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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