In the late 1970s, as the nation watched the skyrocketing success of a “wild and crazy” young comic named Steve Martin, few were aware that many elements of his unforgettable, inspired, and iconic comic repertoire had their beginnings inside the berm of Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
“The arrow-through-the-head was a thing we used to sell at Disneyland,” Martin recalled. “It was just so silly. It was like anti-comedy.”
Steve was born on August 14, 1945, in Waco, Texas. When he was 5, his family moved to Inglewood, California. Five years later, they moved again. “We moved into a tract house two miles from Disneyland,” Steve once said.
From the age of 10 to 18, Steve worked at the Park after school, on weekends, and during the summer. First he sold guidebooks at the gate, then souvenir spinning lassos in Frontierland.
“The ropes were hard to sell,” he recalled. “I had to wear a Western costume, cowboy shirt, hat. I did a little bit of that in Three Amigos!”
Then Steve spent three years at the old Merlin’s Magic Shop in Fantasyland. There, he sold and demonstrated the packaged magic tricks and practical joke items on sale. He learned all the tricks, and collected all the jokes, writing down every gag. “I knew every nook and cranny of the shop,” he recalls.
He learned to juggle from the Park’s court jester, Christopher Fair; Wally Boag, the Golden Horseshoe headliner, was another Steve Martin influence. “I watched Wally’s show many, many times,” he once said. “He was the first live performer I ever saw. I mostly remember Wally’s performing style,” Steve said. “It was fresh, sassy, and very clean. Watching his comic timing was a very big influence on my own career.”
Steve also worked with a woman from the South whose favorite phrase of exasperation was “Well, excuse me for living.” “I abbreviated it to, ‘Well, excuuuuuuse me.’ The phrase caught on with people and became independent of the bit that went before.”
Steve’s career since his cast member experience—in live performance, recordings, film, television, stage, and as an author and playwright—are well known. He has returned to Disney for several film projects, including Father of the Bride and Fantasia 2000, and Bringing Down the House. Steve co-starred with Donald Duck in the special film made for golden anniversary of the Park, Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years. In 2005, Touchstone released Shopgirl, starring Steve, and based on his novella. And once in a while he still goes to Disneyland.
“Recently I went back in a disguise. I dyed my hair brown and wore a brown mustache. It’s not that people mob me on the streets; but Disneyland can be very tough, and I don’t like being stared at or yelled at.”