Hello, and welcome to this week's 'From The Mouth Of The Mouse!'
Each week, we spotlight a different Cast Member story to give you more insight into some of your favorite attractions, resorts, and movies from all over the Walt Disney Company.
This week, we talk to Valerie, who worked at the Columbia Harbour House back when the Magic Kingdom originally opened, before moving onto the Liberty Tree Tavern. She has a lot of great stories to share about her adventures in those early days of the Park!
And now, here's Valerie!
JEFF: So, tell me a little about where you worked!
VALERIE: I worked at Columbia Harbour House first, back in January 1972. Columbia is a fast food place, or what they call a Quick Service today. I worked the register, initially, then became a 'casual temporary,' which meant I was working when they needed me, especially on holidays. Then, when I was a senior in high school, I became a 'casual regular,' working holidays and more weekends. I went full time the summer I graduated.
During the last month or so that I worked there, I became the first girl (that I know of) in the park to be allowed to wear 'whites' and work in the back of the restaurant cooking. I was tired of the crowds and the register, and definitely enjoyed that change, if only for a short while.
When I got married, Disney transferred me to Liberty Tree Tavern. My husband was working at Columbia with me at the time, and they did not let married couples work in the same location, so off I went. At Liberty Tree Tavern, I was a waitress. They must have thought waitressing came natural or something, because I don't really remember being trained! They just kind of showed me around. The manager pointed at some tables, said "There's your station", and that was it!
That helped me later on, though, because after working at Disney, I waitressed for about 10 years, and then was assistant manager of a restaurant for seven months.
JEFF: Why did you want to work at Walt Disney World?
VALERIE: Well, for starters, it was very close to home. Also, at the time, they were paying high school kids better than minimum wage to start, with scheduled raises. That was a huge incentive for a kid like me. And it was Disney! The park had just opened the year before I started working there, so it was still a pretty big deal all around. It was an opportunity I didn't want to pass up.JEFF: I assume you assigned to Columbia Harbour House when you started?
VALERIE: I actually don't think anyone chose where to work. Unless you qualified as a tour guide or a character, they put you where they needed you. After you went through their orientation, you were part of the 'cast', and that's all that mattered!
JEFF: I'm sure, much like today, you got a lot of visitors from other countries. Did you work with international Cast Members?
VALERIE: We had a few, but no where near what it is like today, especially because EPCOT hadn't yet been built. But that helped when we got guests from other countries. They didn't always understand the money, and would just plop cash on the counter. We were careful to pick out what the cost was, and give the rest back.
One waitress at Liberty Tree Tavern went out to her table and found a $100.00 bill on it! She was able to catch the people, and asked them if they realized what it was. They thought it was a dollar! They were very grateful, because that was a lot of their vacation money.
JEFF: You mentioned before the interview that you did have some bad run ins with Guests. Any particular moments stick out in your head?
VALERIE: I really never had any bad experiences with co-workers or bosses, but as is the case, everyone had some with guests. You were working as hard as you can as fast as you can, and then you run into someone nasty. It's a shock to your system. I don't remember anything specific, though. I did hear of one custodial guy who had a woman complain about how dirty the park was. This was when there were hundreds of thousands in the park! He replied that they couldn't follow everyone around with a broom!
JEFF: How about some good ones, maybe with your fellow Cast Members? I'm sure you guys played some practical jokes on each other!
VALERIE: Oh, yes, absolutely! My favorite, by far, was the aprons. At Columbia Harbor House, we had three registers, with two girls to a register. One took the order, the other went for drinks or food. The first one went for the other item, and the first one back took payment while the second took the next order. We had two lines of people waiting at each register, you went from side-to-side, and we were fast! If you moved fast behind everyone, you could tie apron ends together so that when two girls took off in different directions, they lost their aprons! There were also a couple of small cole slaw fights, but I tried to stay out of that.
JEFF: You mentioned to me earlier about "skating" while at the Harbour House. What did you mean by that?
VALERIE: We all got good at 'skating,' that's for sure! Columbia Harbour House was all fast food, so there were 6-8 large deep fryers across the back. The tile floors got pretty slippery, even though they mopped almost hourly. To keep from falling, we would slide around. I still tend to slide around corners when moving fast! The guys would check out boots from wardrobe so that they didn't have to buy shoes for work, and you would see some guy 'windmilling' and trying not to fall!
JEFF: Are there any neat little secrets of the Columbia Harbour House or Liberty Tree Tavern that you can tell us?
VALERIE: Well, we were right next to the Hall of Presidents, and there was a stairway to the roof. We were not supposed to be on the roof (I heard of someone falling through one time and supposedly landing in Lincoln's lap!) but it was the best place to watch fireworks from. We would take a break and sneak up there to watch on special occasions like New Year's Eve. There's all kind of secret storage rooms and back ways at Disney. It used to be fun to find them.
JEFF: Any other stories you'd like to share with us?
VALERIE: I did meet my first husband there. He is part Italian, had dark hair, eyes, tan, 6 ft tall, so he looked good in 'whites'! He could turn on the charm, too. I had been planning on joining the Air Force out of high school. He begged me to stay and marry him, and told me he wouldn't wait for me. I, being a romantic high school girl, chose to stay. Thus, working at Disney changed my whole life - he lived in Clermont, and I probably would never have met him if I didn't work there. When we got engaged and set the date, the people we worked with surprised me with a wedding shower one day. A 'kitchen' one, of course!
I also enjoyed getting off of work, and wandering around the park a while, because my husband and I worked slightly different shifts. I would listen to the bands, and shop. I got an employee discount, so that was nice!
A lot of the guests were from South America, and dressed skimpier than we did back then. The guys had a code for when a pretty woman, preferably bra-less, would come up to a register. The girls that worked the registers were a little disgusted, but it was funny. The registers were numbered, so you would hear someone say: '914 on 301'. 914 was the number on the clear wrap we used, and meant there was something to see at that register! All the guys would try to peek through the pass-through to stare without being too obvious!
Sometimes when things got rushed, a piece of fried food would hit the floor. The guy would just pick it up, and toss it back in the deep fryer for a couple more seconds. Believe me, those fryers were hot! No one saw anything wrong with it. One morning we arrived in the kitchen and there had been a plague of mole crickets during the night. They even found them floating in the fryers! We joked about putting them on the menu, but did not serve any! Luckily, we were able to clear out the infestation pretty quickly before opening to the public.
There was no union at Disney at that time, so things were a little stricter, probably. They were very concerned that we adhere to their 'fantasy' image. I heard that at first you could not go out of your particular part of the park in costume, but they had already loosened up on that. They also had a dress code. Guys could not wear earrings, their hair had to be above their collar, and they had to be clean-shaven. Girls had to have their hair up when working with food, and wear a hair net. I saw no reason to object. (Why that is no longer required anywhere is beyond me.)
Disney had a couple of official inspectors that would drop into locations and check to make sure the dress code was being followed. I don't remember what the guy was called, but everyone called the women inspectors 'Greta Groom.' She also would check to make sure girls were wearing bras! I remember the guys getting 'lost' when the inspector dropped in if their hair was a little too long.
Thanks, Valerie, for taking the time to chat with me!
Don't forget come back each week to hear more of the magic directly From the Mouth of the Mouse.
If you are, or know, a Cast Member who would like to share some of their stories and possibly be featured right here on MiceChat, please email me at email@example.com. I'd love to hear from you!
Jeff also writes a MiceChat column titled The 626. We invite you to check it out!
Jeff also co-hosts the VidCast Communicore Weekly on MiceTube.
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