The Importance of Dreaming Together: Meet a Cast Member Couple from Early Disney

Few couples can say that their marriage is a true Disney happily ever after. For R.J. and Suzanne Ogren with their combined 18 years of experience working alongside Mickey Mouse, they can.

During the early days of Walt Disney World, accomplished artist R.J. Ogren worked for the theme park as a management artist with the audio-animatronics on various rides. His job included maintaining the figures within the Magic Kingdom with repairs by replacing the skins and furs, painting them with acetone-based paints, and fixing anything worn or damaged. R.J. Ogren also created props and designed enhancements for the audio-animatronics in the rides.

Suzanne Ogren always had a passion for both dance and Disney. Her career at the parks spanned fourteen magical years where she began working on the monorail, and later found herself as a character actor and working backstage in various entertainment management areas.

Since their time at the happiest place on Earth, R.J. and Suzanne Ogren have published a novel on their experience working in the early decades of the park titled “Together in the Dream.”

As some of the original personalities that brought the Magic Kingdom to life, R.J. and Suzanne Ogren said that their work at Walt Disney World has influenced their creative lives ever since.

R.J. OGREN

  • How did you get the opportunity to work with Disney?

Through a series of unusual circumstances, in late 1975, I joined the National Guard in Orlando, and through a contact there, got my first job at Walt Disney World as a monorail pilot since there were no openings for an artist there at that time. Only six weeks later, I answered an ad in the Walt Disney World Cast newspaper, asking for an experienced artist. After several weeks of numerous interviews and competition, I got the job.

  • Which rides’ animatronics that you worked on turned out to be your favorite? Which Disney ride in the park – whether you helped design it or not – is your favorite in general?

I did artistic work on the animatronic figures in all the attractions at the Magic Kingdom. I have many favorites among the figures and attractions I worked on over the years, and I cannot narrow to just one – so how about my three favorites? The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Peter Pan’s Flight.

  • What is the biggest lesson you learned from your career?

The best lessons I learned working as an artist for Disney were maintaining quality, proficiency in my painting skills, and learning from Disney legends (like Marc Davis) about how to express my creativity in new ways. In addition, the friendship I formed at Walt Disney World with performer/magician/writer Bev Bergeron continues to this day. His humor and creative experience have enriched me in so many ways.

  • Do you have a significant memory working in the parks that still impacts you today?

My friendship with Marc Davis, which continued after I left Walt Disney World was exceptional. He taught me to never stop drawing and creating, and gave me invaluable lessons in art and the art business world.

  • How has Disney impacted your personal life outside of being an artist?

Nearly every day, I take the lessons I learned at Walt Disney World, and apply them to my current artistic projects. In addition, I am constantly asked about working for the Mouse.

SUZANNE OGREN

  • What was the overall experience of an actress and dancer at Disney like?

Performing as a costumed character at Walt Disney World involved not only dancing and miming, but representing a part of Walt Disney’s imaginative creations. That meant that my creative talents were combined with interaction with the thousands of guests every day, whether in a stage show, a parade, or meeting them in the Magic Kingdom – back then, throughout each day, characters did “sets” in public areas such as the Main Entrance, Town Square, etc.  These were 20-minute meet-and-greet sessions that allowed all guests in that area to interact with us. Those were highlights of my Character work.

  • What is your favorite memory throughout your career with Disney?

There is no way I can limit my many memories to only one. How about three for me (R.J. got to do it!)? The first would be performing in the Electrical Light Parade.  The second would be the five Holiday seasons I got to be a part of the Candlelight Processional performances in Town Square at the Magic Kingdom, in which I also became friends with composer, Ralph Blaine (who wrote “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”) – those shows were done during my years in Entertainment management. The third would be making a national commercial for Eastern Airlines as Sleepy the Dwarf.

  • Part of your career at Disney was portraying characters. Which Disney character do you most relate to, and what lessons has that character taught you throughout adulthood?

I portrayed numerous characters, but the one I did most often, and he became my favorite, was Sleepy the Dwarf. As to how it has impacted my life, I can only think of one thing: when people comment on my five-foot-two stature, I usually reply, “Yes, I am a dwarf – still. I just don’t get paid for it anymore!”

  • What does the term “Disney magic” mean to you? Has working with Disney for so long diminished that phrase, or made it more special?

I haven’t worked for Disney for over 20 years, but the “magical moments” from my years there are still just as special. Obviously, when you work for a corporation as large as Disney’s, business has to be mixed with magic, so I also remember all the serious parts of my work there, for which I remain proud. After all, Disney still “does magic” better than anybody, because of Walt’s visions.

  • What inspired you to pursue a creative career of acting, dancing, and writing?

I just grew up doing it all: acting by seven years of age, dancing at eight, and wrote my first short story at nine. Even though I grew up in the ‘50’s when a “career” for a woman wasn’t taken seriously, I always knew that all those creative pursuits would be a part of my adult life.

MR. AND MRS. OGREN

  • “Together in the Dream” is a novel you both co-authored about your mutual Disney careers. What challenges did you both face writing a book together, and what was the best part?

Co-authoring “Together in the Dream” was just a new extension of our creative pursuits together. We have been actors, theatre directors, and theatre producers together, supporters of each other’s artistic talents, including R.J.’s art and scenic design work, and Suzanne’s writing. We spend nearly every day of the year interacting. We thoroughly enjoy our work together, and complement each other’s strengths. Everything about writing our first book together was “the best part!” Our sequel to that book, titled “Remembering the Magic” was just as much fun.

  • Which Disney couple do you think best represents your relationship?

Cannot answer this one! I guess, because, marriage is not about a fairy tale. It involves friendship, trust, work, and continual growth – but most of all, love and respect.  We do believe in the Disney “ethics”: “never stop dreaming” and Walt’s famous quote; “If you can dream it, you can do it.” In our speaking engagements together, we emphasize to our audiences that we are proof of those beliefs.

 

All photos were provided by R.J. and Suzanne Ogren. 

You can learn more about the creative work of R.J. and Suzanne Ogren on their website: www.rjogren.com

Their novel, "Together in the Dream," can be found on Amazon.

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About The Author

Rachel is currently a sophomore studying journalism at the University of Central Florida. She writes for four magazines and aspires to become a published author. Most of Rachel's writing focuses on breaking news, politics, and entertainment. When she isn't doing the homework she procrastinated on, you can find her at any little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop or record store. Her favorite hobby — besides writing — is watching cult films. She has never met a Tarantino movie she didn't like, nor a film festival she hasn't volunteered at.