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Some Days the Bear Eats You

27 September 2008

EDIT: dozens of Adventurers Club photos now up on a new Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kazookris/

Tonight marks the end of Pleasure Island. The night club complex that opened in 1989 at Walt Disney World was why I moved from California to Florida, having been offered a one-year contract to perform at the Adventurers Club. I stayed seventeen years. I could write a book about the place, my time there, my dear friends, my thoughts and feelings, and my warm memories and bitter resentments. It would all spill over from the Adventurers Club to the other night clubs (especially the Comedy Warehouse) to Pleasure Island to Downtown Disney to Walt Disney World to Orlando to Florida to The Disney Company and to the United States of America.

But that’s for another time, or for my biographer to figure out.

Much attention is being paid to the end of the club. Some people, pictures and pieces of trivia that reflect the club’s beginning and longevity deserve mention and attention.

The original cast, every one of which contributed something that turned the club from a concept into a creative entertainment:

Terry Mike Acord, Phil Card, Donna Charles, Andy Clark, Phran Gauci, Tim Goodwin, Phil Johnson, Mike Leopard, Kerry Long, Frank O’Brian, Paula Pell, Mary Schickling, Kristian Truelsen.

None of these actors worked full-time from beginning to end. I left 2-1/2 years ago, having been an Adventurer from 1989 to 2006. Tim Goodwin left Disney for a year in the nineties but returned and has otherwise survived the entire run. Andy Clark was still subbing in as Graves the butler up to the end. The amazing Sheila (Smith) Ward, who opened Pleasure Island as an entertainer at XZFR’s Rock ‘n’ Rollerdrome (later the Rock ‘n’ Roll Beach Club) and who joined the Adventurers Club within its first year, can probably claim the most overall hours logged in as an Adventurer.

The maid’s original name was Doreen (“specializing in light dusting and high heels”). Other names used since then include: Millie, Flo, Trixie, Annelle, Fanny, Ginger Vitus, Dusty Cabinets, Marion, Sunny Knight, Inga, Gabby, Dottie Lama, Yvette Lemieux, Mona, Prudence, La Rue de Lamour, Tish Myash, Sugar Snap, Beulah Belle, Talullah Buttertart, Molly McLean, and Kiki.

Tim Goodwin invented the word “Kungaloosh.” Talk about leaving a legacy.

Three original cast members (two of whom were Mike Acord and I) invented the Club salute.

Phil Card invented the New Member Ceremony.

Before Samantha Sterling, there was a different character—a nightclub singer/adventurer named Mandora. (My memory is unclear as to when the switch occurred.) And before Mandora there were only two women characters, Pamelia and Doreen (the maid). But back at the beginning there was an ape-like, silent character called Marcel who would water the plants, deliver mail, and provide a step ladder for the maid so she could climb up to sit next to the Colonel where she would sing Smile, Darn Ya, Smile to him.

How to spell correctly:

• There is no apostrophe in “Adventurers Club.”

• Colonel Critchlow Suchbench’s name is misspelled on the brass plaque in the Main Salon listing members. Yes, Imagineers don’t always think things through and The Disney Company makes mistakes. Like closing certain entertainment venues oh don’t get me started.

• Hathaway Browne’s last name is spelled with an e. The writers originally named him Hamilton Beach, but I guess trademark lawyers nixed that. He was renamed after a girl’s school near Cleveland, Ohio.

Before rock music (live or DJ’d) took over, there was once a walk-around combo dubbed the Pleasure Island Philharmonic that would stroll the island. In those days the street felt more like traditional Disney: small town Americana, family-friendly, Dixieland music. Art Levitt injected adrenalin into the place and it came to life. But I always missed the PI Philharmonic, who became regular visitors to our club.

There was once no stage in the Main Salon. Phil Card and I suggested it, and in the Fall of 1992 a very nice Ganesha statue was moved to the Zebra Mezzanine near the service bar to make way for the ceremonial stage to the left of the Colonel.

