Remembering Harriet Burns
Harriet Burns holds a special place in Disney history. She earned the distinction of being the first woman hired to Walt Disney Imagineering in a creative capacity. She also became the first woman given a window on Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland. In honor of International Women’s Day, here are a few facts about this remarkable Disney Legend.
1. San Antonio
Burns was born in San Antonio in 1928, but grew up in Seguin, Texas (about 35 miles to the East).
2. The Goldfish
As a young girl, Burns had a pet goldfish. Burns named the fish “Tackaonsitgo Popeye-Gotsinyammar Cockapinany-Kasuzyanna-Karachi Dianashey- Brianashey Jickalicky-Jackaboney Christianna- Mor”. Eagle eyed readers might note that the first name of the fish is “go sit on a tack” backward.
Burns father told her that he would not pay for her college unless she majored in home economics. According the Burns’s granddaughter, she agreed and then promptly changed her degree after getting to school. She eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in art from Southern Methodist University and then studied advanced design at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
4. Dice Display Industries Cooperative Exchange
After moving to Los Angeles in 1953, Burns began work at Dice Display Industries Cooperative Exchange. While working for Dice, she designed props for the Colgate Comedy Hour on NBC. She also designed the interiors and sets for a variety of Las Vegas hotel floor shows.
5. The Mickey Mouse Club
Dice went out of business in 1955 and Burns joined Disney designing sets for the Mickey Mouse Club. She also designed and built the “Mouse Clubhouse”. Despite regularly working in the shop with power tools, Burns was known for being a snappy dresser. Talking of those days, Burns later said:
“I wore color-coordinated dresses, high heels, and gloves to work. Girls didn’t wear slacks back then, although I carried a pair in a little sack, just in case I had to climb into high places.”
6. WED Enterprises
Burns was eventually moved to WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering). As an Imagineer, Burns helped create Sleeping Beauty Castle, The Haunted Mansion and New Orleans Square, helped build Storybook Land, and designed the Tiki Room’s Audio Animatronic birds. She worked as a figure finisher on Pirates of the Caribbean, helped design figurines for the Submarine Voyage, and designed the models of the Matterhorn Bobsleds Attraction.
7. 1964 World’s Fair
Burns was part of the team Disney assembled for the landmark 1964 World’s Fair, which served as a precursor to Disney’s coming “Florida Project”. Burns worked on Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln and the Carousel of Progress.
8. Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color
Walt featured Burns on a number of episodes of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, using her to help introduce new park Attractions.
9. Main Street Window
She retired from Disney in 1986. In 1992, Disney honored her by placing her name on one of the window advertisements on Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland. Her window reads, “The Artisans Loft, Handmade Miniatures by Harriet Burns”.
10. Disney Legend
Disney named Burns a Disney Legend as part of the class of 2000.