Old Imagineers never die, they just keep on designing new attractions.
Walt Disney Co. is in the midst of developing a slew of new theme parks and attractions, and guess who's designing them? Some of the same guys who were hired in the early 1950s by Walt Disney to design the world's very first theme park, Disneyland.
Bill Evans, now 88, Bob Gurr, 67, Sam McKim, 73, and John Hench, 90, are all still working in the trenches of "the Happiest Place on Earth," having touched virtually every Disney theme park from Anaheim to Florida to Paris to Tokyo.
Today, they're developing concepts for Disney's new theme parks such as California Adventure, Animal Kingdom and Tokyo's DisneySea.
"I like it, for one. I guess that's the real reason I am still here," said Hench, sitting in his Glendale office beside a bust of Walt Disney. "I get to design things I make. Things that make people feel better about themselves."
Hench, who first worked on films for Walt Disney Productions in 1939, is on the payroll as senior vice president of Disney's Imagineering team. He still reports to work every day and plans to be on the job in 1999, which would be his 60th year at Disney.
Next month, he will receive a lifetime achievement award from the Themed Entertainment Association.
Hench and the other senior Imagineers have quite a collective resume: Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Pirates of the Carribean, the Flying Saucers, Main Street U.S.A. and the Haunted Mansion.
Unlike Hench, the other elder Imagineers are no longer on staff at Disney, but work as independent consultants.
Gurr's original company, R.H. Gurr Industrial Design, was hired by Walt Disney in 1953 to design miniature cars for Disneyland's Autopia. He studied car body design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, but knew nothing about mechanical design. Then Walt Disney asked him to design the internal mechanics, too.
"I didn't have the courage to say, 'No Walt, I only do bodies, I don't do mechanical parts,' " Gurr explains. "So this was an indication that I should learn how to do it."
During his 1953-81 stint as a Disney staffer, Gurr worked on more than 100 designs, including the monorail and Matterhorn bobsleds.
Now Gurr is a consultant who works on a half-dozen Disney projects every year, through his GurrDesign Inc. Most recently, he designed a giant mechanical octopus for the Little Mermaid Theater at Tokyo's DisneySea, slated to open in 2001.
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