The Library originally had long tables running between the bar and the stage, with stools on either side of each table. Getting to and from seats was difficult, and one’s neck became tired from having to keep one’s head turned to see the stage. Other club improvements: adding the revolving door to help keep out amplified sounds from outdoors (actors used to have to shout to be heard in the Main Salon) and making the club non-smoking (thank you thank you thank you)!

The two library shows that ran for as long as the club was open were the Balderdash Cup and the Radio Broadcast (Tales of the Adventurers Club). The original version of the latter was a somewhat different script and all done by Pamelia and Otis with no audience volunteers. In fact, Otis had to read the role of Hathaway Browne, who neglected to show up for the broadcast!

Library shows that came and went:

• Pamelia’s Welcome Party – Three songs by Pamelia, Hathaway and Graves.

• The Brew Fest – The less said the better.

• The Gypsy Show – Madame Zarkov sings and Fletcher gets into a mess.

• Fletcher’s New Discovery – Fletcher opens an ancient spirit box and Emil gets possessed by a demon. (And yes, I played Emil for years.)

• Fingers Takes Requests – Fingers would try to play tunes suggested by the crowd. After nightly renditions of Gilligan’s Island and other anachronisms (don’t get me started), the end of the night farewell party was created and was christened the Hoopla (HOOPLA).

Library shows that existed but were never performed publicly:

• The Fingers Zambeezi Show – Pamelia, Otis and Hathaway wrestle with a spirit released from the same box recycled years later for Fletcher’s New Discovery. The spirit finds a home in the club organ.

• Hathaway Browne’s Hour of Love (in Twenty Minutes) – a radio program offering advice to the lovelorn from the master. Why did this show not happen? Don’t get me started.

Celebrities that have visited the club include some I got to meet: MacLean Stevenson, John Davidson, Meat Loaf, Lyle Alzedo, Leslie Nielson, George Lucas, Robin Williams, Bobcat Goldthwait, John Lithgow, Woody Harrelson, Barry Gordon, David Odgen Stiers, John Scully, Raul Julia, Bozo the Clown, Robert Klein, Pauly Shore, Gilbert Gottfried, Gary Sinise, and Neil Patrick Harris; those I only saw: Norman Fell, Curtis Armstrong, Molly Ringwald, Stephen Sondheim, Howie Mandell, Nichelle Nichols, and David Copperfield; and others I missed (but they were there): Bob Hope, Jim Henson, Alan Alda, Liza Minelli, Gary Coleman, Larry “Bud” Melman, Mark Wilson, Johnny Unitas, George Blanda, Y.A. Tittle, Susan St. James, Gloria Estefan, Andrew Lloyd Weber, John Stamos, and Bob Saget. And more.

There are photos and videos aplenty to be found on the internet, and since I do not mean to slight anyone whose picture or name is not included in this post I encourage you to go look! It will be easiest to find the amazing talents that have been brilliantly entertaining guests since I left, which is why I have focused on the early days.

I wish I could name all those who have been part of the cast over the years. (I wish I’d kept track!)

I wish those who only knew the club over the last few years could have seen the original cast, as well as the talents of Darin DePaul, Jennifer Goodwin, Art Dohany, Doug Mackey, Ken Thiboult, Sue Peahl, Cullen Douglas, Bob Dutton, Jim Howard, and more. (Forgive me for not listing everyone, please!) Former Adventurers have gone on to many achievements. Paula Pell became a writer on Saturday Night Live. Mike Speller had the lead for three seasons on the Nickelodeon sitcom, Welcome Freshmen. Darin DePaul and Kurt Von Schmittou have appeared on Broadway. Leslie Carrara is a Muppeteer. Anne Hering is Director of Training with Orlando Shakespeare Theater. Philip Nolen is, perhaps, the most highly respected wooberhead in North America.

And I haven’t even mentioned the musicians (Steve and Jim and Al) and technicians (Mike and Jim) bar and wait staff, door hosts, managers, show directors, supporters, regulars, fans and crazies. And Comedy Warehousians, and DJs, and dancers, and bands. And custodians and security and everyone else whose lives have been affected for better or worse by the Disney After Dark experiment that lasted for nineteen years. I regret I cannot be with my Pleasure Island pals on this, the final night.

