Horrific images from the 40s, 50s & 60s

Anaheim Car Crashes

Mell Kilpatrick

Fifty Years After His Death

1st Chief Photographer for the Orange County Register


New books and magazine offer different peeks at Disneyland's past

Jim Hill

Given the continuing uproar over Disneyland's "Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" ride (After I posted that piece about this much maligned attraction at JHM last week, I received a record number of hate e-mails. So it's pretty clear that that column really struck a nerve with at least some of you folks), it's obvious that quite a number of you long for the good old days.

You know, back when the Anaheim theme park was new? When Disneyland was still considered the crown jewel of the Disney Corporation? Which meant that the park was always kept in pristine condition.

Well, if you'd like to be reminded of what "The Happiest Place on Earth" was really like 'way back then, then you might want to pick up a copy of Carlene Thie's "Disneyland ... The Beginning" (Ape Pen Publishing, July 2003). For -- inside this book's covers -- you'll find another wide selection of Mell Kilpatrick's great photographs of the park. Which will give you an idea for what Disneyland was really like back in the early days (1954 - 1961).

Now -- of course - a lot of you are (no doubt) probably already familiar with Thie's earlier books: "A Photographer's Life with Disney Under Construction," "Disney's Early Years Through the Eyes of a Photographer" and "Disney Years Seen Through a Photographer's Lens." If not ... well, I reviewed all three of Carlene's previous Disneyland photo collection books for JimHillMedia.com a month or so back. You can read that mostly positive story.

Anyway ... as I said in that review, Thie's "Disneyland Under Construction" books have gotten better and better as each new volume has been added to the series. But with "Disneyland ... The Beginning," Carlene's publishing project takes a real step-up in quality. Why for? Well, this time around, Thie has supplemented her grandfather's killer photographs with some truly fun essays from Disney Company vets.

So, who's contributed stories and memories to "Disneyland ... The Beginning?" Would you believe Walt's own daughter, Diane Disney Miller? Diane contributes a foreword to the book where she recalls that her father told Miller to stay away from Disneyland on the park's official opening day. Why for? Because Walt was sure that the Anaheim theme park would "be a mess" on July 18th.

Carlene also persuaded veteran Imagineers like Sam McKim, Bob Gurr, Harriet Burns, Rolly Crump and Alice Davis to contribute essays to the book. Harriet has some particularly funny stories to pass along in "Disneyland ... The Beginning." Burns recalled that -- on the day before Disneyland opened -- "We took props down to Anaheim and found construction rubble and rolls of wire everywhere. Everyone said 'No way can they open tomorrow.'" But -- 24 hours later -- "... everything looked perfect. As the landscapers planted all night."

Fold in an additional essay by Art Linkletter ... plus (for the first time ever in the "Disneyland Under Construction" series) color photographs of the park ... and perhaps you'll see why picking up a copy of Carlene Thie's "Disneyland ... The Beginning" might be a smart move for all you Disneyana bibliophiles out there.

On the other hand, if you're one of those folks who believes that Disneyland was at its best in the early 1970s, then you might want to chase down a copy of Firoozeh Dumas's "Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America" (Villard Books, June 2003). For this charming collection of essays offers a unique look at the park circa 1972.

You see, Firoozeh wasn't your typical Disneyland tourist. Her family moved from Abadan, Iran to Whittier, California in the early 1970s. And her father, Kazem (an engineer for the National Iranian Oil Company) just loved America. Particularly the country's theme parks.

Which is why -- every weekend -- the Dumas family would pile into the car and head off to Marine World or Knotts Berry Farms. But -- of all the theme parks in Southern California -- Kazem's absolute favorite was Disneyland.

Why for? Well, to quote Firoozeh:

"My father believed that Walt Disney was a genius, a man whose vision allowed everyone, regardless of age, to relive the wonderment of childhood. Ask my father what he considers to be man's greatest creation in the twentieth century and he won't say computers, the Concorde, or knee replacement surgery. For him, 'Pirates of the Caribbean' represented the pinnacle of man's creative achievement. No matter how many times my father goes on that ride, he remains as impressed as a Disneyland virgin. 'Did you see that pirate leg hanging over the bridge? Could somebody remind me that it wasn't real? And the battle between the ships, geez, was I the only one ready to duck and cover? What kind of a man would think of creating something like this? A genius, that's who.' I doubt that even Walt Disney's mother felt as much pride in her son as my father did."

