It all started while Toni was working in the State Department’s Dignitary Security unit. Many times travelling dignitaries from other countries would want to visit “The Happiest Place on Earth” and she would help arrange those visits. When one assignment had her helping to bring the Chinese basketball team to Disneyland, she liked what she saw and decided this was just the career change she was looking for. So she got in touch with the then head of Disneyland’s Security Department, Ike Isaacson, and came on board in 1979.
One of her first projects involved organizing better coordination with federal and state agencies for the visiting dignitaries. That’s when she also learned how Disneyland handled the shopping activities of those dignitaries. “One time, I was about to arrest the President of Mexico for shoplifting. A Secret Service agent stopped me and said, ‘You don’t want to do that.’ What I didn’t know was that there was a Disneyland merchandise person following him and his group around keeping track of everything he was stuffing into his bag, and making note of it for payment,” said Toni.
One regular visitor was Michael Jackson. “We would put all kinds of makeup and other disguises on him, and he was still instantly recognized. I don’t know how park guests could recognize him.”
But Toni also got the chance to patrol the park. “My favorite area was Frontierland. It brought back memories of growing up and what I used to watch at the movies and on television,” she said.
Those patrols were in all areas, including backstage areas where she got a call to help out with an incident at the old Winston Gate one St. Patrick’s Day. “They had a man in a car, dressed as a leprechaun, in that he only had a leprechaun’s green hat on, and nothing else. He was so drunk he had no idea where he was. I had to reach around his nakedness to get his car keys out of the ignition so he couldn’t drive anywhere in that condition. I called the Anaheim Police Department to come out and get the gentleman.” Toni says she still laughs about that particular incident to this day.
Another activity involved patrolling the park during the day before Grad Nites. “Kids would come in during the day, and hide bottles of booze throughout the park, sometimes in the Rivers of America. They would tie a string around the bottle, then to a fence post, so they could find them later. I was always amazed that they thought we wouldn’t find them. Well, when the park would close down, we would round up all the bottles of booze and replace them with sodas.” As to what happened to all the alcohol: “We always had a great party after all the Grad Nites were over.”
Toni says her favorite time to patrol the park was on the graveyard shift. She liked being able to walk through the park’s attractions and find out how Disney Imagineers made the magic, especially when it came to the ghosts in the Haunted Mansion.
Some of the things Toni saw while working there were not fun. “The stupidest things that I saw, and sometimes still see, are guests who walk in front of parade floats, then stop and stand there. Those floats cannot stop on a dime. I’ve had to physically move a few of those guests.”
“One of the things I didn’t like, after the annual passes started, were the parents who would drop their kids off at Disneyland and leave them there with no adult supervision,” she said.
Toni also worked for a while with the Investigations team, which involved her in arrests of park guests and even Cast Members for theft and more. Those were days she did not like.
“Many times, after dealing with negative, negative, negative all the time, I would just go out to Town Square or the hub and watch families having a good time. Then I would be fine,” Toni recalled. “One of my favorite memories there was a guest who bought another Mickey Mouse balloon for a kid who didn’t realize he had just lost his newly purchased one. The guest tied it around the kid’s wrist. For me the park is a lifetime of memories like that.”
This profile is part of a series featuring former Disney Cast Members being written for the Disneyland Alumni Club. These stories reveal the role working for Disney has played over the years in shaping the lives of the people who help "make the dream a reality," as Walt would say.
In honor of the 60th anniversary year of Disneyland in 2015, the Disneyland Alumni Club is reaching out to former employees, whether retired or younger, who may not be aware of the organization. The Club was started in 1983 by Disneyland executives Van France and Dick Nunis as a way to help Cast Members stay in touch after moving on to other careers. Is that you? If so and you'd like to take part in the Club's private celebration next August—or participate in their many other activities and benefits, please visit www.disneylandalumni.org and join today.
Here are some previous stories about Disneyland Alumni:
This article and photographs are copyright 2014 by Mark Eades, all rights reserved. Used by permission. Photographs supplied by subjects are used by permission, all rights reserved.