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Disneyland's Ragtime Piano Player
In The Beginning
Down Main Street USA, just past the Candy Palace, is the Coca-Cola Refreshment Corner also known as the Corner Cafe. Here Disneyland guests can grab a hot dog and a soda and enjoy the ragtime stylings of Rod Miller. In his 30 years performing here his bright smile and quick wit have won him many friends. Guests on repeat visits will often make a point to stop by and say hello and maybe request their favorite songs. Seated on his candy apple red piano stool and tickling the ivories on his 28th white upright piano, Rod is quick to remember their last visit and comment on a new hairstyle or how much a child has grown.
Rods adventure in Ragtime began at the age of 18 when Rod bought and rebuilt an old player piano, the kind that uses perforated paper rolls to move the keys. While pedaling slowly he watched and copied which notes were sounded. He learned his first song, I Can't Give You Anything But Love in three months. Then in 1969 Rod was hired to work at Disneyland which was then open only five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday, a schedule he has to this day.
In 1969 the parks new attraction of the year was the long awaited Haunted Mansion. Disneyland had only one mountain; the Matterhorn and the Abominable Snowman had not taken up residence there yet. Critter Country did not exist, in fact there wasn't even a Bear Country yet and Toontown had not yet been discovered. He has seen at least 15 different parades journey down Main Street including the Flights of Fantasy Parade, Main Street Electrical Parade, Very Merry Christmas Parade and the Blast to the Past parade.
While entertaining Disneyland guests Rod has learned of many major news stories including several Apollo missions, Nixons resignation, the flight 800 tragedy, and the death of Princess Diana. In fact, having spent so much time at The Table - the name regulars give to the table placed closest to the piano - we've learned of some major news stories there. One that jumps to mind occurred on one chilly evening when Doobie asked if anyone knew the outcome of the that night's Tyson / Holyfield fight. Our friend and fellow regular Mark told us that the fight ended abruptly when Tyson tried to eat Holyfield's ear. My husband jumped out of his chair, "No way!" he declared. Immediately he picked up his cell phone and tried calling various people to see if they could substantiate this bizarre information. Several others around the table called around until we finally confirmed this unusual story.
As part of his repertoire several of Rods numbers require audience participation such as Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Rod selects someone from the crowd surrounding the piano like Jane (pictured at the top in the colorblocked sweater). On the offbeat, during various parts of the song, the participant slaps the hinged piece (which is directly above Rod's hands) against the piano creating a sound like the loud crack of a baseball bat.
New Year's Eve is always a special time at the Corner Café. Disneyland passes out noisemakers and hats to park guests. When Rod plays Rubber Duckie guests are invited to join in using their noisemakers for duck sounds. Guests also get to add that special flavor to the Blue Danube Waltz. As Rod would say, "How Fun!" After the New Year's fireworks are shot off Rod plays the Sherman Brothers song Theres A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.
The little candy apple red table - The Table - that sits beside Rods piano will always be a very special place to me. It was at that little table that I met my husband. We later had our first kiss there and that's also where he asked me to marry him. My husband and I are still regulars at the tiny red table. On many Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday evenings you'll find us seated near the piano chatting with Rod and other regulars or playing cards.
Among the other Rod's Table regulars are: Lou, who was a hairstylist in Hollywood during its glamour days and styled Marilyn Monroes hair among others. Lou is easily recognized by his baseball cap that he always wears, his cardigan sweater and the way he shuffles his feet when he walks. You can be assured that his wife Jean is close by probably chatting with Renee. Pat and Jack, who visit twice a year from Missouri, have great stories about their travels around the country via RV. And often seated on the red, well padded chairs just inside the Candy Palace are Don and Blanche Miller (not related to Rod) who have just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and still come to Disneyland for dancing each week. A snapshot of a time gone by, Mr. Miller always rising to greet a lady and escorts his lovely wife by her arm everywhere they go. If you are lucky enough to be by the table during Christmas time you will meet Ron and Jane from Chicago. By the end of their visit my sides ache from the all the laughter.
Not only has Rod brought together so many different people but he has also inspired many guests to give piano playing a try. John C. has taken up the piano thanks in part to Rods inspiration and just a few weeks ago played Maple Leaf Rag for all of us. Stan L. is quickly learning a few tunes too. Relax at the table long enough and you may even see a celebrity; recently we saw one of the Baldwin brothers with his family and just last week we saw Judge Judy Sheindlin and her husband.
On October 5th over 70 fans and friends gathered to honor Rod's 30 years at his favorite restaurant, El Torito Grill. Rod treated those in attendance to marvelous tales of growing up on the farm in Staples, Minnesota. Inspired by a Woody Woodpecker cartoon Rod and his brother Russell got the idea to build a catapult. They trimmed the branches off a big willow, bent it back using the tractor, and tied it down. They suggested little four-year-old brother Roger hang on to the end of the willow. Using the information they had gleaned from the cartoon they marched off a few paces and set up a pile of hay where they suspected he would land. Rod took his mom's kitchen knife and cut through the rope. Roger flew 50 feet and landed on his back with a hard thud nowhere near the hay pile. Rod and Russell thought they'd killed him. The fall had knocked the wind out of Roger and he wasn't breathing. Rod shook his little brother and finally Roger was able to catch his breath. In another cartoon inspired incident, Rod convinced Roger that if he jumped out of the hay mow on a piece of cardboard he would float down to the ground like Chip n' Dale floated to the ground on a leaf. After the first attempt failed Roger was convinced that the cardboard was simply tilted to far and didn't catch the wind correctly, so he tried it again. Needless to say once again Rod had his audience smiling ear to ear.
But The Best Part Is ...
While I love listening to his music it is the conversations we have that I enjoy the most. On most Wednesdays during the off-season it would be just Rod and myself seated at the Corner Cafe. While his ragtime melodies filled the air for the guests munching on hot dogs, Rod and I would chat. We'd talk about our life outside the Park like the latest special at the local grocery store. Thanks to Rod I've learned how to select the perfect pineapple and the most delicious cantaloupe at the store. We've discussed restaurants, clothing stores and chiropractors. In fact my scoliosis doesn't cause me near as much pain now that I visit Rod's recommended chiropractor.
As a hobby Rod raises plumerias. These are the flowers of Hawaii that are used to make leis. Their fragrance is amazing. On my birthday last year I was dining at the Carnation Cafe just down the street. In the middle of my meal I noticed this fragrance and looked up just in time to see Rod placing a beautiful lei around my neck. Then the restaurant staff and diners sang Happy Birthday. It is a special memory. Sometimes Rod invites young people to play the piano. After they've finished Rod offers some friendly pointers and encourages them to practice so they "won't have to work for a living." Several young people have gone on to become professionals playing with world famous orchestras and continue to keep in touch with Rod.
Whenever I catch the television show Cheers I think of The Table..."sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name". When I have a really tough day I look forward to standing by that white upright piano and letting the ragtime melodies wash away the stress as I tell Rod the day's troubles. Fortunately, these types of days are few and far between but its great to have somewhere to go. A place where people still stop and say hello, and if they ask you how you feel they pause and wait for your reply. Thanks to Rod Miller and the candy apple red table's traditions, Walt's vision of small town Americana lives on.
Thanks again, Rod!-- Rebekah Moseley (October 20, 1999)
Forever Magical: Rebekah's recollections on Disney events of the past - both distant and recent - proving that Disney will always remain forever magical.
Forever Magical is posted on the third Wednesday of each month.