No, I'm not. I have been adamantly opposed to the idea from the beginning. Yesterday when I arrived at work, photocopied "posters" announced a briefing of the project to be held this Friday. Featured in the middle of the posters was a dancing, smiling Mickey sporting cowboy hat, boots, and six-shooters. In French and English was written something like, "Come one and all to this meeting where you can ask everything you wanted to know about Mickey in the Wild West Show... but were afraid to ask!"
I became instantly physically ill, which surprised me. Honestly. I felt as though I were going to vomit. That sounds overly dramatic but it's true. I guess up to that moment I'd been able to convince myself that we might be able to avoid the whole project, but seeing it in print, in such a matter-of-fact form, hit me hard in the gut.
When I was invited last week to portray "Buffalo Bill" in a photo shoot to take place tomorrow (a day before the briefing, interestingly enough) for the massive poster campaign for the "Mickey Stars in the Wild West Show for One Year Only" event, I flatly declined, not wanting my image to be part of what I felt was an absurd and ridiculous idea that disrespected the reputation of one of America and the world's greatest legends. Since the other full-time Buffalo Bill is out on extended sick leave, I suggested they ask an understudy to take the photo instead.
During the course of yesterday evening I overheard management asking guys if they'd like to volunteer as cowboys or Indians in the shoot. Many hesitated - this wasn't what they felt they'd signed up for. I took the liberty of writing the following on the marker board for all to see:
Congratulations to those participating in the "Mickey in the Wild West Show" photo shoot! Your image will be seen by MILLIONS and will FOREVER be remembered as the "Poster Child" for this momentous event.And I meant it. I didn't want to have anything to do with the project and I didn't want to be associated with it or the show anymore in my personal life. I vowed to cut my hair and shave, and wear wig and glue-on facial hair for the show.
YEE-HAW!! (crude drawing of a Mickey Mousse head)
As for me: I'm cutting my hair and shaving. - BBill
Several of the guys approached me and voiced their approval of the marker board message. Management invited me for a chat.
I told them that I fully understood the attractiveness of the concept from a marketing and business perspective and agreed that it would probably be an excellent use of the show for Disney's business strategy, but the idea made me feel physically ill. I told them I felt I was betraying the reputation of the man who I feel so honored to represent and I was betraying my own heritage, my own culture, my own people. I would dutifully go along with whatever changes they made to the show but I didn't want my face eternally representing Buffalo Bill next to Mickey Mouse on a poster. I had my career to consider and my image to protect.
They argued that Mickey Mouse is unique among Disney Characters. He's distinguished, an ambassador not just for Disney but for the United States. Mickey meets with dignitaries in countries throughout the world, who embrace his presence. I pointed out I'm not a dignitary, I'm an actor portraying a legend, and this is Mickey as an actor in "my" show, not Mickey at a photo shoot for a press event. Nothing against Mickey, but the difference is important.
We discussed the specific composition of the photograph that will be the poster and how Mickeys' costume will reflect the look and spirit of the Distinguished Western Gentleman and won't be the dorky cowboy outfit on the announcement. We discussed the way Mickey will be integrated on stage and how he will interact, or not, with Buffalo Bill.
I said I had not just my own future and reputation to consider but those of my children and grandchildren, etc, since this image will last forever. They suggested I ask my children what they thought.
In a previous discussion the director pointed out that Mickey and Buffalo Bill are characters that transcend time and space. Mickey appears next to George Washington as easily as George Bush. He suggested if Mickey and Buffalo Bill were contemporaries, Buffalo Bill would have Mickey in his show if he could. Considering Buffalo Bill's final appearances were as a guest star in the Floto Circus, perhaps this is true.
I mulled this over all night and to be honest I still feel queasy, but a few things made me finally agree to participate in the photos:
1. The photo shoot will take place regardless of whether I am a part of it or not, and I am hired to play Buffalo Bill in Disney's production of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Although not specifically in my job description, participating in the marketing campaign is not an unreasonable thing for management to expect from me. And the alternative, an understudy representing the show, wouldn't be right.There's nothing left to do now but embrace the idea and make the best of it we can. So without further ado, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls.. I am honored to present to you my distinguished guest for 2009, MICKEEEYY MOOOUUUSE !!! ... "
2. My boys, though already 9 and 11, were thrilled with the idea of me being on a poster with Mickey Mouse.
3. Buffalo Bill was known for having great affection for children and it's conceivable he would have loved the idea of featuring a character appealing directly to children, especially if he thought it would improve revenues. He may have been concerned it has nothing to do with the Wild West but if the money were right and the concept was developed well enough, he may well have embraced it anyhow.
4. "Career?" "Image?" What career and image? What, am I going to shave my face and strut into Hollywood, a 41+ years old average-looking Joe with 14 years in the SAME SHOW in Disney Village and become a big star? Get real. This is my career and my image. It's what I do, and I do it well. And it's a great gig. Prolonging the show is in my best interest and this could prolong the show's run.
5. If done properly the project could enhance the image and reputation of both the show and the Buffalo Bill character among Disney's core demographic, which is a good thing for my career (see #4). With Mickey's reputation also at stake, this has a good chance of being done properly.
6. Some guys expressed deep regret that an understudy, rather than I, would represent the show and consequently them. Forcing them to endure deep regret would be selfish on my part. For peace of mind of my cowboy and Indian friends, I'll sacrifice my image and accept the burden of risking regret.