Saturday, June 5, 2021

"Ragtime Rod" Miller, Captain Mike O'Brien, & The Empress Lilly (Disney News Magazine - 1977)

Today, we have some "highlights" from the Fall 1977 issue of Disney News Magazine. The cover featured The Empress Lilly, at Walt Disney World's Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village (now Disney Springs, formerly Downtown Disney, formerly Disney Village Marketplace, formerly Walt Disney World Village.)

According to Wikipedia: "The Empress Lilly opened on May 1, 1977, when it was christened by Walt Disney's widow, Lillian Disney, for whom it was named. It originally housed four separate entertainment and dining areas. In the mid-1990s, Levy Restaurants signed a contract to operate the "ship" for 20 years. On April 22, 1995, the Empress Lilly closed. All interiors were ripped out and the old smokestacks and paddle wheel were removed because they had rusted and rotted; these were not replaced. The restaurant opened as Fulton's Crab House on March 10, 1996. Fulton's Crab House closed for major renovations in 2016, to be remodeled into a new restaurant, Paddlefish. As part of the renovation, the exterior was altered greatly, while retaining the original shape of the ship, and new smokestacks and a paddle wheel were installed."

In case anyone is interested, this is how the Empress Lilly looks today. All of the original "curly-q" and "gingerbread" trim has been removed from the structure.

This issue of Disney News Magazine included articles, about two longtime Disneyland cast members.

First up, is Rod Miller, who was one of the park's "Coke Corner Pianists," for over 35 years.

Shortly after being hired on at Disneyland, Rod released an LP record, containing many of the same ragtime songs that he was known for playing at the park.

In 1995, he released a CD featuring two songs previously performed on his LP ("Maple Leaf Rag" and "It Had To Be You"), along with twenty other "ragtime" favorites.

Four years later, Rod released a CD with Alan Thompson Jr., titled, "Miller and Thompson, Four-Hand Piano," featuring four-hand arrangements of various American standards.

At one time, both CDs were being sold in the 20th Century Music Store, at Disneyland. Today, both CDs are out of print and are no longer sold at the park.

Over the years, Rod was featured in many other company publications, including this pic from a cast member orientation book titled, Your Role In The Show.

This publicity photo is from a souvenir book, which was sold in the park in the 1990s.

Next, is an article about Captain Mike O'Brien, who had already been a cast member at Disneyland for 17 years, at the time this article was written.


To see some color photos of Mike O'Brien working at the park, click here for a great post from Major Pepperidge over at Gorillas Don't Blog: Captain Mike O'Brien at Disneyland - 1977

Here's the "Letters" page from the magazine, plus an article about the 20th anniversary of the Magic Kingdom Club. Unfortunately, Disney got rid of it's Magic Kingdom Club in 2000.

The next two pages list admission prices for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

The back cover featured an ad for Walt Disney Production's latest release, Pete's Dragon.

And here's something, just for fun. There are many videos online, showing Rod Miller playing the piano at the Coke Corner at Disneyland, but this is something unusual; a video of Rod playing in the Calico Saloon at Knott's Berry Farm!


Andrew said...

Great post, TokyoMagic! I'm guessing that you own them, but you can listen to the full Rod Miller CDs you mention at this site, which has an amazing range of music from the park. The CDs are tracks 100 and 101. The first thing we did on my first visit to WDW in 2014 was eat lunch at Casey's Corner, but there was no piano performance at that time.

TokyoMagic! said...

Andrew, thank you for that link! I do own Rod's solo CD, but I never did get the "Four-Hand Piano" CD. Now I will be able to listen to it. I knew of that DL audio site, but I don't think I spent enough time looking around on it.....or maybe it was just too long ago, because I don't think I realized how much material was available on it. Thanks, again! :-)

Major Pepperidge said...

I feel like I should have a copy of this 1977 issue of Disney News in my collection, but it sure doesn’t look familiar. Maybe that was just a tiny bit after I stopped actively getting them? I sure miss that magazine.

So… the Empress Lilly was always a static building, and not an actual boat? It sure seems to have had a fairly iffy history. Did you ever eat there?

I have some great photos of a young Rod Miller performing at the Coke Corner from about 1973, you’ll see those on my blog one of these days! I’ve had them scanned for years, what am I waiting for??

