Celebrity and myth

The Skeptic, 5.3

Such is the cult of the modern celebrity, that for many people it is impossible to accept that the Grim Reaper has closed the dressing room door for the last time. The worship of Elvis Presley, for example, is as strong (if not stronger) in 1991 as at his death in 1977. There are a multitude of books which `prove' that Elvis faked his own death, snuck off to a tropical life in South America, and still telephones his fans now and then. In a similar vein, the current nostalgia for the summer of 1967 and its aftermath kindles the darkly suggested `did Jim Morrison really die in his Paris room?' questions. (If he didn't, there's an awful lot of chalk, paint and booze been wasted at Pere Lachaise cemetery.)

Some of the most persistent rumours concern Walt Disney. There are those who will tell you that Walt - well-known to be a technology enthusiast - had himself frozen at the end, hoping to be revived (and revivable) when medical science was sufficiently advanced. Using liquid nitrogen to keep people colder than a British Rail sausage is easy, but expensive to maintain. The hard bit is to warm them up without bits dropping off. What puts me off the idea is that in the 23rd century, who's going to bother putting in the work to defrost these 20th century would-be time-travellers? On the other hand, I reckon they've still got a better chance than the Eternal Flame brigade.

So, what grounds are there for believing that Walt Disney has been in cold storage since 1966? Like the Presley and Morrison cases, you can find `clues' if you try hard enough. First, Disney's funeral was subject to a news blackout, and the actual location of his grave has never been made public by the Disney estate. You can interpret this as either simple family privacy, or (more excitingly) the initial phase of a strange cover-up. Next, it is widely reported that Disney had an unnaturally active interest in death and the macabre (there is a FOAF story about a cartoon he made in 1933, in which a mad scientist tries to sever Pluto's head and graft it onto a chicken. The film has since mysteriously disappeared...) Unfortunately, the bad news for cool-Disney-ites is that a death certificate was duly filed, and it states that his body was cremated. In his book Big Secrets (Corgi, 1985) William Poundstone tracked down Disney's final resting place to the Forest Lawn Garden of Rest in Glendale, California, putting paid to the speculations that his remains were interred in a secret chamber in one of the spires of the Cinderella Castle in Florida's Disney World. (There really is a secret chamber there, by the way...).

Disney's legacies are also the subject of numerous rumours, and odd facts. At Disneyland, for example, male employees are not permitted to sport beards, certain songs are never played on PA except to indicate an emergency to staff (the wonderfully jolly “Whistle while you work” means EVACUATE THE PARK!), and there is a secret club called `Club 33' serving hard liquor.

The parks attract urban legends too: one tells of a child disappearing from Disneyland, to be found weeks later with a new hairstyle, mysteriously dyed by the abductor. Another concerns a woman who is allegedly molested by the Three Little Pigs. The mind boggles. Next time you're at Disneyland, and you see good ol' Pluto coming up behind you, my advice is - RUN!


©Toby Howard 1995

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