Sam McKim inspired many a Disney film and theme park attraction with his imaginative drawings. But the actor-turned-artist is probably best known to Disney fans today as the creator of the Disneyland souvenir maps, issued between 1958 and 1964. Even today, his intricate and fascinating maps remain among the most sought-after pieces of Disney memorabilia. In 1992, Sam encored his cartographical genius when he created a new map in his unique style to commemorate the opening of Disneyland Paris.
Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, on December 20, 1924, Sam moved to Los Angeles with his family during the Great Depression. At 10, he was spotted by a casting director while visiting a relative at MGM and began work as a movie extra. He became a child actor under contract to Republic Studios, working in a slew of western serials and B-pictures; over the years he appeared alongside Hollywood legends such as Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, Rita Hayworth, and Gene Autry.
But even then, Sam had a knack for art. He later recalled, “I was always drawing something or other. I’d draw caricatures of the actors and they would sign them for me.”
During high school he submitted some of his drawings to The Walt Disney Studios and was offered a job in the traffic department, with an explanation that “the breaks would happen… later.” Instead, Sam enlisted with the United States Army where he served in the American Infantry Division during World War II. Upon his return stateside, he enrolled at Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles and graduated in 1950; the day after his graduation he was drafted into the Korean War. After serving 14 months, during which his decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross, he returned to the United States and attended Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles.
In 1953, Sam found himself having to decide between accepting a role in renowned director John Ford’s The Long Gray Line or a job with 20th Century Fox making story sketches for films. He happily accepted the latter, because “working behind the camera was what I really wanted to do.”
After layoffs at Fox in 1954, Sam joined Disney to create inspirational sketches for Walt’s new theme park, Disneyland. Among his first sketches was Slue Foot Sue’s Golden Horseshoe Revue in Frontierland.
He later contributed to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Carousel of Progress, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Haunted Mansion. Eventually, every land at the Park benefited from Sam’s magic touch.
Sam also contributed to Florida theme park attractions such as the Magic Kingdom’s The Hall of Presidents and Universe of Energy in Epcot Center. Sam also developed inspirational sketches for the Disney-MGM Studios.
From time to time, Walt also asked Sam to storyboard Disney films. Among his projects were Nikki, Wild Dog of the North, Big Red, Bon Voyage, and The Gnome Mobile. He also developed storyboards for episodes of Disney’s television series Zorro.
Sam McKim passed away on July 9, 2004, in Burbank, California.