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WDW Radio # 723 – The Muppets in Walt Disney World That Never Were – From the WDW Radio Archives

From the WDW Radio Archives…

With The Muppets Mayhem coming to Disney+, and having just watched Muppet Treasure Island on FunnelVision on the Disney Fantasy… and just my love of the Muppets and fond memories of growing up with The Muppet Show, this week we’re going to go back in time and take a look back at the relationship between Disney and the Muppets, including the story of how the Muppets came to Walt Disney World in a variety of ways.

Go back nearly 12 years to Show 251 – Join me from Disney’s Hollywood Studios as we tour the park and explore some of the secrets, stories and history of MuppetVision 3D, Muppet-based shows that are no longer here, the Disney-Henson marriage, as well as “The Muppets That Never Were.” Jim Korkis joins me as we wander the Studios and discuss some of the proposed concepts that never made it both in and out of the parks.

It’s a fascinating live tour of the Muppets in the present, as well as a look back in time, and possibly even into the future of the Muppets in Walt Disney World.

Share your thoughts in the WDW Radio Clubhouse, or call the voicemail at 407-900-9391 (WDW1) and share your story on the show.

But for now… sit back, relax, and enjoy this week’s episode from the Archives on the WDW Radio show.

You can listen to the original episode in it’s entirety at WDW Radio # 89

Thanks to Jim Korkis for joining me again this week! Find Jim’s new book, the FINAL Secret Stories of Walt Disney World, and all 35 of his titles on Amazon

Comment and share your questions, thoughts, and tips in our WDW Radio Clubhouse Community on Facebook or call the Voicemail and be heard “On the Air” at 407-900-9391

Listen to this week’s show and use the form below to enter our weekly trivia contest for a chance to WIN a Disney Prize Package!

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Book your trip to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Destination… or anywhere through our friends at Mouse Fan Travel. Contact them for a free, no-obligation quote!

Click Here To Read The Full Podcast Episode Transcript

Lou Mongello: Hello my friend, and welcome to another episode from the WDW Radio Archives. I am Lou Mongello, and this is episode number 721. And each week I'm gonna select an evergreen episode to share with you that maybe you haven't heard before or one you haven't heard in a long time.

From interviews to top tens, relevant reviews, guides, way back machines, and. It's a great way to visit and revisit some of our favorite episodes, including ones that you have suggested I share from the archives, and also with this new episode in the feed, I'm also going to introduce and experiment with a couple of other different types of shows in a variety of formats.

Maybe a top five show, a Disney and a minute segment. Little more Marvel and Star Wars and other aspects of our fandom and just see where it takes us. And this week, as I will for all the archive segments, I'm gonna take out just the relevant content and cut out the intro outro contests and, and the out of date news and rumors.

If you want to hear the full episode, I'll let you know the original show number so you can always go back in your podcast player or feed and listen to the entire episode. And this week we're gonna go back 15 years to a segment I called How to Become a Disney Imagine. Which was in response to a question I received and still do quite often since I first started the show more than 18 years ago.

In 2008, Disney Imagineer Ed Romeo joined me to talk about his story and journey to becoming an Imagineer, as well as what working at and for Imagineering is like. And the interview was the first of many conversations that I've shared on the show over the years that helped demonstrate that the road to becoming an imagin.

Not only, might not necessarily be the path that you think, but that there are also many different ways that you or your child can take to become an Imagineer. I'd love to hear your thoughts about my conversation with Ed in the WW Radio Clubhouse over at WW Radio Clubhouse, or call the voicemail at four oh seven nine hundred nine three nine one four oh seven nine hundred nine three nine.

Share your thoughts or requests for anything else you might wanna see from the archives or on the show. But for now, sit back, relax, and enjoy this week's episode of the WDW Radio Show.

Believe it or not, one of the questions I get asked most often via email or voicemail, or even when I meet people is how do I become an Imagineer? And while the answer usually involves discussing what their interests or talents are, what they might want to do as an Imagineer, et cetera, one of the first things that comes to my mind is, why are you asking me?

I'm, I'm certainly not an Imagineer, and believe me, while I'm flattered that they think that I have the. There really isn't a single answer to that question, and that's a very good thing. And why? It's because there is no one response. There is no right thing to say or do or way to get your foot in the door, and there is no secret password to give you the keys to the executive washroom over at WDI.

And like I said, that's a very good thing because Imagineering has so many areas and so many disciplines and does so many different. There are probably more opportunities to be a part of it than you might imagine. And more importantly, the path to becoming an Imagineer is probably less restrictive than you might think.

