Disneyana Fan Club’s Tower of Terror Backstage Tour…

Who doesn’t love Disney’s Hollywood Studios Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction? With its ominous presence at the foot of Sunset Boulevard, just beckoning you to enter, the thought of climbing into an elevator which will take you to the fringes of the Twilight Zone, this attraction is a mishmash of the Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain all rolled into one. Most of us know the basic premise behind the attraction. And the fact that it is allied with the Twilight Zone, perhaps one of the best Sci-Fi anthology series ever, makes it one of Disney’s most popular ride attractions.

So what could be better than a private, back-stage tour of this iconic attraction, where some amazing trivia and details could be gleaned from a personal guide? The fact that the host of this coveted tour was none other than Mr. Mark Silverman. That’s right, Mark Silverman the voice actor whose opening monologue in the pre-show of the attraction prepares us for the adventure ahead. Mark, who has an amazing voice talent of aping many known celebrities’ voices, was the clubs guest and host.  On this tour not only did Mark entertain us with many stories of himself and how he started mimicking voices, but the group had the chance to tour the maintenance facilities, get first-hand information on the how’s and why’s of the attraction, but we had a special tour of the Hotel Lobby, where we were able to get some amazing close-up pics of the props and some fascinating facts surrounding them.  And the topper of the day, the group got the chance to ride the attraction with the lights on! It was unreal and words cannot do it justice. But I have some pics that can do a better job.

Let’s start with Mark Silverman. The tour was slated to start around 11:15am; and as the members milled about, Mark arrived. He immediately began bantering about and telling us some amusing stories about how he started into voice acting. Mark is friendly, amusing and most of all, he went out of his way to make sure all of the many questions thrown his way were answered. He is a gentleman and everyone felt at ease with this celebrity. Mark told use that he had always loved the Twilight Zone and as a kid, watched every episode and would imitate Rod Sterling every chance he could. Another favorite of his was Don Adam’s Maxwell Smart of the Get Smart TV show. Mark also voices some of the pirates in the Magic Kingdom game, The Treasure of the Seven Seas. One of his most interesting parts was when he voiced the last two scenes in the movie “The Happiest Millionaire” starring actor Fred MacMurray. The scenes had no audio and no one else could portray the voice of Fred, but Mark did the job.

Another misconception is that the opening monologue on the TV in the library with Rod Sterling (Which is taken from the episode “It’s a good Life”) started after Rod Sterling says… This, as you may recognize, is a; and Rod will say map of the United States, then Mark takes over, but Mark does the whole voice-over himself. When many actors were sought for doing the Tower of Terror, Rod Sterling’s widow picked Mark’s voice as being the closest to Rod’s. Mark also told us a brief history of the attraction. In 1989, there was needed a thrill attraction for the park, a “Weenie” as Walt Disney would say to draw quests in. At first a haunted elevator was the first concept, but it was dropped. A rumor was that an Imagineer was watching a Twilight Zone Marathon and thought that the elevator and hotel should have a Twilight Zone theme. Originally, the hotel was to be a working Hotel, but that idea was shelved and eventually it morphed into the attraction we now know.

Here are some of the interesting facts we learned from the tour. In the maintenance room we got a first-and look at the ride vehicle close up and how it works. Our tour guide Justin was a knowledge warehouse for this attraction. Even though the attraction is 20 years old it is still one of the most technologically advanced ride systems in the world. There are 10 ride vehicles in all, called…ATGV’s or autonomous guided vehicles. As most know, there is no track and the cars traverse from up and down to horizontal. All this accomplished with radio transmissions from a wireless track system. Four sets of wires embedded in the ground along with magnets spaced in the ground that measure the distance the car goes, keeps things under control. For added safety a wire in the middle of the track is the “Go-NoGo” wire. If the signals are not correct, the vehicle stops.

The attraction has four elevator shafts and two queue lines. But unlike the two queue lines in Space Mountain, where if there is a glitch, both sides go down, the Tower of Terror has two independent queues; it can still use one queue line.  The timing of the elevators is in a constant loop. When the first elevator reaches the fifth dimension, and passes the large eyeball, the second car loads up and begins its ascent. Looking from Sunset Boulevard, the left side is labeled “Echo” and the right side, “Foxtrot”. The four shafts are labeled “Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta. More interesting data…There are a total of 13 floors totaling a height of 130 feet, the maximum you are “Dropped” The “Fifth Dimension” scene is actually on the fifth floor, and there are double stories in the attraction. And another quick bit of trivia…Most know of the Hidden Mickey that appears in the blast of lights as the doors to the elevator shaft open. That Mickey is only seen only on the doors on the right side. And there was to be a Restaurant in the attraction. Going past the gift shop as you leave, the two large doors on the right side would have been the entrance. But the fear of a fire is the most likely reason the idea was scrapped.

