DISNEY

The new book helps light up the career of Claude Coats, a Disney background specialist


For me, the most important attraction of all Walt Disney World is not a high-speed roller coaster, it does not have a trail system without tracks, it does not have fireworks, lasers or projections, and it is the furthest from the ‘avant-garde.

Disney legend Claude Coats on his desk. [Courtesy of D23]

No. The most important attraction of all of Walt Disney World is the ride and presentation of the film called One Man’s Dream, set in the heart of Disney’s Hollywood studios. It’s important because it would be a shame for future generations to lose sight of who Walt Disney was and what he achieved during his 66 years.

One Man’s Dream is the story of Walter Elias Disney, who during his lifetime risked more than a river boat player and who, most of the time, overcame the impossible odds. It is the story of a man who emerged from humble beginnings to become perhaps the most influential force in the entertainment industry, whether in animation, movies, theme parks or television.

But Walt Disney would be the first to tell you that he didn’t achieve success alone.

WALT RECOGNIZED TALENTED PEOPLE

Walt had an extraordinary ability to recognize talented and gifted people. And it was his mission to surround himself with people who helped him fulfill his wildest dreams and ambitions.

“Walt saw in us things we didn’t see in ourselves,” said former Disney Imagineering leader Marty Sklar.

Many of the men and women who worked for Disney during the company’s “glory days” in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s became stars in their own right, people like Mary Blair, Herb Ryman, Ub Iwerks, John Hench , Bob Gurr, X. Atencio, Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnson, Jack Lindquist and the aforementioned Sklar.

But there was a group of Disney cast members working in the background, all the less anonymous to the public, people who somehow escaped the spotlight during their illustrious careers at Disney, but went make important contributions to the company’s unprecedented success.

The cover of David A. Bossert’s new book on Disney legend Claude Coats. [Courtesy of The Old Mill Press].

Specific case: Claude Coats.

The epitome of a kind giant, the 6-foot, 6-inch Coats not only preferred to be at the bottom when he worked, but he flourished there. In fact, he began his career with the Walt Disney Company painting background scenes for Disney animation classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs i Pinocchio.

Claude played a key role in the formulation of WED Enterprises, the design and development of Disneyland and several of its most iconic attractions, before culminating his career with work on Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, EPCOT, Disneyland Paris and Tokyo. . Disneyland.

Although he was much loved and respected by his peers and even achieved Disney Legend status in 1991, Claude Coats has remained a hidden figure in the vast Disney firmament.

Hopefully, that is about to change.

With the recent release of David A. Bossert Claude Coats: Walt Disney’s Imagineer: The Making of Disneyland: From Toad Hall to the Haunted Mansion and Beyond [The Old Mill Press, 264 Pages, $65] the world will get to know Claude Coats – through deep texts and impressive archival photos – and his incredibly productive career at the Walt Disney Company.

David A. Bossert’s latest book delves into the career of Disney legend Claude Coats. [Courtesy of The Old Mill Press]

Bossert, who spent decades as a key member of Walt Disney Animation, reinvented himself after retiring. He is now an author, specializing in Disney history. In fact, he has gotten into the habit of immersing himself in various Disney themes, hitherto unexplored, all with overwhelmingly positive results.

Among his works: Remembering Roy E. Disney; a deep dive into Kem Weber’s different furniture designs; Disneyland 3D; and a look at Dalí, Disney and the short film Destination.

Indirectly, Bossert ‘s book on Salvador Dalí, Walt Disney and the Destination project can be linked to the new book on Claude Coats.

In a recent interview, Bossert explained, “Honestly, each of my books seems to have been just a fortuitous moment and this was no exception.

“About five years ago, I was at a conference in Los Angeles and when I was entering the conference, this tall gentleman in a baseball cap came up to me. He saw my badge on a cord around his neck and went say, “I just got your Dali and Disney book at Barnes and Noble.” and I was thrilled.

“I looked at his name plate and said ‘Alan Coats’ and I thought,’ Well, he must be Claude Coats’ son. ‘”

A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP EVOLVED

It turns out that the relationship between Bossert and Claude Coats dates back to Dave’s early days at Disney Animation Studios.

Back then, Bossert often walked to the Disney Imagineering police station for breakfast. One morning, he met Claude Coats and developed a dear friendship.

“For about 18 months, I saw him once or twice a week and we sat down to chat,” Bossert said. “I passed it on to Alan and we agreed to meet for lunch.”

At a Burbank restaurant, Bossert told Alan Coats that his father “was an incredibly nice guy and very kind, open and approachable. I just started my career in business and he was on the eve of a career in 54 and a half years.

“That’s really what I wanted to convey to Alan. I didn’t intend to write a book about Claude at the time, but at the end of lunch, Alan said,” Hey, you’d be interested in writing a book about my father? “and that’s really how it started.”

Like all of his books, Bossert did extensive research and work, a process he called “a journey.”

