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An ode to a bygone Disneyland

July 10, 2010 | 12:30 am

Ma Charles Phoenix has learned a lot from Disneyland.

“I’m not Disney-obsessed, but I never discount the effect it had on me as a child,” says the pop-culture humorist and author, best known for blending comedy and commentary in shows based on other people’s family and vacation slides. “It helped make me a visual person in terms of recognizing motifs and themes. I like to say I studied at the Disneyland School of Style.”

It’s no surprise, then, that the Magic Kingdom is one of Phoenix’s favorite subjects. The park often pops up in his pieces and has starred in a program of its own. “Wherever I go, it’s an easy sell because it’s an interesting place, has an interesting story and has touched so many of our lives.”

To celebrate the 55th anniversary of the Happiest Place on Earth, Phoenix will present “Charles Phoenix’s Retro Disneyland Slide Show” at 10 a.m. Saturday the 17th at the Crowne Plaza Anaheim Resort in Garden Grove.

Train “We start and end in the new Tomorrowland of 1967,” says Phoenix. “We start in Tomorrowland but then we quickly leave because I say, ‘In order to appreciate the future we must experience the past’ and ‘click’ we’re on Main Street U.S.A.”

The slides — many of which come from thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales — depict a bygone Disneyland of attractions including the Phantom Boats and House of the Future (“the remarkable thing is that it’s still futuristic-looking”) and moments such as kids fishing off Tom Sawyer Island. Hat

Because the images were taken by tourists and not professionals, says Phoenix, “we really get the experience of being there. We tour the park but we also get to know the people” — whose hairdos, sailor suits and grinning poses with costumed characters offer glimpses of midcentury American life.

While growing up in Ontario in the ’60s and ’70s, Phoenix came to appreciate the retro world while visiting Disneyland three or four times a year and hanging out in thrift shops and at his father’s used-car lots. After moving to Los Angeles in 1982, he became a fashion designer. He found his first cache of Kodachrome in 1992 and put on his first slide-show performance six years later. Since then he has traveled around the country providing vintage views of holiday traditions, road trips and '50s and '60s fads and fashions. (He is presenting a “3-D retro slide show” at 3 p.m. Sunday the 12th at the Downtown Independent theater.)

House Phoenix, 47, took a break from the Magic Kingdom when he was in his 20s. But now, he says, “there are kids in my extended family” and so he’s back. “I’ll be riding the Pirates of the Caribbean and thinking, ‘I’ve been doing this since I was 5 and it’s still fascinating. Why is it still great?’”

The reason, he’s realized, is that “when I’m at Disneyland, I feel ageless. There are very few places that make me feel like that. It’s like going home.”

--Karen Wada


Photo credits:From Charles Phoenix

Comments () | Archives (3)

Walt Disney was, despite what faults people may feel he had, a true genius. The berms that separate Disneyland from the outside world do much more than that...they allow you to enter a place that stands outside of time...a place where you can be not only whoever you want, but whenever you want...not only throughout your own history, but America's.

I grew up going to Disneyland. My earliest memory is my late mother spanking me with a Zorro sword because I had become so enamored with it that I had run off and left my parents frantically searching for their lost three year old son. Little did they know that the siren's song had called me away...and it still does. Unlike Ulysses, there are no ropes holding me back...only the restraints of age...and time.

I have enjoyed watching each of my children fall in love with Disneyland over the last thirty-two years. The joy that was in their eyes as small children is rekindled each time we are fortunate enough to make it back down there. Happy 55th, Disneyland.

Christopher Blake

Looks like an interesting show. (In these old photos, I always enjoy seeing how, even though people smoked and had probably never heard of "cholesterol", they seem to weigh about two-thirds less than people do today.) By the way, for those with a particular nostalgia for Disney of days past, there's a great website called "Yesterland." Not affiliated with it, but I am addicted. :-)

I'm sure Charles Phoenix's heart is in the right place (I hope) but when I first came into contact with his work in vintage slides, I was put-off by him because of his garish and ridiculous "retro" costuming (bright jackets, cornball spectacles...)

I know the dude has to make a buck (generally off of other people's personal photos and slides) but for once I'd like to see Phoenix present a dead serious slide presentation, not just an extension of his outrageous kooky retro personality - which, to me ruins everything.


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