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Disney Summer Job Became 37-Year Photography Career

Photographer Renie Bardeau served as chief photographer and archivist of Disneyland at Anaheim, California until his retirement in 1998, a job he took by chance one summer in '59. He also shot the iconic portrait of Walt Disney on the last day he was seen at his beloved wonderland. Read more about Bardeau below.

In 1966, Walt had publicity photos taken with Mickey Mouse by Sleeping Beauty Castle on the Disneyland Fire Department Engine No. 1. Photo by Renie Bardeau via mickeyxtreme

“For many years, my fingernails were brown from the chemicals,” Bardeau told MousePlanet.

He one day went to Frontierland to shoot the mule ride and was extremely lucky to meet Walt Disney, who shook his hand and welcomed him to the park, that very day.

“Walt had a firm grip and a twinkle in his eye," Bardeau said.

That summer, he was assigned to take publicity photos of the opening of the new attractions for Tomorrowland, especially the Monorail, with Walt Disney and the Nixon family.

Inside the Monorail is Vice President Richard M. Nixon and his family. At top is broadcaster Art Linkletter and at right is Walt Disney. Photo via latimes

“To this day, that picture is still being used,” said Bardeau who took black and white photos using four-by-five Press cameras with film holders then.

“You had to reach into a big bag with your film, stick the holder in (the camera), pull out the slide, shoot your picture, stick the slide back in, change the flash bulb, turn the slide around, put it back in—fast. You had to do it fast or the moment of the picture would be gone,” Bardeau explained.

Another angle of the iconic last portraits of Walt Disney at Disneyland. Photo by Renie Bardeau via mashwatch

“There is a little story of when I was shooting that particular picture," Bardeau told the Los Angeles Times. “It was shot on a Rolleiflex, and there are 12 pictures on a roll. I had shot 11 pictures of Walt at different angles… watching for his smile, watching to make sure Mickey was looking the right way, making sure the castle spires weren’t hanging out of Mickey’s ears.”

“I had shot 11 pictures, and I had said, ‘Thank you, Walt, that’s it.’ He asked me if I was sure, and I told him I was. He then told me that at the Studio, we treat film like paper clips. You shoot, shoot, shoot all the film you need because if it’s not in the can, you will never have it. So he asked me to shoot one more. So, I shot one more and he said, ‘That’s fine, thank you, Renie,’ and he walked away.”

Such a coincidental conversation as it was said to be the last time Walt came to Disneyland.

A commemorative collage for the man who made the place where dreams come true, based on Bardeau’s photograph. Photo via mickeyextreme

Bardeau worked that summer and for several more until 1963 when he graduated. “One year became five, and five became 10, then 10 became 20 and so on,” Bardeau said.

Later on, Bardeau spent less time in the darkroom and more time in the park. He would have different assignments daily, photographing celebrities or new rides or fireworks.

He snapped photos of all sorts of personalities, from United States presidents, politicians, award-winning performers, famous athletes, royalty, and a host of foreign dignitaries, for press packets, Disney archives and in-house newsletters.

He also strolled the theme park capturing guests, workers, parades, and attractions for newspapers, magazines, souvenir guides, and advertising.

When Charlie Nichols retired in 1968, Bardeau replaced him as chief photographer.

Imagine working at such a magical and wonderful place where your job is to capture people enjoying themselves, which comes naturally as Disneyland is a world-famous and well-loved playground for children and children at heart.

Bardeau’s job was a mix of rainbows and rollercoasters. “This job is really an art and taxes your creative juices. How many ways can you photograph the Matterhorn and make it interesting? There is a way. I’m always looking for a different angle.”

He retired in July 1998 and received the highest and rarest honor awarded to Disneyland Cast Members: a window on Main Street, U.S.A. that reads: “Kingdom Photo Services – Magic Eye to the World – Renié Bardeau, photographer/archivist.”

written by denisesanjose

5 comments

  1. The other day on a news/music radio they were interviewing a photographer that was asigned to a park in Costa Rica and he said that digital and telephone cameras pressured their business, but he was able to put into college his children and that tourists were the only ones buying him pictures. So reading this interview makes me wonder what a golden age was this age of film photography and how important it is to document one's life with pictures!

    about 2 years ago · report as spam
  2. jhillfoto

    jhillfoto

    I worked with Renie at Disneyland for over 10 years when we were still shooting film...little does he know that I am back shooting film in the Lomo world...Renie was an inspiration to me as my boss for the time I freelanced at the park, I loved hearing his stories of how he Photographed the Great Disney and how he captured him walking through the castle one early morning....Renie is an incredible man!!
    about 2 years ago · report as spam
  3. denisesanjose

    denisesanjose

    @jhillfoto Wow that's great! Maybe you can post some of the photos you took at Disneyland back then? :-)

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  4. jhillfoto

    jhillfoto

    WISH I COULD POST SOME PHOTOS FROM THEN...DISNEYLAND WOULD NOT GIVE US ANY RIGHTS TO THE PHOTOS BACK IN THE 80'S OR 90'S UNDER CONTRACT WITH THEM...WHAT I HAVE IS SOUVENIR BOOKS THAT I WORKED MONTHS ON SHOOTING THE CASTLE, HAUNTED MANSION, PIRATES, JUNGLE CRUISE AND MAIN STREET...WE COULD ONLY HAVE PRINTED MATERIALS TO SHOW WHAT OUR WORK WAS...IT WAS A GREAT TIME IN MY CAREER TO FREELANCE THERE FOR 12 YEARS AND A DREAM OF MINE SINCE I WAS 14 AND PICKED UP MY FIRST CAMERA....PENTAX K1000....BEEN SHOOTING EVERSINCE AND HAVE HAD MY OWN PHOTOG BUSINESS FOR 26 YEARS...DISNEYLAND WAS A HUGE PART OF THAT...MUCH OF THE SHOOTS HAD TO BE DONE WHEN THE PARK WAS CLOSED...SO SPENT A NIGHT IN SPACE MOUNTAIN, PIRATES, AND HAUNTED MANSION...WAS A GREAT LEARNING TOOL FOR LIGHTING LARGE SETS..
    about 2 years ago · report as spam
  5. 110isnotdead

    110isnotdead

    Wonderful article. A tear came to my eye when I saw those last shots of Walt. It must have been amazing to capture those moments.

    over 1 year ago · report as spam