For all of the talk about pixie dust, there are real people conjuring the magic at the Disney theme parks. And for the past four decades, one of the leading sorcerers has been Tony Baxter, senior vice president for creative development at Walt Disney Imagineering. Baxter resigned from his position late last week and announced that he would be continuing with the company as a part-time advisor. It is a stunning loss for the Mouse.
An unabashed Disneyland geek, Baxter began his career by scooping ice cream at the park and later working as a cast member on the Submarine Voyage. He landed at Imagineering in the 1970s, around the time that Walt Disney's original team began retiring, and acted as a second-generation bridge between his mentors and the current crop of visionaries charged with bringing the parks to life.
You may not know his name, but you owe Baxter a considerable debt of gratitude for crafting some of Disney's most beloved attractions. His first major project was the classic Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and other Baxter milestones have included the Imagination pavilion at Epcot (the wonderful, original one that featured Dreamfinder), Splash Mountain, Disneyland Paris, and the Indiana Jones Adventure. As I said, a considerable debt of gratitude.
One of the high points of my career was sharing lunch with Baxter in the Imagineering commissary and interviewing him. He was charming, refreshingly candid, and, as you might expect, quite passionate about the parks. You can read some highlights from our in-depth, free-flowing chat. In a separate article, I cover Baxter's persistent, and ultimately successful voyage to save Disneyland's subs.
I wish Tony a bon voyage in the next chapter of his life. And, along with park fans everywhere, I express my appreciation and admiration for all he has done.
Photo: Disney, 2007. Used with permission.