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Fred Joerger, 91; his models helped shape Disneyland

LOS ANGELES -- Fred Joerger, a master model maker who helped create the look of Disneyland by molding Sleeping Beauty Castle and other attractions in miniature, has died. He was 91.

Mr. Joerger died of causes associated with old age on Aug. 26 at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Los Angeles, said Gloria Penrose, his niece.

Walt Disney handpicked Mr. Joerger in 1953 to become one of the first three model makers. The trio invented a profession that would become known as ''imagineering," Disney-speak for the imagination and engineering that go into developing rides.

''He provided the foundations of the park. All of the things that help give it that weird sense of reality are Fred's doing," said Jim Hill, who has tracked Disney history for 25 years. ''And this was before computers -- the only tool he had at that point was a slide rule."

The first model Mr. Joerger made for Disneyland was the steamboat Mark Twain. Three-dimensional renderings of Main Street, the Jungle Cruise, the Matterhorn, and much of the rest of the original Disneyland followed.

''Guys like Fred were kind of the heroes of the next generation of imagineers," said Kevin Rafferty, a senior show writer and director at Walt Disney Imagineering.

''The value and importance of his job was immense, because he was the guy who took two-dimensional designs and realized them in three-dimensional models, which allowed designers to learn what was working," he said.

Mr. Joerger also became a field art director, making sure that such rides as Pirates of the Caribbean and Submarine Voyage achieved their envisioned look.

Walt Disney found Mr. Joerger's oversight on Pirates so crucial that he flew him from Burbank to Orange County every day for nine months because Disney didn't want him stressed by freeway traffic, said Harriet Burns, another original imagineer.

Mr. Joerger became known for his skill with forced perspective, a technique that can make objects appear smaller or -- as was usually the case at Disneyland -- larger.

''He could put together a pile of cement and steel beams, knowing you would look at it at a certain angle and you would think it was twice as big as it really was," Hill said. Examples of his faux-stone work are at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Tom Sawyer's Island, the Jungle Cruise, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Mr. Joerger practiced his magician-like craft at home, too. He started building a house in Lakeview Terrace in 1952 and worked on it for 45 years.

Built in the Frank Lloyd Wright style, it has flagstone floors and fireplaces in five rooms. Waterfalls and ponds abound inside and out, and the entry features fireflies like those in Pirates of the Caribbean.

To maximize the drama of his pool during dinner parties, Mr. Joerger would push a button to part the drapes and reveal an infinity pool framed by 40 cypress trees with the Neptune statue he created standing over it.

''Everyone ached to go to his dinner parties," Burns said.

After retiring in 1979, Mr. Joerger returned to oversee the look of Disney's Epcot Center in Florida and to supervise the rock work for Tokyo Disneyland.

In the fake graveyard outside the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland and Walt Disney World is a headstone with an inscription meant as a tribute for his plasterwork on those attractions: ''Here lies Good Old Fred, a great big rock fell on his head."

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