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History of Streetmosphere

Of the actors hired: some McNair Wilson knew but many of the actors came from all over the United States. On their hiring tour, McNair worked with two other directors (one was directing actors for the Comedy Warehouse and the other for the Adventurers Club and two people from costuming along with a stage manager from the Disney-MGM Studios. This group went to 10 American cities in 28 days and auditioned close to 3000 actors such as Minneapolis, MN, They would see 10 people at a time and each actor would have 60-90 seconds to audition. In the smaller cities, they would have auditions in the morning and if you were good enough for a callback, an assistant would tell the actor to hang around for after lunch. In the larger cities, such as Los Angeles and New York, callbacks would occur on the next day. McNair recalls one time when they had an audition in Cleveland, Ohio, and Disney couldn't get a hotel room for their auditions in downtown Cleveland because it was around Christmas time so they held auditions in a hotel ballroom on the outskirts of town. They ended up having 150 auditioners despite a huge snow storm the night before. Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, out of the first 10 people that auditioned, 9 were callbacks. Disney found that Minneapolis had such a strong theater program in the city and so Disney put Minneapolis on their regular auditioning touring schedule for future entertainment hirings for all of Walt Disney World.

Jeffrey Katzenberg

In the beginning, Streetmosphere had 20 characters and 32 actors. These newly hired actors spent six weeks researching their characters and figuring out what they would be doing 1947 Each actor researched what were the big hit songs of 1947 and what movies were Academy award winning in 1947 so that every Streetmosphere character would be exactly like anyone who lived in 1947 and would be able to be just like a real person from that era. Guests overwhelmingly reacted positively to the Streetmosphere characters, so much so that after the Studios opened, park guests with seasonal pass holders (A pass that allows unlimited park visits during the slow times of the year) were upgrading to Annual Passes. Streetmosphere. When asked why many responded, "Because we love the Brown Derby restaurant and Streetmosphere and we want to be able to come more often." Bruce LaVal, a general manager at Epcot, became VP of operations at Disney-MGM. He estimated that Streetmosphere occupied the time of 1500-2200 guests per hour which makes it an E-ticket attraction.

In the days before the Studios opened, there was testing of the Streetmosphere, trying to figure out what worked and what didn't. A meeting with Marty Sklar (Head of Imagineering), Bob Weiss, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Bob Lamb (No. 2 man running the Disney-MGM Studios who would later go on to run Animal Kingdom) and Bruce LaVal watched Streetmosphere demo shows on Hollywood Boulevard and the group loved it--all except for Katzenburg because he saw a "gossip columnist" Streetmosphere character talking to a six year old girl and interviewing her and said that no one was watching.  McNair Wilson responded "Look around. Her mom and dad are watching and when that little girl goes home from a week at Disney World, she has two stories: she met Minnie Mouse and a lady with a big hat talked to her. That’s entertainment!“

Another act was KeyStone Cops who were conducting a crime scene investigation Usually when someone is murdered you put tape around their body to indicate the location and shape of the body but these cops simply taped a stick figure in the gutter of Hollywood Blvd. and then ask different questions to guests , investigating the ”crime scene. Because it was so stupid and funny guests had to watch and see what was going to happen.  Another character was a street sweeper who had “trash of the stars” and could tell the story of any of his trash items.  Some Streetmosphere performers went on to more glamorous roles such as two actors, identical twin brothers named Peter and Paul Vogt, from Buffalo, NY, later went onto star on MADtv and Chicago Hope. Another actress named Mo Collins also went onto to be a major cast member on MADtv.

When Wilson would create characters, he would try to incorporate elements of an actors past to work into the character's personality. One actress was short and stocky and her character was the backstage maid in the stars dressing room. mcNair named her "Sarge" and had her work in the break area of the Backlot Tour. This actress was in reality a John Wayne expert so Wilson worked into her character that you could not stump her on John Wayne trivia. One day Sarge was wiping down a table in the break room when she spotted two middle aged ladies and asked them how they were doing. They said they were a little warm.  Well, Sarge had a spray bottle with cool water and light food coloring and would spray people in the face to cool them down so...Sarge sprayed the two ladies in the face, which kind of shocked them. Later these two women were on a Disney Corporate jet (one of the women turned out to be the wife of Frank Wells, President of Disney.) On the flight back to California, Mrs. Wells told the story of Sarge and the cold water to everyone on the jet.Everyone on the jet took the story to mean that the ladies were appalled and someone had to be fired, but the ladies tried to explain that it was just enough water to cool them down and it was actual refreshing--and they really liked their new friend “Sarge.”  Well, McNair Wilson's boss, Marty Sklar, told McNair to call Frank Wells' office and get the number for his wife to apologize. When McNair talked to Frank Wells, Frank told McNair it wouldn't be necessary to apologize but McNair insisted. Later, when McNair talked to Mrs. Wells' on the phone, she was mad at everyone else for getting McNair in trouble.  But this incident taught McNair a lesson and he taught Sarge that in that situation, what she should do is spray herself first and ask the guest if they would like some and what ended up happening is Sarge would run out of water because guests would literally stand in line to get sprayed.

