The Fabulous Disney Babe
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This is what the world is like without David Mumford in it. I can't say that I care for it all that much, but for those of us left behind, life goes on. Flowers still bloom, the sun still shines, and people still get soaked on Splash Mountain. And that's how it should be. Every time someone you care about dies, people who care about you say: "They would have wanted it that way." I have no idea what he would have wanted. I'd give just about anything to be able to ask him, and to get an answer.
David was a kind, gentle person who loved animals and stuff from the Fifties. He had a dry wit and deranged sense of humor. He thought the Simpsons episode that showed the 30 or so clips of Homer saying "D'Oh!" over and over again one of Television's finest moments. He loved thrill rides. He had a lovely singing voice, and used to sing Alice a song about Christopher Robin and Alice going to see the changing of the guards when she was a little snoot. I worshipped him. And he never, NEVER, NEVER gave me a leak, story, or source for my columns. Not once in the decade-plus we knew each other. (Not that I didn't ask, mind you.) When it came to Imagineering, David was ethical beyond reproach. Not that he didn't get a wicked idea or two...
When David had to come to Florida to work on a project, he would come visit his friends the Hills (That would be Jim, myself, and our baby Alice - I took the name Smith back when Jim and I divorced). This was around spring 1995, if I recall correctly. David and I were both nutty over a style that designer Paul Newitt calls "Art Nemo" - that Victorian/Art Deco/Rivets style you see on the Nautilus in Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and some other places. I once gave him an N plate from the front of a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride operator's hat from Walt Disney World. He loved it. The seafood restaurant at Universal Studios Florida, Lombard's Landing, has a lot of that - similar ironwork, bubble windows, and fish tanks all over the place. Jim and I referred to it as the Captain Nemo restaurant and took David there during one visit. He loved it. He said it was just beautiful, and told us about his friend Tom Scherman's apartment. Tom had died from Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma shortly after Alice was born. Tom had, to the ire of his landlord, redone his apartment to look like the inside of the Nautilus. Upon his death, a pair of collectors showed up at his apartment and started ripping things off the walls for their personal collections. From what I heard later - and this is third hand, so please correct me if I'm wrong here - Tony Baxter showed up and made sure that the remaining major pieces of Tom's work and collection were saved. Tom's Nautilus models were the most exquisitely detailed - no one's ever been able to surpass him on that. He was one of David's best friends, and one of the creators of Discovery Bay, a project so dear to my heart. You can see one of Tom's Nautilus models in the Water Tank at the Disney-MGM Studios theme park.
As the server brought our clam chowder and David's vegetarian ....whatever, Alice needed a change, so I took her to the ladies' room, which was blocked off for cleaning. The janitor directed me to the upstairs section of the restaurant, which was open but deserted. As I headed back downstairs with the now-dry baby, something caught my eye. About six feet inside the big, open entry of the room was what looked exactly like the Westcot model we'd seen a few years ago in Anaheim, covered with Plexiglas. I walked up to the model and upon seeing what it was, immediately dropped the diaper bag. But not the baby, thank goodness. "Islands of Adventure". Ooh.
In a flash, I was back at the table, gesturing and in badly-hushed whisper explaining to David and Jim what was upstairs. They were up the stairs so fast it practically left whoosh marks in the air. I pointed out things on the model, and Jim pointed out things on the model, and we started to make a comment to David, but noticed that he wasn't there. He was standing in the doorway, frozen, as if a force field was keeping him out. "Come on, David!" we said.
"I can't." he looked chagrined. "I can't do it. I work for Disney. It wouldn't be ethical."
"OH COME ON, DAVID!! We won't tell! It's a totally open public place!" No dice.
Jim and I whispered. It would be rude to keep looking. Jim would come take notes after David was gone. Let's be good hosts. (and those of you who know Jim have actually heard him use that phrase many, many times). We went back to the table and ate, and the conversation was a little stilted, as we didn't want to torture David with information about what we'd seen. Suddenly David put down his spoon and leaned forward, his voice low and conspiratorial. "Okay, here's what we're gonna do. I bet that's for a big presentation tomorrow." (It was Sunday) "We'll get a PVC figure of Mickey, as Zorro, and put it right in the middle of the model - and and we'll glue a little flag to his hand that says 'WDI WAS HERE'!"
We combed Walt Disney World and some of the local souvenir shops for one of those PVCs and never found one, dammit. But it was a brilliant idea. Would that not have been so cool? "Okay, Mr. Spielberg, here's the model of the new park!" And there's Zorro Mickey. Heh-heh-heh.
When I finally made it to Islands of Adventure, I did wonder for a quick moment where the big statue of Zorro Mickey would have gone.
Those of us who knew and love David will always have good memories of him, and we'll go about our lives as if he were still here, for the most part. We'll work and play and get soaked on Splash Mountain. And we'll grow accustomed to the empty place in our hearts that is shaped just like David Mumford.