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In 1955, twelve-year-old Tom Nabbe was selling newspapers at Disneyland. He heard that Walt Disney needed someone to play Tom Sawyer in the park. What happened next was a real-life American dream, the kind that Mark Twain himself could have written: Walt chose Tom to be the Tom, and for the next forty-eight years, Tom Nabbe grew up with Disney. He rubbed shoulders with celebrities, his face appeared on the cover of national magazines, and until he outgrew the role he was indeed the 'luckiest boy in the world'. These are his adventures...

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FROM: The Adventures of Tom Nabbe Published Every Other Tuesday

From Character to Cast Member

Tom Sawyer never grew up. Tom Nabbe did. When Tom Nabbe turned 18 in 1961, he could no longer play Tom Sawyer, but his career at Disneyland (which would stretch nearly five decades) was just getting started.

To play Tom Sawyer, obviously, you had to look the age, and look the part. For quite a few years, I did. But it couldn't last forever, and as I got closer to high school graduation, I realized that my time as Tom Sawyer was coming to an end.

That posed a problem for Walt. I had worked at Disneyland from the day it opened to the public. I had become famous in my role. Now, I had outgrown my role, but Walt didn't want to push me out the gate on my 18th birthday. He just had to find me a new role.

Tom Gets a 'Real' Job

To work the rides and attractions at Disneyland, you had to be at least 18 years old.

I was no stranger to those rides and attractions. I had walked past most of them every day, and of course, I had ridden them, often.

It made sense to move me into ride operations, and so in June 1961, shortly after my 18th birthday, I returned to the Island, not as Tom Sawyer, but as a raft operator.

Going to work there was a little odd, at first, because Disney had held a contest to pick the next Tom Sawyer. They chose a kid named Keith Murdock, who lasted only through that summer and then left. Disney never replaced him.

Tom Goes Full-Time

I was now working full-time on the weekends at Disneyland. After a few months with the rafts, I began to be assigned to other rides, and finally that winter to the Jungle Cruise, which had the highest manpower requirements. Cast Members typically worked their way up to the Jungle Cruise, and in most cases the 'skippers' were those with seniority.

Back then, the park was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. I made sure to arrive very early on Wednesday mornings and sit in the operations office waiting for call-ins. If a Cast Member couldn't make his shift, he would call in, and then the people in the operations office would find someone to take over that person's assignment for the day.

Since I was right there, they didn't have to look far, and gradually I was able to expand my work schedule to full-time hours.

And I stuck with that full-time schedule for over 40 years until I retired in 2003.


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