Firoozeh's family went back to Disneyland so often that her father began acting as sort of a defacto tour guide / theme park authority for all of his Iranian colleagues. Given the number of times that the Dumases went back to the Anaheim theme park, the author began to grow a bit bored with Disneyland ... which is why she gave her family the slip one day and ...

No! It won't be fair to spoil the fun of the rest of that story. Or any of the other wonderfully witty essays that you'll find in "Funny in Farsi." Let's just say that Firoozeh Dumas' memoir of growing up in U.S. just before the hostage crisis came along and changed forever how most Americans viewed Iranians is a real eye opener. A funny, wise if somewhat bittersweet tale that I think you'll really enjoy reading.

I should probably point out here -- even though Firoozeh appears with Mickey Mouse on the front cover of her memoir -- Disneyland and Disney-related stories actually take up a relatively small portion of "Funny in Farsi." Mind you, this book is still very much worth reading. It's just not as chock full of Disney stories as its cover might imply.

However, what IS absolutely chock full of Disneyland and Disney-related info is the latest issue of "The 'E' Ticket" magazine. Leon and Jack Janzen have done it again, gang. I would have thought -- given that this is Issue No. 40 of their fine fanzine -- that these guys would have finally begun to run out of great behind-the-scene stories to tell about "The Happiest Place on Earth." But the Janzens must someone be related to the Energizer Bunny. For they just keep going and going and going ...

Now -- just to be fair -- I should say that this issue of "The 'E' Ticket" DOES touch on subject matter that Leon and Jack have previously covered in Issue 14 of their amazing magazine. Namely Tomorrowland's old "Adventure Thru Inner Space" attraction. But this story about the Mighty Microscope isn't a rerun. But -- rather -- an all-new article that features color photographs as well as never-before-seen concept art. So I seriously doubt that Leon & Jack are going to hear any complaints from Disneyana fans.

Also included in this issue is a great interview with Art Linkletter (who reveals here that he actually tried to talk Walt out of building Disney World. Arguing that there is only one Niagara Falls, one Pyramids ... so there should be only one Disneyland) as well as an article about Disney collector extraordinaire Richard Kraft. (Wait 'til you see what this guy has in his Disneyana collection. A really-for-real Frontierland canoe. A "Dumbo the Flying Elephant" car. A WDW Skyway bucket. A "Mr. Toad" car. As well as an authentic Disneyland keelboat.)

All this -- plus a rather touching tribute to late Imagineer David Mumford -- makes the Fall 2003 issue of "The 'E' Ticket" a magazine that every serious Disneyana fan should have a copy of. Pick this issue up today by ordering a copy through the Janzen's website. Or -- better yet -- by subscribing to this fine periodical. You can find out how to do that at "The 'E' Ticket" website.

Oh, before I forget, if you'd like to get a copy of "Disneyland ... The Beginning," you can order one directly from Ape Pen Publishing or by calling the publisher directly at 1-951-818-3694. (If I'm remembering correctly, the LaughingPlace.com store also has several copies currently available for purchase. So -- if you'd like to do some comparison shopping on this Mel Kilpatrick / Carlene Thie book -- you can do so at their site.)

Finally, if you'd like to purchase a copy of Firoozeh Dumas's "Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America," you can do so via our Amazon.com link below.

Okay. That's enough books and magazine reviews for today. Now -- if you'll excuse me -- I've got to get started on tomorrow's "Why For" column.

A New Book offers

a new peek at Disneyland past

One-of-a-kind pages from Bob Gurr's “Design Just for Fun” Available through Ape Pen PublishingBob_Gurr_Design_Just_For_Fun_Book.htmlBob_Gurr_Design_Just_For_Fun_Book.htmlBob_Gurr_Design_Just_For_Fun_Book.htmlBob_Gurr_Design_Just_For_Fun_Book.htmlshapeimage_9_link_0shapeimage_9_link_1shapeimage_9_link_2shapeimage_9_link_3

More Articles On Mell Kilpatrick / Ape Pen Publishing/ / Carlene Thie

Mell Kilpatrick

His career as a news photographer began in 1948 and he eventually became the chief photographer for the Orange County Register - then called Santa Ana Register. Having already established a rapport with the local community Mell was the perfect guy to get the perfect angle. As one of Orange County’s best-known cameramen, he covered Orange County in every possible manner by air, on foot, by car, and even by boat.

