Thursday, November 22, 2007

Bruce Gordon, during the last few months of his life, worked on quite a few projects with Jeff Kurtti who came to know him very well. Jeff was part of the people who spoke at Bruce's Memorial Service (for a complete report about Bruce's Memorial Service, that was also attended by Diane Disney Miller, Howard Green, Dave Smith, Robert Tieman and Tony Baxter, check this link) and was kind enough to send me this tribute (upon my request).

[Bruce and His Books

I was fortunate to have worked with Bruce on several of his book projects. For those of you who knew Bruce, his books were as much a part of him as his Disney work, theme park design, and love of technology.

Like so many of Bruce's projects, he had an idea, was told by many people that it could not be done, so he went out and did it himself, relishing both the accomplishment of his goal, and proving time and again an old adage of Walt Disney's, that "It's kind of fun to do the impossible."

His first book was co-written with fellow Imagineer David Mumford, the now-legendary "Disneyland: The Nickel Tour," a 368-page history of Disneyland told through postcards of the park.

The idea was hatched in 1983 when David found Bruce leafing through a collection of old Disneyland postcards in his office. David had his own collection, and they thought that it would be fun to amplify the postcards with information behind what each card showed.
They had a draft of their massive manuscript completed by 1990, but Disney and several other publishers thought that it was too large, would be too expensive, and had a limited appeal.

They didn't count on Bruce, his doggedness, and his knowledge of the most sophisticated desktop publishing—and the fact that it was either clever or foolish to tell him something could not be accomplished.

Bruce spent nights and weekends designing the book on his computer, he and David found financing, mortgaged homes, and raised $100,000 to have an Italian printing house produce 3,000 copies.

"Disneyland: The Nickel Tour," which sold for $75—and weighed nearly five pounds—is today regarded as the most authoritative book about the Magic Kingdom.

I had met Bruce first at Imagineering 20 years ago, but first worked closely with him on a book project. "Walt's Time" was a lavish scrapbook on the lives and careers of our beloved Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman. It was a real labor of love, and in addition to wrangling content with the Shermans, raiding all their scrapbooks and family albums; Bruce also negotiated dozens of rights issues and releases, and laid out and edited the entire book.

I learned on this project the Bruce so many of us knew: bossy, obstinate, flinty, arrogant, and curmudgeonly.

He was also one of the smartest, most sensitive, warm-hearted, generous, caring, and funny people that ever graced my life.

He was the creative engine behind A Brush with Disney: An Artist's Journey by Herb Ryman, and the story of Disney matte artist Peter Ellenshaw in Ellenshaw Under Glass. Bruce wanted a "glass painting" on the cover: Peter Ellenshaw posed in one of his own matte paintings. He was told it was impossible. He got it done.

Bruce worked on many other books, including Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real, The Imagineering Way and The Imagineering Workout, and Disneyland: Then, Now and Forever.

He designed a companion book for the film America's Heart and Soul, and worked with Peggy Van Pelt and John Hench on Designing Disney.

He even designed the companion book for The Sounds of Disneyland CD set in 2005.

Together, Bruce and I worked on The Art of Disneyland, Walt Disney World: Then, Now and Forever, The Art of Walt Disney World, Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends, the Disney Insider Yearbook 2005, and even a book that was created only for Cast Members, The Magic Begins with Me: A Golden Anniversary Keepsake for the 50th Anniversary of Disneyland.

During this time, I realized how close Bruce and I had become.

We were doing a presentation at an NFFC meeting in Garden Grove, doing a little show about "The Art of Disneyland." As usual, the wisecracks and one-upsmanship was flying fast and furious, when I hit Bruce with an especially potent zinger. He let the joke hang the just long enough in the silence before he replied, "You know, David Mumford was a lot nicer than you."

And in some ways, I was the "road company" David Mumford, a willing companion, accomplice, and co-conspirator, sometimes even a stooge who would do Bruce's bidding. All I can say is that I was happy to fill in when Bruce's co-star left his show.

Along the way I found Bruce to be one of the smartest people I've ever known—not only informed, but also clever, and often wise, especially when giving advice.

He was intuitive about things, and had a great "compass" about what was right or wrong, what would work or not, and most of all, what would make whatever you were doing just a little bit—or a lot—better.

He had an amazing ability to see both things and issues from many sides, and a talent for visualizing, and being able (in most cases) to communicate his vision.

In our work together, he had an annoying tendency to be right, just about all of the time, and an ability to growlingly, grudgingly concede if he wasn't.

On book projects on which he did not function as the author or co-author, Bruce was never "just the designer." He was also an editor, conscience, contributor, and supporter of the work. As with everything, he simply wanted it to be the best it could be. We often discussed that each book had to be one that we would gladly go and buy for ourselves.

At the same time, Bruce never let you forget where the line of collaboration was. No matter the argument about text, illustrations, caption, or colors, you were never quite sure whether what you had asked, demanded, or begged for would appear in the final book. Bruce never let the author "outrank" him.

After all, he said on more than one occasion, "I'm the guy that sends the finished files to the printer."

We have three more books that will be coming out early next year, and I find it hard to believe that we won't be doing another one.

I miss Bruce.]

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