ORLANDO — The man widely believed to be the first Mickey Mouse at Walt Disney World has died.
Doug Parks of Gotha died Aug. 29. He was 60.
Disney officials would confirm he was an entertainment cast member, but would not say whether Parks was the first costumed Mickey Mouse at the Magic Kingdom when it opened in October 1971. His family, likewise, was reluctant to spoil the so-called Disney magic.
But a story and a picture of him at home that ran in the Orlando Sentinel in 1971 identified him as Disney World’s first costumed Mickey Mouse. He later trained two other substitute “mice.”
“Employer-erected barriers” made it difficult at the time to talk to Parks about his work at Disney, where his identity was protected, the article stated.
But his identity was recently revealed, yet again, on a Facebook page created in his memory.
“He wore the first pair of mouse ears when Disney World first opened in 1971,” states the Facebook page, which has about 270 fans.
The site was a place for those who knew Parks to leave a personal story or experience with Parks, who, it says epitomizes “the Walt Disney Philosophy.”
Under a picture of Roy Disney standing to next to Parks as Mickey Mouse, a Kissimmee woman wrote, “Doug you’ll always be Mickey Mouse to us!”
Elsewhere, another woman wrote, “this is and was his way of caring and giving his love to all of us ... Mickey Mouse.”
A small man, Parks stood 4 feet, 7 inches, the perfect size to play Mickey. Friends and family said Parks, a red-headed man who was a high school track star in upstate New York, was cheerful and animated. He was agile, too.
“He was a little fellow,” brother Ralph Parks said. Throughout his life, the most he weighed was 95 pounds. Regardless, his brother said, “He had a giant personality.”
“Little Douglas made it big,” Paul Field, a friend who managed theaters in New York, wrote in a letter to the family. Parks’ mother worked as a cashier at a theater.
The Parks boys were all musically talented. His brothers played the organ and trumpet, while Parks played a small guitar. But his fingers still were too small. He quit the guitar and moved on to model cars. Dozens of cars that he made — and remade — since he was 6 fill his home.
Besides his small stature, people recognized him for his grand humor. Known to crack Disney-related jokes, his motto was “that’s all rat” or “you will always be all rat” or just plain “all rat.”
Parks, who collected Disney memorabilia, worked elsewhere in the park during his 39 years with the theme-park company. He worked in the mailroom and was assigned to visit hotels on the resort’s property as a secret-shopper of sorts and write reviews on them.
He also worked at the theme park’s reservation center, where he scheduled trips for important people, Ralph Parks said.
“He talked to royalty at times,” he said.
But his favorite role at the theme park was playing Mickey Mouse. Early on in his career, he had a chance to travel as Mickey to introduce the park to the world. He went to South America and Canada, his brother said.
Parks, who was hired six months before the park opened, stood next to Roy Disney during the Magic Kingdom’s grand-opening.
“Often they would refer to Douglas as the mayor of Disney,” Ralph Parks said.
While they wouldn’t cite his role as the big-eared mouse, Disney officials did recognize his service and dedication to the theme park.
“For four decades, Walt Disney World was a better place thanks to Doug and his contributions,” Walt Disney World Resort President Meg Crofton said in a letter to his family. “He was an important part of our business of making dreams come true.”
Survivors also include his mother, Margaret, and brothers, Paul and Lowrey, who all still live in Central Florida.