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Heroes of the Haunted Mansion: Ken Anderson

Ken Anderson was laid off by MGM in 1934. He was married and spent a month “living on the beaches and eating canned beans and what-not” (The Disney Family Album). He applied to the Walt Disney Company at the urging of his wife Polly even though his education was in architecture. Anderson’s additional accomplishments include work on “The Goddess of Spring,” “Ferdinand the Bull,” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Anderson was the first imagineer to really work on the Haunted Mansion as an attraction. Harper Goff did a drawing of a haunted house as part of the Mickey Mouse park Walt Disney was considering in 1951, and Marvin Davis gave a haunted mansion a place in Disneyland that never materialized.

In 1957, Anderson wrote his first storylines for the Haunted Mansion. He researched houses in the south and went to the Winchester Mystery House to look at group movements and timings. His storylines included a captain/pirate who killed his new bride, a ghostly family that kept the mansion from being renovated, a tour led by Walt Disney, and a mansion that used the Headless Horseman and the classic monsters of literature.

Anderson suffered a stroke after the release of “101 Dalmatians.” He lost the ability to move and was left blind by the stroke. He had “absolutely no control” over his body. He came back with the inspiration from a grove of trees and worked on Shere Khan for “The Jungle Book.”

Ken Anderson worked for Disney for 44 years. He is one of the few unsung heroes of the Haunted Mansion. Without his first treatments and ideas for the inside, we may not have the classic attraction that exists today. Let his example help you improve your work situation, perseverance and creativity.

Sources: “The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic” by Jason Surrell.

“The Disney Family Album: Ken Anderson” aired on the Disney Channel in 1984. Accessed at https://youtu.be/mSPnwK2yPtQ

“Ken Anderson; Disney Art Director, 84” in the New York Times. Accessed at https://www.nytimes.com/1993/12/19/obituaries/ken-anderson-disney-art-director-84.html

For more on creativity and the Haunted Mansion, get “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity” online or at the Candy Cane Inn in Anaheim.

For more on Disneyland and Creativity, order “Disneyland Is Creativity.” For deep thinking about the Disney Company, check out “Penguinate! The Disney Company.”

You can also find more articles about Disney, Disneyland and creativity at our archive website, www.penguinate.weebly.com, and on our blog. If you would like to get even more articles about creativity, join our Patreon and become a Penguinator.

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The Cover Reveal for ‘The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity’

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion was always my favorite Disneyland attraction growing up. Sure, I enjoyed singing and clapping with the Country Bears. I had fun sailing with pirates in the Caribbean, and I really loved Adventures thru Inner Space. However, it was the Haunted Mansion and its magic that remained the attraction I would choose to go on first.

This year marks the Haunted Mansion’s 50th anniversary. Because of that, I wanted to delve deeper into its history and its links to creative principles. From the late 1950s when Ken Anderson was the only imagineer assigned to the project through to Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump’s shenanigans to opening day and beyond, “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity” takes you on a tour of the home of 999 happy haunts linking attraction details and designs as well as stories of its creation to creative principles as revealed through scientific studies and interviews with people who create for a living.

The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity” is scheduled to be available on June 1, 2019. I will be presenting “The Haunted Mansion: 50 Years of Creativity” at Lilac City Comicon 2019 and Ogden UnCon 2019.

Without further ado… Here is the amazing cover for “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity” designed by Antonisa Scott and Transcend Studio:

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Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion Exterior and trouble accepting new ideas

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion

In a story about Ignaz Semmelweis, the survival rate of children and their mothers, and handwashing included in his book “How to Fly a Horse,” Kevin Ashton points out that even in a “field as empirical and scientific as medicine… Creation is seldom welcome” (74 – 76). People need creativity and change, and they resist it at the same time. It’s part of the dichotomy of being human.

When Walt Disney wanted his imagineers to envision and create a haunted house for his theme park, they all came up with the same idea: a decrepit, run-down building that had ghosts. Walt didn’t like it. He didn’t want a run-down building ruining his pristine park.

According to Sam Gennawey’s “The Disneyland Story,” Ken Anderson, the original lead on the Haunted Mansion as we now know it, wanted to hide the run-down mansion behind trees native to Louisiana. Walt didn’t go for it.

Harriet Burns built three models for Walt to choose from. The imagineers put the pristine building behind the other two decrepit versions. Walt chose the beautiful building every time. He wanted guests to feel welcome in his park; that meant everything had to be clean and in good repair, even the haunted mansion.

Walt was working with some of the most creative people in the planet. Imagineers knew Walt, had experienced his success and demeanor first hand. Even when he told them, “We’ll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside” (Surrell, Jason, “The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic,” p. 13), they insisted on trying to convince him that a haunted house needed to look a certain way.

“Everyone expects a residence for ghosts to be run-down. But Walt was always looking for the unexpected,” (Genneway, p. 180) said Claude Coats.

When those who consider themselves creative and create for a living have trouble accepting new ideas and ways of doing things, everyone else has even greater problems to accept the changes that come with innovations. It’s okay. We just need to realize that creativity is just as necessary for the advancement of humanity as being wary of the change that it brings is. As soon as we can embrace our seemingly opposed sides, we can see they are working together to make us more successful, as long as we don’t let one win over the other all the time.

For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” For more on the Disney Company, preorder “Penguinate! The Disney Company” officially releasing on April 14, 2019.

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Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, Storytelling and Ken Anderson

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion

Walt Disney turned to Ken Anderson to work on the Haunted Mansion in the late 1950s. There had been other concepts before, usually one or two drawings and not much else. Anderson got to work and began coming up with stories for the mansion, which he referred to as the “ghost house.” Anderson came up with the design based on a building in Baltimore, and he came up with several different stories, especially suited for a walk-through.

There was Captain Gore, who killed his bride when she found out that he was an infamously blood-thirsty pirate; she haunted him until he hanged himself. There was the Blood family, whose ancestral home where they all died was transplanted at Disneyland. Anderson worked on various effects and storylines within those concepts, including one with the Headless Horseman and naïve guides, but none of them worked for Walt. The Haunted Mansion resisted cohesive story-telling.

Instead, it needed to be more like the Pirates of the Caribbean, which wasn’t developed at the time Anderson was working on the Haunted Mansion. Walt told his imagineers to think of Pirates like a cocktail party. People wouldn’t be able to hear all of the conversations going on. This was a good thing because it meant that they would have to come back to see it again. That approach worked for the Haunted Mansion, too.

While the façade of the Haunted Mansion was completed in 1963, the attraction wouldn’t open until August 9, 1969. The years it spent in development and the amount of time the mansion stood empty only worked in favor of Disneyland where it opened to large crowds and earned the hearts of millions of guests.

Celebrate 50 years of the Haunted Mansion with us and preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” A wholly unauthorized look at the history of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland and what it can help us learn about becoming more creative.