Disney Historian Jim Korkis recalls Disney anecdotes, including the 1952 presidential campaign.

ORLANDO – When Jim Korkis was a teenager, he’d already become a huge fan of Walt Disney, his movies and legendary characters.

But one thing Korkis did that a lot of other kids his age weren’t doing was reaching out to the people who created all that Disney magic.  While watching “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” TV show in the 1950s, Korkis used to write down the names on the credits at the end of the program. And then he went a step further.

Jim Korkis talks about his book "The Vault of Walt" at the Orange County Public Library in downtown Orlando.

Living at the time in California, “I would look them up in the Burbank phone book,” Korkis said.  “I would phone these guys up.”

Then he’d ask if they were available to explain how they came to work for Walt Disney and made all those wonderful animated pictures.

And it worked.

“Eighty percent of them were really nice,” Korkis recalled.  “About 20 percent thought their friends had put me up to it.”

He scored a big coup when he managed to convince Disney legend Jack Hanna to sit down for an interview.

“The very first animator I interviewed was Jack Hannah, who was the director of a lot of Donald Duck cartoons,” he said.  “I was 14 years old.”

Today, Korkis lives in Orlando and spent more than a decade working as a cast member at World Disney World.  He’s also the author of “The Vault of Walt,” a book available through Amazon.com, which as he noted recounts a lot of anecdotes and stories about Walt Disney that simply haven’t made it into earlier biographies.

On Saturday, Korkis talked about his book, Disney history, and the public’s ongoing love of everything related to the Disney name at the Orange County Public Library in downtown Orlando.

“I have a huge collection of Disney books,” he told the packed crowd.  “Do we really need another Disney book?”

Korkis noted that he has more than a dozen Disney biographies in his own collection – but he felt compelled to write another one because he’s collected so many stories over the years from Disney animators, employees and cast members that he had a treasure trove of great ones to share.  He even divided the book into four sections – on Walt Disney himself, the theme parks, the movies, and then miscellaneous stories – and still felt like he had enough left over for a second book, which he’s working on now.

“These are stories that are fascinating,” he said.  “I had so many stories that I couldn’t put them all in one book.” 

Jim Korkis' book "The Vault of Walt" covers all aspects of Walt Disney -- the man, the movies, and the theme parks.

As part of his presentation, Korkis brought along videos of some of the early pioneering television commercials that Disney animators worked on – such as Tinkerbell introducing Peter Pan Peanut Butter that spreads so gently on bread, “and even on crispy potato chips.”

Or Br’er Rabbit from the movie “Song of the South” hiding in an American Motors Rambler, a car that offered the perfect escape from Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear, during both a heavy snowstorm and a hot summer day, because the auto had all season air conditioning.

“It’s the lowest price air conditioning system in America,” the narrator claims.

“Aren’t these charming?” Korkis said.  “And the Disney company has no copies of them.”

Many of these commercials were given to Korkis by the animators he interviewed over the years.

“I met an awful lot of these people, and some of the commercials came from their personal libraries,” he said.

The commercials didn’t just sell products like cars and peanut butter, but also politicians.  The 1952 presidential election was between Republican Dwight Eisenhower and Democrat Adlai Stevenson, and as Korkis noted, Walt Disney and his brother Roy were staunch conservatives who were eager to help Eisenhower win.  Since the Republican Party had come up with a phrase, “I Like Ike,” the Disney animators put that into a commercial, which included a jingle.

The animation shows a patriotic-looking parade of Eisenhower supporters singing “You like Ike, I like Ike, everybody likes Ike,” and midway through, Stevenson is seen riding the other way on a donkey, while the crowd sings, “And Adlai goes the other way.”

“This commercial would run sometimes over 100 times a day for two weeks,” Korkis said.  “And of course, Dwight Eisenhower won.”

It’s anecdotes like this, he said, that should not only be preserved in books like “The Vault of Walt,” but also shared with others.

“We’ve got to get these stories out there and write them down,” he said. “If you don’t tell people that story, they can’t share that story and communicate it with others.  If you don’t tell people, they won’t know.”

