I’ve known my next interviewee for a few years now. I met her when she and her sister opened Brainabilty, a local educational facility that presented unique and creative programming for children. My daughter LOVED it. Then, she helped me with some donations of stuffed animals for the Huggable Bears for Georgia’s Children project which provides stuffed animals for children in caught in middle of the child support system in Georgia. Recently, she and her husband took ownership of a local lighting store, House Electric. In addition to all this, she puts on one of the best Vacation Bible Schools in Athens! She’s a joy to know and to call a friend…introducing, Charlotte House.
Tell us about yourself:
My name’s Charlotte House, I’m 39 and from Gainesville, Georgia. My husband, Geoff, and I now live in Athens. We went to Walt Disney World for our first anniversary and we were picked to open up MGM Studios. I know it’s ‘Disney Hollywood Studios’ now, but to me, it’s still MGM. We got to go in early and they helped us with a script that we did with some of the street actors. Then they whisked us away and took us straight to The Tower of Terror to ride it by ourselves. Well, I’d been there and done that, and it is just not my kind of ride, so Geoff ended up riding it by himself while I waited by the photo screens with a cast member. It was hysterical to see all of these images of empty elevators and then all of a sudden to see Geoff sitting by himself in the huge elevator car. They gave us a copy of the photo and special buttons and we had people pointing at us all day saying, “Look, it’s the people who opened the park. I wonder if they’re famous?” We certainly felt famous that day!
Charlotte and Geoff at Hollywood Studios
Riding up the hill to the Tower of Terror
Geoff on the Tower of Terror
Do you have a favorite Disney Park?
Ooh this is a tough one!! Don’t know that I can pick one.
What’s your favorite Disney attraction?
I love to see the parades! They are always a must on my list!!
Who doesnt love a parade!
The Walt Disney World Bicentennial Parade in 1976. Thanks to Loren Javier on Flickr for this. Click on the photo to check out his Flickr stream, he's got some great ones!
Do you have a favorite Disney food/treat and souvenir?
Popcorn and a Diet coke in souvenir buckets and mugs and my Mickey Mouse Ears with my name embroidered on the back.
Feel free to read these fascinating blog posts about Mickey Ears here, here and here.
Favorite Disney movie?
Mary Poppins and The Lion King
Did you ever see a celebrity in the parks?
Yes, several. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter; Michael Jackson; M.C. Hammer and his whole entourage; Melanie Griffith; Princess Diana with Prince William and Andrew. Of course, I saw Mickey and his gang as well!
Did you know Griffith and then husband Don Johnson opened "EuroDisney" in 1994? Click the photo for more info.
Bet you didnt know MC Hammer had an animated series once. Complete with talking shoes. Note Darkwing Duck on the cover. Remember him?
This bust of Jimmy Carter was created by Blaine Gibson. In 1939, Gibson joined the Walt Disney Studios as an animator and worked on 'Fantasia,' 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Peter Pan' among others. Click on the image for more info.
What do you do now?
We own House Electric here in Athens, and I’m a Georgia Wolf Trap Teaching Artist working with the Alliance Theater in Atlanta.
Tell us about your time at Disney:
I worked there 3 years, 1990-93, during the peak seasons: Summer, Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break. I lived in Kissimmee at the time. I was a Casual Temporary or (CT) in merchandising and my costume was a red skirt, white polo with the Mickey Mouse Club logo and Mickey Ears. I also worked in “glow” for overtime, when it was available. “Glow” is selling all of the glow-in-the-dark and light-up merchandise when the sun goes down. I would walk up and down Main Street with light up roses or glow sticks before Spectro Magic would run. Then I would watch the parade and then sell some more glow! Back then we didn’t have anything near what they do today! We were able to carry or wear everything and still had our hands free to make change. Today they have full carts loaded up with glow. The only two glow products that I can remember were the necklaces and a glowing, battery operated rose. I saw a lot of very excited children who would beg their parents for cash and a lot of parents who were very reluctant to purchase them.
Charlotte in costume hanging with Mickey
The main jobs that were available to CT’s were attractions, merchandise or food services. Disney would move you around within the parks, but only within the category you were trained in, so I never worked food service or attractions.