I toast you all.

23 comments

  1. Long sigh…


  2. Wow, thanks for all of the amazing info!!!


  3. Thanks for this wonderful perspective on the Club and its history! I believe you have underplayed your own role in the development of the Club’s lore – especially the songs! You have been sorely missed, and I feel there will be a Club-sized hole in our lives now, too…


  4. Thanks Kris for this walk down memory lane. You wouldnt remember my sister and I, we were 13 & 16 when we started making a once a year visit to the Club on our annual vacation, but I do remember you. We just moved to FL in February and are thrilled we got to make a lifetime of visits in the last 3 months. The memories of a lone tam o’shanter draped over a microphone in an empty library and a maid’s last rendition of longing to find a millionaire will alternatively bring us tears and a smile for the rest of our lives. Kungaloosh to all the actors that gave so much over the last 19 years.


  5. Thanks for that,and reminding Les and I of the wonderful people we met at the club,Doug,Art,Phil,Darrin,Mike,Paula,Phran,Sheila,Tim, and our dear, dear friend Kerry we loved you all.
    The Adventures Club changed our life dramatically,we met a couple in the club you became dear friends and they offered ,to help sponsor us to live in the US, without them we would not be living in this wonderful country, or be American Citizens. Thank you all for the entertainment over the years you guys are the best.
    Thank you Adventurers Club for our new life Kungaloosh. God Bless America


  6. [...] tribute by one of the opening year cast members, who then worked the show for another 17 years, Kris Truelsen. Tonight marks the end of Pleasure Island. The night club complex that opened in 1989 at Walt [...]


  7. Thank you for the touching and truly wonderful retrospective of a most unique place that, sadly in the end, became a shadow of its’ former self and an overblown freak show.

    In my mind, you ALWAYS gave 120% to every performance you ever did. When you left, true dedication to the portrayal and essence of those characters walked out the door along with you.


  8. Thank you. Quite simply, thank you.

    I first discovered the AC on my College Program in 1999, and then returned for another summer of slave labor in 200. I hadn’t been back since then, but once I heard the Club was closing, I had to make it back for one more trip. I’ll be paying it off well into 2009, but it was worth every penny, because I got one more night of Kungaloosh-gestalt before it was gone.

    I’m almost certain I remember you from my frequent Thursday night visits, and even if I never saw you, you were indispensable in the creation and shaping of our beloved Club, and for that, once more, thank you.


  9. Kris is far too modest. He failed to mention that he penned the Colonel’s wonderful song, “Drop Your Drawers.”

    In other news, it’s not everyone who can both spell “wooberhead” correctly AND use it in a sentence referring to the man who best exemplifies it.

    In other other news, someone besides me reads this blog. Life’s funny like that. Don’t GET me started.


  10. Hi Kris,
    Just wanted to tell you thank you for the look back at the most unique club in the world. I was a frequent visitor during 2006 when I was on the CP and I remember watching you perform. Thank you for all the wonderful evenings at “The Cloob” :D


  11. Thank you for the memories. My heart breaks at the thought of losing the Adventurers Club. It was one of the reasons why I decided to move to Orlando a few years ago and while I have not regretted my decision, I feel that a part of me died September 27, 2008.

    My only hope is that Disney realizes that they have lost a crown jewel of Imagineering and decides to rebuild it bigger and better and promote it properly. The current buzzword in the theme park business is interactivity. It doesn’t get much more interactive than the Adventurers club.

    Kungaloosh.


  12. Hey Kris, I started going to the Club back on 2000. Very distinctly remember seeing you there on MANY occasions. Have tried to be somewhat of a regular wince whenever I was in Florida (first half of 2000 and 2005-now). I actually first met my wife sitting in the main salon and have so many great memories of that place. I wanted to just say how much you and all your cohorts have done for so many of us. I know it seems cheesy but that Club was always a great place for me to unwind and relax after a long day. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder then I did when I was there. You all brought a little joy and laughter into our lives and helped us to just laugh and forget about the problems of the world. It’s like the club motto says, “If you come in here a stranger…You will exit as a friend.” KUNGALOOSH and thanks again.