Every Imagineer has their own story, and in this new series of segments, I'm gonna bring you some current and former imaginaries to the show to tell you their story and to help maybe give you not only a little bit more about them and their work, but Imagineering itself and. If that's what you really want to do, how they did it, and how you might be able to as well.

And my very first guest story is, I think so appropriate for this first installment of, I guess we'll call it the How to Be an Imaginary segment. Because when I met him and I learned of his path, I was both surprised and fascinated and I think you will be as well. So I'd like to welcome Ed Romeo to the show and Ed, thanks so much for joining me.

Ed Romeo: No problem. No problem. Liz.

Lou Mongello: It's great to have you here. And like I said, at the top of the, One of the reasons why I wanted you to come on was not only to talk about some of the great projects you worked on, not just in Walt Disney World, but really around the world. But because I was really intrigued by your story of how you got to Imagineering and if, again, tell us a little bit about your background before you joined the Disney company.

Ed Romeo: Sure. Um, Uh, I went to college. I, uh, did the normal thing after high school. Just went to college. I went, I worked at a grocery store. I was a box boy, and I became a, a cashier at the grocery store. And, um, I kind of have an into, uh, Disney, which was, uh, my mom who was there for an Imagineer for 25 years. And let me tell you, I did everything in my power not to use that.

Uh, in, in any way I wanted to do it on my own. So one day I, uh, decided to quit my grocery store job, and I went and applied at the Disney store in Glendale, in the Glendale Galleria in California. And, uh, it was around Christmas season. I was, uh, 19 years old. And, um, they said, sure, we'll hire you. And I, I, I remember filling out my application.

It was for Christmas help. And they basically told me, Hey, if we have a position for you after, we'll keep you, if not, um, come back next Christmas. So I was like, oh, you know, I'll take the chance. And I was filling up the application and said, do I have anyone that works at Disney? And I, and I tried so hard not to put, uh, well my mom works at Disney, but I had to, and in my interview I interviewed and I got the job obviously, and.

It was a crazy, it was right when the Disney store was just a fledgling. It was, you know, we only had think about 30 stores when I started. And, um, I worked, I worked through the holiday season. I, you know, worked my butt off and then I, uh, they offered me a job after the season and I became a, a stock clerk and I kind of took care of all the stock in the back room and I kind of just worked really, really hard.

And then from there I became, An assistant store manager. And then we had an earthquake, the Northridge earthquake. Um, and that destroyed the store that I was working in, which was in, uh, fashion Square in Sherman Oaks. And then I had an opportunity to work at corporate and I really, really enjoyed it. I worked in the property management, um, area as a clerk.

It was an entry level position and I just kind of worked really, really, really hard and just kept. Moving along. And, uh, one day I decided to leave the company and, uh, I became a, a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department for about three months. And then I decided, you know, that's not what I wanted to do.

And, um, I finally had to use my contact at Disney, which was my mom. And I had her submit my resume to someone. And I went through numerous interviews and I became, uh, a project coordinator for Disney's Animal. And then that was back in 1990, I believe it was. And, um, just worked my way through and, and lo and behold, I became an imaginary and it was the greatest experience I ever

Lou Mongello: had.

Now, I didn't even know about the police officer, sort of. Oh yeah, I didn't

Ed Romeo: tell you that. I thought I did. Yeah. So I left Disney and then I came back. Well,

Lou Mongello: I mean, well, I mean, the thing that really intrigued me was that you go from the Disney store, almost sort of right to Imagineering. Now, you said you went to college.

What was your degree in? Was it, you know, were you engineer? Were you an artist? No,

Ed Romeo: no, no. I just kind of, college was, um, just a thing for me. You know, it was, uh, I wasn't trying to be anything. I just kind of tried to take the easiest subjects I could take and, uh, I, my major was. But, um, I studied a little bit of animation and, uh, I did my own animation.

I was an artist, I guess you can say, but, um, man, I, when I saw the talent out there, I just knew I wasn't as good as I could be. Well, and, uh, it's very hard, very competitive and, um, it, you know, it, I just saw the masterpieces that some of the pe other people were doing, so I just kind of stayed with the history path.

Uh, you know, I, I got into Disney right at the perfect time because the Disney decade began, and, um, man, we had so many hits with Little Mermaid, a lad and Beauty and the Beast, so it was a great opportunity. So, but I was a history major in college

Lou Mongello: and, and that just goes to really drive home the point that you don't have to have a background in drawing.

