Here’s how deep Kim Irvine’s connections are to Disneyland: About three years before she started working for Walt Disney Imagineering, the creative arm of the company responsible for theme park experiences, the then-15-year-old simply wanted her mother to stop embarrassing her.
“Goblins and ghoulies from last Halloween,” Irvine says today, mimicking her mother and raising her voice as she leans forward in her chair in her Anaheim office.
To many of Disneyland’s estimated 19 million or so annual visitors, these words are instantly recognizable as those of Madame Leota. It’s her disembodied head that floats in a crystal ball in the Haunted Mansion’s seance room, and it’s Madame Leota who sends visitors on their way with an eerie “hurrrry baaaack” as they exit the attraction.
Of course, Madame Leota, as devoted Disneyland fans know, is actually Leota Toombs, one of the first women to work for Imagineering, then known as WED Enterprises (for Walter Elias Disney). She is also Irvine’s mother. And on this day in the mid-’60s, Irvine wanted Mom to shush.