Bruce Gordon, 56; Imagineer helped create numerous Disney attractions

Times Staff Writer

Bruce Gordon, a former longtime Disney Imagineer who was involved in the creation of numerous Disney theme park attractions around the world and wrote or co-wrote an array of Disney-related books, has died. He was 56.

Gordon died at his home in Glendale on Tuesday, a Disney spokesman said. The cause of death has yet to be determined.

A Disneyland fan since he first visited the Anaheim theme park as a young boy shortly after it opened in 1955 -- he built models of Disneyland attractions in his garage while growing up and was a lifelong collector of Disneyland memorabilia -- Gordon launched his career at Walt Disney Imagineering as a model designer in 1980.


He played a key role in the creation of Splash Mountain at Disneyland in 1989 for which he was credited as “show producer”: He was responsible for turning the creative vision into reality.

Gordon also was the show producer for the 1998 renovation of Tomorrowland, as well as for the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which opened at Disneyland in 2003; and for Tarzan’s Treehouse, which opened in 1999.

When he left his position as a project director at Walt Disney Imagineering in 2005, he was the show producer for the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, which opened at Disneyland this year.

Tony Baxter, creative vice president at Walt Disney Imagineering, met Gordon in the early 1980s when Gordon was in charge of constructing all the props and sets for “Journey Into Imagination” for Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

“I recognized this guy was really special because he not only knew how to do it, but he understood the magic and the emotion of what we were trying to create,” Baxter said. “We instantly became partners, because I’m an idea person and Bruce was someone who could make ideas real.”

After leaving Walt Disney Imagineering, Gordon served as show producer and creative consultant for the upcoming Walt Disney Family Museum, which will be in San Francisco’s Presidio area.


“When we conceived the idea of the museum, Bruce was at the top of our list of people we wished to engage to work with us,” Diane Disney Miller, Walt Disney’s daughter, said in a statement. “Bruce had a deep understanding and appreciation of my father as a man, not simply a brand or icon.”

As much as Gordon was highly regarded as an Imagineer, he also was known for his sideline: writing books.

The first, co-written with fellow Imagineer David Mumford, was “Disneyland: The Nickel Tour,” a 368-page history of Disneyland told through postcards of the park.

The idea for the 1998 book was hatched in 1983 when Mumford encountered Gordon leafing through a collection of old Disneyland postcards in his office. Mumford had his own collection of these colorful slices of park history.

“We thought that it would be fun to amplify the postcards with information behind what each card shows,” Gordon told the Orange County Register in 1998. “We wanted all the stories that nobody ever heard before and that don’t make it into the official guidebooks.”

Gordon and Mumford had a draft of their massive manuscript completed by 1990, but Disney and several other publishers thought that it was too large and would be too expensive to print.


With the advent of sophisticated desktop publishing, however, the two authors finally decided to self-publish the 4 1/2 - pound book.

After Gordon spent his nights and weekends designing the book on his computer, he and Mumford reportedly mortgaged homes and borrowed money from friends to raise $100,000 to have an Italian printing house produce 3,000 copies.

“Disneyland: The Nickel Tour,” which sold for $75 when ordered directly from the publishing house they founded, is widely regarded as the most authoritative book about the Magic Kingdom.

“It was not only comprehensive but refreshing in how someone from the inside was able to share secrets and stories in such an enjoyable manner; it’s just a nice combination of fun and history,” said David Koenig, the author of “Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland” and three other unauthorized Disney books.

Koenig, who knew Gordon, said he often would see him at Disneyana shows, where “he would give lighthearted presentations on some aspect of Disneyland history. He was an extremely clever, funny guy.”

Koenig added: “Disneyland was the greatest passion of his life.”

“Disneyland: The Nickel Tour,” which went through two printings and is now out of print, was the first of numerous books Gordon turned out.


Among the others he wrote and designed were “The Art of Disneyland,” “Disneyland: Then, Now and Forever,” “Walt Disney World: Then, Now and Forever,” and “The Art of Walt Disney World.”

Gordon was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, on April 18, 1951, and grew up in Palo Alto and Fullerton. He is survived by his father, Walter E. Gordon, and his sister, Nancy M. Gordon.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at the Church of the Recessional at Forest Lawn, 1712 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale.

Instead of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made in Gordon’s name to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.