The Unforgettable Wally Boag…

Here’s a quick trivia question…According to the Guinness Book of World Records, what theatrical presentation has the greatest number of performances in history? The answer is…” Disney’s Golden Horseshoe Revue” And the actor, comedienne and star of this production was none other than Wallace Vincent “Wally” Boag. By the time Wally retired, he had performed in nearly 40,000 productions of the Horseshoe Revue. Wally was born in Portland Oregon on September 13th, 1920 to Evelyn and Wallace B. Boag. At an early age, Wally loved dancing and at the tender age of nine, joined a professional dance team; and eventually founded his own dance school. But he gravitated at age 19 towards what would be his trademark in show business, comedy. He was a natural, with almost perfect comedic timing.  He began performing in theaters and nightclubs, in this country and worldwide. As a tribute to his skill, he graced the stages of the Tivoli Theaters in Australia and New Zealand, Radio City Music Hall in New York City and the Palladium in London.

And it was at the Starlight Roof in the London Hippodrome that, during his magic and balloon act, he brought out a 12-year-old girl, future Disney star Julie Andrews to assist with the act. Her singing voice so astounded the audience she was kept in the show. Wally’s beginning with Walt Disney and the Golden Horseshoe Revue came about in the 1950’s with Boag performing in revues in Australia, met English actor and tenor Donald Novis. Novis liked what he saw in Boag and got Walt Disney to let him audition for the new show. Novis was the Horseshoe Revue’s first tenor. The 45-minute stage show was written for Walt by American jazz pianist and bandleader Charles LaVere and American songwriter, composer, and screenwriter, Tom Adair.

The show was a success from the beginning. Wally portrayed Pecos Bill, a traveling Salesman in the old west; with a spirited, fast-paced comedy act, besieged with squirt guns, (Which he “blasted” the audience’ with!) and old vaudevillian “slapstick” humor. He always seemed to spit out an endless quantity of broken teeth and would create colorful animals out of balloons, which he gave the moniker, “Boagaloons”. Boag once quipped that “My longest job before the Golden Horseshoe Revue was 54 weeks. And to think it all began with a two-week contract I signed with Walt Disney when the park opened.”

Wally quickly became one of Walt’s favorite comedy actors. Before the Revue, in 1945 he won a contract with Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, appearing in such films as Without Love, starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, and The Thrill of Romance, with Esther Williams. In addition to his performances in the Golden Horseshoe Revue, because of Walt’s admiration of Boag, did everything he could to broaden his career at Disneyland. Some of the many contributions of Boag to Disneyland was voicing Jose in the “Enchanted Tiki Room” and also contributed to the script for the attraction. Wally was also involved in the development of the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland. In addition, Boag often toured and consulted on special projects and promotions for The Walt Disney Company. In 1980, he entertained audiences around the country during a 28-day, 20-city tour promoting the re-release of Disney’s animated classic Lady and the Tramp. He also traveled to Japan to help translate material for the opening of Tokyo Disneyland in 1983. Wally published his memoir, Wally Boag, Clown Prince of Disneyland, in 2009.

In Disney films, Walt has scripted small roles for Boag in the Absent-Minded Professor and the Son of Flubber. Walt had also intended to have Boag voice Tigger in Winnie the Pooh. During a story meeting for Pooh and the Bluster Day, Walt believed that Wally would be perfect for the role. But, sadly Walt passed away in December of 1966, and although Wally auditioned for the Tigger role, in the end it went to actor Paul Winchell. The last Disney production that Wally had a role, was a cameo in the Love Bug. He also made a guest appearance on The Muppet Show as himself in 1980, but that was the end in Disney films. However, his original Golden Horseshoe performance was showcased in 1980 on the Danny Kay TV special that was celebrating the 25th anniversary of Disneyland. Wally got to host a 1981 episode of the Muppet Show, performing several skits of his “Pecos Bill” routine.

1971, Boag revived his Pecos Bill character for the newly opened Walt Disney World and re-imagined the show into the faster, funnier Diamond Horseshoe Revue. Three years later he returned to Disneyland and finished his career there, retiring in 1982. The Golden Horseshoe Revue closed in 1986. In 1995, Boag was inducted as a Disney Legend and has his own window on Main Street in Disneyland above the Carnation Company. The inscription reads… “Theatrical Agency… Golden Vaudeville Routines… Wally Boag, Prop.”

