He began as afor a major production house, contributing to nearly every single animated and live-action film to come from the movie house from 1940 to 1956. Then he progressed to the entertainment giant’s theme parks division, using his creativity and layout prowess to bring films and adaptations of films to dazzling (and sometimes creepy) life.
And then he was killed in cold blood. And now, more than 35 years later, there’s still no motive, no leads, and no suspects, and the murder in cold blood has long since become a cold case.
It sounds like the plot of a major motion picture film, but shockingly, it’s the true story of the murder of one of ‘s most creative and capable Imagineers, .
was born in Shanghai, Qing Dynasty, China, on September 3, 1910. According to D23.com, he was the son of an American consul and attended an English boarding school. After he graduated, he moved to the United States where he attended the Art Center School of Design in .
Gracey began his Disney experience in 1939, joining The as a and working on Disney’s Pinocchio, which was released in 1940. A year later, fans could see Gracey’s layout design work in Disney’s Fantasia. In addition to working on the House of Mouse’s feature-length films, Gracey also contributed to the layout design and backgrounds of many of the studio’s animated shorts featuring beloved Disney characters like Donald Duck.
Then, in 1961, just six years after The . This part of his journey put Gracey right smack dab in the action as a special effect and lighting artist at . opened Disneyland in California, embarked on the second leg of his journey within
He was among many of “the Greats” at , working alongside (or at least bumping elbows with) the likes of ,, and the incomparable Imagineer behind “The Museum of the Weird,” Roland (Rolly) Crump.
While Gracey is known for his contributions to many Disneyland attractions (some that would one day also be found at the Resort), he is perhaps best known for his work on Disney’s attraction.
, and of course, no ghosts. always wanted a haunted house at his new in California, but when Disneyland opened in 1955, there was no haunted house, no
Sketches of the structure that would one day house the attraction at Disneyland had been up as early as 1952 by Disney’s Harper Goff. But construction didn’t begin until 1961. It was completed in 1963, but thanks to the in 1964, the itself stood in a dark corner of the park until ghosts began taking up residence in the old inspired by the Victorian era Shipley-Lydecker House in Shipley Hill, Maryland in 1969.
wasn’t involved so much in the thematic development of the attraction. Instead, he worked closely with other Imagineers as the special effects designer. His genius allowed him to render into reality that which other Imagineers conjured up in their mind’s eyes.
He is credited with engineering the “Leota Effect,” a seen in the ride. Gizmodo explains the most basic part of the , saying:
The animation of achievable only through technology. Leota’s chanting visage is a projection of a real human face, filmed while speaking the lines. The “actress” is Leota Toombs, who was working for WED at the time of the ‘s development, using her own costuming and modeling skills on other attractions such as “it’s a small world” and Pirates of the Caribbean.‘s face is the first truly magical effect in the
He also perfected and expanded a much older technique called “Pepper’s Ghost” for use in the iconic attraction.
Thanks in part to Gracey’s contributions, the attraction at Disneyland became an overnight success, leading the to its highest single-day attendance to date after being open just two weeks, according to The Unofficial Guides website.
The in October 1975 after 36 years combined with Walt and Walt’s team of Imagineers. retired from
Almost 8 years later on September 5, 1983–just two days after his 73rd birthday–Gracey and his wife Beverly were spending the night at their Bel Air Bay Club cabana on the Pacific Coast Highway in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood on the west side of when a burglar broke into the home and shot both of them as they were sleeping.
lost his life in the attack, and his wife was wounded and taken to Santa Monica hospital after a neighbor reported the attack around 2:30 a.m.
Beverly Gracey told detectives that a male intruder entered the couple’s beachfront cabana and shot several rounds from a small handgun before fleeing northbound along the beach. She described him as male possibly in his late 50s, and she said he had a dog with him.
It’s been almost 40 years since ‘s murder, and the case has never been solved. There are still no motives in the case, no suspects, and no leads.
Like most of the Imagineers who worked on the ride, received a tribute in the Family Graveyard at the entrance to the . He is referred to as “ ,” as he was a “master” of illusion and special effects at Disney.
It reads, “ laid to rest, No mourning please, at his request.”
Most mornings, Cast Members lay a red rose at the honorary tombstone at both Disneyland and Disney World–a practice which, according to Disney Fandom, began in the 1980s after Gracey’s passing, as a way of honoring his memory and his contributions.