  13. Thank you for the really nice look back. The Club will be sorely missed.


  14. kris,
    great post, thanks for all the memories. my wife and i only visited a couple of times in the 90′s but visited several times since 2001, and we were able to visit for 3 nights in early september (just as things were starting to get crazy). we definitely remember you from visits past. p.s. love your good-bye photo!


  15. Much as I enjoyed this wonderful trip down memory lane, I must point out one bit of the story that is lacking. I take full credit for getting Kris to audition for Disney in the first place!

    After I had auditioned for the PI folks in Atlanta in 1988, I mentioned to Kris, living in LA, that the audition tour would be coming his direction. If I recall his very subdued response was something like, “Disney? Um,really? You really want to work at a theme park?”

    Seventeen years later, he was bidding adieu to the AC, while I, after opening the Comedy Warehouse (book musical, anyone?), had bounced from MGM to Universal to Sea World and eventually bounced right out of the business…guess I showed him.

    It’s incredible to consider how many lives he and his cohorts at the club touched, how many home videos he must be a part of, and how much hair he lost during those years. Don’t sell yourself short, Professor. You were a major reason for the club’s success and cult-like status, not to mention being a large influence at the Actors’ Equity negotiations. I was always very proud to tell people my big brudda worked at the one and only Adventurers Club.


  16. Kris,

    Sweet post. Maria and I and the gang from 1991-1992 miss you! I hope you’re doing well in the frozen tundra!

    Rusty


  17. Kris -
    I’m late to the party! I just now, 3 1/2 weeks later, learned about the AC closing. Such memories….Art Dohany and his wife Suzette (and Ashton) were my neighbors for 2+ years (around 1992-1994). I worked in radio at the time, and therefore had one of those coveted Disney gifts – an annual PI pass. Which meant that I saw Art as Hathaway Browne, Emil Bleehall and Fletcher Hodges…among others. My favorite memories are those of Art having a completely coherent conversation with me about what was going on in the neighborhood – but doing it completely in character! That, and one of the original (or close to it) cast (come to think of it, could’ve been you – since I don’t know you) as the most amazing characterization of an English butler I ever saw. Some poor unsuspecting server (or guest) would drop a glass to a large crash, and in a booming voice we heard….”joooooobbb opening!” To this day – I can be in any restaurant, anywhere, and if I hear a dropped glass I think: “joooooobbb opening! ”

    Sigh. I will always have my memories. I’m here in Louisville, KY now, and am toasting to a great run!


  18. I would also like to thank you for the wonderful memories and insights of the club. I lived in Orlando since 1991, and after reading your entry, I mentally kick myself for not going sooner to the Club, for four years was simply not enough…so much history generated by the wonderful talents that graced the club, and yours was no exception. Thanks for reminiscing and sharing your memories, and I hope your future endeavors will always be fruitful.

    Best regards and good luck,

    HAL :-D


  19. Hey — I still have my “mini” beer mugs from the beer fest. ;p

    Thanks for so many inside and great memories — from an adventurer from the beginnings.


  20. Oh, yes.

    This is wonderful.

    The best job I ever had was working along-side you and the gang mentioned above. You have mentioned so many things and people who have helped shape my perspective on theatre, performing and comedy. Since my last performance at the Club, I have praised “the golden years” at the Adventurers Club as simply “the perfect” training ground for any actor who want to understand comic timing and mining a character for details.

    I knew from my audition that it was the best audition I had ever been to because it was not a 2-minute monologue and you’re out the door. Instead, it was a monologue, two songs, cold readings, multiple improv scenes and THEN the callbacks! Wow! I knew that that was the job I wanted, and my first rehearsal with you and Paula and Tim and Art confirmed my suspicions that I had won the lottery!

    I have learned enormous amounts from each of you, but you (and few others) were key to my fascination and growing love of the place.

