Like many of us, I was saddened to hear of the passing of Xavier or as we knew him "X," Atencio. He had raised a family that literally grew up with Disney as his daughter Tori will tell you. She too contributed so much in her career there and was very prolific in WED's Interiors department. Stunning career. X's presence in the parks writing the lyrics to the Disneyland attraction songs we have embedded in our minds like the "Yo, Ho- A Pirates Life for Me" or the "Grim Grinning Ghosts" will endure as long as those shows do. His voice echoes through the pirate caverns reminding us that "Dead Men tell no Tales." Ironically, X was the one living Imagineer who I recall telling those tales like there were. We can go on about accomplishments, but others have done that, I'd like to discuss his personality and why it mattered.
Disney Imagineering by it's nature, attracts all sorts of quirky artists, misfit engineers, writers and model builders from all over. In the early days it was a consortium chosen for the most part by Walt himself. They say opposites attract and they do when there is one name on the door that unifies them, Walt Disney. Still there are egos and sensitivities. Those sometimes opposing personalities generate great friction and to an extent Walt would competitively pit those personalities against each other by "casting" them to work together, hoping to drive each one to their best brink. The results speak for themselves. To that end, there were those who spoke their mind from the top of their head, telling it as they saw it, and in my interactions with X, he laid it on the line, but with a smile. Very refreshing, and you had to love it.
Keeping it Surreal
I attended Disney Legend John Hench's memorial service, where X broke ranks and brought near deification back down to earth. He was the only one that was warmly critical about how Hench drew Mickey Mouse, an honor that Hench carried on until he passed. "I never agreed with the way he drew Mickey Mouse," X stunned the crowd, then added "...but if it was good enough for Walt.." Laughter. His sting was never mean. He recalled that he and Herb Ryman (another cynically hilarious Imagineer) joked that "Mickey's EPCOT portrait had his hand cupped like he was waiting for a payoff." More laughs. Then after critiquing more of the art, he humbly asked John to forgive him. So as not to end in snark, X commented on how both of them felt about Walt and his passing, truly what united them. X gave context to his critiques with "John Hench was John Hench...It was Mickey Mouse according to Hench". True in that each of put a bit of ourselves into the Disney work. Good reminder.
Irreverence- The X Factor
X brought something very valuable beyond his talent to WED, it was "taking the air out of the balloon" that brings us all down to earth. The worst thing that can happen to a project is when it takes itself so seriously it no longer connects with it's audience. At WED, the talent was so strong there was the need for irreverence and keeping the focus on the fun the guest would have, not ourselves. Careers like X experienced took him unwittingly from animation to music, and into writing were great examples of a willingness to learn. When you are new to a field, you are humble, more open, as he was. His daughter Tori would look at me at times when I got over excited about thinking my latest idea was the greatest thing, when I was out of breath, she'd slowly flash a smile and say "Cool your jets, Eddie."
Today we all cool our collective jets in honor of X, a wonderful Imagineer.
Love to the family as well.