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Disney Imagineering Legend Marty Sklar sent this to Disney Cast Members following last week's death of Harriet Burns...
A TRIBUTE TO HARRIET BURNS
By Marty Sklar
In the hospital they were calling her "Sleeping Beauty," but I likened her more to "Snow White," waiting for the kiss that would awaken her. Alas, the princes and kings who could do it were already gone, awaiting her arrival in a safer place.
As the first non-clerical woman Imagineer, Harriet Burns had to earn the respect of a male-dominated world. Beginning when WED Enterprises was still located at the Studio, she had to be as good as the men were with a table saw, lathes, drill presses and, as she put it, "other stuff." And she was, even holding her own when the off-color jokes came her way. With her soft Texas twang, she could sling it right back at them.
But what really earned respect for Harriet Burns was her creative skill. She became a design star on The Mickey Mouse Club, helping to establish its modern, graphic style. With Fred Joerger and Wathel Rogers, she became the WED Model Shop, heartbeat of Walt's design engine for Disneyland and beyond.
For 31 years until her retirement in 1986, Harriet was at the center of every Imagineering venture: "figure finishing" presidents and pirates, creating enchanted color schemes and frillery for singing birds, putting the glitter, flitter and jewels on the children and toys of it's a small world. For her achievements, she was named a Disney Legend in 2000.
Harriet never dressed the part of the jeans and tee shirt set. Her eclectic taste and sense of design fashion carried over to her working attire. She was always the best dressed member of the Model Shop, perhaps all of Imagineering.
Maybe that's one reason she caught Walt Disney's eye and appeared so often in those un-scripted strolls through the Model Shop that Walt loved to use in the TV show lead-ins, showcasing the newest concepts for Disneyland or the New York World's Fair. But we all knew better. It was really because, from the Studio days when Disneyland was just getting started, Walt loved to get his hands dirty in the Model Shop. And to "kick back" from the pressures of running his growing empire by sharing stories and one-liners with the Imagineer with that sweet Texas drawl.
That's why, when her favorite princes – fellow Disney & Imagineering Legends John Hench, Bill Cottrell and Fred Joerger – lined up last week to greet Harriet Burns, I'm sure it was the King who was first in line. Because Harriet Burns was Walt Disney's favorite Imagineer.