Renie Bardeau has walked down Main Street more than 10,000 times. For the past 28 years, he has worked at the Happiest Place on Earth, photographing every imaginable head of state with Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck.
He has captured thousands of people's fantasies and put them on record. An impossible task, one might think, unless you are the official photographer at Disneyland.
But there is a downside to Renie Bardeau's job. He has to work with a smile even when he doesn't feel like it. But would he trade it? "No way," he says.
In 1959, when he took a part-time summer job to shoot photos at Disneyland, he never thought he would be there 28 years later.
"When I took this job, I was working only summers," Bardeau, 50, said. "In the winters, I was going to a university like a lot of the people who work here now."
Bardeau was a business major at the University of Arizona. A self-taught photographer, he didn't study photography in college, although in addition to his summer job at Disneyland, he worked winters in Tucson as a photographer.
A friend put Bardeau on to the part-time job at Disneyland. "I went to see Charlie Nichols (then the Disneyland chief photographer), and I got the job."
His first assignment was covering the opening of Tomorrowland, which included getting a picture of the ribbon-cutting at the monorail with then Vice President Richard M. Nixon, his family and Walt Disney. "To this day," Bardeau says, "that picture is still being used."
In 1964, Bardeau graduated from college, intending to pursue a career in advertising. But Disneyland offered him a full-time position, and he accepted. When Nichols retired in 1968, Bardeau replaced him as chief photographer.
Now, after 28 years of shooting photos in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle, the Matterhorn and the Disneyland City Hall, Bardeau, who uses a camera strap bearing the Mickey Mouse logo, continues to have a youthful enthusiasm for his work.
He recalls a long list of heads of state and celebrities who have posed for him, including John F. Kennedy and brother Robert, Jimmy Carter, Emperor Hirohito of Japan, Egypt's Anwar Sadat, King Hussein of Jordan, Prince Rainier of Monaco, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and actors John Wayne, James Garner and Joseph Cotten.
The photographer's most memorable picture, however, is a shot of Walt Disney on a fire truck with Mickey Mouse, in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle.
Bardeau can't even recall how many times he photographed Disney, but, he said, "there is a little story of when I was shooting that particular picture (of Disney and Mickey on the fire truck). It was shot on a Rolleiflex, and there are 12 pictures on a roll. I had shot 11 pictures of Walt at different angles . . . watching for his smile, watching to make sure Mickey was looking the right way, making sure the spires weren't hanging out of Mickey's ears. Anyway, I had shot 11 pictures, and I had said, 'Thank you, Walt, that's it.' He asks me if I was sure, and I told him I was. He then told me that at the studio we treat film like paper clips. You shoot, shoot, shoot all the film you need because if it's not in the can, you will never have it. So he asked me to shoot one more. . . . So, I shot one more, and he said, 'That's fine, thank you, Renie,' and he walked away."
Bardeau doesn't remember if the 12th frame is the shot he ended up printing, but he does remember that the picture is still being used. "It's kind of a trademark picture of Walt, Mickey and the Disneyland Castle," he said.
The photography column, which runs each Saturday in Orange County Life, is designed to help both the serious amateur and weekend shooter. Questions and ideas are welcome and encouraged. Write to: Robert Lachman, Chief Photographer, Orange County Edition, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, 92626.