Interesting to see that article about Captain Mike O’Brien after sharing so many of the Mysterious Benefactor’s scans featuring the man himself. Until I’d seen those photos, I was unaware of his Disneyland fame. This 1977 issue mentions his “17-year Disneyland career”, so he started in 1960! Amazing. What a colorful character, and it sure sounds like he had some wonderful experiences.

“Pete’s Dragon”… I was just in San Luis Obispo, and went for a walk at a place called Point Buchon, it’s on So Cal Edison land, but they allow the public to hike there if they sign in. The coast is spectacular, with natural arches and bluffs, and there is a place called “Disney Point” where they apparently filmed parts of Pete’s Dragon. There’s no sign of any sets there now, that’s for sure.

Thanks for another fun post!

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, I miss Disney News magazine, too! It wasn't the same when they changed the name to "Disney Magazine" and started including advertisements.

The Lilly Belle is a static building. I don't think I realized that, at the time it opened.

I know you posted a pic of Rod Miller from one of your "Main Street" View-Master sets, but I'm looking forward to seeing your other photos from 1973.

When you posted your pics of Mike O'Brien, I had already scanned this issue of the magazine and had read the article. That is where I got that information in my comment on your post. I wonder how much longer he ended up working at the park.

That's pretty cool that they named that area "Disney Point." And I do like that movie (and it's soundtrack), even though I did not see it until I was already an adult. I did not go see the recent non-musical remake of the film, simply because Shelly Winters and Helen Reddy were not in it! I guess if we wait long enough, Disney is going to eventually remake every single one of their films.....and some of them, multiple times (like "The Jungle Book").

JG said...

Tokyo, so much new information in this post, thank you!

Like the Major, I think I just missed this edition of Disney News. I kept a few of my old copies and my kids loved them to death. I'm not sure any of them survived to the present day.

I must have heard Rod Miller more than once during my visits in youth, I remember the piano music, but the musician left no imprint on my memory. Thanks for the great information about him and his music.


JG said...

Tokyo, completely unrelated to this post, other than that it is a static ship and restaurant, but I saw a news item a couple of weeks ago reporting that the Queen Mary is in danger of sinking due to wear and tear and deferred maintenance. Hearing this is no surprise on the heels of my recent visit. It will be a sad day to lose that ship.

I found a small merchandise bag and a whiskey jigger from my childhood visits to the QM in my stuff recently. I'm not sure what I did with the bag though, it is probably mixed up in a pile of old photos.


Anonymous said...

I left the Park shortly before this issue of Disney News. Thinking back on both Rod and Capt. Mike. Rod and I started the same year in '69. I'd see him playing the piano on stage as well as him backstage as we both headed to the Locker Room. Always had a smile on his face and a laugh in his conversation. Capt Mike...I had the pleasure of working with...or rather under...him on both the Mark and Columbia. He played his role to perfection and could be gruff if you didn't! He'd pipe folks on board the Columbia and for me, taught me how to ring the bell properly to announce nautical time which I proudly did while we cruised announcing the time to all aboard....that is after the proper number of bells. An iconic CM. It's the first picture I've ever seen of him out of costume. What a rich full life he had. Great post for me to now take a walk and remember those good times. KS

TokyoMagic! said...

JG, when I was younger, my brother and I read and re-read our copies of Disney News Magazine, until some of them were a little ragged. As I got older, I was able to keep the newer issues in a little better condition, but then I didn't have children to pass them onto.

And I bet you have heard Rod playing as you walked by the Coke Corner, but just didn't look over to see someone sitting at the piano.

As for the Queen Mary, I did hear a recent report about the ship's condition, and how much it would take to save her. I hope someone steps in and does it. I would be very sad if the ship ends up being scrapped!

TokyoMagic! said...

KS, wow....what a great experience, getting to actually work with Captain Mike! Was the ringing of the bell to announce nautical time, something that was standard procedure, or was that something that he just taught some of the cast members to do on his own?

Anonymous said...

TokyoMagic! No, it was something he wanted us to least me! It's nothing that was required of us. But once I had it really added to the show and I enjoyed ringing them out, in the prescribed cadence, and then announcing "3 bells (or whatever they were at that specific time, without announcing the conventional time. So, in the early afternoon, 3 bells was at 1:30pm....I wouldn't say it was 1:30. KS

TokyoMagic! said...

