Disney’s Dark Side with Michael Eisner and a Mean Mickey Mouse

Working for Disney, a/k/a “That Mouse is one mean motherfuc*er!”

Michael Eisner's and Mickey Mouse's true sideAfter years as a concert promoter/wrestling impresario/God-knows-just-about-everything-under-the-sun, I was recruited for Disney by none other than Executive Vice President Art Levitt, right hand man to then Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Seems they had a property at Walt Disney World in Orlando called Pleasure Island, that was…failing. You see, Disney World operates by a particular mandate that goes something like this… “Once a guest arrives, we don’t want him/her to leave our property until they’re heading home.” (In other words, “we want every penny in their pocket.”). Well, as massive as Disney World is (it’s 220 times larger than Disneyland!) and as much as there is to do there, they were losing business at night, as guests were seeking nighttime thrills off property. So, Disney being Disney, in an attempt to keep it all for themselves, built Pleasure Island. An actual 7-acre, Disney-created Island, replete with drawbridges, 2 outdoor concert stages, 6 themed nightclubs and “New Year’s Eve every night,” with a massive fireworks show and a choreographed dance extravaganza featuring the ever-bubbly and ever-innocent “Pleasure Island Dancers.”

The Truth about Pleasure Island

Sounds great, right? Well, no. Pleasure Island was failing. And miserably. WHY? Because Disney being Disney, they “Disney-fied” it. Meaning, among other things… “bring your little ones to the Disco, where they can imbibe in non-alcoholic specialty ‘cocktails;’” “frolic with Snow White and Cinderella as they ring in the New Year,” and so on and so forth. I mean, call me naïve, but WHEN AN ADULT GOES TO A NIGHTCLUB, is he or she NOT wanting to have a little fun imbibing in REAL booze while frolicking with members of the OPPOSITE SEX. While NOT having to answer Little Junior’s queries… “Daddy, Daddy, why is that man eating that lady’s tongue?” Or in the immortal words of another Floridian, Mr. Jimmy Buffett, “Let’s get drunk and fu*k.” Pleasure Island was doing the opposite of promoting this favorite of American past times. Well, I’m sure you get the picture.

Disney World's Pleasure IslandSo, I’m flown to Disney, first-class, for 13 scheduled interviews. It’s a whirlwind, and while I have very long hair at the time (a Disney no-no) and am meeting with many seemingly conservative Disney execs, all seems to be going well, and I’m getting excited. I mean, like..I really want this job. Art keeps checking in with me and tells me that it’s looking good. My 13th and final meeting is scheduled with Tom Elrod, the second highest-ranking exec at Disneyworld, after CEO Dick Nunis. Tom (all “cast members” at Disney are on first-name basis) misses our meeting, and I’m sent home. Two weeks later, I’m flown back…first-class again, for what amounts to a 2-minute meeting with Mr. Elrod. Super-perfunctory, straight-to-the-point, doesn’t seem to be too big a fan of this Pleasure Island thing.

A couple of week after that, I’m pacing around my Hollywood loft apartment, going nuts. Why haven’t I heard from anyone? I pick up the phone and call my Human Resources rep. “Oh, aren’t you on your way here yet?” It turns out that I’ve gotten the job, but the ever-organized Disney has forgotten to tell me.

What its actually like to work for Disney

Settled into Orlando, I arrive for my first day of work. I report to VP Roger Kurz, who shows me to my office, introduces me to my secretary Millie (their word, I like “assistant”), shakes my hand, wishes me good luck, and…leaves. I’ve been given no job description; no direction at all. I ask Millie if SHE knows what we’re supposed to do and she shrugs. Finally, I call Art. He asks me if I remember all of the conversations we’ve had, about both the generalities and specifics of what is wrong with Pleasure Island. And the ideas I’ve had to “fix” it? Well, of course I do. “Okay then,” Art says, “ready for your job description?” With eager anticipation, I answer “Yes!” “Alright,” Art replies, “go fuck this place up.”

Downtown Julie Brown and Rick Bassman at Walt Disney WorldThere is lots more in book, “Been There, Done That” on what “fuck this place up” means and how exactly I did that. Until then, and while it was not part of my “job” per se, The Pleasure Island dancers were not all that innocent. Nor, for that matter, was Downtown Julie Brown.

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