On November 1, 2013, legendary Disney Imagineer received the highest honor bestowed on any individual at Disneyland in Anaheim, California: a rare window on Main Street credit. Dotting Main Street, guests can see ornately decorated windows bearing peoples’ names and whimsical titles/artwork that pertain to the mark they have left on Disneyland and the Walt Disney Company as a whole. Without a doubt, Tony not only deserved this unique accolade – it is likely safe to say that he is the most iconic Imagineer that has touched the lives and helped shaped the enthusiasm of most of today’s Disneyland enthusiasts everywhere.
Tony Baxter has enjoyed a Disney career that is nothing short of fairy tale status, beginning when he was 17 years old as an ice cream scooper on Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland. He became an Imagineer, and went on to be part of some of the most beloved Disneyland attractions ever – Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Star Tours, and Indiana Jones Adventure Temple of the Forbidden Eye, just to touch the tip of the iceberg. Disneyland isn’t the only park that Tony has worked on; his magical touch is felt world-wide, from Epcot in Orlando to Disneyland Paris. To say that Tony Baxter is an Imagineering giant is a vast understatement. He was mentored and trained by the original masters of WED and in turn, has become a mentor to many young designers, preparing and teaching the next generation of dreamers and doers to strive for excellence and quality in all that they do and create.
Tony Baxter’s Disneyland Window Ceremony was a virtual who’s who of Disney history royalty, including such distinguished colleagues as Marty Sklar, Richard Sherman, and Bob Gurr. The love in the air for Tony was palpable and exciting; truly a magical morning at the Happiest Place on Earth. It was particularly moving to me that much of the focus was on the fact that fans everywhere adore Tony, and that he has moved into a very important mentoring role at Walt Disney Imagineering. The ceremony was full of laughter, a few lump-in-the-throat moments and absolutely the perfect way to celebrate this important moment in not only Tony’s own career, but in the Disneyland story itself.
My own journey with Tony Baxter began when I was a Cast Member at Disneyland in the late 1980s, as Splash Mountain was being built in Critter Country. Moving on from casual conversation, I got to know Tony on a more professional level when I launched Theme Park Adventure in 1994 and immediately began following the progress of Indiana Jones, which all of Adventureland was ripped up for during the attraction’s construction. Back in the day, whenever Tony would see me around the park, he was always more than gracious with his time, hailing me as “The Editor!” In those days, theme park fan magazines were few, and the Internet didn’t exist yet. There was no way to tweet that Tony was in the park, no way to “like” him on Facebook, and no way to Google his name to read up on who he was and what he’d accomplished to that point. I’d simply walk around the park with Tony and chat one on one with him about his life, his attractions and his own personal convictions about being a designer for Walt Disney Imagineering.
Once Indy opened, our friendship grew and two decades later, I found myself at his Window Ceremony on Main Street at Disneyland. Emotional? I’m surprised that I could even speak around the lump in my throat. To be in the crowd of extremely fortunate people able to witness this historical milestone in Tony’s career – is an honor that I will forever cherish. After the ceremony, there was a small Q&A session held for the media with Tony, and I found myself front and center. It was a surreal moment – I was there documenting the occasion as TPA, but when it comes down to it, I was there simply as a fan and long-time friend of Tony’s, watching one of my biggest heroes receive this beautiful accolade from the company that he so loves in the park where it all began for him. I had the opportunity to thank Tony as a fan first and foremost as the Q&A began, which was a special moment for me personally; I just so happened to have the camera rolling, and so I added that at the end of the ceremony video as a hidden cookie for those interested.
A very special thanks to another long-time friend of mine, Don Dorsey, who was in the crowd of distinguished guests; he snapped some photos of the media Q&A with Tony as I did my thing with the video camera. I had no idea he was there, capturing the moment with his camera – and I am so thrilled that he did! HUGE thanks to Don for indirectly helping me with content for this story – but more importantly, giving me some pictures of a moment that meant so very much to me personally. I love that.
I could go on for hours about what Tony Baxter means to so many people. Suffice it to say, Tony will always be the fans’ Imagineer, one of the closest things most of us ever have had to Walt Disney himself. His unapologetic love of the theme parks and for always pushing the envelope of quality, storytelling and adventure make him a hero to enthusiasts and inspiration to his peers and colleagues. He is, and always will be the quintessential Imagineer.
Theme Park Adventure is excited to see where Tony’s next chapter will take him. Wherever that may be, we’ll be there with him every step of the way just as we’ve been for the past 19 years. He’s got a whole lot more to give to this world, and I firmly believe that Tony is just getting started.
If you have comments or stories you’d like to share with fellow TPAers, please join in to the conversation below. We’d love to know how Tony’s projects have touched you and what various parks and attractions he’s worked on mean in your life as a Disney fan!
– Rick West