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Disney Legend Harrison 'Buzz' Price passes away at age 89

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Published: August 16, 2010 at 4:09 AM

Just got word of the passing of Disney Legend Harrison 'Buzz' Price, the consultant who helped select the sites for Disneyland, Walt Disney World and who contributed to just about every other major theme park project in industry history.

Buzz Price

Harrison Price was born May 17, 1921 in Oregon City, Oregon. He graduated from CalTech in 1942 and earned his MBA from Stanford in 1951. He began his career with Standard Research that same year, eventually working with Walt Disney on many Economic Feasibility Studies, including the ones that would lead Walt to site Disneyland in Anaheim and Walt Disney World just south of Orlando, Florida.

"In 1961, after rejecting some other alternatives, Walt asked us to look at the rest of Florida and figure out where the park should be," Price wrote. "Late in 1963, we studied in-depth a location in central Florida. The key conclusion was that central Florida, (not Miami as most people expected it would be) was the main point of maximum interception of Florida tourism, and that Orlando, centrally located, was the point of maximum access to the southerly flow of Florida tourism from both the east and west shores of the state."

At Walt's suggestion, Price launched Economic Research Associates [ERA] in 1958, which he sold in 1969. (Fans will know that firm as the folks behind the annual theme park attendance report.)

Walt Disney, with CV Wood and Buzz Price
Walt Disney, C.V. Wood, Jr. and Harrison “Buzz” Price share plans for what would become Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

Price also worked with Universal, SeaWorld, Six Flags and Busch Gardens theme parks over years, conducting an estimated 3,000 feasibility studies for his clients. He was named a Disney Legend by the company in 2003, despite not having worked for the company as an employee.

In addition to assisting in theme park planning and development, Price took a leading role in the creation and management of Walt's school, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), which opened in Valencia three years after Walt's death. Price eventually served as Chairman of the Board at the school.

"Few people have created the opportunities for learning and training young talent in the arts as Buzz Price did," Marty Sklar, retired Vice-Chairman of Walt Disney Imagineering, said in a statement. "Whether we are film, theatre or theme park fans, we should all thank our lucky stars that Walt Disney had a 'numbers man' who loved music, art and poetry."

"When we formed Ryman Arts 20 years ago to honor Herb Ryman," Sklar (also president of Ryman Arts) continued, "our co-founders were Walt’s daughter Sharon Disney Lund, Herb’s sister Lucille Ryman Carroll, and Buzz and Anne [Price, Buzz's wife]– the true rocks in the Foundation’s foundation. Their wisdom and experience – and passion for growing young artists, as they had their own children – all four working artists – were indispensable, So many people, so many projects, so many organizations owe these selfless role models so very much."

I met Price in person at the IAAPA convention last fall. (That's where I took the photo at the top of this post.) I'd studied statistics in college and eagerly lapped up his autobiography, with its detail on the feasibility studies used to set the direction of so many great theme park developments over the years. (He was spot-on about Six Flags' problems over the past decade, too. PR people and executives might spin a tale, but if you can get down to the numbers, they never lie.) My favorite Price quote to live by? "Guessing is dysfunctional. Ignoring prior experience is denial. Using valid numbers to project performance is rational."

Price died at 5:25 pm Sunday in Pomona, California. He is survived by his wife, four children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Here's a video on Buzz Price's work, sent to me by a representative from BRC Imagination Arts, the design firm run by Buzz's friend Bob Rogers:

Here's more Theme Park Insider coverage of Buzz Price:

Readers' Opinions

From Joshua Counsil on August 16, 2010 at 5:29 PM
R.I.P.

Great video.

Buzz is the epitome of engineer. He starts in engineering and advances to management. Although I haven't read any of his works, you can tell he's a bright man.

Thanks for paying tribute. It's nice to see a mechanical engineer honoured for his qualities. Many people want to work at Disney as a ride designer of some variety. They see the end product and want to be part of the process. That's a terrific thing. The problem is that they don't understand the insufferable frustration of engineering, management, and/or economics training and education that goes into these positions. It's not all fun, games, and magic. Buzz was clearly a testament to that.

From Rob P on August 17, 2010 at 4:29 AM
We owe a debt of thanks to Buzz for his contributions to the Disney projects since it all began. He can be proud of the legacy he has left us all.

A sad loss and our commiserations to his family.

From Wok Creative on August 17, 2010 at 9:29 PM
Great article and video. He did so many huge things for this industry. I had the privilege of writing some of the words that he spoke during the THEA Awards a couple of years ago.

Truly a great man and an asset to the themed entertainment world. He will be missed.

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