Which park or unit did you work in?
The Magic Kingdom in Mickey’s Starland. This was first built as Mickey’s Birthdayland in 1988. In 1990, it became Starland and then Mickey’s Toon Town Fair in 1996. If an area in the park was short employees, they would shuffle you around to different areas. So, I worked in Tomorrowland, Liberty Square, The Pirates of the Caribbean and on Main Street.
Thanks to Dan Alexander for this great scan. Click the photo for more info and a larger photo.
Why did you begin working for Disney?
I needed a summer job and I thought it would be fun. So, I went to Florida one weekend, found the Casting Center and interviewed. I walked out the door with a new summer job!
Why did you leave?
It was time to find a “real” job. I was getting ready to graduate from UGA and had to complete an internship at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta who hired me full-time after my internship so I choose to stay there instead of returning to Disney.
Tell us a favorite memory of working there:
Wow! I have tons of favorites!! One, in particular I’ll never forget, was an evening when I was closing. It was very late, way past when the Magic Kingdom had closed. I walked all the way through Mickey’s Starland and Fantasyland and everything was completely silent. There was no one around, or at least not within my seeing or hearing range. It felt as though I had the Magic Kingdom all to myself. I know it sounds dorky, but it was a feeling like no other that I treasure.
Tell us about a challenging day:
As part of closing procedures, we were responsible for doing “strollers.” This meant that we had to roll all of the strollers that were left in our land and take them to the bridge next to Cinderella’s Castle.
Most evenings, it was a pretty daunting task because of the number of strollers left behind. Lots of guests with children would visit Mickey’s Starland and then hop on the train to Main Street, leaving their strollers behind. Most lands might have a handful to take care of but we usually had 20 or more. So, one evening, it was time to take care of them, several of us started gathering strollers and hooking them together by leaning the stroller back and placing the front wheel in the basket of the stroller in front of it. Then we’d continue staggering the strollers until they were all hooked together. However, this time, we had an extremely large number of strollers with only myself and two other girls to push. Why I volunteered to take the lead, I don’t know, but I did. So, after getting a good head of steam, we had the strollers really moving towards the Teacups, and I had to make a turn to the left. Apparently, I wasn’t strong enough (or maybe I was too strong) to push them into the turn so…suddenly the whole line of strollers lost control and went careening across Fantasyland…and tipped over! There were strollers everywhere. We were bruised and bleeding from trying to stop them, and laughing uncontrollably all the while. It took us forever to get all of the strollers cleaned up and make our way to Cinderella’s Castle. Of course, after that I was never allowed to lead the stroller train again!
Tell us one of the most interesting or funniest events while you were working:
A call for volunteers was posted for anyone who wanted take part in the 20th Anniversary photo shoot. To me this was a no brainer – what an oppurtunity! We were to be dressed in our costumes and to meet at the front gates of the Magic Kingdom. It was really early in the morning because we had to get the shot before guests started to arriving. Cast members were positioned behind the railing above the floral Mickey at the ticket station. In front of us, the costumed characters were carefully arranged in the shape of a 20. We were never told where or when they would use the photo and for a long time I thought it would never be seen. Then one day I got a copy of the ad from a friend. He was flying someplace and saw it in a Delta SKY magazine and realized that I was in the top right hand corner. He tore the page from the magazine and sent it to me!
The SKY Magazine photo
Tells us something no one knows about Disney:
In Peter Pan’s Flight to Neverland, Captain Hook’s hook was on the wrong hand. His hook should be on his left hand, but in the ride it was on his right. I don’t know if they ever fixed it or not, I guess I will have to check it out next time I am there.
Would you go back?
Yes! I actually interviewed a few years ago and was offered a CT position to work at the Tower of Terror, but I was unable to make it to the training sessions.
(Ed’s note: If you’ve wanted to know what it was like to control The Tower of Terror, have a look at Randy Reighard’s ToT simulation site.)
Did it help your future career?
Not sure that it helped my career, but it sure does make for a lively interview when people see “Disney” in my job history!
What, if anything, did you learn from Disney?
