Disneyways Magical Spotlights: Disney Luminaries ~ Bill “Sully” Sullivan
He spent almost 40 years with the company, starting as a ticket-taker on the Jungle Cruise in 1955 and ending his career as Vice President of the Magic Kingdom in 1994. You can get his book and learn all about him in detail, by clicking below on our affiliate link.
From Jungle Cruise Skipper to Disney Legend 40 Years of Magical Memories at Disney
After studying architecture in the 1950s, Sully actually got his first job in the aircraft industry. But then, after tuning in to ABC’s live broadcast of Disneyland’s opening and dedication, he made a decision that would change his life forever.
On Sunday, July 17, 1955, William “Sully” Sullivan was tuned in to ABC-TV. “I watched the opening ceremonies for Disneyland. The following Saturday I went down and applied for a job. “Monday I quit Northrop Aircraft, and Tuesday I reported to work as a ticket-taker at the Jungle Cruise.” Sully was just 19 years old at the time.
As he worked at the Jungle Cruise for nearly three years, Bill earned the title of “jungle bunny”—an unofficial name given to the attraction’s hosts in the ’50s. This experience gave him the opportunity to move around the park, rising through the ranks of park operations and supervising various attractions.
In fact, Bill helped pull off some of the most historic events in Disney history. Bill soon earned a place on the opening team for the 1960 Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley, for which Walt Disney served as chairman of pageantry.
What did Bill think of the man, Walt Disney?
“Walt was a really warm individual,” Sully remembered fondly. “He had a great sense of humor, and he loved people. He was an executive, but not what you perceive as an ‘executive.’ He was a real team guy.”
A few years later, he became assistant manager for the groundbreaking Disney attractions at the 1964–65 New York World’s Fair and eventually helped with several famous Disney film premieres. Examples include the premiers for Mary Poppins at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (1964) and The Happiest Millionaire at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre (1967).
Sully also helped develop the world’s largest private construction project – two times! But first, he moved to Orlando in 1969. From here, the construction plans began for the park’s opening day in 1971. Sully spent several years assisting with the preparation and opening of Walt Disney World, which was the world’s largest private construction effort until the development of EPCOT Center a decade later. For Epcot, Sully coordinated operational design input and installation of owner-furnished equipment as as director of PICO (Project Installation and Coordination Office) and, after Epcot opened in 1982, he served as director of park operations. The two largest construction projects in the world, and Sully was there…preparing, coordinating, and assisting with it all!
But Sully wasn’t finished yet. In 1987, still working hard and growing his career, next up he would be named vice president of the Magic Kingdom, and was responsible for operation of the Park. It was a long list of operations including attractions, merchandising, transportation, entertainment, ticket sales, guest relations, costuming, foods, custodial, maintenance, planned work, and even horticulture.
Sully’s contributions have earned him two tributes on Main Street, U.S.A.! He’s got a window on both coasts. One for Disney World and one for Disneyland! In Orlando at Magic Kingdom Park, look for the one that lists him as a charter member of the “Windermere Fraternal Hall.” Bill actually served as Vice President of the Magic Kingdom from 1987 until 1993, during which he oversaw the openings of experiences from Delta Dreamflight and Magic Journeys to Mickey’s Birthdayland and Splash Mountain. In Disneyland, you will find a window on Main Street listing him as Chief Guide of “Sully’s Safaris & Guide Service” (a reference to his first role at Disneyland.)
Sully retired in 1993 after 38 years with Disney, and without a single regret. “If I had to do it all over,” he said, “I’d do it all again tomorrow.” He would be named a Disney Legend in 2005.