“I started by interviewing a lot of people I knew Claude. In fact, I think I did one of the last interviews with Marty Sklar before he died [in 2017]. Alan and I went up to Marty’s house [in the Hollywood Hills]. We sat in his office and recorded it for about two hours, just talking about Claude Coats.

“Then it was a matter of doing a lot of research, collecting a lot of material and then deciding what the story would be.”

Claude Coats’ career lasted 54 and a half years and included many important successes.

“Alan and I had a lot of conversations,” Bossert said, “and we finally split Claude’s career into three segments.

The exterior of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland. [Courtesy of D23]

“The book begins in 1935, when Claude was hired in the studio, until 1955, when he was a background painter. [the wishing well sequence in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Geppetto’s workshop in Pinocchio are among his major film credits]. I mean he really did tremendous background art.

“Claude had a background in architecture and fine arts; he was an excellent watercolor painter. He liked to make models. For example, in the animated classic The lady and the tramp, built some models. We have some photos in the book that show some mock-ups that allowed the artists to understand the dog’s view of the different rooms in the house and what not. “

Then there was the segment of his career where Claude helped set up WED Enterprises, the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering. During this time, Claude made important contributions to the design and development of Disneyland, including his work on the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

“In the end the Vagabond lady, Claude ended the animation. He wanted to move on to other things, so it was a perfect opportunity when Walt came in and said, “Hey, I want you to work on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” for Disneyland. That was really the beginning of his imaging career in the company. “

HE HELPED DEVELOPING MANY DISNEYLAND CLASSICS

Claude spent the next 15 years developing Disneyland and some of the park’s most iconic attractions, such as Alice in Wonderland, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion.

By the end of the 1960s, Walt had died and Claude was commissioned to translate many of these Disneyland attractions into Walt Disney World.

He started working at the Magic Kingdom in Florida and then moved on to EPCOT. He then worked at Euro Disneyland [now Disneyland Paris]. The last project he worked on was Tokyo Disneyland.

Claude Coats ’work on the diorama of the Disneyland Grand Canyon helped bring natural wonder to life. [The Walt Disney Company]

Bossert highlighted a significant Disneyland project in the book: The Grand Canyon Diorama Scene that guests experience during their trip aboard the Disneyland Railroad.

“For the Grand Canyon diorama, he actually designed the landscape and painted a smaller version,” Bossert said. “Then, he used a team of artists from a Hollywood company that specializes in big movie and television curtains.”

It was Claude Coats, as the show’s designer, who layered the scene, with realistic fake animals near the train, foliage and rocks nearby, and then the Grand Canyon itself, giving guests a look awesome to one of the most impressive in the world. magnificent natural wonders.

He even scattered some wild turkeys in the diorama, which Walt Disney immediately questioned.

“Claude went out to the Grand Canyon of Arizona and talked to Park Rangers,” Bossert said. “He did his research and when he came back and was making the models and designs for this attraction, he had turkeys there. When Walt first saw these roosters, he said, ‘There are no turkeys in the Grand Canyon. “, and Claude said,” Oh, yes, there are. “

But Walt was still skeptical. There was a second meeting where Walt asked again, “Are you sure there are turkeys?” And Claude said, “I’m sure, Walt. I spoke to the Park Rangers outside the Grand Canyon, they said there are not only turkeys, but the herds are growing, ”and the next thing you know, Walt brings a guest and shows him the Grand Canyon diorama model and says, ‘Did you know there are turkeys?’ ”

Disney legend Tony Baxter mentored Claude Coats early in his career. [The Walt Disney Company]

Dave Bossert’s book on Claude Coats includes significant contributions from several of his former colleagues, including the imagining brain of Tony Baxter.

“Tony, in particular, was very important because Tony was a mentor for Claude,” Bossert said. “You know Tony is considered the second generation of Imagineers. Another fantastic aspect of Claude’s personality is that he talked to anyone, especially the guys who were coming in, and he was a mentor to a lot of them. .

“After Claude met Tony, they became great friends, so it was very valuable to have Tony’s input, including the ability to read the manuscript and make any comments he deemed necessary.”

In addition, Baxter provided many photos never posted to the project.

Because of his close relationship with Coats, Bossert is able to give a unique personal view of Claude Coats, the man.

“His disposition was that of a very thoughtful person, but he was also a very sensitive guy and a little introverted. I mean, he was 6 feet 6 inches tall and he was an imposing figure, of course, but he was also someone else. quiet and only considered a team player.

“In any of the transcripts of the interview we were able to get from him, he always talks about being part of the team, not about playing his own horn. That was not his personality. “

Chuck Schmidt is an award-winning journalist who has covered all things Disney since 1984, both on paper and online. He has authored or co-authored seven books on Disney, including his most recent, The Beat Goes On, for Theme Park Press. He has also written a bimonthly blog for AllEars.Net, called Still crazy about Disney, since 2015.





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