I'm not exactly sure when today's interviewee and I became official internet friends but I believe it was through the Fug Girls (Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan), whom Catherine is friends with IRL. Anyway, if you are a longtime reader, Catherine's name may be familiar as several years ago we did a little correspondence on the subject of slow cooking. Only now have I decided to interview her because the Tower of Terror at Disneyland is under threat of being torn down in favor of some new comic book movie. Why is this relevant to Catherine? Because over the years she has staged a series of photos where she does silly takes for the camera that shoots riders right when the ride drops--she's posed reading her friends' books, in Grey Gardens costume, and while eating a giant pretzel. By day she is an Emmy-winning TV news producer in Los Angeles, but this, the goofy thrill ride photos, is why I thought I needed to speak with her publicly. You can also follow Catherine on Twitter and find all her other handles here. PS If you want to read another (serious, curious) interview I've done with a Disney fanatic, check out my interview with my cousin Kris here.
Take me back to your first time riding the Tower of Terror. What about it kept you coming back for more?
I first rode the Tower of Terror in February 2010. I had just gotten my first Disneyland Annual Pass, which allowed me to go to both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure (where ToT is located). I love roller coasters and free-fall rides so I figured ToT would be right up my alley, and I was right. Free-falling is a real adrenaline rush, a feeling I still get no matter how many times I ride it.
The thrill is not the only thing I enjoy about ToT. The entire attraction (yes, that's the proper term for describing a Disney, well, ride) is an extremely well-produced experience. The ToT premise is that it's the Hollywood Tower Hotel in 1939. When you enter the building after going through the queue outside, it looks like you walked into a grand hotel lobby that's been frozen in time. The flowers on display have died, and the Art Deco furniture and decor are covered with cobwebs and dust. It's really beautiful.
When and how did you get the idea do stunt photography in your ToT rides?
I thought posing for the ToT photo would be a fun and silly thing to do ("Oh, I'm just enjoying a cup of tea on this crazy elevator!") that would show that even though I'm a fairly serious person by nature I can be at times completely ridiculous. I do not recall any single thing that inspired me to start doing this. I rode ToT a few times to figure out exactly where to sit and when the photo is taken during the sequence. Now I know the timing like the back of my hand.
Are you able to list your various photos? Which were your favorites? Which were the most difficult to execute?
I have taken 20 ToT photos, which are all sorted in a Facebook album as well as in my Instagram profile under #CGTOT. One photo is of two different ToT experiences, so I've been on it at least 21 times -- probably closer to 30 in total.
My favorite photo was also the most difficult to execute: an October 2013 photo entitled "SPA DAY!" I put on a light bathrobe right before getting on the elevator (yes, I looked ridiculous standing in line in this robe), plus a shower cap and a thick layer of Queen Helene's Mint Julep Masque all over my face in the few minutes between when the ride starts and the photo is taken; I haven't officially timed it but it has to be less than five minutes tops. I had already planned out how I was going to execute this and brought the mask, makeup remover towelettes, and two plastic grocery bags. As soon as the doors shut and the ride began, I put on the shower cap first. The ride is totally dark save for special effects, so I put on the face mask without a mirror. (I KNOW.) I squeezed a large amount into my hands and just put it everywhere all over my face. I had a few seconds to spare so I hit my "relaxed" pose right before the photo was taken. As soon as that was done, I grabbed the makeup towelettes and took off the entire mask in the minute or so before the ride ended. I shoved all the used towelettes into the second grocery bag, took off my shower cap, and walked off the ride totally clean-faced as if nothing had happened. I still can't believe I pulled it off.
My second favorite photo is when I dressed up as Little Edie from Grey Gardens in April 2013. I found a faux fur capelet at a thrift store, and it just struck me that I should pose as Little Edie. Fortunately I happened to be near Disneyland, so it didn't take me long to get to the Park and on the ride. I always laugh whenever I look at the photo.
In case you were curious, I didn't go through a practice run. I never do. I jump in, do it with no rehearsal, and hope for the best.What were some of the most memorable reactions you've gotten from the people sitting around you for these photos?
People don't normally react until afterwards when we all see the elevator photo because they can't see what I am doing during the sequence. Once they see the photo and realize that I am reading a book or wearing a full face mask on the ride, they laugh and ask me how I did it. The most memorable reaction I got was in June 2012 when I "read" MESSY (by the immense talents and dear friends Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan of Go Fug Yourself) on the elevator. It was Grad Night and hundreds of teenagers were at the Park. A well-dressed young man seated behind me was the only member of his group who saw what I was doing and is actually smiling and pointing in a "Is she really reading?" way at me in the photo. GFY Jessica and I have lovingly named him Teen Obama.
How much money do you estimate you've spent riding the Tower of Terror?
It's hard to quantify that because I have an Annual Pass which gets me into both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure (where ToT is located). It's not like I am paying $100+ each time just to go on ToT. I will say that my Annual Pass is over $600/year, but I go at least once a month so its cost per use value is low.
What advice do you have for people who hope to snag a funny photo of themselves on an amusement park ride?
This may sound hypocritical coming from a person who brings props for photos, but don't try too hard. Have fun with it. If you are able to go on a ride more than once, do so in order to figure out where the cameras are. It's hard to do that if the line is long and you are only there for one day and are pressed for time. The Annual Pass affords me the luxury of time because I can go back to the park to ride ToT at my leisure. I'm very fortunate.
Switching gears, congratulations on your recent Emmy nomination--what was it for? How many Emmy noms have you received thus far?
Thank you! We were nominated for Best Investigative Reporting. It is always an honor to be nominated by the Academy. I have received five Emmy noms and won two - most recently in 2014. I have also won three Golden Mikes. The awards are in a shopping bag in my closet. Terrible, I know.
Yes, I have brought the Emmy onto ToT for a photo. It will be harder if not impossible for me to do that again now that Disneyland has installed metal detectors.
Tell me your secrets about buying good caftans. I tried one on earlier this year and felt like I was just in a somewhat offensive costume as a Middle Eastern person.
HA. I find them at thrift stores or through vintage sellers on eBay. I don't normally wear bright colors or prints, so I'm always drawn to caftans with vivid designs. I like to think I am channeling my best 1970s life complete with huge Priscilla Presley-marries-Elvis hair and a chaise longue upon which to sit and drink cocktails when I wear a caftan even though I'm really just going to Starbucks in my Prius.
What have you cooked lately that was noteworthy either for being amazing or for being a huge disaster?
I recently tried making mayonnaise in my Vitamix and the motor was so powerful the ingredients never came together and ended up a terribly broken mess. I already hate myself for writing that Ultimate First World Problem of a sentence. I later successfully made mayo in my cheapo Black & Decker food processor I bought nearly 20 years ago for $16. Make of that what you will. (I still love you, Vitamix! Call me!)
You are a Hamilton megafan. How much am I missing out by not getting tickets for when it's in Chicago (despite trying for hours)? Will I earn any cred for maybe being a holdout for not seeing it? (I really did get mad about how much time and effort I put into separating myself from many hundreds of dollars, to no avail.)
Wait for the PBS documentary airing Friday, October 21! The full original Broadway cast has recorded the musical in its entirety for Great Performances, but I don't know if that will air as part of the doc. Or you could drive with me and I will sing the entire musical for you. I'm sure I am just as good.
How does it feel to be the 421st person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
It feels great. I feel refreshed, like I just wore a face mask on a free-fall elevator ride.