Disneyland’s beloved Haunted Mansion recently celebrated a milestone. But Xavier “X” Atencio, an influential Imagineer behind the doom-buggy ride, passed away two years shy of its 50th birthday. Sept. 4 will mark Atencio’s centennial—another milestone and a chance for Latinos to finally revere one of the great Disney talents of the previous century as one of their own.
Atencio gave the Haunted Mansion both a ghoulish script and a soundtrack. He penned the lyrics to “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” a jazzy graveyard jam that studio composer Buddy Baker brought to life. Paul Frees’ ghastly greeting of “Welcome, foolish mortals”? Atencio, again! These feats joined the Imagineer’s earlier enduring work on the script for Pirates of the Caribbean and its swashbuckling “Yo Ho! (A Pirate’s Life for Me).” His voice continues to caution, “Dead men tell no tales” before the ride’s first big drop.
Atencio also oversaw the design of Epcot’s Mexico Pavilion at Walt Disney World Resort and hired East LA Chicano artist Eddie Martinez and Ray Aragon to work on El Rio del Tiempo. He wrote the ride’s bilingual theme song, adding a magical touch as he did with his New Orleans Square efforts.
Before becoming an Imagineer, Atencio had an impressive résumé of an early Hollywood Latino, with animation work on such canonical films as Dumbo, Fantasia and Mary Poppins. But when the legend died two years ago, only Hispanically Speaking News took the opportunity to run an ethnic obit celebrating the life of a famous Latino.
Sure, Atencio carried on with quieter pride. He came from Walsenburg, a small, historically Mexican town in southern Colorado that’s quietly losing its Latino heritage these days. His roots included Spanish settlers and French Canadian fur traders along the Santa Fe trail–not uncommon branches of hispano family trees.
“As papa said, ‘If they tell American history from west to east, we’d all be having tamales for Thanksgiving because there was a lot going on over here while all those pilgrims were getting all the ink,’” his daughter reminisced in a Denver Post obit.
Raza: Why dabble in fairy tales about Walt Disney being the illegitimate son of a Spanish woman when Atencio puts the “X” in Mexican?
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!