Sam McKim, 79; Actor, Disney Cartographer

Times Staff Writer

Sam McKim, an artist whose career as a member of Walt Disney’s Imagineering team included drawing the first souvenir map of Disneyland and early sketches for many of the theme park’s attractions, has died. He was 79.

McKim, who was a popular child actor in numerous B-westerns in the 1930s, died of heart failure Friday at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, a Disney spokesman said.

McKim was long known as the “master map maker.” As a Disney theme park cartographer, he created “fun maps” charting the layouts of Disneyland, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Pirates of the Caribbean and Tom Sawyer Island. He later came out of retirement to draw the first souvenir map of Disneyland Paris.


McKim joined WED Enterprises as an illustrator in 1954, the year before Disneyland opened. Walt Disney had founded the design and development organization in late 1952 to help create Disneyland. In 1986, WED was renamed Walt Disney Imagineering.

Among McKim’s initial assignments were sketches for attractions, shops, and restaurants on Main Street and in Frontierland, including the Golden Horseshoe Revue.

He played a key role on the four Disney attractions at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, contributing sketches for Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, It’s a Small World, Carousel of Progress and Magic Skyway.

His conceptual drawings also helped officials visualize the Haunted Mansion and the Monorail at Disneyland, and the Hall of Presidents at the Magic Kingdom in Florida.

As a Disney artist, McKim worked on films and TV shows too, including “Zorro,” “Johnny Tremain,” “The Shaggy Dog,” “The Gnome-Mobile” and “Nikki: Wild Dog of the North.”

“Sam’s early sketches for Disneyland’s Main Street and Frontierland are inspirational to Imagineers -- among the very best ever drawn for Walt Disney theme park attractions,” Marty Sklar, vice chairman and principal creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering, said in a statement.

McKim, Sklar said, “was the quintessential researcher; you always knew he would dig out the real gems for our stories, especially historical subjects. He had incredible talent and was as fine a gentleman as you would ever want to know.”

Born in Vancouver, Canada, McKim moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1935. Shortly after their arrival, he visited a cousin who worked at MGM. A casting director spotted McKim there, and he immediately began working in films.

He appeared frequently in westerns, including half a dozen appearances in “The Three Mesquiteers” series starring Bob Livingston, Ray Corrigan and Max Terhune, and later John Wayne. McKim was also in the serials “The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok,” starring Bill Elliott; “The Painted Stallion” starring Corrigan; and “The Lone Ranger,” starring Lee Powell.

While under contract at Republic Studios, McKim worked on films with Gene Autry and others.

“He was one of the best-remembered western child actors of the 1930s and ‘40s,” said Boyd Magers, editor and publisher of Western Clippings, a publication about western films. “He had a great smile and just that all-American, freckled-face look that was perfect for those westerns of that era.”

McKim’s four siblings -- Harry, David, Lydia and Peggy -- also worked as child actors in the movies. But Sam, Harry McKim recalled Wednesday, “was the prominent one.”

“It was known in the industry [that] if you just shook a script at him, he knew his lines. He was that good,” he said.

A Hollywood High School graduate, McKim served in the Army during World War II and enrolled in Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles when he got out. Called back to military duty, he served in Korea, where he earned the Distinguished Service Cross, among other medals.

After returning home, he took advanced art classes at the Chouinard Art Institute and continued his acting career. But not for long.

He had played an Irish urchin in director John Ford’s 1936 film “The Plough and the Stars,” and Ford offered him a supporting lead in “The Long Gray Line,” starring Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara.

“Would you believe I turned it down to become an artist?” McKim once recalled. “I started [in the art department] at 20th Century Fox, then moved to Disney for a temp job, and didn’t leave until I retired 32 years later.”

He is survived by his wife, Dorothy; sons Matt, a former senior production designer for Walt Disney Imagineering, and Brian, a former Disney artist; and two grandchildren.

A graveside service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Friday at Pierce Bros. Valhalla Memorial Park, 10621 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood. A memorial service will follow at First Christian Church of North Hollywood, 4390 Colfax Ave, Studio City.

Instead of flowers, donations may be made in McKim’s name to the American Heart Assn., gift processing department, 1710 Gilbreth Road, Burlingame, CA 94010.