Saturday, July 26, 2008

Harriet Burns 1928 - 2008

Born in 1928 just a few months before Mickey Mouse debuted in Steamboat Willie, Harriet Burns would go on to be a pioneer of Disney entertainment in so many ways and on so many levels. She passed away on Friday, July 25, and leaves behind a rich and varied creative legacy.

A Texas native, Burns was educated in art and design before moving to Los Angeles in 1953. She designed sets and props for The Colgate Comedy Hour, interiors for a number of Las Vegas hotels and was integral in the creation of the southern California tourist attraction Santa's Village near Lake Arrowhead.

Burns was hired by the Disney Studios in 1955 as an artist and designer for the then brand new Mickey Mouse Club program. Among her more notable creations for the show was its iconic Mickey Mouse Clubhouse set piece. Jeff Kurtti notes in his upcoming book Walt Disney's Imagineering and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park:

Burns also contributed, along with art director Bruce Bushman and concept designer Roy Williams, to the decidedly modern, graphic styling of the show. At the same time as Walt Disney’s art designs were beginning to be classified in the eyes of the intellectuals as traditional and homogenized, Disney’s designers continued to experiment with bold new stylistic initiatives. “Well, [Walt] wanted a variety. We did wild things for that period; we had various props and backgrounds that were fun and lighthearted. We often used a Steinberg 4 art style. And he dug that. It seemed really amazing because he had a lot of ‘Victorian’ and ‘Main Street’ in his background.”

Burns joined WED shortly thereafter, the first woman to enter the ranks of the early Imagineers. She, along with Wathel Rogers and Fred Joerger, became the nucleus of WED's original model shop. Among her more notable contributions in those early days of Imagineering were the amazing and highly detailed miniature set pieces of Disneyland's Storybook Land attraction. She would go on to work on a wide variety of projects over a career with Disney that would extend past three decades. She contributed notably to other theme park designs including the Matterhorn, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion and the Enchanted Tiki Room. Her skills also helped bring to realization many of the Disney-designed attractions for the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. Burns retired from the Walt Disney Company in 1986. She was honored as a Disney Legend in 2000.

Images © Walt Disney Company

3 comments:

KINGCRAB said...

This news is so sudden. :'(

Ms. Burns was a wonderful lady. May she rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

She will be remembered for years and years to come. Bless you Harriet.

Rebecca Eichler said...

harriet was my great aunt and one of the most loving and wonderful people i ever knew. Even until the day that she dies, she has a love for disney that is unmatched. She is not only a Disney legend, but a role model for many generations to come!