You don't have to have a background in journalism or writing or engineering or whatever. You could correct. Come from such a diverse, you know, and then you talk about really working your way up. I mean, you didn't even start in the parks. You started over at the Disney store.

Ed Romeo: Correct. I started with the Disney stores and, and, um, that was my, my shoeing.

And, and I gotta tell you, a lot of imagineers, they start in so many different places. Um, some people worked at the parks. Um, one of the things that does, uh, help a lot is if you do work at the parks, You know, you get a little more exposure to what postings are out there, um, within the company. Um, and I know the company publishes, they, they publish postings all the time worldwide, but sometimes it helps to, to be there and, you know, seeing it and, and say, Hey, uh, human resources.

I want to apply for that job. So, um, that's how I started. And, and like I said, uh, I left the company in, in 95, uh, for three months. And then, um, the opportunity came up, uh, for Animal Kingdom now, and

Lou Mongello: I jumped on it u understanding that working at Imagineering for a Disney fan or a Disney World fan, it's sort of like the holy grail of, of, of jobs.

So just kind of share with us if you. What was like that first day like and what was that first project that you got put on?

Ed Romeo: Um, breathtaking. It was everything I wanted it to be and more. Um, Lou, you're absolutely right with what you say is, um, Imagineering is a very, very special place and, um, every pro you know, the first project I worked on was Animal Kingdom.

I helped, uh, coordinate. I became a coordinator, project coordinator, which. It's kind of a backbone of, of a project is, you know, we're the glue that keeps the project moving and, uh, the engineers do what they do and the artists do what they do and we kind of just bring it all together. And, um, I helped on the production when people relocated the Florida, I kind of sat back and did all the follow up on, on animated figure production, um, architectural implementation production.

So, you know, we had teams on both. So I stayed on the West Coast and, um, kind of was the eyes and ears on the West coast for the, the team down in Florida. And, um, God, the, I think the first breathtaking moment I had was, um, when we did countdown to Extinction, the Dinosaurs, uh, which is called Dinosaur now.

Uh, seeing those for the first time. Breathtaking. You know, and I kind of sat back and said to myself, God, I made it. I'm an Imagineer.

Lou Mongello: Right. And then, and obviously it must have been a big learning experience for you as well. You didn't come in there with a knowledge, you sort of, I guess, learned on the job training.

Ed Romeo: I did. I did. And, um, I gotta tell you, it is, I had a lot of great mentors. Um, but you kind of just have to be a go-getter. You have to. Think on your feet because every day is a different day. Um, every project is a different project. There's no, um, there's not a magic book we go to and say, Hey, we just, we just did this.

Let's do it again. I mean, every project has its own, um, problems or scenarios that we have to, you know, fires that we have to put out as, as a team. And that's one of the greatest things is, uh, at Imagineering is you all work as a. And, um, everyone's there to help each other. No one, you know, is gonna, no one's gonna let someone stumble.

It's all, we all have the same goal as getting the magic done and getting it out there for the guests to enjoy. So, yes, there's no, on the job training, I kind of just went in and you gotta prove yourself. I mean, no one's gonna hand it to you. Trial by fire, almost trial by fire. Welcome to the company or project.

It's a, it's a, it's a magical fire and it, and it's a lot of

Lou Mongello: fun. Obviously, your work wasn't just restricted to animal Kingdom. You worked on not just theme parks, but cruise lines, and you also worked other places around the world. Tell us some of the other highlights of some of the other projects you worked on.

Sure. I

Ed Romeo: worked on the Disney Magic. I was, uh, a project coordinator on that as. Um, and that was a great experience because that's what Imagineering had to offer. Again, with the, the cruise ship. It was a new, uh, business for everybody. And, um, I knew nothing about a cruise ship and how it was built, but when I, uh, went over to help the install team and coordinate stuff over there was the most amazing thing I ever seen.

Um, I've worked on Tokyo Disney Sea. Uh, I was the architectural ornamentation coo. Um, state side, and, uh, again, I knew nothing about architectural ornamentation, but I, as you work on a project, you gain experience and you gain knowledge. You just take that knowledge to your next project. You may not be an expert on it, but that's why we have architects and designers, they help you understand what's going on.

Um, one of the things I, I like to think, um, is. I'm not an engineer, I'm not an architect, and I'm not a designer. And I would tell my team that. I go, you guys have to explain it to me in the simplest form, like, I'm a second grader and you're telling me how it, how it comes together. Engineers like to get technical sometimes.

Um, but if you sit and listen, a lot of our designers, they can teach. They've taught me so much over the years. It, it, it's pretty incredible. So the cruise line was a, a whole new experience. To Tokyo, Disney. C is again, another experience because I never had international experience, but I learned and had a team that helped supported my, uh, my learning process.