Another intriguing piece of information, in fact it was yours truly who asked the question, just how long is the hallway scene and how are the special effects done. There are four corridor scenes and all are built like a movie set. They are about 70 feet long and the lightning and “Ghosts” you see as well as the window breaking up at the end of the corridor are projections on special screens. More trivia, when the ride first opened, the vehicles had lap bars, like the Doom Buggies. The elevator cars are driven by two 1200HP induction motors; with an almost 2” thick cable that loops around the motors and a wheel below in a continuous line. It is these motors and cables that make the elevator “Drop” faster than the speed of gravity. There are also redundant cables for safety. And speaking of safety, the cars and equipment are maintained on a constant basis.

Some of the problems the attraction had were that some of the props somehow went “Missing”. Especially the prop book “To Serve Man” from the Twilight Zone episode of the same name. But measures were taken and those problems are fixed. As most know, the whole attraction has nods and references to many of the Twilight Zones many episodes. If you look to your right at the concierge’s desk, a billboard proclaims Anthony Fremont and his Orchestra, Anthony Freemont was the name of the boy in the episode “It’s a Good Life” the same one that Rod Sterling’s opening speech is in the library. If you look at the elevators, a small sign states that it was inspected by Cadwallader. This is the name of the devil in the episode “Escape Clause” The libraries are filled with such articles…Look at the far bookcase; you’ll see a trumpet from the episode “A Passage for Trumpet” starring Jack Klugman from the Odd Couple. Looking around on the top of the bookcases, you’ll notice the small spaceman from “The Invaders” starring Agnes Moorehead, from Bewitched fame. And let’s not forget the “Mystic Seers’  Devil’s head machine from the episode “Nick of Time” starring Star Trek’s William Shatner. And if anyone remembers the episode “Little Girl Lost” where a little girl falls out of bed into another dimension behind the wall, in Disneyland you can hear the little girl calling for help as you exit the elevator.

For the last part of the tour, the group visited inside the Hotel lobby. Our guide stated that this was the most unique part of the attraction, building up for the rest of the adventure. The backstory goes that on October 31st, 1939, during a violent storm, lightning struck the two hotel elevator towers, causing them to vanish and the five people in them also. In the melee, all the guests fled, leaving behind many personal things. You will notice that the clocks are stopped at 8:05pm, which adds up to 13!  All the furniture and props in the lobby are very old and were purchased in Southern California. Many are valued antiques. The chairs flanking the fireplace were purchased from the Johnathan Club in Southern California and are from 1921. The two small tables in the back are 19th century Renaissance tables. The one in the back is real; the other had to be duplicated. It cost more to duplicate than to buy the original. In the far rear table, you will see the remains of a private celebration. The couple left after the lightning strike, but there is lipstick on the glass, and the woman left her purse and gloves. The plates on the table are from the famous English Royal Dalton collection from the turn of the century.

The chairs, six in all, the remaining four are by the Mahjong table are actually 17th Century Portuguese Renaissance chairs that were purchased at an estate sale. They are very valuable. These types of chairs are found here, in Victoria and Albert’s and in the Orlando Metropolitan Resort. And even the Mahjong table’s game is accurate. The tiles were set up by professional Mahjong players, and the game can actually be continued if the players ever returned. And let’s not forget the special ride with the lights on! It’s a whole new take on the attraction, and you can see some of the stage and props, and just how complex this attraction is.

So you can see that this was a most interesting and informative tour. In addition to the above, we toured many of the corridors and other backstage areas. The Tower of Terror is indeed a must-ride at Walt Disney World and hopefully with some bit of the information here, the attraction will be even more amazing.

The Disneyana Fan club’s World Chapter holds many exciting tour and events for its members like this one. If interested in joining the World Chapter branch of the international organization… Mail the Disneyana Fan Club, Post Office Box 19212, Irvine, CA 92623-9212. Or call…Phone:  (714) 731-4705 or Email: [email protected]

 

 

About Bill Iadonisi

Bill has been a Disney lover since childhood. He has been researching and writing articles on WDW for the past 4 years, spends 3-4 days a week at the parks and collect's anything about Mickey Mouse!

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