one of them tearing open and emerging from the bag she arrived in, as if from a cocoon. Kinda creepy.

Bad enough they were celebrating the golden anniversary of the original Haunted Mansion by marketing a ghost that was never in it, and isn't there now, but they were selling the character as he is filtered through the wretched WDW queue. And on top of that, they made what was bad, even worse, with a sad, extra verse. How can you drown in a bathtub by forgetting how to swim?

A Salty Dog

The Mariner as we know him first appeared in a 1964 drawing by Marc Davis, where he's just one of several small, rough sketches on a single sheet of paper unpublished until 2019:


If he's based on any particular character in artwork or photography, I haven't been able to find it. One problem with searching is that there
are just too many "old codger fisherman" photos that look a helluva lot like him. It doesn't take long to collect numerous photos like these:

For me, that hat always brings to mind well-known Winslow Homer paintings like "The Herring Net" and "Eight Bells."

In the present context I especially like "The Signal of Distress," because the shipwreck in the background is
reminiscent (at least to me) of the one in the Mariner painting, although I'm pretty sure there is no real connection.

You may have noticed I haven't (yet) called him "The Sea Captain," a throwback to the original HM backstory we all know so well. That's because he doesn't look like a pirate. In the '64 sketch there is nothing to suggest anything more than a common fisherman or whaler. Until very recently, I would have said the same thing about the following well-known sketch, but not anymore.

In 1968 Marc revisited the character. It's simply labeled "Phantom":

This one is everywhere. It's in all three editions of Surrell's book, at Doombuggies, in MDIHOW (Marc Davis In His Own Words), and was part of the 50th Anniversary exhibit at Disneyland. I have in the past asked myself, Why does everyone insist on identifying him with "the Sea Captain"? Nothing there to indicate anything more than a common seaman, right? Well, I'm no longer skeptical. He likely is a captain. Keep reading.

"Mystery Solved," He Trumpeted

Okay, it's time to settle once and for all The Big Mystery in this sketch: What the heck IS that thing he's holding in his left hand? I expect there are Forgottenistas among us who know enough about antique shipboard equipment to recognize it right away, but if you are one of those, I'll wager you are in the minority. The rest of us have been scratching our heads since the first time we saw this drawing. Some claim it's a wooden leg, but even in death he's got both of his lower limbs, so that doesn't make much sense. Perhaps it's a telescope with, I dunno, a jellyfish or something on the end?  A random, broken-off piece of the ship's wheel or something? What?

That, my friends, is a naval Speaking Trumpet, basically a megaphone, the kind of thing a ship's captain or some other senior officer might yell "All hands on deck!" and other cool, nautical stuff through. The oddly-shaped mouthpiece is the giveaway.

Marc doesn't screw up too often, but in this case I think he did. A speaking trumpet is not exactly an instantly-recognizable object, and in this case it's caricatured and presented as banged-up, which doesn't help. What it does do, however, is confirm that he is indeed a ship captain or senior officer and not just some random sailor, whaler, or fisherman. Without some such emblem of authority, that identification could well be questioned. (Now that I think about it, "screw up" may be a bit harsh, since it's only a concept sketch. Marc surely did not think it was ever going to be published, let alone re-published and re-re-published and hung on display.)

He Exchanged a Harpoon for a Harp . . .

. . . unless the Devil took him. When our Mariner was finally turned into a painting for the eyes-follow-you portrait hall in the WDW Mansion—one of the so-called "Sinister 11"—he was portrayed as a harpooner. Bit of a problem. The harpooner was not usually the actual captain of a whaling ship, so you could argue that in the only official incarnation of the Mariner (until the WDW queue), the rank of captain has indeed been dropped, leaving nothing there to connect him with the old Sea Captain backstory. On the other hand, you could counter that he's to be taken as captain just by virtue of the composition of the painting, with him standing proudly front-and-center against the background of the wreckage of his ship. 

