Disney Imagineer Talks About Being Gay in Walt’s World

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Bob Gurr was a 22-year-old designer and engineer, or “Imagineer” as they came to be known, when Disneyland was still in its planning stages. He returns to the Magic Kingdom this weekend to talk about his part in designing such landmarks as the Autopia cars, the monorail and the Haunted House, and what it was like as a gay man working with the legendary visionary himself.

No honey, this isn’t Fantasyland. Gurr, now an 80-something retiree who loves to watch the sunset while sipping martinis from his hilltop home, spent an incredible career as one Walt Disney’s first Imagineers.

“It’s a special treat,” to return as a guest for Gay Days, says Gurr, in an exclusive interview with Goweho.com. “I have a memory all the way from an orange grove full of bulldozers when I first saw it. And I can walk around and in my mind’s eye I remember what everything used to look like.”

Gurr spoke reverently about the freedom Walt gave his creative team, encouraging them to use their imaginations to come up with ways to make the magic happen. Even though he had no formal training as an engineer, Gurr became the mechanical mind behind many of Disneyland’s most popular attractions, and in later years, continued with Universal to build King Kong, and was hired by Steve Wynn to build the infamous sinking pirate ship in Las Vegas.

While homosexuality wasn’t the topic of conversation around the Happiest Place on Earth, Gurr says that his co-workers knew or suspected about his orientation, and that Walt just didn’t care.

“In the 1950s, the word homosexual was never printed in a newspaper, even medical books or school libraries,” Gurr said. “Think about [as] a kid, you couldn’t find a word about anything. Then by the mid-60s, a little bit of political fighting began to happen, [such as] the Stonewall thing in New York. People became very aware. Then the so-called gay life burst like mad in a very few years and startled everybody.

“In the middle of that working at Disney studios, everybody was so focused on getting what Walt wanted done, nobody was interested in anybody else’s sexual orientation. They just weren’t.

“Walt certainly was never interested. The only time he was concerned was if a guy came back from lunch after three martinis and they weren’t doing too well on a storyboard, then he would say something, but other than that he was just not interested.”

Gurr does remember a conference at the Disney Hotel in 1974, when “There were two guys having a bit of an argument over my orientation. I said ‘Well yes, didn’t you know?’ One guy said ‘pay up.’ Turns out they had a bet going for about 15 years, he is or he isn’t.  I didn’t know that, I thought it was the funniest thing.

“By ‘81-‘82 at Disney, they had the bowling club, baseball club, social club, and somebody said, ‘Well the company has to have equal opportunities. OK, we gotta have a gay club too.’ “

“An Intimate Conversation With Disney Legend Bob Gurr” is the fourth in a series of celebrity chats presented by D23: The Official Disney Fan Club, during Gay Days at Disneyland Oct. 3-5.

More Highlights of Gay Days at Disneyland

Dot Marie Jones (“Glee”), Cheyenne Jackson, Courtney Act (“Ru Paul’s Drag Race), Jai Rodriguez and Momma are among the entertainers also slated to make appearances at the 17th Gay Days at Disneyland set for Friday-Sunday, Oct. 3-5. Just added to the schedule is Michael Urie performing “Buyer and Cellar” for one night only after sold-out runs in New York, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Toronto and Los Angeles. This special engagement of Jonathan Tolins’ hit play, about an actor hired to work in Barbra Streisand’s basement, will play in the 100-seat space at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel at 6:30 pm on Sunday. Tickets are $50 and $65.

Friday’s highlights include a live broadcast of “The Derek and Romaine Show” on Sirius Satellite Radio, at House of Blues Anaheim from 4-7 p.m.

The evening continues with a dance party with DJ Ray Rhodes (Tiger Heat, KBIG 104.), hosted by Los Angeles drag diva Momma. A benefit for the Point Foundation, the dance runs from 9:30 p.m.-1 a.m. at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney. Tickets: $20 at the door.

Saturday is Gay Day at Disneyland, culminating with the KINGDOM dance party, featuring DJ Kimberly S and special performances by Cheyenne Jackson and Ru Paul’s Drag Race star, Courtney Actat the House of Blues Anaheim in Downtown Disney, 9 p.m.–1:30 a.m. Tickets: $35 in advance, $45 at the door.

Saturday will also feature Miss Coco Peru: Have You Heard? In this intimate evening, Coco will tell stories about her life, sing some songs, and basically change lives.

Sunday will be Gay Day at Disney’s California Adventure and the Gay Days Anaheim PLUNGE pool party, noon-4 p.m. at the Anabella Hotel. DJ Zach Moos will be spinning while Momma and her bathing beauties splash in the pool.  Tickets: $20 in advance, $25 at the door.

VIP Gold tickets include access to an exclusive cocktail party with three-time Emmy nominee, Dot Marie Jones (Glee), among our guests.

Both days in the parks will feature gatherings only available over Gay Days weekend, and a family dance sponsored by Family Equality Council. For a complete schedule see: www.GayDaysAnaheim.com

Gay Days Anaheim is a “mix-in” with the park’s other weekend guests, but gays and lesbians are encouraged to wear red shirts. Note: Gay Days Anaheim is NOT a Disney-sponsored event. Sponsors include Delta Airlines, Howard Johnson Anaheim, The Anabella Hotel, and the Anaheim/Orange Country Visitor and Convention Bureau. Media sponsors are Gay.com, G.E.D., Gloss, The Fight, Frontiers, PIX, Odyssey, Rage, and EDGE.

Journalist Laurie Schenden covers the entertainment industry, with many of her notable celebrity interviews appearing in the Los Angeles Times and other national and international publications. As a longtime columnist and feature writer for the LA Times, she also covered events and California destinations for the lifestyle, Outdoors and Travel sections. Laurie Schenden's international pieces include the long-running Where Are They Now celebrity feature for Spotlight Magazine, published in five languages. Laurie has also contributed to numerous documentary films, and produces content via Saving Grace Films.

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