DEAD Memories: Chris Peterson & Rick Feck

Photo diptych: a portrait of Rick Feck and a "portrait" of an upright piano
Rick Feck, Piano Warehouse, Colorado Springs. Photos: Caitlin McBride / Colorado Collective

Rick Feck

I’m looking through Caitlin McBride’s elegant photos of Rick Feck with his robust beard, and all the glorious pianos at his Piano Warehouse in Colorado Springs. It’s hard to imagine that this is the same Rick Feck who, a quarter century ago, used to work on events with me at the Disneyland Entertainment Art Department (D.E.A.D.). Once during a small break in a long day, he sat at a piano in the Disneyland Entertainment Rehearsal Hall, , looked up from the keys, and said,

Call me Cleophous, The Marsupial.

And another day, when DEAD went to Souplantation for lunch, Rick looked around and asked,

Do they serve meat food here?

Another decade before that he was the kid in the original Tron film who responded to the question, “Where’s Flynn?

Line graphic of the band Eggplant
Eggplant & The Bean, 1988, art: Jeff Beals

Chris Peterson

You know the cliche of the conservative parents who have the hippie kids? In the late 80’s the TV show Family Ties reversed that cliche. The hippie parents had the conservative son, Alex P. Keaton, played by Michael J. Fox. Chris Peterson was a sort of Alex P. Keaton. Whenever I’d get in a car or van with Chris, Rush Limbaugh would be on the radio. Apparently, like Alex Keaton, Chris had “hippie parents” but wound up swaying a different way.

Chris was also “The Bean” in Eggplant and The Bean. As The Bean, Chris, as tall or taller than my 6’2″, would dress from head to toe in a green suit and be a sort of plant-based go-go dancer for Jeff Beals’ band Eggplant.

Broadcast Art

At some point during my 5-year tenure at DEAD, I became the Broadcast Art Director. If there was a television or radio project at Disneyland, I was the art director for it. I’m not sure if I ever really knew why this happened. And if I did, I’ve forgotten. I don’t think it was because I was a film school drop out. Maybe it had something to do with my chafing a little more than average at Disneyland Entertainment (and Marketing) Art Department, Senior Managing Art Director, Clare Graham’s micromanagement style. Or maybe it was that Clare just thought I wasn’t very good and so it was convenient to assign me to the stuff he cared the least about. However it came to pass, it was mutually convenient. I had my own, very tiny world, and Clare didn’t have to think about the projects he was least interested in.

For pretty much every broadcast project I worked on, Chris, or Rick, or both, were my assistants.

You couldn’t load show elements into The Park while there were guests, so we typically had call times of midnight or 2am to install elements for an event. IDK if it was because I was such a crummy art director, or the vagaries and unexpected contingencies of live television, or both, but we always seemed to need some last minute element.

Compared to the complex and glorious parade floats, and later Broadway shows, that Stanley Meyer designed, the work we did was pretty simple. Still, when it’s 4am and you need something for a national press conference in a couple of hours, even small things can be urgent, and even small things can be hard to find or make at 4am.

The thing about Chris & Rick, beyond being nice guys who were fun to hang out with, was that they were really resourceful and really determined. Of all the projects I worked on with them, of all the obscure things I asked them to go find in the middle of the night, they never once came back empty-handed.

KBeach Radio

I thought about Chris & Rick recently. During at event at KBeach, the campus radio station at CSU Long Beach, where I teach Art. I used to have an arts interview show, Strange Angels on KBeach. One day the radio station General Manager (GM) asked one of his Assistant Station Managers (ASM) to go up to Carl’s Jr. and get ice for an event we were having. In the same CSULB University Student Union (USU) building where the radio station is located, there’s a food court that includes a Carl’s Jr., and our Station GM had an arrangement with the Carl’s manager for ice from time to time.

Half hour or an hour later the ASM returned and said that she couldn’t get ice because the ice bucket was missing. The GM was livid. He probably cussed her out too much. But it was also a moment to remember all the things Chris & Rick had dug up over the years at Disneyland.

What I can tell you is that if you’d asked Chris or Rick for ice, the chances of them coming back without ice would be zero. What sort of ice you’d get might vary. They might have found something really nice to put it in. Or they might have covered a cardboard box with a trash bag. But they’d have found a way.

If the Carl’s Jr. ice machine had been broken, they’d have gone over to El Pollo Loco and negotiated some sort of ice deal with them. If the power to the entire USU had been out and all the restaurants had been closed, they would have roamed the university campus until they discovered that there was an ice machine in the basement of the Biology Building, and they’d have found some way to get ice from them. I have no idea where they might get ice from or what kind of funky container it might arrive in. The only thing I can tell you is that neither Chris, nor Rick, would have ever come back without ice.

Collage poster of photo cut-outs of many Disneyland Artists
Olive Street facility & other D.E.A.D. peeps. Circa 1990. Artist… ?

Apologies to Morry

Sometimes what we needed for a DEAD Broadcast event was something Chris & Rick could find at DEAD’s offsite Olive Street warehouse. They might find a prop or use a table saw to modify an old logo and make something new.

Other times we might suddenly need shade for a guest or camera shot and they’d roam the park’s backstage to find something. Sometimes this involved “borrowing” things that belonged to other departments. Sometimes someone, like Disneyland Decorating supervisor Sebastian Moreno, would call later in the day to cuss me out because your guys took our stuff!

I loved getting cussed out by Morry!

I loved it partly because Morry was a really nice guy who could never actually cuss you out. It was more like mutually sharing his exasperation at being caught between a fake rock and a plaster coated I-beam. But the big thing was that if Morry was cussing me out at noon, for some Decorating stuff that Chris & Rick had borrowed at 4am, it meant that the 6am broadcast had gone off well. A scolding phone call hours later was a pretty small price to pay for Chris & Rick’s ingenuity at pulling off a successful event.

The Ability to Make Things Happen

When you look at the magnitude and magnificence of the work that other art directors, like Stanley Meyer, Scott Sinclair, Tom Butsch, Will Sturrock, all the Steves (Davison, Nelson, Bass) and so many others created, our Broadcast achievements were awfully small.

Still, in the past 11 years I’ve taught 4,431 students at Long Beach State University, mostly freshmen & sophomores, and I’m sure 4,000 of them couldn’t find an ice bucket at a radio station or an umbrella in a pony farm. (the DEAD “Rehearsal Hall” office was located next to the Disneyland Pony Farm) Maybe a student in school isn’t the same as an employee collecting a paycheck, but I’ve seen so many people who’s internal instruction set seems to be:

proceed until something unanticipated, then stop

Chris & Rick must have had internal instruction sets that were more like:

proceed until goal is achieved.

It’s a small thing.
And a big thing.

I haven’t known all that many people who possessed what Chris & Rick did.

It was a joy to work with them.