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updated: 12/28/2015 11:57 AM

Naperville couple's book tells of 'dream' careers at Disney World

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  • Video: 'Together in the Dream'

  • Suzanne Ogren and her husband RJ worked at Walt Disney World in its early days, Suzanne as a monorail pilot, then Sleepy the Dwarf and later in entertainment management, and RJ as an artist. Now they live in Naperville and they've written a book called "Together in the Dream" about their Disney experiences.

      Suzanne Ogren and her husband RJ worked at Walt Disney World in its early days, Suzanne as a monorail pilot, then Sleepy the Dwarf and later in entertainment management, and RJ as an artist. Now they live in Naperville and they've written a book called "Together in the Dream" about their Disney experiences.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Suzanne and RJ Ogren of Naperville share stories of working at Walt Disney World in the 1970s in their new book "Together in the Dream." The couple also has collected much Disney memorabilia, including the 1979 Mickey Mouse shoes RJ holds, which weigh several pounds each.

      Suzanne and RJ Ogren of Naperville share stories of working at Walt Disney World in the 1970s in their new book "Together in the Dream." The couple also has collected much Disney memorabilia, including the 1979 Mickey Mouse shoes RJ holds, which weigh several pounds each.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • RJ Ogren keeps one of his favorite Walt Disney quotes on the wall outside of his art studio in his Naperville basement, where he and his wife Suzanne wrote their new book, "Together in the Dream: The Unique Careers of a Husband and Wife in the Early Decades of Walt Disney World."

      RJ Ogren keeps one of his favorite Walt Disney quotes on the wall outside of his art studio in his Naperville basement, where he and his wife Suzanne wrote their new book, "Together in the Dream: The Unique Careers of a Husband and Wife in the Early Decades of Walt Disney World."
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Suzanne Ogren of Naperville worked for 14 years at Walt Disney World, first as a monorail operator, then as Sleepy the Dwarf, then in entertainment management. Now she and her husband RJ, a former Disney artist, share stories from their careers in "Together in the Dream."

      Suzanne Ogren of Naperville worked for 14 years at Walt Disney World, first as a monorail operator, then as Sleepy the Dwarf, then in entertainment management. Now she and her husband RJ, a former Disney artist, share stories from their careers in "Together in the Dream."
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Suzanne Ogren pages through the book she and her husband RJ wrote about their experiences working at Walt Disney World in the 1970s and 80s.

      Suzanne Ogren pages through the book she and her husband RJ wrote about their experiences working at Walt Disney World in the 1970s and 80s.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • The costume hands and feet from Mickey Mouse's Walt Disney World costume in 1979 adorn the art studio of RJ Ogren in Naperville, where he and his wife Suzanne wrote their book "Together in the Dream" about their Disney careers.

      The costume hands and feet from Mickey Mouse's Walt Disney World costume in 1979 adorn the art studio of RJ Ogren in Naperville, where he and his wife Suzanne wrote their book "Together in the Dream" about their Disney careers.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Extensive Disney memorabilia lines the walls of RJ and Suzanne Ogren's Naperville home, including this photograph called "Walt Flies to Never Land."

      Extensive Disney memorabilia lines the walls of RJ and Suzanne Ogren's Naperville home, including this photograph called "Walt Flies to Never Land."
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • RJ Ogren, who has made a career out of Disney art, displays extensive Disney memorabilia such as this image of Mickey Mouse in the Naperville house he shares with his wife Suzanne.

      RJ Ogren, who has made a career out of Disney art, displays extensive Disney memorabilia such as this image of Mickey Mouse in the Naperville house he shares with his wife Suzanne.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 

RJ and Suzanne Ogren of Naperville can talk for hours about their vibrant careers in the early days of Walt Disney World -- the art and entertainment, the celebrities and camaraderie, the amazing Disney magic.

But they can't talk about it to everyone -- they're too busy acting in Wheaton Drama productions, writing novels about zombies and time-travel and illustrating for local businesses. So they're letting their new book do the talking.

In "Together in the Dream: The Unique Careers of a Husband and Wife During the Early Decades of Walt Disney World," the Ogrens give the perspective of an artist and a performer working at the storied resort and making its fantasy come to life.

RJ, a St. Charles native, is the artist.

He worked for four years in the 1970s in audio animatronics, which is Disney jargon for creating 3-D animated characters that move and speak. He completed artwork for Magic Kingdom theme park attractions like Peter Pan's Flight, Pirates of the Caribbean and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea -- even using his skill as a SCUBA diver to paint while underwater.

The job wasn't robotics, nor was it typical animation. It was combining art, motion and sound, and working to make sure the painted outer layers on characters inside Disney rides stayed in top shape.

"We took figures already in the attractions and made sure the skins looked good," RJ said. "We'd split up and make sure everything was in working order. If not, we could shut a ride down."

Other times, the show would go on while RJ was fixing artwork, carefully keeping his brush moving to prevent the acetone-based paint from drying and ruining the piece. Using heat and careful color mixing in a process that took six months to learn, RJ worked shifts starting early each morning to get each character's hue exactly perfect.

He repaired bullet holes in the Haunted Mansion, replaced the head of Dopey the Dwarf when it was stolen and learned to paint images that look normal in room lighting, glow brightly in black lighting and jump off the wall when seen through 3-D glasses. The 71-year-old still calls upon his black-light and 3-D painting techniques, recently completing black-light work for the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

This isn't the first book to tell the story of working at Disney World, but the Ogrens say it offers a look further into the park's history.

Suzanne, 70, tells the tale of being a performer.

She became a member of the "dwarf unit" when she got a gig portraying Sleepy in parades and dance shows.

Suzanne first worked as a monorail operator for 18 months while she and RJ pestered Disney decision-makers to give her an audition as a dancer.

Even becoming a monorail driver was a challenge. The Ogrens first moved from Miami, where they met in high school and later got married and started a family, to Orlando, as they said Disney only considered locals for hiring. With college degrees, they were seen as overqualified for jobs loading guests onto rides, but RJ was able to join the crew as a monorail operator.

When a job as an artist opened up, he was quick to take it. Still on the sidelines, Suzanne wanted in. Both Ogrens say they're lifelong Disney fans who always dreamed of working for the entertainment giant.

"Now I'm jealous," Suzanne thought once RJ got his post as an artist. "I want to make my Disney dream happen."

She lived that dream for 14 years, eventually moving into entertainment management, where she planned conventions and events such as wine festivals.

Once the Ogrens' Disney World days were over, they moved to Virginia then to the suburbs, where they've lived for 11 years.

"Together in the Dream" is available at themeparkpress.com and amazon.com and soon will be sold at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville.

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