In another incident, Michael Eisner came to Wilson showing him a business card he had received from one of the Streetmosphere characters. Eisner was shocked that one of the Streetmosphere characters gave it to him, to which McNair responded "You only get one?".  Eisner was stumped and asked "What do you mean one?" and in this case, Eisner had gotten a card from the Streetmosphere character Mel Rose, "Agent to the Stars".  McNair told Eisner that he needs to collect the whole set but wouldn't tell Michael how many cards there were or who had them.  The next Day Eisner came back with four cards and asked McNair if he had gotten all of them, but McNair told him he was getting close and so Eisner set out to get the whole set and was a fun game for him for a few days. (There were actually seven Streetmosphere characters who had there own business cards.)

On another occasion, a park operations guy complained to McNair that his Streetmosphere characters won't drop character, “They’re always in character so you can’t talk to them about operations issues.”  McNair responded that they are always in character “on stage”, just like the park operations cast is always in uniform and said that it's necessary for the Streetmosphere characters to stay in character at all time unless there's an accident that draws blood. 

In these early days of Streetmosphere, Wilson and his actors were constantly tweaking their presentation and McNair had an idea for a game with some of the guests. On Hollywood Boulevard there are lines in the pavement that show where sections of concrete had been poured and these gaps between the sections made nice lines across the street. McNair had one of the Hollywood Boulevard Cop characters get at least two or three dads walking down the street pushing a stroller to line up along one of these lines and then the policeman would go to the next line (about 20 or 30 feet away) and announce in character that they were going to hold a little race.  The cop would blow the whistle and these dads would run as fast as they could! As everyone cheered, the cop would get a hold of the winner and tell the lucky dad he had won and let him know he would have to write the dad up for a speeding ticket.  These tickets had gag reasons for being given to guests, such as "Having too much fun" or "Looking too much like Elvis" or "Coming from too far away" and for  senior citizens there was one ticket for "Dressing alike beyond your age" for when husband and wife seniors would have matching shirts. The cop would make the guest sign the ticket and give it to them and just in case the guest didn't "get it", on the back of the ticket it said, "In a world of copycats and everybody being the same, you have struck a path on your own.  You are an individual. Thanks for being part of our show today. Never change who you are."  Marty Sklar, head of Imagineering, wanted to have the tickets good for a free candy bar or ice cream but the park’s operations director nixed that idea. “They NEVER want to spend extra money on anything” McNair learned.

For the opening of the Disney-MGM Studios, Time Magazine and USA Today came to do articles on the Studios and McNair pleaded to get one of his Streetmosphere characters in the articles. Low and behold, the Sid Cahuenga was on the front page of USA Today--in full color.  Two days later Michael Eisner came up to Wilson showing him the two page spread in Time magazine about the Disney-MGM Studios with the title "You are under arrest" and the article talks about the new form of theme park, that was interactive and everywhere you went, you were part of the show, from the Great Movie Ride to Streetmosphere.  The article went on about how great the park was and how different and new it was from Streetmosphere to all the live elements in every major attraction. This article was a great personal accomplishment for Wilson, who had often heard executives comment that street theater wasn't worth the money and should be cancelled.

Wilson always implored his actors to treat their roles and locations as the real deal.  Rather than saying to guests "Welcome to the Disney-MGM Studios", he had the Streetmosphere characters instead say "Welcome to Hollywood!" and have them treat it all like a real place, including stores and props and vehicles and using the cross walks rather than “J-walking” in the middle of the block. Streetmosphere became wildly popular and would eventually spread to the other parks. It remains popular with guests almost twenty years after Opening Day.