The Haunted Mansion is one of the most beloved attractions at Disney theme parks, thrusting visitors into a spooky world filled with dancing phantoms and eye-popping special effects, but there was one spirit planned for the ride who was so scary that Walt Disney himself barred him from inclusion: Rasputin’s ghost.
On August 9, 1969, The Haunted Mansion made its debut in Anaheim, California’s Disneyland to rave reviews. Disney’s Imagineers had managed to capture the picture-perfect representation of a classic haunted mansion from cinema and pull it into the real world, mischievous ghosts and all.
The attraction was a technological marvel at the time, featuring a blend of state-of-the-art animatronics and old-school theatrical illusions that wowed crowds and established the Haunted Mansion as a signature Disney icon. But what you might not know is that development on the iconic ride began nearly two decades earlier, and involved some pretty famous phantoms.
Walt Disney first began mulling over concepts for the Haunted Mansion in the 50s, enlisting many of his favorite artists to help bring the project to reality. Initially, the attraction was designed with storylines that would have featured the ghosts of famous historical characters like Jack the Ripper, Guy Fawkes, Ivan the Terrible, and more.
Somewhere during the Haunted Mansion’s twenty years of development, Disney Imagineer Marc Davis decided that Grigori Rasputin, the seemingly un-killable Russian mystic, would make a fabulously frightening phantom. After all, when it takes stabbing, poisoning, four shootings, a clubbing, and drowning to adequately kill someone, there’s a good chance they’ll make a pretty scary ghost.
Marc Davis began to draw up a suitably spooky portrait of Rasputin, capitalizing on his hypnotic eyes by designing a painting that would gradually morph into an eerie, all-seeing eyeball.
Marc David’s original Rasputin portrait concept | Via Long Forgotten
The creepy concept was well-received by the other Imagineers, but when it hit the desk of Walt Disney, he immediately rejected Rasputin’s ghost. As it turns out, Disney wasn’t frightened by the idea of having the infamous healer take up residence as a ghost in the Haunted Mansion, even with his fairly gruesome demise and dismembered penis, but was far more afraid of being sued.
At the time, Grigor Rasputin had only been dead for a little over three decades, and as such, still had plenty of living relatives with their family member’s well-publicized death still fresh in their minds. To have used Rasputin in the Haunted Mansion would be an invitation for legal trouble, and to be fair, angering the family of an infamous Russian wizard is probably a terrible idea to begin with.
In the end, Disney scrapped the idea of using famous figures in the Haunted Mansion completely, though echoes of the original concept still linger in the attraction. Those who pay close attention can even spot many of these original figures reworked as the “Sinister 11”, portraits which hung inside the The Haunted Mansion in Orlando’s Walt Disney World, complete with eyes that follow your every move. These days, they’ve been relegated to the load-in area of the mansion, sadly with plain ‘ol eyeballs.
The “Sinister 11” portraits in Disney’s Haunted Mansion | Via Wikia
Grigori Rasputin was infamously hard to kill, and true to form, even Walt Disney couldn’t fully banish the Mad Monk to the afterlife. Marc Davis had Rasputin’s portrait altered, greying the hair, tweaking the nose, and renaming the piece “The Ogre” before sending it off to the Haunted Mansion, where it still hangs to this day. With a slight disguise, the Russian mystic till ended up as a ghost in the Haunted Mansion after all. Hard to kill, indeed.
“The Ogre”, Rasputin’s alter-ego, as it now appears in the Haunted Mansion | Via Long Forgotten
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