A Convention That's Strictly Mickey Mouse

Times Staff Writer

The white-haired man with the owlish, black-rimmed glasses picked up a felt pen and began to draw for the little girl seated next to him.

"OK, you draw a circle," explained veteran Disney animator Ward Kimball, as he drew a large circle in the center of the paper. "Now we're going to draw his nose right here. Then we put in his eyes. Then his mouth. . . ."

Three-year-old Courtney Brooke Sorah of Walnut grinned as the smiling visage of Mickey Mouse took shape before her.

She may not have known that Kimball is one of the original Disney Studio animators--one of the "nine old men" as Walt Disney dubbed them--but there was no question Courtney knows Mickey Mouse.

The undiminished popularity of the falsetto-voiced rodent--and the other animated stars of the Disney menagerie--is the reason some 250 collectors of Disney memorabilia showed up at the Grand Hotel in Anaheim Saturday during a three-day convention hosted by the National Fantasy Fan Club, a newly formed Orange County-based group of Disneyana collectors.

But if Courtney Brooke Sorah was too young to fully appreciate having an original Mickey Mouse drawing signed by special convention guest Ward Kimball, her mother's unabashed enthusiasm more than made up for it.

"Oh, I almost cried, I just think it's neat!" said Yvonne Sorah, who was setting up her seller's display table while Kimball was in another room drawing Mickey Mouse for her daughter. "When you're a Disney collector and your 3-year-old child gets to meet Ward Kimball . . . what can I say?"

Other Guest Appearances

The appearance of Kimball, who served as keynote speaker at the convention banquet Saturday night, was just part of the day's agenda which included appearances by animators, Disney "imagineers" and even "The Voice of Mickey Mouse"--Wayne Allwine, a 38-year-old Disney Studio sound-effects editor who has served as Mickey's voice the past eight years.

On Saturday morning, more than 100 people jammed into a meeting room for an auction of dozens of Disney items, including a "Mouse-to-Mouse Communication Intercom Set" that went for $19, a mint-condition Mouseketeer certificate ($23) and an animation cell of Lady from "Lady and the Tramp" ($435).

In the afternoon, conventioneers flocked to a sales room filled with tables laden with hundreds of toys, posters, books, figurines, plates, watches and a host of other current and vintage Disney memorabilia.

They also watched special screenings on the making of Disneyland and the park's opening day ceremonies, and tested their knowledge of Disney lore in the "official 1985 Trivia Contest" (Q: What was the name of Zorro's horse? A: Tornado.)

The convention was held this month to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Disneyland, and many of the conventioneers, representing 12 different states, arrived in Anaheim in time to attend Disneyland's anniversary celebration last Wednesday.

More Than 200 Visits

Collectors of Disneyana, however, don't just visit Disneyland on special occasions. For example, club vice-president Louis Boish, a 32-year-old Santa Ana accounting and finance consultant, purchases an annual pass and estimates he's visited Disneyland 200 to 300 times.

"This year alone I must have been there almost 90 times already," said Boish, who insists he's nowhere near reaching Magic Kingdom burnout.

"No, it's always fun," said Boish, who specializes in collecting Disney books, plates and postage stamps. "I have a lot of friends who either work there or go there on a regular basis. It's kind of a social thing. We'll meet at the stage shows and that kind of stuff."

A chance to socialize with fellow Disney enthusiasts is the reason Boish and a group of other Orange County Disneyana collectors formed the National Fantasy Fan Club last fall.

The nonprofit club now boasts 360 members in 24 states, in addition to Canada and Japan. Attendence at the club's monthly meetings in a Buena Park savings and loan building has grown to about 80. Because so many club members are from the Los Angeles area, Boyce said, a second chapter will begin meeting in Pasadena next month. (For information, call Boish at (714) 241-8104.)

"We want to see these things saved and preserved so the next generation can see these wonderful old things that would be lost," said club president Marian Guiver, 52, of Garden Grove.

'Disney Room' in House

Guiver's 17-year-old Disney collection includes 15 replicas of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, including one '30s vintage fabric set that cost her $2,500. One entire room of her house is devoted to her collection. She calls it her "Disney Room."

David Schiller, a 25-year-old gift-shop owner from Miami, Fla. whose collection numbers in "the thousands" of items, said he's "obsessed" with collecting Disneyana.

"It's an escape from problems of the everyday world: You're able to sit down with your toys and play," observed Schiller, who is not sure what the value of his collection is but says if he sold it, "I could probably buy a very nice Cadillac."

Priscilla David, 42, a West Hollywood dog kennel manager, didn't start collecting Disney pins and buttons until last fall. Since then, she said, she has spent nearly $8,000 on pins and buttons and assorted other Disney items.

" I like the characters," explained David, who visits Disneyland twice a week. "I'm really nuts about Goofy. I try to set aside a certain amount each payday to buy something or accumulate money for something large."

Perhaps no one is more amazed by the Disney collector mania and high-priced vintage items than Ward Kimball, who went to work for Disney in 1934 at age 20.

"The crazy part of it is we had no idea people would collect this stuff," said Kimball.

Indeed, Kimball recalled that in the early days the studio's merchandising head would walk through the animation department giving away samples of the latest Disney toys. But once he was out the door the animators would toss them into the wastebasket. "We'd always criticize them and say, 'That's not the way we draw Mickey,' " he said.

Kimball, who worked on such Disney classics as "Dumbo" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," was asked how his old boss would feel about a convention being held to buy and sell Disney merchandise.

"Oh, the bottom line with Disney, with all due respect, is he was a businessman," said Kimball. "He liked to make money, but he didn't mind spending extra to give it the quality other things didn't have. He'd approve of this--as long as it kept the cash register going."

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