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Meet 2022 Disney Legend Doris Hardoon

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Disney and D23 have announced the 2022 Disney Legends, 14 individuals selected for their contributions to the Walt Disney Company. They will be honored with a Disney Legend Award in a ceremony at D23 Expo on September 9, at 10:30 A.M. I’d like to spotlight some of the 2022 Disney Legends being inducted this year. Here’s why Doris Hardoon is being honored as a 2022 Disney Legend.

By Theresa Mabe

Disney Legends 35th Anniversary logo.

Meet 2022 Disney Legend Doris Hardoon

This year, the Disney Legends Ceremony will be broadcast on the DisneyD23 YouTube and Facebook channels. The YouTube channel will also include captioned and American Sign Language versions of the stream.

Disney Legend Award is bestowed upon cast members from all areas of The Walt Disney Company, from entertainment, broadcasting, music, Imagineering, and business leaders.

While some of the 2022 recipients are well known for their achievements on the screen, when it comes to Imagineering there are a few whose names you may not know, but work you’ve definitely seen.

So today, let’s explore the career of one of the 2022 Disney Legends representing Walt Disney Imagineering, Doris Hardoon!

Disney Legends Plaza at Disney Studios in Burbank, CA.

What is a Disney Legend?

The Disney Legends Award is given to an individual who has made an extraordinary contribution to the Disney legacy.

The Disney Legends Awards program is a 35-year tradition of The Walt Disney Company, which began when Fred MacMurray (The Shaggy Dog, The Absent-Minded Professor, The Happiest Millionaire) was honored in 1987.

Recipients are chosen by a selection committee, formerly appointed and chaired by Disney Legend Roy E. Disney, Walt Disney’s nephew, former vice chairman and director emeritus of The Walt Disney Company. The committee consists of long-time Disney executives, historians, and other authorities.

What Do Disney Legends Receive?

Besides the award statuette itself, each honoree is represented by a bronze commemorative plaque featuring the recipients’ handprints and signature if they were living when inducted, or simply an image of the statuette emblem if the induction was posthumous.

The plaques are placed on display in Legends Plaza at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. Legends also receive a Disney Golden Pass, a lifetime pass to all Disney theme parks.

disney legends plaza- hand print plaques at Disney Studios in Burbank

About Doris Hardoon, 2022 Disney Legend

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s meet one of your 2022 Disney Legends representing Walt Disney Imagineering – Doris Hardoon.

2022 Disney Legend Doris Hardoon

Doris Hardoon’s Disney Beginnings: EPCOT Center

Doris Hardoon is one of the few Disney creatives who have worked on all six of Disney’s castle parks around the world.

She joined The Walt Disney Company in 1979, recruited specifically to work on the next big WED (now known as Walt Disney Imagineering) project EPCOT Center.

Her interview panel consisted of three people who were future Disney Legends themselves: Rolly Crump, John Hench, and Marty Sklar).

Despite having her training in graphic design, Crump was impressed to request she work with him on show design. Rolly Crump became an early mentor, teaching her about the importance of show elements and themed design.

The Land Pavilion

Hardoon had originally been assigned to work on a health pavilion in Epcot that didn’t come to fruition.

She later transitioned to working on The Land pavilion and several countries in World Showcase. She worked closely with fellow Imagineer and Disney Legend Walt Peregoy on the art and design of the “Farmer’s Market” area of The Land, what we now know as the Sunshine Seasons.

In his book Dream It! Do It!, Marty Sklar tells a story of how Hardoon helped break the ice during WED’s presentation of The Land to its sponsor:

As we began our concept presentation to a very tense audience of those Kraft leaders, I had instructed Hong Kong-born designer Doris Hardoon to make the presentation in Cantonese.

“But Marty,” Doris protested, “the won’t understand anything I’m saying!”

Doris was correct, as I knew she would be. But by the time I stopped her and asked for the English version, the tension in the room was gone. Smiles and a bit of laughter replaced those frowns. We made the sale.

Dream It! Do It! – Marty Sklar

Hardoon also developed something that has now become an icon for longtime Epcot fans.

That’s right, my friends – Doris Hardoon is responsible for the 9th wonder of the world: Wall Carpet!

Textured Wall Carpet at the Harvest Theatre in The Land Pavilion in Epcot.

Brief side notes unrelated to her Imagineering work: before she fully embraced the world of themed entertainment, Hardoon spent time as a pop star in Hong Kong.

I discovered a recording she did of Joni Mitchell’s Conversation. You tell me that this song doesn’t give you full The Land vibes. It was clearly her destiny.

World Showcase Pavilions

In addition to The Land, Hardoon also worked on a number of the galleries within World Showcase. Each pavilion has one or more dedicated areas highlighting various aspects of that country’s culture, artifacts, artwork, and history.

I designed a lot of exhibits in the China pavilion. I worked with the Palace Museum in Beijing to display everything, including terra cotta soldiers from Xi’an and an imperial clock collection that had never been exhibited outside China.

Disney executive returns to her roots in China, ShanghaiDaily.com

Hardoon credits designing the exhibitions for the galleries, which would rotate every 18-24 months, as being what helped develop her skills as a show producer.

This work with Imagineering required her to think through a concept from beginning to end, identifying creative elements that would compliment each other and work together, while working within logistical constraints around budget and location.

Westcot

Westcot concept art showing lots of lights and a gold version of Spaceship Earth.

Over the years, Hardoon would work on projects for Animal Kingdom, Disneyland Paris, and Tokyo Disneyland.

