Van Arsdale France, who created highly successful training programs for Disneyland workers beginning in 1955, died Oct. 13 of pneumonia at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach. He was 87.
A former industrial labor relations expert, France founded the University of Disneyland prior to the Anaheim theme park’s opening in 1955, and taught employees to greet visitors with a smile. He also created the very first Disneyland orientation program.
During his years at Disneyland, France served as area manager of Tomorrowland, organizational chairman of the Disneyland Recreation Club and was coordinator of the first Disneyland Cast Members magazine, “Backstage Disneyland.”
He became manager of The Disney University in 1971, where he introduced programs in employee training, management and leadership development.
Among his trainees were actor Steve Martin, who worked at the Main Street Magic Shop, and President Nixon’s press secretary, Ron Ziegler, who operated the Jungle Cruise ride.
France first worked in industrial labor relations after he graduated from San Diego State U.
He retired from full-time work in 1978 and became a special consultant to Dick Nunis, chairman of Walt Disney Attractions. He later penned his memoirs in “A Window on Main Street.”
France was named a Disney Legend in 1994.
He is survived by two children and several grandchildren.