Inevitably, when a patron enters the parlor of Disneyland's
Haunted Mansion and hears the first words from the attraction's
invisible narrator (playfully calling himself your "Ghost
Host"), said patron will also hear a chorus of echoes from
other Disneyland veterans, reciting the Ghost Host's lines with
aplomb. Celebrating it's 33rd year of operation, the Haunted Mansion
is a favorite among Disneyland's guests, and the narration that
carries the experience along is as familiar as the Pledge of Allegiance
to many of the theme park's repeat visitors.
Why does this attraction draw such devotion from
its fans? The reasons may be as varied as the numerous legendary
Disney talents involved with the ride's development, but one facet
of the attraction is a key draw: the narration of the Mansion's
resident "Ghost Host."
Beside the fact that the Haunted Mansion is one
of Disneyland's classic "E-ticket" mainstay attractions,
it also should be noted that Disneyland Records released a soundtrack
album of the attraction to coincide with the ride's opening in
1969. Titled "The Story and Song from The Haunted Mansion,"
this highly sought-after LP starred a young "Ronnie"
Howard (yes, the same Ron Howard that won the Academy Award for
his film "A Beautiful Mind" last year) and Disney's
reliable storyteller Robie Lester as "Mike" and "Karen,"
respectively-two teens out for a date on a stormy night who find
themselves trapped in the Haunted Mansion. The Ghost Host on the
LP is voice talent Pete Renoudet, who can be heard on a number
of Disney productions. Due to the popularity of the attraction
upon its opening, this record was well-loved by many younger Baby
Boomers and older Generation "X"ers, who doubly recognize
the Ghost Host character by both his lines in the theme park attraction
and his extended dialogue on the LP.
The words recited by the Ghost Host were scripted
by X Atencio, a veteran Disney animator that was handpicked by
Walt to join the WED division of the Walt Disney Company as a
storywriter for the theme parks. Atencio had first intended for
the attraction to be narrated by a recurring cat or a raven character,
but as a ride-through exhibit, the time necessary to allow each
rider to hear the character recite its spiel wasn't possible.
Rather, the narration would have to travel with the riders, in
order to allow each patron to have roughly the same experience.
Hence, the Ghost Host was designed as an invisible, disembodied
spirit that would follow you through the halls of the Haunted
Mansion. This contrivance worked well for the attraction, as it
was essentially to be a series of scenes and occurrences without
an inherent storyline, as is the case with many haunted attractions.
The narration offered a slice of deft humor that helped keep the
scenes light and mysterious, rather than dark and ominous. This
is the hallmark of the Haunted Mansion: wonderful, creepy, magical
effects, delivered with a light touch.
So who could properly deliver the voice that Atencio's
script required? After a few general tests and auditions, the
attraction's designers decided on Paul Frees, a veteran voice
talent and one of Disney's finest artists. Frees was well known
at the time for a number of popular assignments, not the least
of them being his characterizations of Boris Badenov for Jay Ward's
"The Bullwinkle Show;" Ludwig Von Drake in numerous
Disney cartoon shorts; or the voice of the ticklish Pillsbury
Doughboy. At Disneyland, Frees could already be heard in attractions
such as "Adventure Thru Inner Space" and "Pirates
of the Caribbean," both of which utilized Frees' talent for
creating a compelling, somewhat sinister characterization. In
an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Company in 1976, Frees
discussed his work for Disney as it related to his experience
with darker, more ominous voice work. "I've narrated a great
many films about all that is scary," Frees explains. "At
Disneyland, I am the 'Host' of the Haunted House (sic)
course, in the old days of radio, I was the host on 'Suspense'-I
was the man in black, telling a 'tale well calculated to keep
in suspense!'" So Frees clearly had a pedigree
in hosting haunting tales long before his gig as the Haunted Mansion's
Although Frees also had a few parts in feature films
under his belt, he preferred voice-only work. Voice-actor historian
Brian Kistler points out that Frees "told me that he did
at least ten movies, including 'The Shaggy Dog' and 'The Thing
point blank, he did not like 'camera acting.' He indicated that
he could go into a studio, record, and leave in a relatively short
period of time. In on-camera acting, he complained about
how one would have to wait forever, for lights to be adjusted
just right, or (how) it might be necessary to stick around for
hours to shoot a scene again and again. He said he reveled in
wrapping the work up quickly, heading out, and focusing on other
things in life." So Frees led a well-balanced life and enjoyed
his free time, despite an extraordinarily prolific career "He
emphasized that this was his idea of what life should be all about,"
Possibly due to Frees' commitment to make his free
time paramount, the Haunted Mansion soundtrack LP that was marketed
through toy and variety stores through the '70s featured a different
voice talent for the Ghost Host-that of Pete Renoudet, another
veteran Disney voice who can also be heard in Disney attractions
such as the "Country Bear Jamboree" and "20,000
Leagues Under the Sea." Although some Disney historians feel
that Renoudet was under consideration for the role of the attraction's
Ghost Host, Renoudet has no such recollection, and believes that
his role as the Ghost Host was always intended solely for the
soundtrack album. Regardless, it is clear that the recording Renoudet
did was given a more otherworldly flair with electronic echo effects
in stereo, while Frees' recording for the actual attraction remains
fairly clear, with a hint of plate reverb. This is likely due
to the fact that Frees' voice needed to cut through all of the
incidental live sound, while Renoudet's rendition needed to convince
kids that they were, in fact, listening the voice of a ghost.
"The record was produced by Tutti Camarata,
who did all of the Disneyland Records in those days," Renoudet
recalls. Like that of Paul Frees, his recording session was more
or less a one-shot deal, recorded alone without the benefit of
hearing the lines from the other characters. "There were
very little (retakes)," Renoudet notes. "I think the
whole thing didn't take probably more than an hour and a half."
Renoudet's role for the album was tightly developed and scripted,
which differs slightly from Frees' situation, in which he had
a little room to make the character his own. This was clearly
due to the fact that Renoudet's job was to build upon an existing
character, while Frees was developing the character from scratch.
"The script was nailed down. There were no changes at all,"
The Haunted Mansion has no distinct storyline to
speak of; as mentioned before, it is a series of situations string
together. However, to make a story for the soundtrack album, extra
narration and description was added to the Ghost Host's lines
from the attraction, and many of the attraction's lines were removed.
"I think they were trying to give (the kids) something to
two kids going through the ride. That's why
(they used) Ronnie Howard and Robie Lester-the young girl's voice,"
Renoudet recalls. "I thought (the record) was pretty cute.
I didn't know that there was going to be as much of a story about
the kids going through because
all I had, basically, was
the lines that I had to do. I don't remember having a complete
script with everybody else's lines so much, it was just my Ghost
Host narration stuff," Renoudet said.
the Features Page