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'Color Them Orange' : Queen Mary Buffs Blow Stacks at New Paint Job on Funnels

April 08, 1990|FAYE FIORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the Walt Disney Co. decided to send the Queen Mary back through time for "Voyage to 1939," the promotional effort groaned with authenticity: The cars are 1939 originals. There are pretty girls in pompadours and 1939 bathing suits. Special tapes blare real 1939 newscasts. Even the newspapers are printed daily with 1939 headlines.

But it all takes place under three smokestacks painted the wrong color.

Since she made her maiden voyage 54 years ago, the Queen Mary's trademark funnels have been Cunard Red, which is really more like orange. Only World War II could change the color of those smokestacks, which were then painted gray. When the war ended, they went right back to orange.

The stacks were painted Cunard Red so many times, ship historian Bill Winberg says, that when Long Beach removed the funnels and set them on the pier after buying the graceful ocean liner in 1967, the funnels collapsed. Thirty-one years of salt air had rotted away all the metal, but the orange paint just stood up by itself.

Then Disney bought the ship and started sprucing her up a few months ago for the 1939 extravaganza. It was decided after much discussion that orange "clashed," and for the first time ever, the stacks were painted International Signal Red.

"It's disloyal," declared one disgruntled Long Beach resident, who happens to be a member of the Queen Mary Club, but prefers to remain anonymous. "One day I drove by and they were a different color, and everybody I asked looked at them and said, 'I don't think so,' but I had been looking at them for 17 years and I knew right away and I said, 'Wrong. Wrong color.'

"Then I called up and made a stink."

It is fair to say most of Long Beach did not even notice. But a handful of the Queen's most loyal subjects took offense, many of them members of the fading club of some 300 people who recite facts such as, "There are more than 1 million rivets on the Queen Mary."

Painting the smokestacks red was like painting purple stripes on the American flag. It just is not done.

The calls and letters started flowing, one all the way from Texas, Disney officials said.

"People watch us like hawks," Queen Mary spokesman Rich Kerlin noted.

Smokestacks are an ocean liner's signature and the Queen Mary is the last three-stacked ship in the world. Samuel Cunard, who started building ocean liners in 1840 and ultimately built the Queen Mary, painted all his stacks with a mixture of okra and buttermilk that produced a color so distinctive it came to bear his name, Winberg said.

But as the old liners passed away with time, historians say, the three orange stacks came to represent not the Cunard line, but the Queen Mary herself.

"They should have left them alone," said Jeanette McLaughlin, 74, who sailed on the Queen Mary's final voyage in 1967.

Still, even the critics say Disney has done as much or more than any corporation since Cunard to preserve the historical integrity of the QM, which is no easy task.

There are no right angles on the ship, which bows in the middle, so all the furniture in the hotel rooms has to be custom-made, Winberg said. The saltwater and freshwater faucets in the rooms remain intact, a reminder of days when people considered saltwater baths therapeutic. There are some reports that Disney spent $40,000 just polishing the brass.

But they drew the line at orange.

"It just didn't match," Kerlin said. "The appearance of the ship and the quality of the guest experience is what we look at, and we don't think orange against primary reds and blues is attractive. Sometimes you have to move forward even though you know you'll be criticized for it."

However rumpled the loyalists were, they did not put up much of a fight. In this age of stucco and plastic, they consider it lucky that the Queen still exists, and if Disney builds a theme park here, they want her to be the centerpiece, red smokestacks and all.

"You seen Long Beach's new logo?" the anonymous Queen Mary Club member grumbled. "They didn't even include the Queen. And after all she's done for this city."

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