In the Fall of ’97, I got pulled off Water Tank (the first step of the now-closed Backlot Tour, may it RIP) to work a few shifts at “The Making of…”. This was a walking tour that gave guests a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of one of Disney’s latest movies. At that time, it was “The Making of Flubber” (starring Robin Williams, may he RIP as well). To be honest, it wasn’t much of an attraction, and I was at least slightly embarassed for anyone who spent even 25 minutes of their precious theme park time watching three short videos about the special effects used in a moderately-successful movie.
Anyway, one afternoon I was standing outside, acting as Greeter for the attraction. At some point, a few maintenance guys ambled by, and somehow I struck up a conversation with one of them. He was an older guy, maybe 50 or so, a bit on the short side, and looked like he might’ve been Italian. I’m pretty sure his name was Tom. He was really friendly and easy to talk to, and before I knew it, he’d offered me a behind/above the scenes tour of the Great Movie Ride. I was like, “Heck, yeah!”, and later that afternoon found myself over behind GMR in a giant maintenance bay where they serviced the ride vehicles. I found Tom in pretty short order, and we were on our way.
My main thought: I can’t imagine that it was ok for him to be giving me this kind of tour, let alone in the middle of the afternoon while the ride was in full operation! We started out near the load/unload dock, climbing a ladder that ascended to a catwalk about 25 feet in the air that followed the ride path. We started walking along directly above a ride vehicle that was just starting the loop, so we kind of got the full show. We even paused – just as the lead vehicle does – in the “Western” scene, and were positioned up there near the ceiling when the bank blew and all the flames started roiling. Trust me, you can REALLY feel that heat when you’re up that high. It was quite something to take it in from up there.
Somewhere just before the Wizard of Oz scene, we let the vehicle below us move on ahead and then took another ladder back down to ground level. Tom led me out onto the ride track at the Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene (immediately before Wizard of Oz), and we just kind of hung out there for a moment chatting. But when another vehicle approached, he showed me these odd little spaces on the left-side wall that you could back into and (mostly) hide from the passing car. Totally bizarre. Every guest is looking to the right at that point, but had anyone just done a 3/4 head-swivel, they’d have seen me huddled in this tiny wedge, still in the bright white “lab coat” that was part of my Flubber costume. Oh well!
After that vehicle had passed on through Munchkinland, we walked into that same space – which seems pretty cavernous when it’s just two people walking through it. He took a moment to show me how the maintenance guys would sometimes jiggle the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East – now smashed under Dorothy’s house – from behind the show wall. (I think this would be pretty creepy.) He also seemed to enjoy telling me about the “smoke juice” that was used to create the vapor cloud effect when the real Wicked Witch rises and descends at the far end of the soundstage.
From there, a quick walk past Dorothy & friends and then through the Finale Theater space (also huge with no ride vehicles in it) took us back to our starting point. I had to be on my way, so I thanked him, shook his hand, and was off. Super-nice guy! Weird thing, though – I was back there a year later, in the Fall of ’98, and when I asked a small group of maintenance guys if they knew who he was, nobody seemed to know who I was talking about. I don’t believe in ghosts, but….kind of strange. In a good way.