Lou Mongello: Yeah, and that actually leads me kind of, you know, let's start talking about becoming an Imagineer because like we said, it, it's certainly a very coveted position, like you, I'm sure everybody kind of comes from different areas, but it's not, imagining is not just. The, you know, most talented artists and the best sculptures.

There's, so there's, from what I understand, you know, about 140 different disciplines. There's writers and animators and engineers. Correct. And you can be an architect, you could be an it, you know, remember two, not only do they have to come up with the ideas for these things, but they have to build them as well and, and Correct.

To execute on 'em.

Ed Romeo: Correct. You're, you're correct. Luke. We have, um, Imagineering has. You know, there's finance people, there's project management, which consists of project managers, construction managers, project coordinators. Um, there's theme lighting people, there are graphics people, there are interior design folks, there's architects.

I mean, there's so many different aspects, um, of the company that, no, you don't have to be an artist. I think one of the things that helps imagineers is they have that spark, they have that, that Disney magic, I guess is the word I'm looking for. Um, that, that cliche I guess I could say. But I knew a lot of people that were not artists, but they were financiers.

Um, they were very coordinated people that had no problem, you know, working in a team environment. You know, we didn't have to be artists. You let the artists, the artists know who the artists are. Um, it, it's kind of fun being in the project management aspect of it, which I wasn't, to kind of sit back and see the creative people create it, it, that I think is probably the most amazing thing.

But no, you don't need to be an artist.

Lou Mongello: But I think that there's probably has to be some inherent qualities that you need to. In order to be an imaginary at war dat, maybe have the best shot at being an imaginary. And I, I have to think that things like perseverance and the desire to learn and probably maybe a little bit of luck to, to

Ed Romeo: helps play a play.

No, you do. And, and I gotta tell you, and, and this is my own personal thing that I have, is you gotta love it, you know? Um, no project is easy. Um, every project is a challenge. But at the end when we open an attraction as imagineers and we turn it over to the parks and we step back and we see that first guest come in, um, and then they come off and they just are smiling and laughing and then you hear 'em go, let's do it again.

And boom. That's when you know, you forget about all the long meetings and the long days. And all the craziness it took you to get there. Just for that, you see the smiles, you know that our guests appreciate everything that we do and we got some pretty tough guests out there. Um,

Lou Mongello: well, because of the level of expectation is so high when we

Ed Romeo: come there.

Correct? Absolutely. Absolutely. I, I gotta tell you one of the things, my crowning moment as a, as an imagineer was back in June of 1999 and. Um, I was the production coordinator on Tars Ends Treehouse at Disneyland. And um, uh, I remember it was June 23rd. It was early in the morning and we're just putting the finishing touches on everything, and we opened June 24th and it was crazy.

Finally, everything got done and at eight o'clock we opened the park and Tar Tree House opened and we had a grand. And I was exhausted. I got, I watched everyone go on and the smiles going, oh, this is great. This is great. And I went home that day and my wife was pregnant at the time and she goes, honey, time to go.

So the day Tarn Street House opened was the day my daughter was born. And I told my wife, you gotta hold off on having the baby until we opened this attraction. And she did. And now that's my daughter's. Favorite thing at Disneyland cuz she knows that she was a part of that somewhat. And that was my crowning moment as an Imagineer.

Um, and till this day when my daughter and I go to Disneyland, we go to Tar Ends tree house and she go, dad, that's my tree house, right? And I said, that's your tree house. So we all have our special little things, um, that make us imagine errors. And that's my, that was my crowning moment and I've done big e ticket attractions.

But the treehouse at Disneyland is my, my, uh, my golden jewel.

Lou Mongello: Well, and and when you use, when you tell stories like that, and we talk about words like magic, you know, we understand what you're talking about that, and you, you talked about, you know, use the word special and what do you think maybe it is about imaginary that makes it such a special place?

Ed Romeo: It's the dedication of your architects, your engineers, your financiers. Your coordinators, your project managers, the team, we all have a goal, and that is to give the best show to our guests. And that's what's the crowning jewel of imaginary. Um, that's my, that's my opinion. Um, it, it's a group of dedicated people that are the best at what they.

And like you said before, Lou, you don't need to be the best artist or the best animator or the best designer or architect or whatever. It's, there's, there's, you gotta have that magic, you gotta have that desire. It, it's, it's, it's an incredible thing. It, it's a special thing. Very, very special

Lou Mongello: thing. And you know, in defining, we were talking about the qualities that somebody possessed, you know, Wal talked about, and Marty Clark to this day talk.

