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More About Honorifics

Yesterday’s post generated a surprising number of comments, considering I didn’t once mock the PA Bootcamp.

Readers proposed several theories regarding the Sir/Mr. dichotomy, but here’s one I didn’t think about until late last night– it’s all Walt Disney’s fault.

Back in film school, our stage manager (and my old boss), Herb, was a retired electric.  (This was the same guy who told me that film school professors are either too old to hack it in the industry any more, or, if they’re young, never will.)

Herb liked to tell the story of how he met Walt Disney.  He was working on The Wonderful World of Disney as a lamp operator.  (The office you saw in the show was actually a replica of Disney’s real office, upstairs.  It was so exact that the set decorators purchased books of the very same edition as the ones in the real office.)

Anyway, Herb was told to roll a big lamp from one side of the stage to the other.  And back then, “big” was big, like five feet in diameter.  So, he’s pushing this huge light, still hot from lighting the previous scene, but his path is blocked by Walt Disney himself, talking with one of the producers.

Now, there’s no other way around with this giant light, so Herb says, ever so politely, “Excuse me, Mr. Disney.”

Walt Disney whirls around, rises up to his full height (he was a tall guy), and screams at the top of his lungs, “WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?

The crew froze.  The head of the studio just screamed at someone.  Herb shrunk back as far as he could, thinking, Great.  First day on the job, and I’m fired.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Disney, it’s just that, this light needs to go over there, and there’s no other way to get there, and I didn’t want to burn you, so-“

“What’s your name, son?”

“Herbert Hughes, sir.”

“What do your friends call you?”

“Herbie.”

“Let me tell you something, Herbie.  There are only two misters on this lot– Mr. Toad and Mr. Lincoln.  You call me Walt, and I’ll call you Herbie.”

So Herb kept his job.  In fact, he went on to be the head of the lighting department at Disney Studios.

And that’s why I think this whole nobody-calls-me-“mister” thing is Walt Disney’s fault.

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6 Responses

  1. So in other words, if you are new to the business and come across someone high up on the food chain you should call them Mister/Miss in order to get noticed and be given a job working for them on a regular basis? Or do you think they would remember you better if you just called them Sir?

  2. That’s a great story, but a young Herbie wouldn’t have that job at Disney today — the studio sold off all their lighting equipment a few years ago, closed the lamp dock, and let all those employees go. All they have left are a few old generators named after the Seven Dwarfs. Last time I worked there, we ended up with “Grumpy.” Everything else — lamps, cable, distro — came in from an outside equipment rental house.

    Despite the smiling, avuncular, family-friendly image presented by Walt Disney, his namesake studio is the last place anybody in town wants to work for. Disney productions have long been famous for grinding their crews down to the lowest possible wage, a practice they continue on the much-abused crew of “Greek.”

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