KS, interesting! Thanks for answering that question!


That’s awful what became of the Empress Lilly !! It was an icon at Walt Disney World Village at one time. I guess it’s nice she at least got a new set of stacks and a wheel!! Sadly I never got to eat there. It featured several restaurants there , of course the top one was the extremely expensive dinner coat only restaurant . It’s sad when you see something that once was so popular and iconic become a shell of itself or left to become tired or neglected - like The Empress Lilly , River Country , The Golden Horseshoe , or The Carousel of Progress.

The 1977 Light House set scenes for Pete’s Dragon were filmed in Morro Bay ( california) the footage was supposedly reversed to have the views needed to be looking out to the Atlantic . I know someone with a actual window from the lighthouse sets they got when it was dissembled and brought back by the studio. The pieces were stored at - of all places - Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch. I’m not aware of the lighthouse prop ever having been used in another film or production , but I wonder ......

When I walk or jog down in Dana Pointe , I always keep my eyes open around the marina to see if I can spot Captain Mike O’Brian’s boat , The BORA BORA BELLE. I know he’s been gone for awhile and had suffered a major stroke in the 90’s , but I look for his boat anyway.

MRaymond said...

As a kid I would love if someone was playing the piano at Coke Corner. Sometime around 1970, I would be 10, I watched the piano player for about 30 minutes standing right by his right arm. The movement of his fingers and the hammers was mesmerizing. After one of his songs he showed me how the keys moved the hammers and it really made my day. An old red tinted photo showed that it was no other than Rod Miller.

TokyoMagic! said...

MRaymond, what a great personal story! So you have a photo of yourself with Rod Miller? Too cool!

TokyoMagic! said...

Mike, I agree with you about what happened to the Empress Lilly. Lillian Disney would have still been alive at the time that it fell into disrepair and had it's smokestacks and paddle wheel removed. I wonder if she ever saw what happened to her namesake "ship," in person? There is just no excuse for a company as big and as wealthy as Disney, to just neglect something like that. It was the nineties, so I guess that was a dark period for Walt Disney World as well as Disneyland. Sad!

K. Martinez said...

Rod Miller is a Disneyland legend for sure. I never paid a lot of attention to the pianists that played at the Coke Corner in the sense of hanging around the piano like these pics show, but I sure enjoyed their music while munching on a hotdog and sipping a Coke on one of the tables there. Great place and amostphere.

As for the Empress Lilly remodel, all I can say is that they ruin everything. They really do.

Thanks for another wonderful post, TM! Always enjoy what you write and share here.


TokyoMagic! said...

Ken, thank you for the kind words!

I agree, Rod Miller is a Disney legend. I wonder if they would ever consider giving him a "window" on Main Street? I bet he worked at the park longer than any of the other Coke Corner pianists, over the years.

It's such a shame about the Empress Lilly.....and yes, they really do ruin everything!

K. Martinez said...

They should consider giving Rod Miller a "window" on Main Street. He's a part of Disneyland history and was beloved by many park goers.

Fran├žois said...

I think - actually I am sure! LOL. - it's a typo! The Empress Lilly opened MAY 1, 1977 ... not 1976!

Was there in July 1977, and, boy, the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village looked pretty quaint then!

Thanks for those wonderful trips back down Memory Lane!

TokyoMagic! said...

Francois, thank you so much for that correction....I appreciate it! I should have double-checked those facts from Wikipedia, before I published the post. Wikipedia often has mistakes like that, which is so frustrating! I just checked the D23 page for the Empress Lily and you are right, the year was 1977. I have now corrected the date in my post. Thanks again!

"Lou and Sue" said...

TokyoMagic! I also have Rod Miller's Ragtime CD and LOVE it! It reminds me of Disneyland trips in my younger years. I can't hear ragtime without instantly going back in time to beautiful sunny days on Main Street. (MRaymond, I'm the same age as you and would've been hanging around the piano, around 1970, too!)

Andrew, THANK YOU for adding the link to the Disney music site. I've been playing a lot of it, over the last few days, and enjoying it. I wouldn't have know about it, if you hadn't mentioned it.

Love all the great comments, thanks, TokyoMagic! and everyone! I still need to go back and finish reading more about Captain Mike...

TokyoMagic! said...

Sue, when I hear ragtime, it makes me think of Disneyland and Main Street, too!