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DISNEYLAND Unofficial tour guide gets booted



Published: Sat, April 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A blog writer and die-hard Mickey Mouse fan gave the unsanitized version of the theme park's history.

NEW BOSTON, N.H. (AP) -- Jim Hill has been expelled from the Happiest Place on Earth. And that makes him ... well, unhappy.

Hill, a 46-year-old New Hampshire man, is a Disney fan -- though one who looks at Mickey Mouse's domain with a critical eye. He writes a blog on Disney, and for the past few years, he has offered guided but unauthorized tours of Disneyland, charging $25 per person.

Then, on March 20, Uncle Walt put his foot down -- in a typically smooth Disney way.

"They were being so serious, so Disney, so polite and professional -- but at the same time treating it as if it was a nuclear bomb threat in their park. It was laughable," he said, recalling his encounter with park security in Anaheim, Calif.

As Hill describes it on his blog -- www.jimhillmedia.com -- Disney officials shut down his venture after three women who signed up for an official tour inadvertently ended up in his group. The women reported him after park staff gave them trouble about rescheduling their original tour, Hill said.

That's when the Mouse cracked down.

Tours or trespassing?

"In the 25 years that I have been writing & amp; telling stories about the Walt Disney Co., this is the first time ever that Mickey has made an effort to gag me. And -- to be honest -- it wasn't a very pleasant experience," Hill wrote.

Disneyland spokesman Bob Tucker responded in a statement: "Only qualified Disneyland Resort cast members are authorized to provide tours of Disneyland. Since Mr. Hill's tour was not authorized he was asked to leave the property."

Another spokesman likened Hill's tours to trespassing.

"This is private property and he's not allowed to do that. It's just like we would not allow someone to come in and set up a T-shirt shop," said Rob Doughty.

Hill said his blog is read by Disney insiders, and that his tour isn't particularly racy, but includes tidbits of history that don't fit with The Walt Disney Co.'s carefully groomed image.

Such as the fact that Walt Disney occasionally enjoyed a cocktail after a long day at work.

Or salty tales gleaned from Hill's interviews with old-time Imagineers and animators.

"You'd be amazed at some of the stories out there," Hill said, but "they want their nice, edited, polished version of history."

The tour also discusses C.V. Wood, the instrumental, now rarely mentioned, first president of Disneyland who helped find the site for the park. Wood left the company after a falling out with Walt Disney but went on to help create many other theme parks, Hill said.

"He was a huge impact on the industry, but for Disney he disappeared," he said.

"There's a lot of people who helped make the Happiest Place on Earth, and those are the people I talk about on my tour."

Previous encounter

Hill butted heads with the multimedia giant once before, at the 2004 shareholders' meeting in Philadelphia.

Hill, who had been covering the leadership battle between Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner and Roy Disney, was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article accompanied by a sketch of him.

"There's my big fat face in woodblock on the cover of the Wall Street Journal," he recalled.

When he arrived at the meeting, Hill said company officials pulled his credentials.

The incident happened in front of the press corps and he was on cable news the next day. Then, as now, Hill's blog saw a Space Mountain-size spike in hits.

Hill hopes to continue the tours even if he can't do them in person. He and a partner plan to have an audio program for tourists to listen to on a Walkman or iPod available by mid-May -- shortly after the celebration of Disneyland's 50th anniversary kicks off on May 5.

"I can do it now from the comfort of my home in the woods," said Hill, who lives off an unpaved road in a log house overflowing with Disney paraphernalia.

Hill also gives tours of other U.S. Disney parks but isn't sure whether he's banned from them. He remains a Disney fan regardless and won't stop visiting the parks privately.

"I may end up with a discreet Disney escort for a while," he speculated. "Hell, if the guy wants to go on Small World with me, we'll be fine."




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