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Realityland's David Koenig

Disneyland Loses the Big Cheese

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With great sadness, I just learned that Paul Castle, 86, the main Mickey Mouse at Disneyland for 25 years, passed away January 23.

After making his mark as the 4’6” Mighty Mite in the Ice Capades, Paul was hand-picked by Walt himself in 1961 to play Mickey Mouse for special appearances and at Disneyland. In those days, the park didn’t have a big Character Department. Paul was one of only a handful of year-round costumed performers; most just hired on part-time, during parade season.

But Paul stuck around as Characters got their own department, and multiplied into the hundreds of employees, with all the regulations and demands that came with it—such as not responding to abusive guests. (He once chased a pugnacious teen across Town Square and sat on her, in full view of horror-struck guests.)

He’d grumble and complain whenever Disney altered his costume to make it look more cartoonish (because that typically meant the suit became more uncomfortable, as well). And Paul was livid when management stopped allowing the costumed characters to speak. “A new guy got into the department and said I didn’t sound like the real Mickey,” Paul told me. “I couldn’t get that high falsetto. And if Mickey couldn’t talk, then no one could.”

He resented that females gradually began taking over more and more character roles, due to their slighter builds. (He just didn’t think it was right to have Mickey Mouse played by a girl.) He also didn’t like how many of his prized shifts began going to younger, more mobile performers.

But most of all, Paul was unhappy that here was a professional actor, who appeared alongside Walt at dozens of special appearances, who had been photographed with celebrities and royalty, who had been hugged and kissed by thousands of strangers from around the world, and nobody knew it was him. Not long after retiring, he contacted the Los Angeles Times for an article on his career, incensing management that he’d intimated there was a man inside the mouse.

Paul never could understand why he couldn’t find a publisher for his autobiography. After reading his manuscript, I realized that most of the pages were filled with facts and stories concerning the away-from-the-park life of Paul Castle. The book would be much more marketable, I tried to tell him, if it were more about Mickey. But, knowing Paul, he’d been hiding in the mouse’s shadow his whole life. For once, he wanted the spotlight on him.

He retired in 1986, and in the 24 years since would move back and forth between Anaheim and Oklahoma, to be closer to family. A life celebration and memorial service will be held at Calvary Chapel of Bethany, Ok., tomorrow, Saturday, February 6, 2010, at 2 p.m.

You can see photos from Paul’s career on a blog recently created by his daughter, http://insidemickey.blogspot.com. And grab your copies of “Mouse Tales” and “More Mouse Tales.” All those stories about that very un-Disneylike Mickey? They’re all Paul. He was a true Disneyland original, barely 54 inches tall, yet one of the park’s biggest personalities, from a much wilder time.

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