The famous and iconic building and stage that Wally performed on was the Golden Horseshoe Stage. (During construction, it was described as Pecos Bill’s Golden Horseshoe Saloon) It debuted in 1955 with some original attractions at Disneyland. The “saloon” is located in Frontierland and has a colorful view of the Rivers of America, New Orleans Square and part of Critter Country. The interior of the saloon was designed by Imagineer Harper Goff. He also designed a saloon set for the movie Calamity Jane starring Doris Day. Goff at the time was also designing exteriors for buildings on Main Street, USA when asked to work on this project. The first “unofficial” use of the stage was on July 13, 1955. It was Walt and Lillian’s 30th Wedding Anniversary, and Walt utilized it for a private party with friend and family for the celebration. It had the premiere of the Original Golden Horseshoe Revue.

Wally’s first official appearance and performance of Pecos Bill was on Saturday, July 16th, 1955 as the Golden Horseshoe opened a day early for a corporate sponsors private party. On July 17th, 1955, the first show to open on stage was Slue Foot Sue’s Golden Horseshoe Revue. The show ran for a record 40,000 times. One of the key highlights of the show was when the children in the audience got to sing and dance on the stage. The favorite song was “Davy Crockett”. The show played from July 17th, 1955 until October 12th, 1986. In addition to Wally Boag, it starred Ron Schneider, Judy Marsh, Betty Taylor, Fulton Burley, Jack Watson, Burt Henry and many others. Saloon owner Slue Foot Sue and her entourage would welcome the audience with “Hello Everybody” and follow up with classic songs such as “Riverboat Blues”, “A Lady has to mind her P’s and Q’s and then introduce the performances of Wally Boag and others. The show would be interjected by Pecos Bill, singing his self-titled signature song. Over the years, the building has housed numerous stage shows, and now it currently plays Laughing Stock and Company seven days a week.

In a tribute to Wally Boag and his longtime partner Betty Taylor, who played Slue Foot Sue, his one-stage sweetheart, Disney announced a limited show run entitled “A Salute to the Golden Horseshoe Revue” was a tribute to the family musical shows of the past. It ran from January 10th to February 4th, 2013. It showcased many dance routines and songs from the original Revue, as “Can Can”, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, “Hello Everybody” and “Belly up to the Bar”.

Wally Boag and Betty Taylor shared a stage at Disneyland five days a week for nearly three decades. Taylor was born on October 7th, 1919 in Seattle Washington. She, like Wally got the show business bug at an early age, taking dance lessons at 3 years old. By the time, she was 14, she performed in nightclubs around the country and led her own band called Betty and her Beaus at 18 years old, which included 16 male musicians and performed at the Trianon Ballroom in Seattle.  While in Los Angeles, Taylor heard about auditions for a performer at Disneyland, applied and got the job. After nearly 45,000 performances in which she appeared as the charming, energetic blonde in the role of Pecos Bill’s sweetie, she never lost her enthusiasm for the role. Betty retired from the Golden Horseshoe Revue in 1987.

But the deaths of both these beloved and iconic performers makes one pause and reflect. Wally Boag passed away on June 3, 2011 in Santa Monica California. And as if to say “I’ll always be your sweetheart”, Betty Taylor passed on June 4th, 2011, just one day after Wally. George Kalogridis, then president of Disneyland Resort stated…”Wally was instrumental in the development of live entertainment during the early years of both Disneyland Park and Walt Disney World Resort,” Kalogridis said. “His characters will continue to live in the hearts of our guests, while his larger-than-life personality will forever make him the true Clown Prince of Disneyland.”

After the Death of Betty, Kalogridis stated…  “Betty’s role as leading lady in Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe Revue helped turn it into the longest-running stage show in entertainment history” `’It is a tragic coincidence that her passing comes just one day after the death of longtime co-star Wally Boag.”

Wally Boag influenced generations of performers, most notable of whom is Steve Martin. Martin studied Boag’s humor and timing while working at Disneyland as a teenager. On June 3, 2011, after Boag’s passing Steve Martin proclaimed on Twitter “My hero, the first comedian I ever saw live, my influence, a man to whom I aspired, has passed on. Wally Boag.

Wally Boag will continue to entertain in the minds of Disney fans worldwide, those who were fortunate enough to see him perform live. He and his fellow performers are a testament to Walt Disney and his dedication to bringing to the masses, the best in family entertainment and amusement.

 

 

 

 

 

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