Korkis is known by many Disney fans as a Disney historian – a term he felt compelled to define.

“One of the questions I often get asked is what the heck is a Disney historian,” he asked. “It doesn’t help you get a date!”

Korkis said it’s similar to a library’s archivist – someone who gathers material, then catalogs and preserves it.

“What a Disney historian does is take that material and connect the dots,” he said.  “Stories are how we structure information and transfer information.”

He found, as he went to work at Disney, that the stories just kept coming – more and more of them all the time.

“I started to realize the more I was talking to Disney cast members, a lot of these stories had gotten lost,” he said.  “A lot of this stuff never got documented.”

Until now.

To order a copy of Korkis’ book online, visit http://www.amazon.com/Vault-Walt-Jim-Korkis/dp/.

 Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

Will Hyperion Wharf save Pleasure Island or make it more ordinary? The debate is on.

LAKE BUENA VISTA – Walt Disney World calls it “re-imagined”: the theme park giant’s plans for the nightclub area built in 1989 to provide more fun for adults, but that’s gone through some extensive changes in the past two decades.

Last month, Disney announced that work was about to begin on a revamped Pleasure Island and Downtown Disney, in a series of projects expected to create more than 1,200 new jobs over the next three years.

Pleasure Island first opened in 1989, to give adults something to do at night on Disney property.

“We have made great progress since first announcing our vision to bring new shopping, dining and entertainment experiences to Downtown Disney, many of which can’t be found anywhere else and have already become guest favorites,” said Keith Bradford, vice president of Downtown Disney.  “We look forward to providing even more ways for our guests to enjoy Downtown Disney, while at the same time creating new jobs for Central Floridians.”

But the authors of books on Disney and Central Florida’s theme park industry wonder if the changes will end up making Pleasure Island even less distinct.

“It’s disappointing that Disney would bring in third party vendors for shopping and dining options that you could find at your own neighborhood mall,” said Seth Kubersky, the author of “Universal Orlando 2011,” and several upcoming books on the region’s theme park industry.

“It’s not the unique entertainment that you’d drive halfway across the country to see,” he added.

The changes coming to Pleasure Island include the recreation of an early 20th century port city and amusement pier, to be called Hyperion Wharf.  This port district will offer “stylish boutiques and innovative restaurants” open during the day, Disney announced in a news release, while “by night, thousands of lights will transform the area into an electric wonderland.”

This new wharf district is also going to feature a lakeside park, enhanced pedestrian walkways, and more dining options.

Bradford said Hyperion Wharf will “offer guests of all ages a vibrant atmosphere and new experiences that can be enjoyed by day or by night.  Whether looking for a great place to dine with the whole family or a place to relax and enjoy live music, Hyperion Wharf will provide the perfect setting for guests to make new memories with us.”

Others, though, are skeptical. 

Pleasure Island first opened in 1989, and as Kubersky noted, it was designed to be ambitious expansion of the smaller shopping plaza known as the old Disney Village Marketplace.

Seth Kubersky discusses his book "Universal Orlando 2011" at Barnes & Noble in downtown Orlando.

“It was originally called the Lake Buena Vista Marketplace,” Kubersky said. “It had been there since 1971. With Pleasure Island, you can see it as the reverse of what they wanted to do in Las Vegas at the time. Vegas decided they wanted to be more family friendly, and Disney added Pleasure Island to give adults things to do while the kids were in bed at night.”

There was another motive, Kubersky said.  At the time, the region’s top night spot was Church Street in downtown Orlando.  The popular Church Street Station brought in adults looking for nightclubs and alcohol.  Then Pleasure Island offered an alternative.

“The feeling was Disney likes to keep money on Disney property,” said Jim Korkis, a former Disney cast member and recognized Disney and Pleasure Island historian, and author of the book “The Vault of Walt.”

“Since guests found there was nothing to do on Disney property at night, people were leaving and going to Church Street Station, which at the time was the fourth most popular tourist destination in Florida after Disney, SeaWorld, and Busch Gardens,” Korkis said.