At first, he photographed evidence for insurance companies,the corners, as well accidents for the Highway Patrol; even carrying a police badge to access the crime scenes.. They were modern-day memento, black-and-white documents of death.

Mell’s style so was unique,that it captured Walt Disney attention. While Disney had all the machinery at hand to build castles and rivers, one thing Walt didn’t have was a place for his staff to develop their photographs. As luck would have it, Mell was on the spot and granted Walt’s staff unlimited access his darkroom. A local place to develop official Disney photographers photos. The park’s first images were developed in Mell’s Santa Ana darkroom.

Having done this, a friendship-business relationship began to develop. Walt then opened the castle drawbridge and gave Mell unlimited access to the park, during construction and throughout the early years of Disneyland a privilege not granted to others outside the parks only Disney own photographers.

Mell worked relentlessly to capture on film Walt Disney’s dream. He climbed atop scaffolding, crawled into tunnels, even hung out of a light plane 5,000 feet above Disneyland to snap the perfect shot.

Mell Kilpatrick covered the park from the first spade of dirt being shoveled, to the uprooting of the orange trees, all the way to the completion of the park. He was there for the infamous opening day, known as Black Sunday. Mell had a unique eye for photography, and reported the news in a timely fashion. His skills and know how helped him to continue his coverage, of the park while writing about the inside world of Disneyland.

Of the many Disneyland articles written by Mell, one in particularly caught my eye. Published in the July 15th, 1955 Santa Ana Register - two days before the official opening of the Park under the title: ‘All Employees Schooled’

Pictured are a few of the 1100 employees who attended orientation classes before assuming their duties at Walt Disney’s magic kingdom. The importance of good manners and good grooming, along with correct handling of jobs under discussion is stressed. The accompanying photograph captures a Disneyland employee’s orientation class. Sitting in the front row is my father, Curtis Sissel, who was not only part of this orientation class, but also worked on the construction of the Sleeping Beauty Castle and other Disneyland buildings.

What’s equally amazing is the story of who Mell was before he became a photographer. Mells original desire was to become a musician so he and wife moved to Southern California when he landed a job at the Diana Ballroom. He played the coronet there till late 1947. Then he moved onto becoming a projectionist due to periodontal disease that ended his musical career.

While Mell continued to work at theaters threading reels of film, he picked up another type of film and began shooting photographs of accidents for the Insurance Companies. In that same year, Mell started contributing his photographic work at the Santa Register. By November of 1948, at the age of forty six, Mell began his new career as a news photographer at the Register. With no known experience of being a journalist, the ex-musician became one of the best well known cameramen in Orange County and the first Chief Photographer of the Register. He would go on to documenting everything from car accidents to crime scenes. From highway 101 taking form to one of Orange County’s defining monuments … Disneyland.

Back in 1954 when Disneyland project was announced, the Santa Ana Registers had a circulation of about 30,000 to 40,000. Average pay was $1.25 per hour, making it where you had to turn in at least 80 hours per week to make a living. So it was part of the norm for photographers to freelance and then sell their images to outside sources.

Not only were pay scales unbelievably different 50 years ago, so was photography. Mell’s basic photo outfit consisted of 2 cameras, electronic flash, light meter, Tripod, and a gadget bag. Mell had no PhotoShop and digital darkroom. He developed his prints by hand; standing over a row of printing trays, the hot water causing steam to rise up and swirl around him. Wearing a blue technician’s jacket, much like the ones you see doctors wearing today, Mell would make a print by putting it in the main developer and hurry it along by rubbing hot water and then some straight developer on the photo paper. When he was in the dark room he was all business - he was the boss. At least till noon, then it was off to the Santa Ana Elks Club where he would tend bar.

Mell’s work is well known even today, and can still be seen in the Disneyland Park. While his images are some of the most visible in the Park, not being one of Walt’s employees meant little, if any, official Disney recognition. Still, it is a great reminder of how one person can make such a hugh impact on so many lives, even at the age of forty six. It was in Mell’s darkroom that the first images of Disneyland were developed, and the dream of a man started to be captured on film.

In 1962 a heart attack claimed his life and his prized darkroom would be sealed till the 1990’s. Leaving the photos and negatives of Disneyland to sit on the shelves collecting dust, locked away, and forgotten…

With Mell’s photographs being re-discover and back in the publics eye once again, his photographic vision can be seen. It was in Mell’s darkroom that the first images of Disneyland were developed; one man’s vision and another man’s dream, literally rising up out of the steam, captured on film.

by Carlene Thie