Waltz four Cs, the curiosity, the courage, the confidence and the constancy. And it seems that something else, no matter what area of Imagina imaginary you're in, you have to have that level of creativity, that ability to kind of think outside the box no

Ed Romeo: matter where you are. You're absolutely correct. Yes.

But like, and that's what makes an, that's what makes it special.

Lou Mongello: Exactly. And, and like I said, the, the real, the important part of this discussion is, is not just obviously appreciating the work that you and the other imaginaries have. But making people understand there is no right or wrong way to try and get into imaginary.

There's not one educational background, no degree that you have to have to work there. In fact, you, you might not even need a degree at all. A as long as you have a creative mind and look at the number of people from the company that started off, for example, just working in the parks. Names like Jason Crell and Tony Baxter was, you know, schlepping ice cream.

And, um, Kevin Rafferty was, was a dishwasher at the Plaza Inn,

Ed Romeo: Absolut. And I was a cast member at the Disney store. So, you know, it, it's, we all come from different walks of life. Some we started within, but we all have one thing in common, a love for what we do. And, um, we love to entertain people and we enjoy people having pleasure off of what we do.

And it, it, it, it, it may sound corny, but it, it's really a special thing. And, um, one thing Imagineering does for everybody, and, and we're gonna say, we're gonna repeat it again, is even if you're not the artist or the creative lead or anything, you are made part of that team and everybody is recognized from top to.

I'm the success and that's also what makes it a special place. You don't, not just one person stands out and the old cliche of there's no ion team. So, uh, that's true. At imaginary, it is definitely a special place because at the end of a project, everyone all stands back and has the same response of how wonderful it is.

Now this project is opening and people are enjoying.

Lou Mongello: So really maybe Ed coming kind of full circle and, and wrapping things up. I, I think it doesn't matter what your background is, it doesn't matter what your degree is in, if anything, it's just that desire to, to be the best at what you do and what you want to do and correct the ability to, to work creatively with others and in other disciplines.

And, and like, you know, I hate to keep quoting Walt, but he says, you know, the imagineers, they're dreamers and doers and obviously you are a perfect

Ed Romeo: example. I appreciate that and, and like I, and, and like you stated before, once you get in, you make what you want out of it. Um, yeah. The, the hard step is getting in, but that's, that's for anything and, and for future imagineers out there and people who want to be imagineers.

If it's your dream, you'll make it happen. Um, but sometimes you gotta go through back doors or you have to take other routes, alternative routes to get to your dream. But if you really want it to happen, it, it will happen. Um, uh, it, that's how it happened for me, um, between, uh, my mom and myself. We've had over almost 40 years of imaginary experie.

And, um, it's a, it's, it's a very special thing. It's a very, very special thing. And, uh, and, uh, if you want it, if anyone wants it, they can go out and get it. Just gotta find a way. There's no easy way to become an imaginary. Cause I get that question all the time. And how did you become an Imagineer? And I, and I don't even know how to answer that question.

I just did. I had an opportunity and I was able to take, take it and, um, I guess look at all those postings online because that's where, um, a lot of people are found. Right. You know. Right. So I was

Lou Mongello: gonna say for, for practical purposes, uh, if you do want to kind of take that first step and see what's available, one of the best ways to find out what positions are available is you can go to disney careers.com.

Remember, too, Imagineering doesn't exist just in ca. But Orlando as well, they're also gonna start opening up professional internships. I'll put a link in the show notes to the Disney website, the careers website. We can find out about professional internships and imagineering. And two, you know, like we were talking about some of the other people that came up the ranks.

Actual experience with the company is helpful. Go work at Walt Disney World, whether it's the college program, a seasonal position, an internship, or just any kind of job that you can get in the parks. So many people started there and that might be a great way to do it. And, uh, You know, you too can live the dream.

And, and Ed Romeo, uh, you are definitely proof of that. And I really want to thank you for taking the time to come on, for sharing your stories. And obviously, you know that millions of people every day still appreciate all the work and, and you and the other imaginaries have put into the parks for us.


Ed Romeo: thanks Lou for having me, and, and I appreciate that. And, um, again, we, we don't, we do it because we love it and, um, it's a special thing and, and. We want everyone to enjoy it. And again, I getting my, my first imaginary ID tag was one of the, one of the special days of my life. And I will always cherish that.

And, and, uh, it's a good thing. It's a good thing. Excellent Ed. Thanks so much. Thanks Will.