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Wally Boag dies at 90; gave more than 40,000 performances at Disneyland

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When he auditioned for a starring role in Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe Revue before the Anaheim theme park opened in 1955, comedian Wally Boag thought he was trying out for just another two-week booking.

It was anything but.

By the time he retired from the western stage show in 1982 after nearly 27 years of doing five shows a day, five days a week, Boag had done more than 40,000 performances, earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records and inspired a young Steve Martin with his wholesomely cornball humor, goofy antics and signature balloon animals.

Boag, who was handpicked for the Frontierland attraction by Walt Disney himself, died Friday of complications from Alzheimer's disease at Bella Mar, a memory-care facility in Santa Monica, said his son, Laurence Boag. He was 90.

Martin was an Orange County youngster selling guide books at the newly opened Disneyland when he discovered Boag, who became an early inspiration.

After hearing the news of his death, Martin described Boag on Twitter as "My hero, the first comedian I ever saw live, my influence, a man to whom I aspired."

A rubber-faced physical comic who had honed his act in nightclubs, theaters and hotel showrooms around the world, Boag was chosen for the Golden Horseshoe Revue for one reason: He made Disney laugh.

Auditioning for Disney on an empty sound stage in Burbank, the 34-year-old Boag did a ventriloquist act, fashioned balloon animals, did eccentric dancing and back flips, and even played the bagpipes.

Nearly all of his talents came into play on stage at the Golden Horseshoe, where Boag entertained audiences with his signature "traveling salesman" and Pecos Bill characters.

Carrying a carpetbag and wearing a gaudy striped jacket, brocade vest and derby, he'd interrupt the show and spur Sluefoot Sue (played by Betty Taylor) to ask who he was.

"I'm Wally Boag," he'd say. "That loud, long, lean, loquacious, sometimes laconic lunatic who loves to deal, delve and dabble in delirious dialogue and dynamic dissertations — in other words a traveling salesman."

As the six-gun-shooting Pecos Bill, he was the kind of outlandish character who accidentally gets smacked in the face by Sluefoot Sue in mid-song and seemingly goes on forever spitting out his "teeth" (actually white beans).

Disney remained a loyal fan, routinely catching the revue from his box seat next to the stage.

"I don't know how it is you can keep up the enthusiasm," Disney once wrote Boag. "I have seen your show 50 times and I still laugh."

Gene Sands, who co-wrote a 2009 book with the comedian, "Wally Boag Clown Prince of Disneyland," described Boag's act as "pure magic."

"Watching this guy work was poetry in motion," Sands, who first met Boag in 1957 when he was in junior high and selling balloons at Disneyland, told The Times on Monday.

Although Boag essentially did the same routines for every show, Sands said, "every time Wally did that act, you got the feeling this was the first time because he was so fresh and vibrant. He just connected with his audience, and they with him."

Born in Portland, Ore., on Sept. 13, 1920, Boag joined a professional dance team when he was 9. He opened his own dance school at 16 and was doing a dance and comedy act in nightclubs and theaters at 19.

Boag, who was briefly under contract to MGM as a bit player in the mid-'40s, was performing in a 1947 musical revue at the London Hippodrome when he worked with a 12-year-old future Disney star: Julie Andrews, a supposed audience member who helped with Boag's balloon act and then stopped the show with her singing.

During his Disneyland days, Boag made appearances on "The Mickey Mouse Club," "Disneyland" and "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" — as well as appearing in Disney movies including "The Absent-Minded Professor," "Son of Flubber" and "The Love Bug."

Boag also provided the voice of the Audio-Animatronics parrot Jose in Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room and wrote much of the script for the attraction. When Walt Disney World opened in Florida in 1971, Boag performed in its Diamond Horseshoe Revue for three years before returning to Disneyland.

Besides his son Laurence, he is survived by his wife, Ellen; daughter Heather Dinkins; three granddaughters; and two great-grandsons.

dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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