One of the most frustrating realities underlying the Harvey Weinstein scandal is how normalized the institutional practice of the casting couch had become, to the point that Weinstein’s behavior was shrugged off as an open secret or dismissed as a well-known industry joke.
In fact, for a time in the early 2000s, that joke was even being made at the Happiest Place on Earth.
Over the past week, a photo of a sign that used to hang as part of a set decoration at Disneyland’s California Adventure theme park began to resurface, as it has off and on over the years, to illustrate the industry’s tone-deafness when it comes to not just condoning but, through humor, even celebrating the practice of the casting couch—the euphemism used in Hollywood for succumbing to sexual advances from a person in power in exchange for a part or career boost.
As Disney Parks expert Matthew Gottula, who shoots and edits video for the YouTube channel ThemeParkHD, tweeted last week, Disney’s California Adventure theme park used to have a sign that hung on a facade in its old Hollywood Pictures Backlot section that advertised the fictional Philip A. Couch Casting Agency.
The sign was shaped like a phallus. The joke was pretty clear.
When California Adventure opened in 2001, the Hollywood Pictures Backlot section was filled with signs and shops peddling puns about Tinseltown and the Golden State: Ben Hair, Bur-r-r Bank Ice Cream, Excess Braggage, Floral Canyon, and Souvenir Itch, to name a few.
“There were a ton of them,” Gottula says, remembering a stand that sold milkshakes called San Andreas Shakes that were “delicious to a fault.”
“Some of them had really adult overtones to them,” he says. “It’s crazy to see that now, because the way they design the parks now doesn’t include adult elements. This casting couch pun is so wild that I was glad I was able to find a picture of it to prove that it actually existed.”
He says he purposefully tweeted the photo of the Couch Casting Agency sign after the Weinstein news broke because of its obvious resonance—even Disneyland had no qualms about making jokes about the practice. His caption: “Never forget.”
(In 1993, the Weinstein brothers, Harvey and Bob, sold their production company, Miramax, to Disney. They left in 2005 to start The Weinstein Company.)
The sign doesn’t exist anymore. We reached out Disneyland to find out when and why the facade was removed, but did not receive a response.
The founder and editor of the website Theme Park Insider, Robert Niles, meanwhile, says he is aware the sign existed and guesses that it was removed when the Hollywood Pictures Backlot was renovated and replaced with Hollywood Land in the mid-to-late 2000s.
Gottula confirms that theory, saying that when California Adventure started its billion-dollar renovation somewhere around 2008 or 2009, the park got rid of many of the punny signs and false fronts that resembled a Hollywood backlot.
Outside of a handful of photos proving the sign existed, there isn’t much online about Hollywood Pictures Backlot as it was when the park opened in 2001. (The exceptions: There is a lot written about the area of the park’s two most infamous bombs, a ride called Superstar Limo and an immersive dining experience called ABC’s Soap Opera Bistro.)
We did, however, find examples of Disney bloggers displeased with the innuendo.
In a 2007 post titled, “Not that Punny: The Negative Effects of Disney’s California Adventure’s Wordplay,” a writer took the park to task for its “overabundance of puns, inside ‘California’ jokes, and nods to the Golden State that Imagineers threw in, rather than theme in.”
Among the writer’s biggest grievances is the Couch Casting Agency sign. After providing the Wikipedia definition for what the casting couch is, the writer said, “Interesting that the Imagineers would put a nod to this aspect of Hollywood in the park—shining brightly in neon, no less!”
A 2010 Disneyology blog post likewise bemoaned the park’s overreliance on puns, while a Theme Park Insider review of California Adventure from 2006 had a concise reaction to the Couch Casting Agency sign: “(!)”
Hollywood Land, as it is now, is considerably more wholesome, with the Disney Junior Dance Party and a Monsters Inc. ride serving as major attractions. But all evidence of the Philip A. Couch Casting Agency hasn’t exactly been purged. Sleuth long enough, and you’ll be able to track down souvenir pin versions of the sign being sold online.
Gottula laughed out loud when we told him the pins existed. “They make a Disney pin for literally everything: every trash bin, every logo, every sign,” he says. “So the fact that a pin exists of that doesn’t surprise me.”