Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Building of Model "G" Ford

 04.16.11 - "Mildly rugged. He looks like what he was — a football player."

"Sporty. A little more relaxed than most Presidents."

"He is a pretty-down-to-earth sort of dresser."

Disney sculptors and wardrobe designers looked even more than they listened as Gerald Rudolph Ford took the oath of office last year, becoming the 38th President of the United States.

While the rest of the world anxiously sought the political views of this first unelected American President, Disney craftsmen were critically examining President Ford's physical appearance and his manner of dressing, for soon he would be the 37th "guest of honor" in Walt Disney World's The Hall of Presidents' attraction.

Life-like "Audio-Animatronics"® figures of all the United States' chief executives appear together onstage in "The Hall of Presidents" for a historical roll call. (Although there have been 38 Presidents, including Ford, there are only 37 individuals, since Grover Cleveland served two separate terms in office.)

Before the Liberty Square attraction opened in 1971, the nation's leaders, from Washington to Nixon, were studied in detail by Disney "Imagineers" at WED Enterprises in California. Books, photographs, diaries, television programs, and personal accounts were examined so that the craftsmen could accurately create the life-size Presidential figures.

And by the time Gerald Ford had moved into the White House, the "Imagineers" were already compiling statistics on his size, personality, and wardrobe.

"I looked through all the magazines I could immediately after Ford became President, and one or two of them actually gave me his height and weight. What they didn't give me, was his girth," recalled the WED sculptor who created the Ford bust (and the busts of most of the other Presidents) and supervised the detailing of the figure.

"I had our librarian check with the White House, and the Secretary sent his measurements. He had a 38-inch waist and weighed 204 pounds, and was trying to lose weight. So we proportioned the figure based on that."

"President Ford has a face you cannot describe or caricature very easily," said the sculptor, but he added that Ford's eyes are unusual. "His eyes are a little closer together than average, and he has a rather piercing stare. He looks with intensity, yet his eyes are warm."

President Ford's nose is somewhat wide and roundish. This trait, combined with the fact that the distance from his eyes to the bottom of his nose is shorter than average, makes the area above his upper lip seem larger than usual, the Disney artist noted.

A mold was made from the original Ford bust which the sculptor created so that additional busts could be cast. Since the "Audio-Animatronics"® figures move and speak, the "skin" of the President was cast of a rubber-like material.

The wigmaker used another specially designed bust to fashion the hair for Disney's Ford. Placing each strand by hand, she styled the wig to match the President's blonde hair. Barely noticeable because of their natural lightness, Ford's eyebrows also were duplicated with hairpieces.

But facial expression and characteristics were not all that the "Imagineers" had to consider. As with every other Presidential figure, the wardrobe experts spent hours comparing White House, news, and magazine photographs to see if there was any continuity in the way the President dressed.

"He is very up-to-date — not mod. He wears a good, sensible businessman's suit," the costumers concluded.

"Ford seems to prefer lighter colors, especially blue. And he wears more plaid or striped suits and colored, button-down-collar shirts than we have seen for awhile on a President."

The costume designers agreed that President Ford is a "pretty-down-to-earth sort of dresser," so they chose a medium-blue plaid fabric with tiny white and rust stripes for his wool suit.

The Disney tailor then made a pattern for the size-42 outfit, and sewed a handsome suit that the President, himself, would probably love to wear.

Choosing a tie for President Ford meant more research. "He seems to especially like bold, diagonal-striped or geometric-patterned ties," said one costume designer, "so we decided to use one like the striped tie he wore when he was inaugurated."

In less than four months, the Disney team "built" a President who now stands in a grouping of modern-era Presidents among the 37 historic leaders of our country in Walt Disney World's "The Hall of Presidents."

From the Spring 1975 edition of Vacationland magazine, published by Walt Disney World.

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