Think of Disney technical virtuoso Roger Broggie Jr. as a real-life version of Geppetto, the fictional woodcarver who carved a puppet that came to life. But instead of Pinocchio, Broggie helped create such magical figures as the robotic buccaneers in Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride, a talking replica of Abe Lincoln, and Herbie, the living Volkswagen Beetle who made Disney’s 1968 comedy The Love Bug such an enduring hit.
Broggie, who died on Dec. 11 at age 72 in LaPine, Ore., was a pioneer in audio-animatronics – the art of creating amazingly lifelike robotic characters for theme park displays and rides. The son of mechanical engineer Roger Broggie Sr., one of Walt Disney’s original creative technologists, Broggie got his start in the entertainment business at age 11, tending to the miniature steam train, the Lilly Belle, in the backyard of Disney’s southern California home. At age 18, he became an apprentice at the Disney machine shop run by his father. He first made a name for himself working on Disney exhibits for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and eventually went on to head up his own outfit, Only Animated Display and Design Company, which designed attractions for theme parks operated by Disney and others.
Here are five intriguing facts about Broggie and the magnificent illusions he helped to create:
- In 1963, Broggie was assigned the most difficult problem in building the lifelike Lincoln figure: fitting all the necessary bulky gadgetry into the ersatz president’s head. He reportedly solved the dilemma by stretching out Lincoln’s wig to accommodate it.
- For The Love Bug, Broggie reportedly built 17 Volkswagen Beetles, each of which performed a different trick, such as flying or floating. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MT40beOPlo4
- Broggie helped build the ersatz alien spaceship that appeared to hover and descend into the Los Angeles Coliseum during the closing ceremony of the 1984 Olympic Games.
- Broggie’s name appears in the window of the Little Gremlins Mechanical Toys shop on Disneyland’s Main Street.
- In the 2000s, Broggie built a replica of the Lilly Belle, which his father had created for Walt Disney.
Here’s a 2012 interview with Broggie at the Disneyana Fan Club, in which he reflects on the Disney legacy.