When Editors Were Young

In the LAT, long-time staffer Joel Sappell recalls his teenage job as a costumed Disneyland player, primarily ‘Mowgli’ from ‘The Jungle Book,’which role he originated at the park:

Most of [the park character players] were in our teens and early 20s, growing up in a institution viewed by some in our restless generation as a symbol of conformity and greed in the heart of conservative Orange County. One day in 1970, a group of anti-Vietnam War “Yippies” forced Disney to close early when they laid claim to Tom Sawyer’s Island and promptly fired up joints.

Although less radicalized, we young characters were also products of our time, chafing under Disneyland’s famously tight rules governing the appearance of its employees.

The most absurd of those for me was the hair-above-the-ear regulation.

In “The Jungle Book,” Mowgli’s dark locks fell nearly to his shoulders. Not mine. I had the loincloth, but Disney wouldn’t let me have the long hair. My Mowgli looked as though he’d joined the ROTC, which led to some confusion.

Park patrons didn’t know what to make of me as I stood between King Louie and Baloo in Adventureland, our assigned location to mingle with the crowds. Often, I was asked to step aside by someone wanting a snapshot of the ape and the bear. They must have thought I was just some weird half-naked kid, although a well groomed one. I stood my ground, proclaiming that I was Mowgli and that I wasn’t going anywhere. Although defiant on the outside, I felt humiliated on the inside.

Excellent article. More teenage recollections in the LAT, please. What was David Shaw like at sixteen?

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