Prank Calling Eisner
When I worked at Disneyland, we had phone directories. They’re a lot like the phone books you get at home…a little smaller, but still substantial. If you needed to reach a particular person in he company, this was where you looked. And if you needed to call, say, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, their extension was listed in there too.
Extensions that we may need regularly (Control 1 [aka Communications], First Aid, etc) were easily available on lists as well as on our Cast Member Reference Guides which were published weekly.
(pardon me for editing out the last numbers - some of the park phones are easy to find, and I don’t want to encourage any guests dialing them).
Most of the phones don’t dial out, so you couldn’t order Pizza Hut or anything from in the park (though office phones can). However, Disney uses “tie lines” to reach other Disney properties. You’ll see above that most extensions start with (8-232) - that is the tie line for Disneyland. If you’re AT Disneyland, you don’t dial that, because you’re already there. But if you press 8, you tell the phone system to dial another property, and the next three numbers tell it which one.
Anyway, I was bored in the Balloon room one day when I was a Balloon Controller (meaning I was in charge of keeping the balloon vendors stocked and making sure they were in the right place at the right times for parades, fireworks, etc.), and I was looking up names that I knew in the book. Marty Sklar, Roy E. Disney, John Hench, people like that. I wouldn’t call any of them…they have an almost god-like status. I just thought it was cool to see their phone extensions in Burbank listed.
Then I looked up Michael Eisner. It had his extension and his company cell phone number listed.
Now, I was not a fan of Mike. This was also after he had made his comment that “trained monkeys” could do the job of a theme park employee.* I had seen him in the park several times, and he was always a jerk to cast members and to guests.
And now here I am, with his phone number in front of me.
It was probably 7:00 or 8:00 in the evening. I figured that if I called, nobody would answer. I was wrong. I dialed the tie-line for the corporate offices, hesitated, then typed in the four numbers of Eisner’s extension.
"Michael Eisner’s office, this is Beth, how can I help you?"
I hung up. Whoops. That wasn’t part of the plan. I figured I’d get a voicemail recording and that was it. I’d just really wanted to know what it sounded like.
One of my balloon productionists looked at me. “What’s the matter, Kenny?”
"I just called Michael Eisner and got an answer."
They went to the phone and saw the directory open, and dialed the number.
"Michael Eisner’s office, this is Beth, how can I help you?"
He hung up.
Then he went and told a few other people, who came in and did the same thing.
Yeah, it was dumb to have called. It was even dumber to let other people call.
After the fifth call, the phone rang on our end. “Balloon room, this is Kenny!”
"Hi, Kenny, this is Beth calling from Michael Eisner’s office. We’ve been getting several phone calls from this extension, but they’re all hang-ups. Do you know anything about that?"
"Umm…no, but I’ll be sure to put a stop to it."
"Thanks. Is there anything that you guys needed?"
"No, we’re doing OK, thanks."
"OK, have a good night, Kenny."
After that, I put the directory away and told everyone that play time was over.
But for a couple years, I had Eisner’s phone numbers on a piece of paper in my wallet. I never called it again, but knowing that I could was kind of fun.
In retrospect, I wonder how long Beth (I’m pretty sure I’m remembering her name right) was there. When I was a kid in the mid-80s, I wrote a letter to Michael Eisner asking if I could attempt to break the world record for the longest time on a roller coaster on Space Mountain (I think the record was four days or something back then, and I figured it would be easy…especially since you can take breaks in a record attempt).
I got a call back, and I think her name was Beth back then, too. She introduced herself as Michael Eisner’s secretary, and explained that I could not attempt to break the record at Disneyland because they would be unable to do nightly maintenance on the attraction.
I wonder if she would have remembered me if I’d mentioned it?
*To be fair to Michael, I’ve searched for an actual source for that comment for years now, and have yet to find it. He also denies saying it. It’s possible that he said it in passing at the park, and word got out…or it’s possible that he never said it at all.
Of course, he also went on Larry King Live and praised Michael Ovitz, just three months before he fired Ovitz (with a hefty severance package which raised many eyebrows). He also went on Larry King another time and said that Pirates of the Caribbean gets redone for Christmas every year (not true). This was well after this story, but I point it out to say that Eisner wasn’t always a man of his word…so I still take his denial with a boulder of salt despite not finding a source for it (I haven’t given up).
But this was in the pre-internet age, so I couldn’t just hop online to check back then. The quote is still used by cast members to this day, though, so whether it’s true or not, it has become part of the Eisner legacy. And to be unfair to Eisner, it’s how a lot of cast members felt that they were treated during his tenure regardless of whether he said it or not.
And who fires Roy Disney from the Disney Company, anyway?
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