John Cawley
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Frames of Time...

005_04 - The backside of water...
Back in college, I was part of an elite department known as "The Honors Program". One of the things it entailed was to create a special project for your final year. As I was gaining an interest in animation history, I thought I would create a multi-media project on the animated features of Walt Disney. At this time, there were around 4 books about animation, mostly covering foreign films, and no ready access to the Disney films.

The work on my journalism degree had taught me to utilize local sources. Since I was living in Orange County, I figured a job at Disneyland would give me all sorts of access to insider Disney information. I went to apply for the job of a costume character. It seemed such a job would be full of training materials on the actual Disney animation library. However, I was told at the interview that costume positions were filled by a special, annual audition, which had just passed.

My career counselor felt my bubbly personality would be a perfect fit for The Jungle Cruise. I had been on the ride a number of times, and thought it could be a fun option. After all, just working at Disneyland was the real goal. I later learned that a Jungle Cruiser was one of the most sought jobs in the park, as it was true "entertainment" as opposed to ticket taker (yes, they still had tickets at the time), food service or store sales.

The first thing I discovered was there were two uniforms. One, the most common, was a khaki, safari style shirt, pants and hat. The second, less used, was called "the Bogie" and was patterned after Humphrey Bogart's costume in THE AFRICAN QUEEN. Being a big film buff, I chose the Bogie. Sometime in the 1980s, the Bogie was finally retired.

Of course my main task was to learn the script, so as best to explain the main animatronic wonders from snapping alligators ("he's always looking for a hand out"), to head hunters ("he has a special today, two of his for one of your's") to Schweitzer Falls ("and here's something you don't often see, the back of water"). The spiel ran a full 7 minutes. However, to keep crowds down, you were to make the trip in 5. Hence most drivers edited the material.

While loading and unloading the dock, you got to be the most creative. You had to continually babble as the crowd slowly came in and got out. "Please slide along the seat cushions, it helps clean them." "Please fill both sides of the boat. We want a balanced boat. We already have an unbalanced driver." "How many people are here for the first time? (pause for show of hands) How many are here for the last time."

Actually, the Jungle Cruise patter was usually the 2nd or 3rd most complained about item by guests. (Not seeing costume characters was usually number one.) Folks griped that the lines were sexist, racist, and such. Oddly, the lines most complained about were the ones in the script! Biggest complaint came from women who thought the female elephant jokes and the "mother-in-law special" were in poor taste. For those who don't recall, the "mother-in-law special" was half price, for half way.

The work wasn't particularly hard, but there were hazards. The boats were on tracks, but if you caught a wake wrong, the boat would "ride the wave" and go off the track. It would then drift into areas not meant for cruisers. There were several boats that had faulty motors. You could easily become stranded mid-ride until the Jungle repair and tow company showed up. And since those squirting elephants were full of water, a faulty engine, or miss-timed turn could soak all the riders.

The guns were real guns and used blanks. They usually hung on the front pole, for easy reach against hippos. On private party nights, we wore the guns on our belts, wild west style. The park feared partying guests, especially those from "needy neighborhoods" (as park execs put it), might try to grab for the gun. The theory was that we might not notice a light fingered patron slipping the gun out of the pole holster, but we would "feel" the gun being taken our side. On those nights, it was not unusual to find two skippers trying to outdraw each other "old west style" in the break areas.

I worked the Cruise for around a year, and had a variety of real life adventures. Then I was able to transfer into the character department. It was a major shift, for I went from having one of the most loved jobs, at the top of the ride chain, to a position equivalent to a sewer worker. But those are other stories.

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