Adventures by Disney – Backstage Magic – El Capitan

All Ears team member Glo from Miami and her husband Gary continue their report on their Adventure by Disney – Backstage Magic! Click here for all of Glo’s reports! Scroll down for most recent entries.

Can you say exhausting day!!! …but so many wonderful things to see and do that I will only be able to scratch the surface or I will be here typing until midnight!

Our morning began at 8 AM in the Disney Soda Fountain and Shop next to the beautifully restored El Capitan Theater. The Soda Fountain cast members came in early to make our breakfast which included (among lots of other things), Mickey waffles!

Disney Soda Fountain Shop Sign

After breakfast, we headed next door for a tour of the El Capitan, the second oldest theater in Hollywood (1926). [Older is Grauman’s Egyptian Theater (1925) and one year older is Grauman’s Chinese Theater (1927).] A number of other companies owned the theater for a time, but it wasn’t until Disney purchased it in 1988 and began a $14M restoration that took three years that the theater once again became a “star” on Hollywood Boulevard. The beautiful carved plaster ceiling had been covered over with dry-wall and it wasn’t until the renovation began that the beautiful, original ceiling was uncovered.

El Capitan

The El Capitan houses a Mighty Wurlitzer organ. Four of these organs were made, but only three are still in existence. The one at the El Capitan, one at the Fox Theater in San Francisco and one at the Fox Theater in Detroit.

The fourth one was broken up for parts to repair other various organs across the country. The organ is comprised of some 3000 different pipes, some of which are as tall as 25 feet. Rob Richards, one of three house organists, gave a small demonstration of the organ’s capabilities and explained how it operated.

From the El Capitan, we headed right next door to the Hollywood Masonic Temple which was built in 1921 at a cost of $140K. The building now houses the studios for Jimmy Kimmel Live and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Because of its historic designation, there are limitations as to what changes they can actually make to the building. So, inside, much of the original architectural detail is visible, but the space is used in a very utilitarian (and not very decorative) manner.

For those of you who follow the show, we got to meet Uncle Frank up close and personal. That man is a hoot! We visited the “green room” where celebrities wait to be called to the stage. In this case, the “green room” is really a very comfortable lounge area with a pool table, bar, pin ball machines and video games.

The studio itself is home to the actual set where the show is taped using 6 cameras. There are 184 audience seats.

During the bus trip to Jim Henson Studios, our coach driver Don pointed out various interesting buildings along the way. One such fact is that there are 2369 “stars” on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the most recent star, just installed last Friday, honors The Village People, the disco band from the late 1970’s most famous for the song “YMCA.”

At the Henson Studios we were greeted by a large statue of Kermit the Frog atop one of the front buildings, complete with his Charlie Chaplin suit, hat and cane.

Kermit Statue at Jim Henson Studios

The buildings in the Henson Studio complex were the Charlie Chaplin studios from 1917 to 1952 and have been designated a national Historical Cultural Monument.

Our Henson guide, Michael, from the “Creature Shop” introduced us to muppet-type puppetry through animatronics to today’s new digital puppetry. All of the original wood bungalows from the Caplin Studios have now been retrofitted for some of today’s production needs.

Glo and Muppets

The sound stage is where the old Perry Mason TV series was filmed as well as The Red Skelton Show and the original Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller. More recently, the “We Are the World” video was shot there.

The Jim Henson Studios have won 50 Emmys, 9 Grammys and 2 Oscars, many of which are on display in the reception area.

Although it isn’t on the official itinerary, when we left the Henson Studios, we headed to the 4200 acres Griffith Park area that houses, among other things, Walt Disney’s original Carolwood Barn where he built and housed the Carolwood Pacific Railroad, a 1/8 scale steam train that used to run around the grounds of the Disney family’s Holmby Hills home in the 1950’s. In fact, it was this railroad that was actually Walt’s inspiration for creating a theme park. It seems the crowds at his home on Sundays grew so large that it was almost impossible to accommodate everyone who wanted a ride on the train and thus the idea of some sort of a park where families could enjoy things together.

In 1998 when the family decided to sell the Holmby Hills home, Diane Disney Miller, requested that the original barn to the Griffith Park location. The barn has been faithfully restored and includes wood workbenches made by Walt himself as well as many of his tools and models.

Once back at the hotel, we had just about an hour before our trip across the street again to see the actual production of the Jimmy Kimmel Live show.

Tonight’s guests were actress Alicia Milano, producer Stephen Merchant and an outdoor performance by Ne-Yo. I’ve never been to a live taping before, so it was a very interesting experience. I’m not sure if I’d be one of the “unwashed masses” standing in line for two to three hours to try and get into the studio audience, but when you have friends in high places (and pay Disney big bucks for their tours LOL) you get guaranteed seats and don’t have to wait quite as long.

Tomorrow is our “change hotels” day. We have to have our bags ready for pick up by 7 AM and will be on the coach heading to Walt Disney Imagineering at 8 AM. Later in the day we visit the Walt Disney Studios and check into the Grand Californian. Exciting thing to come. Stay tuned!

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