Dream Job | Randy Ogren

June 2016 View more

NMAG0616_DreamJob_nm RJ Ogren 4_800pxWhen you wish upon a star your dreams really can come true, at least they did for Disney artist Randy ‘RJ’ Ogren. The Naperville resident added his magic touch to rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World when he worked at Disney World in Orlando between 1976 and 1980. He says it was definitely a dream job, which lead to a dream life, which is still filled with pixie dust and sparkles.

How did you get the opportunity to work at Disney World?

I grew up watching the Mickey Mouse Club and Davy Crockett on television. In 1965, I was between tours of duty in Vietnam when I took my wife Suzanne to Disneyland for the first time and that sealed it. I knew I wanted to work there. In those days, Walt Disney would often walk around the park greeting visitors and we actually got to meet him. I told him I wanted to be one of his artists but I think probably everyone told him something like that. When I applied, I was told that with a degree in art education, I was over qualified for the position. I ended up with the worse job ever! I borrowed $30 from my dad to buy a kit to repair rips in vinyl seating. I built this strange business repairing chairs for hotels, but it kept food on the table. Now I tell people “never look a crappy job in the face because you never know when it will lead to a better one.” It was my experience of heating and gluing vinyl that eventually led to the job where I used almost those same techniques to repair the skins of animatronics in the various Disney theme park attractions.

What was your first day on the job like?

I walked into the studio and thought ‘this is unreal!’ There were figures everywhere. It was just a wild place. Some repairs were done there, but others were done on site. So that first morning I had to go to Mickey Mouse’s Review. It was an animatronic show with lots of well-known Disney scenes. In Snow White’s scene, Sleepy had lost some paint from his eye so my job was to mix some acrylic paint to just the right color, then add it on. The trouble was that the show was playing so I had to wait behind a curtain for just the right moment when Sleepy would open his eye and I could retouch it. I was in such a rush my paintbrush got stuck in his eye but I had to throw myself off the stage so the audience wouldn’t see me.

What made it a dream job for you?

I got to work with some of the Disney greats from their Hollywood studios, they were just incredible people. They included Harry Holt who animated the spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp and Marc Davis who created Tinkerbell, Cruella de Vil and Maleficent.

What was your favorite attraction?

The haunted mansion was just a fun place to be, especially if you were in there by yourself. I got to see how ghosts were made and we spent days shooting cobwebs all over the place from a special gun.

Does Disney magic still impact your life?

Every day. My wife and I both worked there. My home is full of Disney memorabilia. I’ve written books and we regularly give talks about our experiences. Disney is always in my life. It comes up in every conversation and being a Disney artist always opens doors to other work. I have such fond memories. It was the age of innocence at Disneyland and Disney World. We were like one big family.

Photo by Robyn Sheldon