    When you get to be one of the few who have won the role hundreds of others covet, I think it makes you appreciate your good timing, great training and fate as an artist. I truly appreciate my four years at the Adventurers Club and will continue to see it as the pinnacle of my performing career, as well as the springboard for all my future theatrical endeavors (especially those yet to come).

    As a teacher, we are told from the beginning that because we touch so many lives and the pay-off for our students is usually years down the line, we cast a giant shadow. So, too, is your part in the lives of the cast members and guests that you have touched. Your shadow is far greater than I think you can imagine as you have inspired many and, frankly, changed the lives of co-workers and so, so many guests whose names you will never know. The letters I have seen online ooze love as the Club became an oasis, a harbor, a springboard, and a place of inspiration and epiphany.

    You are quite the George Bailey, my friend. You will be rewarded in Heaven (just as I know you already are), but I’m sure you’ll have to wait another forty years for that.

    [You better get a speech ready.]

    With the deepest respect,

    ~ Bob Dutton

    Hsoolagnuk!


  21. Hello Kris,

    Thanks for such a wonderful post. I have just returned from my 20th trip to WDW where I was once again, relentless in letting CMs know my feelings towards the AC. I even (pleasantly yet with tounge in cheek) told one about how much money I had saved by stocking my hotel roojm with beverages from the outside world instead of spending my time and money at the AC.

    In keeping up my little contribution to the campaign to bring the AC back to life, I would like to as you; To whom might I address a well-spoken letter or email sharing my feelings towards the Adventurers Club?

    I consider myself very lucky not only for being one of the few who were in the library for the FINAL HOOPLA, but for the opportunity to shake hands with your fellow CMs, saying to them and you as well with as much sincerity as I can possibly muster: “THANK YOU FOR ENTERTAINING US SO VERY WELL.”

    Again, any direction you can give me so I can lend my support towards the survival of the AC would be great.

    Thanks
    Henry T. Machuga
    72 Palsa Ave
    Elmwood Park, NJ 07407-1212
    201-220-9584
    email: FOLLOWCAR@AOL.COM


  22. Kris,

    Thanks for all the entertainment over the years, and the very nice look back! Leave it to Disney to create one of the most unique entertainment venues of all time, and then just close it down without a thought! At least it had a very nice, lengthy run.

    The amazing collection of fans who are devastated by the loss of the club is perhaps the greatest tribute there can be to the incredible job that you all did, night after night, at making those characters come alive, and keeping everything interesting!

    I do miss the (semi) early days with Art, Phil, Phran, Doug … thankfully I have lots of video tapes of them to remind me. And all the newer faces over the years still managed to keep the entertainment coming!

    Mandora would have vanished somewhere between 1993 and 1994, since she was still around when I vacationed at WDW in ’93, but gone when I moved here in ’94.

    Thanks again, and I hope Canada is going wonderfully for you!


  23. Thank you for putting words and pics together to share with those who hold a connection to Pleasure Island. I myself was part of the special group of entertainers and musicians who opened PI in ’89 (My name is Chris Carter and I was in the Time Pilots, then later The Blast), playing guitar at XFRS/Rock@Roll Beach Club and finally the West End Stage before the core group disbanded in early ’91 and I moved to Nashville. Though my tenure at PI was relatively short, I look back on it as one of the most fun and special times in my life.

    As for the Adventurers Club, let me just say that even thought it didn’t take long for me to become fairly jaded by the b.s. that came with working at PI (mostly due to middle/upper management and their Machiavellian behavior), I NEVER tired of popping into the A-Club for a drink and a laugh. To me, it was the most unique thing about PI, and it is a crying shame that Disney could not find a way to keep it going.

    I could easily write a book about PI and my time there – and I just might, as I now have an MFA in Creative Writing. That is, if Disney doesn’t sue me into silence and submission, as I have a LOT of damning things to say about the corporate side of The Rat! That said, nothing can diminish the beauty of the hard-working, talented actors, comedians, musicians and also the fantastic people who worked as bartenders, waiters, kitchen crew, front door staff, etc.

    God Bless!



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