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Frames of Time...

020_04 - Mickey Mail
This Disney collector's card reminded me that while working in the character department at Disneyland in the 1970s, one of my tasks became answering fan mail.

Even though Mickey and his gang were created at the famed Disney studio in Burbank, Mickey seems to have been established as a resident of Disneyland. And that isn't too surprising. After all, where does one go to meet the mouse?

When I got the gig, I found several boxes of un-answered mail. Since there were no official fan mail folks at the Park, I sort of had to follow general guidelines. First was that any mail older than 1 year was to be discarded. It was felt the child would have grown enough to have forget they wrote. Second guideline was that short letters, one sentence or less, received a short response on paper. A letter that was lengthier, a paragraph or more, got a short response and a signed photo of Mickey. Third, all letters were to be hand written. It was deemed that Mickey was too much a "childlike" character to use a typewriter.

I got my first batch and went to work. My first task was to start reading them. I was aware of fan letters to celebrities, but it never had occurred to me that someone would write to fictional characters. The letters to Mickey and his friends were humorous, astounding, revealing, demanding, sad, disturbing and unbelievable.

The letters were sometimes a few words like "I love you Mickey" (or Donald, or Pluto or any one of the Disney characters seen in the Park). Some letters were simply requests, "Please send me a photo" (or drawing or free tickets, etc.). Then there were the "about me" letters where the child would ramble a bit about their school or hobby or what they did yesterday, etc. And, of course, there were the "about you" letters which had the writer talking all about Mickey (or other character), his cartoons, his ice shows, etc. Some would include drawings of the characters, or even an occasional photo of the child with the character in an attempt to remind Mickey who was writing.

You also had the "book letters", these were the ones that went on for pages. They were usually a combination of the "about me" and "about you" letters. The child would go on and on about how much they liked the character, and all the things going on in their lifes. These were often the ones that turned odd. Even in those days, children had little or no filters in their minds for details. I'd read about family issues, problems at school, things the child did that were wrong (and often asking Mickey if it really was wrong), parents, friends or pets who had died, and other touchy subjects.

Answering the letters varied in difficulty. If there was a question (where do you live, how old are you, what's your favorite flavor of ice cream, does Pluto live with Mickey, will Mickey ever marry Minnie, etc.), the letter gave a simple and mostly honest answer. I say mostly, because even though Mickey was around 50 years old, it was preferred we didn't bring that up to children. To such questions, I might reply, "Gosh! I forgot to count the candles on my birthday cake."

The ones with requests were also pretty easy. If it was a photo, that was not problem. If it was something of value (like free tickets to the Park), I had to come up with an excuse that would work with kids. Sometimes it would be something like "I live here. I'm not sure how all our visitors get in." If the request was simply impossible, (can you come visit me, can you tell my parents something, etc.) I would reply as vaguely as possible. If the letter was old enough, say several months, I would simply not respond the to request and talk of other things.

That leads me to what I called my "fantasy" responses. These were sent to kids who sent the short letters. When I got letters that said simply "I love you" or "Hello" or "My name is --", I would need to invent a letter. After all, the children had written and would feel bad if they did not get a response. So I would write back and say "thanks" and then talk about what we did "yesterday". My most frequent one was a picnic that we went on. That allowed the letter to be from any character. Donald, Goofy, Minnie, Pooh, etc. all talked of a picnic they went on yesterday and the fun they had. The letter would end with a "I hope you had a fun day too!"

As for the autographed photos, I would sign those too. The Disney studio had an official signature for Mickey. At the time, it was simply his name in upper case block letters. They said it should be printed, since they were trying to maintain that "childlike" essence to Mickey. I made a slight change, reversing the "y". We sent it to the studio, and they loved it. The fan mail person at Disney stated they would follow my lead. I know signed hundreds of Mickey photos that way before my tenure passed. (Years later, I found one of my letters and signed photos at a collectibles show with a price of $20 on it!)

I notice by the card, they've changed Mickey's signature. It is now more scripted. I also note that he and Minnie are doing a lot of traveling. I wonder, with today's savvier kids, if Mickey gets asked if he and Minnie stay in the same hotel room when traveling.

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