“The original intention was to put Church Street Station out of business,” Kubersky said.

It worked.  Wholesome, family-oriented Disney introduced night clubs with disco dancing and plenty of alcohol – risqué for a theme park that primarily emphasized its appeal to children and families, Kubersky noted.

“Compared to everything else on Disney property, it was,” he said.  “It was never R-rated, but sometimes it was a strong PG-13.  Their discos for a while were quite happening, and Pleasure Island was very successful for the first decade.  Within 10 years, Church Street Station was out of business.  It was very effective.”

“A lot of people thought Pleasure Island was meant to represent the theme park in the movie ‘Pinocchio,’ where people go and drink too much and make asses of themselves,” Korkis added.

Kubersky said changes started after that. With the demise of Church Street Station and Downtown Orlando as competitiors, he said Disney appeared to lose interest, while at the same time Universal Studio’s City Walk began drawing away more of the nightlife crowd.

At the same time, Disney did away with Pleasure Island’s admission fee, opening the gates to the general public.

“The real change happened when it went from being a gated attraction to letting anyone through,” Kubersky said.  “Then they just had to pay to get into some of the clubs.  At that point, the demographics started to shift.  Once they got rid of the gates, nothing ever quite worked.  It changed being from a special place where they could control the clientele into a shopping mall. It just became a mall to hang out at.  Disney also got rid of the fireworks show at night.”

“That’s where people to start to track the fall of Pleasure Island,” Korkis added.  “It just became, here’s a bunch of clubs and you can go party.  With the admission price, you sort of controlled who got in.  At the same time, City Walk had the aura of being fresher and cooler and with it.” 

Pleasure Island still has night clubs for the nightlife crowd.

In addition to bringing the new wharf district to Pleasure Island, Disney also announced several other projects underway at Downtown Disney.  They include a renovation at Lego Imagination Center, with a 3,500 square-feet expansion and the addition of some new Lego exterior models that recreate scenes from classic Disney movies.  While Disney is working on this project, Merlin Entertainments is building Legoland Florida – modeled after the popular theme parks in Europe and California – at the site of the former Cypress Gardens theme park in Winter Haven.

Disney also announced plans to enhance the AMC movie theater with new digital technology, a paradigm-shifting Concession Stand of the Future, and Florida’s first Fork & Screen Theater, plus several new or renovated retail shops throughout Downtown Disney — a series of projects expected to create an estimated 600 construction jobs, 500 restaurant, retail and entertainment jobs, and 100 vendor and supplier jobs. 

Kubersky, though, said Disney appears to be inviting outside vendors to come in as the highest bidder.

“It’s all third party vendors,” he said.  “Disney doesn’t seem interested any more in developing their own concepts.”

Korkis agreed, saying “The realization is Disney is a business and it has to be held accountable to its stockholders.  Will Hyperion Wharf be good business? Disney thinks so, because it will not be making any personal investment.  Basically Disney is supplying the location and other people are supplying the money.”

Korkis said he hopes the new wharf shopping district is a success, but he thinks Disney may be making Pleasure Island less unique and more pedestrian – shops and dining options available at plenty of other shopping plazas, lacking the distinct Disney touch.

“It will be interesting to see how that develops,” he said.  “I’m a huge Disney supporter.  I want Disney to be around for the rest of my lifetime and continue to do good things. But the vision they have now is a more narrow vision – ‘Let’s have more restaurants and shops.’  With this new plan, there is nothing that people can’t find elsewhere.”

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.

What’s to love during an Orlando vacation? The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show has your ticket.

Tony Brent performs The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show at WonderWorks.

 ORLANDO – So what is it that tourists want to do when they flock to Central Florida for the holidays? Decisions, decisions, Rich Miller said.

In addition to the theme parks, a really good dinner show is on the list, said the Philadelphia resident who is spending two weeks in the Orlando area with his girlfriend, Jennifer Schultz.

“I think we wanted to do this last year, but didn’t,” Miller said and he stood in line for The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show at WonderWorks. “There’s just so much to do down here. I think you have to do Disney first – that’s an unwritten law, I think, so we did that last year. We pack a lot in.”

