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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.”