Ron Logan, Disney Legend, passed away on August 30, 2022. In honor of his memory and the incredible work he did through The Walt Disney Company, Attractions Magazine presents its Q&A with Ron in 2013.
Q&A: From music consultant to Disney Legend, Ron Logan’s work can be found in every Disney theme park and beyond.
By Richard Bent
Where do you start with Ron Logan? A meeting with the former Executive Vice President and Executive Producer for Walt Disney Entertainment is like taking your own theme park ride covering the last 50 years of Disney entertainment. On one side you spot the Spectromagic parade, while on the other is the “Fantasmic!” spectacular. Behind you is the film premier for “Pocahontas” in Central Park jostling for space with five half-time Super Bowl shows and the opening ceremony for Epcot. Parks in California, Paris, and Tokyo all have their own menu; the list simply goes on and on. It’s a long, fun ride.
Ron has had an interest in entertainment since graduating from UCLA in the early 1960s with a degree in music, followed by an MA. During this period, he was able to earn a living as a professional trumpet player, producer, and conductor. His first break came in 1960 when Disney hired him as a music consultant. Between then and 1977 he mixed work at Disney with the director of bands at James Monroe High School in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. In 1977 he was offered the position of director of music at Walt Disney World. The next 24 years saw increasing opportunities, with him rising to the executive vice president position responsible for all Disney Live Entertainment worldwide.
In 2007 he was honored at the Walt Disney Studios with the rare Disney Legends award for parks and resorts.
What made you decide to make music and entertainment your career?
I lived in the town of Leavenworth, Kansas, which is famous for – its prisons! The actual town is small, and at the time it seemed as if everyone was into the arts. I learned to play violin, trumpet, piano, and even tap dancing. I found I was pretty good in the arts, especially the trumpet, and it gave me the chance to stand out, build confidence, and perform. When I reached the eighth grade, our family moved to Los Angeles.
How did you get your big break?
In L.A. I found I could earn money playing the trumpet for bands and I got a job playing in a Roadhouse owned by Tex Williams. It paid $15 a night, which was great money for a 15-year-old in the late ’50s! This made me realize I could earn a living doing something I enjoyed. I then worked my way through college, going to school during the day, playing clubs at night. UCLA had some outstanding musicians from whom I learned a great deal. In the evenings I was gaining valuable professional experience, even spending a year with jazz trumpeter ‘Chet’ Baker. Following on from director of bands, orchestra, and jazz at James Monroe High School, I moved in the mid ’60s to Long Beach City College with a similar role. Disneyland asked me at that time to be a part-time music consultant for the park.
It must have been a very different Disney in 1960s. What was it like?
Yes, it was a different time and era. Walt was still actively very present, and there was only Disneyland, so who knew where his dream was going to go? At that time, he was still in strong control of his vision of what the park and the park entertainment should look and sound like. On one occasion, I was leading a band down Main Street U.S.A. and decided we should play a rock and roll number. It was Walt Disney himself who sent me a note that said, “Main Street U.S.A. is a reconstruction of an ‘old’ American town; they didn’t play rock and roll in 1910 – 1920.” He had a very good point. In those days they liked to really keep an eye on brand image. It would be interesting to see what Walt might say today.
You arrived in Florida in 1977. What was your role at the start?
I was given the opportunity to join Disney full-time and lead the Walt Disney World Band. I must have done something right, as they kept promoting me and giving me new and exciting roles. I also learned it was wise not to say no to Michael Eisner (then CEO of Disney). It’s also important to mention that Michael Eisner had great interest and influence in building up the entertainment and show side of the Disney offering, allowing me to spend money and produce some iconic moments of Disney history. Putting a direct monetary “value” on live entertainment to the guest experience is very difficult, but we managed to come up with a formula, based partly on guest feedback, which highlighted how well our product attracted and retained guests.
You have been involved in so many iconic productions, from the Disney World Christmas Parade to “Skyleidoscope,” and “Lights, Motors, Action” to Tapestry of Nations. What makes them special?
Consistency in quality of product – always exceed our guest’s expectation! In the end, the guests are our best promoters. I was lucky. I had a broad artistic background, whether playing an instrument, dancing, conducting, or singing. This gave me an appreciation for all the performing arts and bringing them together with a great story. I like to take different art forms and put them together in new and exciting situations. One great example of this fusion of performance would be “Tarzan Rocks” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Do you have any productions that you are particularly proud off?
Many, but I tend to see the ones that made a little bit of Disney history as special. In Epcot, I decided to use land, air, and sea, and put a show into the huge lagoon. This ended up as “Skyleidoscope,” with the Epcot navy, motorized surf boards, and ultralight aircraft flying around. It certainly was a challenge.
When Disneyland Paris opened, we had a location that had very limited facilities for visitors in the local area for evening meals, etc. Michael Eisner and the team spotted this and gave me the challenge to come up with something American as a dinner show. That resulted in the “Buffalo Bill Wild West Show,” which is still running today. We did not just produce a “standard” show. We researched the animals, the Indians, the language, and even many of the artifacts to try and keep a depth of realism to it.
The challenge was the bison (buffalo). European bison are not the same as the U.S. bison. They are smaller and didn’t look right to me. So, we needed to get U.S. buffalo to France, but you were not allowed at the time to transport them into France from the U.S. But you could transport them from Canada to France. So our buffalo had to take a trip to Canada first. Disney has a great way of making things happen!
Disney is well known for their meticulous preparation. Does it always go to plan?
Most of the time it does go absolutely according to plan. Because we were Disney, we had a reputation to maintain. The critics and competition were always waiting in the wings to have their say. So, before any show opened, we practiced, tested, practiced, and tested again to get it right.
But on occasion things go wrong?
Yes, of course. Michael Eisner was visiting Epcot to see our new show, “Illuminations 2000: Reflections of Earth.” It’s a technically complex show and involves a lot of coordination and timing, with a floating globe as the center of attraction. All was working well until the globe started to float out. Instead of beautiful scenes being displayed on the huge video surface, all that everyone saw was a color test signal. We all wanted to know what had gone wrong. In the end, we discovered that so many people had been nervous, checking and double checking to make sure that everything worked, that nobody had remembered to push the one button on the globe that turned the video signal on. But it’s a reflective experience; because of this small error we rewrote our technical procedures.
Did your role cover other areas that Disney was developing all around the globe?
Yes. I was involved in all 11 Disney parks at one point or another, plus Super Bowl half-time shows and special events like park openings and film premiers. I was also fortunate to be given the founding role for Disney Theatrical Events. Our first project was taking “Beauty and the Beast – A New Musical” to Broadway. Now it’s a huge success around the world. People forget that at the time we proposed doing this, in the early ’90s, many shows on Broadway were fairly dark, and the idea of a Disney musical was a risk. Well, it became one of Broadway’s longest running shows and is still touring after 18 years.
You retired from Disney in 2001. Do you still have the “entertainment bug?”
Yes. I started a consulting company called Entertainment Arts in 2001. There, I can use my Walt Disney Entertainment team, all of whom have retired from Disney. In 2003, I became an associate professor at Rosen College of Hospitality Management, where I teach Theme Park and Attraction Management and a class entitled Entertainment Arts, and I am also the chief creative officer for DreamVision Entertainment Company, which deals in theme parks, movies, and live show spectaculars worldwide.
What do you miss from your Disney days?
I miss seeing Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and the gang every day. But I also miss the creative gamesmanship – The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.
The Fall 2013 edition of Attractions Magazine, in which the interview was originally printed, is available on Attractions.Memberful.com.