Saturday, June 4, 2011

Wally Boag, 1920-2011

In his book, Clown Prince of Disneyland, Wally Boag wrote that spitting out his teeth was probably the bit people remembered most about the Golden Horseshoe Revue. As a kid, it certainly was for me. In the late 1960s, I can recall sitting at a left-side table with my family inside the Golden Horseshoe, not far from the stage. There'd be a really silly guy up there (Boag) wearing a floppy cowboy hat and six-guns that hung too low. With pretty Slue Foot Sue (Betty Taylor), he'd crack wise and sing about the legendary Pecos Bill. At some point during the number, he'd get smacked in the mouth and begin spitting teeth (they were actually pinto beans) at the musicians below him, who would pull out ping pong paddles and begin batting the teeth around. This would go on for quite some time. The audience roared.

In a 27-year stretch, Wally Boag did this same bit (and many others) nearly 40,000 times at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. But, his legacy isn't just about longevity. It's about talent and commitment. He put as much effort and heart into his first performance as he did into his last, and into every one in between. Wally understood that for as many times as he twisted his balloon animals, shot his water pistols or did his signature loose-limbed high kicks, there would always be people in the audience who had never seen the Golden Horseshoe Revue and who deserved a great show.

He was a born entertainer who gave dance lessons in his teens and worked the vaudeville circuit for nearly twenty years before signing a two-week contract (that just kept on going) at Disneyland. Wally first performed at the Golden Horseshoe during an anniversary party for Walt and Lillian Disney on July 13, 1955, four days before Disneyland opened. Aside from being the Revue's debut, it was also noteworthy for being the show at which Walt climbed over the railing of the stage left balcony to join Wally on stage. He was soon followed by Lillian (who took the steps, thank you very much). About the evening, Wally wrote, "Lilly loved to dance and Walt didn't. However, when the band began playing, he took her hand and danced around the stage. She didn't know it, but he had taken some dancing lessons because he knew how happy it would make her."

Wally had many memorable moments with the Golden Horseshoe Revue. In September 1962, the show's 10,000th performance was turned into an episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color:

During his career, Wally performed with some of the greats in entertainment including Julie Andrews, Donald O'Connor, Ed Wynn, the Mouseketeers and the Muppets. For a publicity stunt, he once took a cream pie in the face from silent screen star Buster Keaton. Wally retired from the Horseshoe in 1982 and was named a Disney Legend in 1995 along with his Golden Horseshoe co-stars Betty Taylor and Fulton Burley. Today, you can still hear him as the voice of Jose in Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room.

Wally had been in declining health for a number of years and passed away yesterday at the age of 90.

As a young employee at Disneyland, actor/comedian Steve Martin saw Wally Boag perform and was greatly influenced by his comedic talent. In the foreword to Wally's memoir, Martin wrote, "Wally had something about him, an infectious happiness and a mysterious something else I later learned was called comic timing. Everything he did had a rhythm, and it all came together in a kind of comedic concert as he charmed and teased the audience. There was a gentleness to his comedy, a feeling that you were being let in on some special secret."

Wally Boag leaves behind a legacy of fun and laughter that delighted audiences for decades. He will be sorely missed.

Our deepest condolences go to his family and friends.

Related Story: Remembering Betty Taylor

No comments:

Post a Comment