John Cawley
Home of John Cawley

Dedicated to My Wife & Times - A Site for Sore Eyes

Back To Archives
Back To Main Page

Frames of Time...

038_04 - Happy Birthday Mickey Mouse!
In 1977, Disney began the build-up to the 50th birthday of Mickey Mouse, which would take place November 1978. The celebration included a train ride by Mickey from California to New York. Much to the studio's surprise, the train trip became a major event. Even when the Mouse's stop was at Midnight, thousands of people showed up. It re-instated Mickey as a major property in the eyes of the studio.

As part of the celebration, Disneyland presented a major parade. And I mean a MAJOR parade. This was back before the budgeted parades of today. At this time, Disneyland parades were lengthy affairs, that made the hours of wait to get a spot on the curb worth it! There were bands, floats and lots of costume characters.

To lead off the parade, Bernard, Bianca and Orville, the stars of Disney's latest film, THE RESCUERS, were chosen. After a long line of dancing characters, bands, floats, celebrities and more, the parade would end with a big cake float. It was a grand affair.

However, the photo shows Bernard and company at the cake float. What happened?

As it turned out, when Bernard debuted at Disneyland, I was cast as the main Bernard. I had been the human model and the suit had been built to my height. This became a slight inside joke amongst the zoo crew. The costume's official height was 5'3". However, I was a tall 5'4" at the time.

I was scheduled in Bernard five days a week for the summer. When it came to begin rehearsals for the parade, our choreographed was not happy. She knew I was one of the weaker dancers in the group. It was an even situation; she was one of the weakest choreographers I worked with. Though she worked for the Park many years, she never seemed to learn the movements allowed within costume, at one time creating a routine where all the dwarfs danced with pom-poms, dropped then and then joined hands. I had the sad job of pointing out that the dwarfs didn't have working hands.

I worked hard, but was not the perfection needed for the start of a Disneyland parade. After some discussion, it was decided a more capable dancing group would lead the parade. I believe it was Winnie the Pooh and crew. However, with THE RESCUERS debuting around the country, the studio balked at losing a key promotional spot. I suggested that rather than lead the parade, Disney's newest stars could appear at the end, surprising the crowd with the birthday cake float. The choreographer wasn't sure, but the studio loved it.

So for the run of the parade, Bernard and company brought up the rear. In my true fashion, I only spent half my time dancing. The other half was spent playing around. I would play with the float, going up to it and wiping it with my hand, pretending to be eating it. When I had a clever Bianca, she would come and slap my hand. The other time was spent shaking hands and goofing with kids in the audience. It had always been my belief that kids would rather touch a character at Disneyland than simply see it from afar.

As a costume note, the original Bernard suit had been a bit innovative in its design. Bernard (and Bianca) were designed to only have one working hand. The other hand remained inside the head and was used to manipulate the pupils in the eyes! This meant the character could look left, right, up, down, etc. without moving its head. This was fun as it could shock folks not used to seeing a costume's eyes move. Of course this also meant one of hands was sewn to the suit and could not move.

Though it was nice for the design department to get creative, the lack of both arms soon became an issue. In less than a year, they had re-fit the costume to utilize both hands. For awhile, the heads still had the mechanisms for the eyes to move, which led to lots of fun in the break areas. Later they eyes became fully fixed to keep them from shifting accidentally.

Also a note about Mickey's 50th Birthday. The success of the event led many a newspaper cartoonist to do gags with an old Mickey. Due to the continual jokes, eventually the Disney characters stopped having "birthdays", and simply had "anniversaries". Other studios soon followed suit so cartoon characters could officially stop aging.

Back To Archives
Back To Main Page