Walt Disney was never afraid to dream. He took a small sketch of a mouse and turned it into an empire of fun and wholesomeness that has spread across the world for more than three generations! This taught me to never think a dream is too small or too big. A dream is meant to be chased for it can become real if you believe!
Are you still in contact with Disney co-workers?
Yes, I am friends with several of them on Facebook. A big Mickey shout out to Leslie, Rex, Brian, Jeff, Greg and Terry!
Charlotte and co-worker pose with an Ewok in front of Star Tours. When was the last time anyone saw an Ewok at Disney??
I know for a fact no one's seen Michelangelo at Disney for years.
Did you even remember 'The Rocketeer' being a Disney property?
If you worked in the parks, how did you share the Disney magic?
In many different ways! As a matter of fact, Disney sends you to Disney University to attend their ‘Traditons’ class before you start your job. This is where you learn all sorts of things to be a part of the magic, like not to make a funny face when people ask, “What time is the 3:00 parade?,” or how to point things out using your whole hand or two fingers, because in some cultures it is rude to point with one finger.
EPCOT cast member Becca shows us the Disney 'two-finger' point. Many thanks to Lynn Wiltse from http://www.wdwfanzone.com for getting me this shot.
You learn how to tell the difference between Chip and Dale and how to name all seven of the dwarfs. And of course you learn Disney lingo: you’re not an employee, you’re a cast member. If you are in front of visitors you are “on stage” and if you are not where guests are, you are “back stage.” You go on tours around the parks to know where things are. Plus, they teach you the Disney way of dressing.
Could you tell them apart just by looking?
Charlotte backstage with Mickey
What was your favorite Hidden Mickey?
Working back in Mickey’s Starland, I became very fond of “Minnie Moo”. She was the cow that was born with the classic three-circle pattern on her side!
(Ed’s note: Minnie Moo, the Holstein cow born with a large silhouette of Mickey Mouse’s head and ears on her side, died in 2001 at 15 years of age. Minnie Moo came to the Walt Disney World Resort from Minnesota in 1990. She lived for several years at Grandma Duck’s Farm at the Magic Kingdom and later moved to the Petting Farm at the Tri-Circle D Rance at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.)
What advice would you give to a guest visiting the parks from the perspective of a cast member?
There is a HUGE difference with the crowds between the “peak” and “off” seasons. If you can plan your vacation during the off-season, the lines and waits will be much shorter! Also, use a park map and a schedule to plan your day. A family can get really worn out running back and forth across the park to catch rides and shows. A little planning goes a LONG, LONG way towards a fun and memorable trip!
Get one of these. Use it.
If you could change anything about Disney, what would it be?
To change the Snow White ride. The story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is such a great story, but the ride in Fantasyland mainly focuses on the witch. She pops out everywhere cackling and trying to give away poison apples! I would enjoy it more if the focus was on the whole storyline.
(Ed’s note: The good news here is Snow White will be moving into a new atraction when the Fantasyland expansion opens next year. Below are some artist renderings of the new Seven Dwarves Mine Train.)
Are you glad you worked there?
Absolutely! It was a fantastic time! I loved seeing and learning about all of the “Behind the Magic” things that happen at Disney. Plus, we were encouraged to visit the theme parks on our days off. This way we became more familiar with the parks and were better able to help guests. Some days I would show up early and go ride something before clocking in. You gotta love a job where you can go take a spin in a tea cup before you start work!
In fact, I’ve wanted to go back to work at Disney ever since I left. It just wasn’t geographically right for where I was at the time. My dream job is to be Snow White in a parade. What woman wouldn’t want to be followed around all day by seven adorable men?! Unfortunately, at 5’6”, Disney says I am too tall to be a princess. I still think that if they would put me in flats and not heels I could pull it off…how ‘bout them apples?
Back in the day, you could pick up one of these EPCOT passports and take it around World Showcase and have cast members from around the world stamp and sign it.
Just like this!
Anything else you’d like to share?
If you have the chance to work at Disney go for it! It truly is a one of a kind, unforgettable experience!
Charlotte with Panchito Pistoles, or Panchito Romero Miguel Junipero Francisco Quintero González III, at EPCOT. Oddly enough, Duffy the Bear was nowhere to be seen 😉
See ya real soon!