Miller and Schultz have been coming to Orlando for years, and have taken in other dinner shows in this tourism Mecca – Capone’s, Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Show, Medieval Times, and so on. The Magic Comedy Dinner Show has been on their to-do list as well.

“It’s supposed to be one of the best shows,” Miller said, adding that he’s been a magic lover for decades.

“I always have been – all guy-kids are magic fans,” he said.

“I’m kind of just looking for a good show,” Schultz added. “I hope it will be something different.” 

Rich Miller and Jennifer Schultz left behind Philadelphia to spent two weeks in the Orlando area, and the Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show was on their list of must-see attractions.

On a cold, blustery night, a long line waited to get into the 6 o’clock dinner show, featuring the talents of Tony Brent. The row of tables inside the theater quickly filled up as an international crowd sat down for all-you-can-eat servings of salad, popcorn and pizza. Brent himself noted after the show that Florida residents tend to be vastly outnumbered by people from other parts of the country – and the world – in his audience this time of year.

“We get people from all over the world,” he said.

What brought them all to WonderWorks was a family-friendly show that combines fast magic tricks – how exactly does he take a dirty napkin and turn it into an egg? – with plenty of zippy one liners, including the opening when Brent asked the audience not to videotape any portion of the show, but added, “You’re welcome to draw a picture on your napkin.”

As Brent himself noted in the beginning, it’s a very “interactive show.”  He routinely selects members of the audience to get up on stage and help him do his thing – either a magic trick or some more comedy.  There’s plenty of improvising with each show, such as the moment when a man from the audience got on stage and told Brent he was from Indiana. When Brent asked how the weather up there and the man responded that it was cold, Brent added, “Really? Good thing you came to Florida,” to huge laughs.

The members of the audience selected to participate in the show, as it turned out, including Schultz, who had to yell out “I’ve got it, I’ve got it!” while holding a red sack. By the end of the performance, audience members young and old alike were lining up for Brent’s autograph. The high praise included kind words from Schultz, who told Brent “It was such a great show,” and Miller, who added, “Amazing stuff – amazing.”

It was another reminder of why Central Florida remains one of the top tourist destinations in the world – and why people who have already been to the Orlando area many times just keep coming back.

Shazam! Tony Brent brings Jennifer Schultz on stage as part of the show.

Who is the man who packs them into the WonderWorks show? Brent has been doing the Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show since 2000, and got his start at age 12, when he discovered a passion for both magic tricks and one-liners.

“I had an ad in the local newspaper when I was 12, doing birthday parties,” he said. “I was industrious.”

The native of Holiday, Tenn., relocated to Orlando in 1999, originally to work for Walt Disney World, before gravitating to WonderWorks.

“I’ve been doing it full time for 16 years,”  he said. “And part time before that.”

So how do you effectively combine magic and comedy into one show?

“I just know what works for me,” Brent said. “I try to be similar to the movie ‘Shrek,’ that has something for everybody in it.”

The audience lined up for DVD copies of Tony Brent's show.

That includes double entendres that sometimes fly over the heads of the kids – but the adults laugh out loud.

“The kids don’t always get what I’m doing, but the parents get it,” said Brent, whose show includes skits about hippies, Sonny and Cher and ancient Egypt.

“I try to keep it very fast-paced,” he said. “Most guys drag the tricks out, but here since it’s a dinner show, you’ve got to keep their attention.”

How does he go about selecting people from the audience and figure out who will be an asset on stage?

“I certainly look for people who are smiling and seem to be enjoying the show,” Brent said. “My show is really light-hearted. It’s not a serious magic show. I look at it like a party with magic in it.”

He also makes a point of not trying to embarrass anyone he brings on stage, but to toss them right into the fun.

“I try to do it the way I would want to be treated,” he said.

He also likes to mix it up with the audience, which gives Brent plenty of opportunity to think up new jokes for each performance.

“Every show is different,” he said. “I keep it loose enough so I can improvise.”

The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show is performed nightly at 6 and 8 p.m. For reservations, call 407-351-8800.

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