Harriet Burns was the first woman hired by Walt Disney Imagineering for a creative role (rather than for an office job). Burns was designated as a Disney Legend by The Walt Disney Company in 2000 and she helped design and build prototypes for theme park attractions, as well as final products featured at Disneyland and the New York World’s Fair of 1964.
Burns was born Aug. 20, 1928, in San Antonio, Texas, according to Walt Disney Imagineering.
She received her bachelor’s degree in art from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and went on to study advanced design for another year at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
In 1953, she moved to Los Angeles with her husband and small daughter. There, Burns accepted a part-time position at Dice Display Industries Cooperative Exchange, where she worked on design for projects including television’s “Colgate Comedy Hour,” Las Vegas Hotels and the Lake Arrowhead Santa’s Village, according to Walt Disney Imagineering.
Burns started working for Walt Disney Productions in 1955 on the TV series “The Mickey Mouse Club,” where she was a prop and set designer. Harriet concurrently worked on models for both the television show and the theme park in the model shop. She helped create the models of Sleeping Beauty Castle as well as other opening day projects like the miniature scenes in the Storybook Land Canal Boats attraction, according to Walt Disney Imagineering.
She worked shoulder to shoulder with men in the model shop, wielding saws, lathes and sanders, and was still considered the best-dressed employee in the department.
“It was the 1950s,” she said, “I wore color-coordinated dresses, high heels and gloves to work. Girls didn’t wear slacks back then, although I carried a pair in a little sack, just in case I had to climb into high places.”
“What really earned respect for Harriet Burns was her creative skill,” said Marty Sklar, executive vice president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and Imagineering Ambassador. “Fred Joerger, Wathel Rogers and Harriet became known as the WED Model Shop, the heartbeat of Walt’s design engine for Disneyland and beyond.”
Burns transferred to WED as a full-time employee after the opening of Disneyland. For the first major expansion of Disneyland in 1959, she created models of the Matterhorn as a 1/100th scale replica of the famous Swiss mountain and painted underwater figures and set pieces for the Submarine Voyage.
Burns worked as a figure finisher for Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, applying individual feathers to the birds, according to Walt Disney Imagineering. Among other contributions, she worked on projects such as figure finishing to stage design for attractions featured at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, including Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and The Carousel of Progress.
On occasion, when Walt would introduce new theme park attractions to television audiences, she would appear on segments of “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.”
She helped with the models and designs for much of New Orleans Square including Pirates of the Caribbean, where not only did she build a model of the entire attraction but was also a figure finisher on the Audio-Animatronics pirates. She worked in a similar capacity for the Haunted Mansion attraction.
Burns worked on sculptures for the Pirates attraction, ensuring that visitors couldn’t tell if some of the faces had been used in more that one spot in the ride by changing hair color or adding an eye patch. She had to apply each strand of hair to the leg of a pirate sitting on a bridge in one of the scenes.
After 31 years with The Walt Disney Company, Burns retired in 1986. She became the first woman with a window dedicated to her on Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. which reads, “The Artisans Loft – Handmade Miniatures By Harriet Burns.” In 2000, she was designated by The Walt Disney Company as a Disney Legend, which “acknowledges and honors the many individuals whose imagination, talents and dreams have created the Disney magic.”
I'm a Cast Member working in entertainment, but I mainly work on Mainstreet! Ask me any questions about Disney/Disneyworld and I'll try my best to help you out!
I made this GIF using the INCREDIBLE Frozen/Haunted Mansion portraits by….um…well, ‘artist unknown.’ If anyone knows who the artist is, please let me know and I’ll credit them a.s.a.p.!
Oh no! It’s not my van XD
I saw it when I was visiting my friends in Patterson and had to take a photo!
I’m at Disneyworld and tonight in honor of robin,the magic kingdom’s firework show was named genie’s wishes,and in the end they said “genie,you’re free”
"Now come along, Sis. Time to go see the doctor."
"Oh, hello, Doctor! How are you? <3"
”??… No, no, no. Not THAT one.”
Dude ok, this happened to me when I was working with Aladdin and Jasmine. We were playing hide and seek with some kids and Aladdin accidentally knocked over a display in one of the shops. So of course the manager comes over and demands to know what the hell is going on to me, and I’m freaking out because I don’t know how to explain why we had enough time to play hide and seek, and Jasmine is at a lost for words…then freaking Aladdin without missing a beat starts RECITING THE MOVIE. He just steps right up to the manager and says “Oh thank you kind sir, I’m so glad you found these two! I’ve been looking all over for you guys..” and Jasmine just naturally falls in rythm reciting the movie too. All the kids we were playing with were in awe, the manager was too shocked for words, and I’m just at odds with myself trying not to fangirl over the entire thing. They even did the whole camel scene (like the picture above) when we left. Long story short: Aladdin and Jasmine are awesome, and stopped us from getting in huge heaps of trouble
That’s fucking brilliant.
But don’t you remember? We’ve met before.
I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the songs in Frozen have similar words, so this happened.
That is amazing