07.06.10 - Daintily promenading along the parade's three-quarter-mile-long route, feathered hat and matching parasol perfectly accenting her elegant dress, she adds just the right touch of class to the Small Town sequence of Disney's joyful salute to the nation's bicentennial.
The Lady in Pink is only one of nearly 150 People of America in the parade, each one a unique larger-than-live figure adding its own color and personality to the fun-filled musical extravaganza.
"Creating the Lady in Pink is typical of the process we went through," said Jack Muhs of Disneyland's costume Design department, and one of several key men in making the parade come to life. "In fact, it was the very first figure designed and completed."
It was while the giant parade "stages" were being designed and constructed that Jack and his associates began work on the eight-foot-tall People of America.
One of the things Jack remembered from his career as a costume designer for major motion pictures and television shows was that "some of the old-time actresses, the ones that were most expressive — well, their heads were very large for their bodies, and an awful lot of them were short from the waist down. Their faces were very large." To Jack, and to the others, the final concept seemed right.
"We wanted simple features on the head and a simple body shape to fit in with the Disney concept," he explained. "Using body pads to distort the shape is a form of cartooning, which is, of course, what the Disney art started as."
Finding the right material to make the heads took over a year since many requirements had to be met. The head had to be light enough so that anyone could carry it on his own head, yet strong enough so that it couldn't be broken or punctured by being dropped.
Not being familiar with plastics or other structural material, Jack went to Disney experts at Walt Disney Productions and to WED Enterprises, the architectural, engineering, planning and design subsidiary for the Disney organization.
He also spoke with all the Characters at Disneyland. Dressed as any one of a number of Disney creations, these people go out among Park guests each day wearing a head and costume similar to the type worn by the People of America.. They proved to be quite knowledgeable in discussing the use of braces and straps to hold the head, and in the problems of visibility and movement.
"It was important to solve these basic problems because we wanted the People of America to be mobile," said Jack, "to be able to dance, bend and move freely."
After deciding on the final size and design of the head, a new problem had to be faced. Since the heads were large and out of normal proportion to the human body, designing costumes involved the creation of body pads and new sewing patterns for dresses, coats and shirts.
"It was a whole new approach," remembered Jack. "We had to throw all our old patterns away because we weren't constructing a normal costume. The waistline wasn't where the waistline normally was. Sleeves and arms didn't come out at the normal place on the body."
"It was like suddenly having a different species to make costumes for. We had to approach it as though it were the first coat, skirt or dress ever made."
The tremendous task of completing the oversize costumes was divided between the costume workrooms at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. First of all, it was important to find just the right fabrics — materials with the right color and large scale pattern or design. Drapery fabrics were considered firs, but were rejected as being too heavy.
"Because of the various weather conditions and daily wearing, we decided to use synthetic fibers," said Jack. "Everything had to be right: the weight, the fiber, the color and the pattern. It was really like a giant jigsaw puzzle."
"We have a lot of very gifted people in our two workrooms," he added. "Most of them learned their trade as apprentices in Europe. We even have a Vietnamese tailor working in Florida."
Many weeks were spent cutting and sewing the costumes. Each costume was actually made twice: one for the Disneyland production and the other for Walt Disney World. As June 1975 drew closer, the activity at both workrooms increased. At times it seemed unsure whether the costumes would be ready in time for the first "America on parade" performance.
A massive effort by all concerned go the job done and "America on Parade" premiered as scheduled on June 7, 1975 at Walt Disney World. A week later, on June 14, Disneyland presented its own premiere performance to an enthusiastic public.
The People of America — marching from the fertile imaginations of Disney artists into the hearts of Disney guests — are daily helping to celebrate the Spirit that has brought America to its 200th birthday!
From the Spring 1976 edition of Vacationland magazine, published by Disneyland.