For full-size version, click HERE

And besides, didn't the most famous whaling captain of all time (Ahab, in Moby Dick) end up handling the
harpoon? People are more likely to think of that than typical, real-life whaling ship protocols, so there you go.

Davis himself did a rendering of Ahab with his harpoon in his
concept artwork for the American Pavilion exhibit at EPCOT.


As we've pointed out before, the "Sinister 11" painting leaves no room for doubt that the man it depicts is the ghost of a whaler who drowned in a shipwreck. You can see through him, and he's covered with seaweed, barnacles, and a starfish, indicating long submergence, and the shipwreck is obviously there to indicate cause of death. All of this makes the "Culpepper Clyne" tubsoleum at WDW completely impossible. Everything about the tubsoleum is designed so as to cement the identity of its occupant with the man in the Mariner painting, and yet the tub says he did not drown at sea but in his bathtub. Stupid stupid stupid. Sorry to regurgitate all this, but if they're determined to find new ways to market the character, I figure I have legitimate excuse to restate my objections, especially if they insist on making the whole thing even dumber than before.

Edit: It seems that X Atencio decided to play around with Marc's sketch to see if he could "plus it" in some way, as can be seen in this newly-unearthed artwork. Instead of a lantern, he's holding a fish, and he's got an albatross hanging around his neck. X is identifying Marc's sailor with the title character in Coleridge's epic poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," who kills an albatross early in the poem and is made by the other sailors to wear the dead bird around his neck as penance, seeing as how killing an albatross was considered dangerous and wicked by the superstitious seamen. (Hence the cliché about "having an albatross around one's neck," meaning something burdensome that one has unfortunately brought upon oneself). This would be another example of populating the Mansion with famous literary characters, except that Coleridge's Mariner was not a ghost or villain.

Doré illustration. Yeah, it does look like a major pain.

One Last Gasp

The old Mariner made one further appearance on Marc's drawing board. In the early 70's, Marc was asked to jazz up parts of WDW, and one new idea was the "Treasure Island Shipwreck," to be located on Bay Lake. There was to be a walk-thru attraction there based on that trusty concept, the pirate ghost, in this case a certain "Captain Flint." Some spooky tableaux were planned, including one scene depicting a ship's galley, where a ghostly figure would appear and speak (via Pepper's Ghost, natch). Concept art from 1975, first published in 2019 (MDIHOW 608), presents us with a very familiar figure.

Starfish and everything. And with this we've come almost full circle, since what we have here is plainly based on the infamous Rolly Crump/Yale Gracey 1959 mock-up of a scene intended to be used in the Haunted Mansion. You remember, that's the one in which the ghost of a piratical sea captain appears in exactly this soggy form and is frightened away by the ghost of his murdered wife. If you're not familiar with that episode, listen to Rolly explain the whole thing:

Rolly Crump on the "Sea Captain" Tableau
(from "The Haunted Mansion Story volume one" Extinct Attractions DVD)

Reportedly, everyone who saw the mock-up was dazzled by it, and it may very well have been included in the attraction if it had remained a walk-thru. (As many of you know, when they went with the doombuggy conveyance system, lengthy tableaux like this became impractical.) It's unlikely that Marc was there to see the '59 mock-up, as he was still working in Animation at the time, but he probably heard about it, and after all those years he thought it was a good enough idea to try out again. It's true that all of Marc's sketches were at least indirectly based on the Crump/Gracey figure, but only here do we see the ghost with water literally showering down upon him.

Alas, the "Treasure Island Shipwreck" came to nothing, but at least there's some cool artwork. It's interesting to me how this final attempt to bring to realization the murderous sea captain harked all the way back to the original concept, almost. Almost, because before Rolly and Yale's waterlogged version there was Ken Anderson's "Captain Gore," which started it all. Who knows, maybe some day they will finally find a way to bring this illusion to life (or should we say death?).

At least for Marc, though, this last gasp was indeed a complete return to the beginning.