Today is the birthday of Disney Legend Ken Anderson, who was born in 1909. While Anderson is mostly known for his incredible animation portfolio, he was one of the many Disney Studio artists tapped by Walt Disney to work on Disneyland before it opened in 1955.
Anderson was selected to work with Walt on what was known as “Project Little Man” in the early 1950s. The project explored how to create a physical animated figure, a technological exploration that would lead to Disney’s innovative audio-animatronics that would become a critical component of Disney theme parks. As that project transitioned into more substantive work on Disneyland Anderson was moved off the project (replaced by Harper Goff) and went to work on the Sleeping Beauty movie.
Later, Anderson was put in charge of overseeing the building of the Fantasyland dark rides. In a 1973 interview with Disney biographer Bob Thomas, Anderson explained that as the Disneyland team worked on the first dark rides ever built “Walt wanted me to do it because I had an architectural background, and also I had been a part of each feature and he wanted to use features as a basis for the black rides. So I was building these things and boy, we were really sweating it out. We were right in the middle of the last week of working nights to get this thing ready and we were real nervous.”
As if constructing a new type of attraction on a rushed timeline wasn’t difficult enough, Anderson also had to deal with labor union tensions. He explained to Thomas: “I had to be the one that was in contact with the subcontractors: The carpenters, the painters and all these people…And these were the Orange County people who were counter to the unions up here. The first ride I got built up here was the Mr. Toad ride which was built right here in the back [of the Studio]. They took it down to install it. Those people were still members of the same union A.F. of L. They resented the Hollywood craft unions having developed these things. They scraped all the paint off of the little car and the little circus train and painted it over again with their own guys not nearly so well. There would be guys doing all sorts of tricks to prevent and to sabotage.”