She also was contracted out to perform work on museums at non-Disney locations, including the Gene Autry Museum in Los Angeles and Port Discovery in Baltimore.

One of her favorite projects that she worked on, sadly, was not meant to be. Westcot was planned, as the name indicates, to be a West Coast version of Epcot, and the original second gate for Disneyland.

The story richness, diversity, texture, first-time concepts, the international content, the incredible team that believed in the concepts – we had the best time working together!

Doris Hardoon speaking on Westcot in One Little Spark by Marty Sklar

After Westcot and another project of hers, Long Beach Disney Sea, failed to get off the ground, Hardoon took that as a sign that it was time to explore opportunities outside of working with Disney.

Shanghai Disneyland

Bob Weis, a Walt Disney Imagineering friend and colleague, was the person who presented an opportunity that intrigued her enough to return in the late 2000s.

Weis invited Hardoon to work on a new project close to her heart – Shanghai Disneyland.

Although Hardoon grew up in Hong Kong, her parents and grandparents were from Shanghai. She was appreciative of reconnecting with her roots while continuing to make her mark at Disney.

Doris Hardoon with fellow Walt Disney Imagineers pointing at a model of Shanghai Disneyland0

Hardoon was influential in developing how Shanghai Disneyland would welcome guests into the park.

Bob Iger when talking about Shanghai Disneyland frequently uses the phrase, “Authentically Disney, Distinctly Chinese.”

Having deep connections to both the country and the company, Hardoon strived to be intentional in her designs.

Rather than the hub and spokes design of most Disney castle parks, the center of Shanghai Disneyland includes the Gardens of Imagination.

There were two reasons in Hardoon’s mind to make this change.

One was knowing many guests who lived in the area were coming from places without gardens and seeing the Gardens of Imagination would be visually special.

The other was based on the Chinese family unit:

This market is what we call the 421: four grandparents, two parents, one child. We need to appeal to all of them. So this garden was great because it provided a very simple enjoyment, while perhaps the older generation stay behind, and hung out with the babies, and enjoy the carousel.

Doris Hardoon, The Imagineering Story

Hardoon also oversaw murals depicting the animals of the Chinese Zodiac represented by Disney characters. As someone who did not grow up knowing Disney characters, she viewed this as a way to introduce them in a way that has significance to the Chinese culture. She was also one of the leads on Disneytown (Shanghai’s shopping and dining area), as well as the Shanghai Disneyland castle design.

Hong Kong Disneyland

Hardoon’s work on the Shanghai Disneyland castle would later take her to Hong Kong Disneyland. She would be tasked to work on their castle transformation, a project that she was equally intimidated and excited about.

Concept artwork for the re-imagined castle in Hong Kong Disneyland, representing elements from various Disney princesses.

It was kind of a personal thing for me to take this on – the chance of actually transforming a classic traditional Castle, which Hong Kong Park was basically a ditto from what Walt did in Anaheim. It was the original.

There’s some meaning to that, and some very strong heritage, a very strong connection culturally and traditionally to the company.

By maintaining the heritage, keeping the tradition, keeping the meaning behind why Walt created what he created, and then continuing the story.

Which is what Walt also said: ‘If there’s dream in the world, that there’s imagination in the world, nothing will ever stop, it will continue to expand to grow.’ Isn’t that what life is about: adaptability, flexibility and transformation?

How do we create something that has hope and has a future aspect of what that symbol that icon would mean to our company, and to the people of Hong Kong?

Doris Hardoon speaking on the Creativity in Captivity podcast

Doris Hardoon’s Next Adventure: Walt Disney Imagineering Asia

While reflecting on her time working on The Walt Disney Company’s theme parks in Asia, Hardoon has said, “it’s the feeling and emotion attached to the project that makes it so special.

And that passion was something she saw a lot of in the Shanghai and Hong Kong locals who joined her in working on these projects.

Being there and connecting back to my roots, I felt the need to pay forward. And so I started developing a Global Connections group. And it was just very, very organic. Just one by one, they just started coming to me to ask questions, talk about it. And, you know, you mentor automatically.

Doris Hardoon speaking at an event for Storyland Studios

As her work was wrapping up in Shanghai Disneyland, Bob Weis – who by that point was President of Walt Disney Imagineering – made her another offer: to start up Walt Disney Imagineering Asia.

Hardoon jumped at the offer.

She was excited not only to bring Walt Disney Imagineering to Hong Kong, where she grew up; but also to have the ability to continue sharing her knowledge and help a new generation of Imagineers discover and develop their skills.

I want to pay forward because these are people who touched my life. And it’s not just them. It’s everybody that comes across…So that’s become kind of a point in my life now after 45 years in the industry, which is the majority of my life. It’s not just the design. Sure. I loved it. I think it’s inherent in me. But to have that ability to just speak about it and or share is pretty cool.

Doris Hardoon speaking at an event for Storyland Studios

Want To Hear More From Disney Legend Doris Hardoon?

Doris Hardoon officially retired from Walt Disney Imagineering in 2019. In 2021, she received the distinguished Buzz Price Thea award from the Themed Entertainment Association.

You can still hear her talk about her work and the impact she’s had on the Disney Parks around the world (and the impact they’ve had on her) by watching The Imagineering Story: Episode 6, and Behind the Attraction: The Castles, both available to stream on Disney+.

You can also hear her speak more about her career and projects she did with Walt Disney Imagineering via the following links:

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