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Disney Imagineer McKim Dies

Sam McKim, the legendary Disney Imagineer who drew the first souvenir maps of Disneyland in 1954, died of heart failure on July 9, 2004 at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank. He was 79 years old. In addition to his Disney career, McKim started out as a child actor who appeared in films with John Wayne, Spencer Tracy, James Cagney, Rita Hayworth and Gene Autry.

Commenting on McKim's passing, Marty Sklar, vice-chairman/principal creative exec for Walt Disney Imagineering, said, "Sam's early sketches for Disneyland's Main Street and Frontierland are inspirational to Imagineers -- among the very best ever drawn for Walt Disney theme park attractions. He was the quintessential researcher; you always knew he would dig out the real gems for our stories, especially for historical subjects. He had incredible talent and was as fine a gentleman as you would ever want to know."

McKim joined WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering) as an illustrator in 1954, six months before the opening of Disneyland. His initial assignments included sketches for attractions, shops and restaurants for Main Street and Frontierland, including the Golden Horseshoe Revue. His early work as a Disney artist also touched several of the Studio's films, including ZORRO, JOHNNY TREMAIN, THE SHAGGY DOG, THE GNOME-MOBILE and NIKKI, WILD DOG OF THE NORTH.

He went on to play a key role at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, for which he contributed sketches for all four Disney attractions ("Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," "It's a Small World," "Carousel of Progress" and "Magic Skyway.") His paintings also helped introduce the public to the "Haunted Mansion" and the Monorail at Disneyland, and the "Hall of Presidents" at the Magic Kingdom. Later, his artwork contributed to the story development of Epcot pavilions, including the Universe of Energy, and Disney-MGM Studios, including "The Great Movie Ride."

John Hench, the late great Disney Imagineer who passed away earlier this year, once observed of McKim, "Sam was the greatest to work with. He loved Disney, and his enthusiasm was always contagious. Once he got involved in anything, no matter how problematic, you always knew everything was going to be okay. If I ever needed to hear the truth about something, I always went to Sam."

Born in Canada on December 20, 1924, McKim came to Los Angeles as a young boy and became a child actor. He even auditioned for the voice of Pinocchio in the 1930s. After serving in the U.S. Army in World War II, McKim enrolled in Art Center College of Design. The day after he graduated, he was called back to the Army to serve in Korea, where he earned several medals and honors, including the Distinguished Service Cross and the Bronze Star. Upon returning to the States, he took acting roles as well as advanced art classes at the Chouinard Art Institute.

McKim recalled, "John Ford offered me a supporting lead in THE LONG GRAY LINE with Tyrone Power, Maureen O'Hara and Ward Bond. Would you believe I turned it down to become an artist? I started at 20th Century Fox, then moved to Disney for a temp job, and didn't leave until I retired 32 years later."

Following his retirement from Imagineering in 1987, McKim remained connected with WDI and Disney. In addition to appearances at Disney fan events and consulting work, his two sons both worked for Disney -- Matt for Imagineering, and Brian for Feature Animation. He also continued to be active in the arts. His work can be found in the U.S. Air Force and L.A. County Sheriff Department Collections, as well as in private collections.

McKim is survived by his wife, Dorothy; son Matt; son Brian and his wife, Dorothy, and their two children, Tyler and Natalie. A graveside service will take place July16 at 2:30 at Pierce Brothers Valhalla (10621 Victory Boulevard) in North Hollywood. A memorial service will follow at 4:30 at First Christian Church of North Hollywood (4390 Colfax Ave.) in Studio City. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in McKim's name to the American Heart Association (Gift Processing Dept., 1710 Gilbreth Road, Burlingame, California 94010 or online at

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