The Disney Backlot

Believe it or not there was a time at the Walt Disney Studio when you could leave your desk and take a stroll around the back lot Zorro set. This was one of the many cool things about working at a motion picture studio. Distant worlds and western towns were only a few feet away. All you had to do was leave the Animation Building and head for the back lot where Walt filmed many of his live-action feature films. It was an opportunity to take a break and clear your head after a morning of staring at in-betweens of Briar Rose or Prince Phillip. Sadly, todays artists will never have the opportunity of experiencing what we enjoyed on a daily basis.

If you remember the old Zorro television series you'll recognize the town square and the mission to your right. That's my pal, Rick Gonzales walking in the background. Rick and I would often take a stroll around the back lot at break time. We were young kids just beginning our careers at the Walt Disney Studio and there were many years still ahead of us. I remember being blissfully unaware of the realities of the animation business. Working at the Disney Studio was a dream come true and Rick and I simply assumed this dream would last forever. We had no idea that once Sleeping Beauty was completed there would be a massive layoff and hundreds of Disney artists would be sent packing. However, on this quiet morning back in the nineteen fifties all was well with the world and we casually strolled around Walt Disney's magic kingdom without a care in the world. Today, the Zorro set on the Walt Disney Studio back lot is only a distant memory and most of todays staffers probably never knew of its existence. The Zorro town square, along with several other motion picture sets have all been bulldozed into oblivion. Parking lots now occupy the Disney real estate and studio accountants are probably delighted that the studio backlot has been put to better use. Yet, for those of us who wandered the backlot at break time know that something very special has been lost. It sounds corny but it was magical to work at Disney back in the old days when you could pretend to have a shoot out on a western street or lounge near a backyard pool of a Beverly Hills mansion. We wandered through the wilds of an African Jungle and sat around teepees in an Indian encampment not far from Alameda Avenue. While we created magic inside Walt Disney's Animation Building, there was a fair share of magic going on outside as well.

My pal, Rick Gonzales is gone now. He, like so many of my friends and colleagues of my early Disney days have since passed on. This photograph reminds me of a time not so long ago when the Disney Studio was run by Walt and we were all young, eager kids ready to begin our animation careers at the greatest studio in the world. Of course, this is simply a movie set and the Spanish style buildings we see in the photograph are far from real. Yet, somehow they're a good deal more real than the Disney studio we know today.

The Zorro set on the Walt Disney Studios back lot. It was a great place to wander at break time.

The Zorro set on the Walt Disney Studios back lot. It was a great place to wander at break time.