Sunday, July 26, 2015

Epcot's SMRT-1 and Computer Central Exhibit

By Keith Mahne

Back in the early days of EPCOT Center when CommuniCore was still a pavilion dedicated to technological advances, there was a couple of really wonderful attractions that have always mesmerized me. SMRT-1 and the Computer Central Exhibit located in the northeast quadrant of the area continue to live in old EPCOT Center admires memories. Let's take a look back at these two CommuniCore favorites in today's new article...

EPCOT Computer Central, sponsored by Sperry Univac, was an attraction that could only have existed at EPCOT in its prime. It was, essentially, the computerized nerve center of the entire park. Guests could look down upon the mainframes from above, while a brief show (using the same Pepper’s Ghost effect as the Haunted Mansion’s ballroom) explained how the operation worked. “Earlie the Pearlie,” played by Broadway actor Ken Jennings, was the Cockney song-and-dance man who hosted the show and performed the Sherman Brothers’ cult classic, The Computer Song, that you can listen to below...
(Please pause the Disney Avenue Music Player above prior to playing the song below if you are on a desktop computer.)



Take a look at this wonderful illustrated pamphlet from Sperry that provides a conceptual overview of EPCOT Computer Central...

Having debuted at the dawn of the modern computer era, the emphasis throughout CommuniCore was primarily on educating the public about computers. The feature exhibit was a tour through EPCOT Computer Central, the computer hub of EPCOT Center that ran nearly everything throughout the park.

The original version was named the Astuter Computer Revue (featuring the song heard above by the Sherman Brothers, "The Computer Song"). Listen to this rare recording of the complete Astuter Computer Revue below...


If guests walked away from the original show learning anything, it was that one viewing of this show was more than enough. Disney recognized that guests weren't really connecting with the show and quickly closed it in January 1984. Only a month later it was replaced by Backstage Magic, a show that booted out the Englishman in favor of Julie, a girl-next-door-type hostess and her electronic sidekick I/O. They presented a more intelligent and less grating take on the computer story that ran for nearly ten years before closing in October 1993.

You can see a few more important photos of the Computer Central exhibit below...

Computer Central under construction.

EPCOT's sole Utilidor, under construction

Elsewhere in Computer Central were interactive displays that were popular with guests. SMRT-1, a purple and chrome robot set on a rotating pedestal surrounded by telephones, involved a never-ending stream of guests in trivia and guessing games.  When your turn came up, SMRT-1 asked you (in its synthesized voice) to speak your answer loud and clear through the phone.  It also spent some time ad-libbing and singing between games: "If I keep this up I might graduate from Solid State."

SMRT-1 seemed to be related to other robots such as BIT from the WorldKey Information System and ORAC-1 of the Magic Kingdom's WEDway Peoplemover, that all oozed cuteness and lovability.  Of the three, SMRT-1 was definitely the least sugary and accordingly the most enjoyable.  Sadly, SMRT-1's shell could be seen for several years in the Contemporary Resort Hotel's Grand Canyon Concourse as a piece of restaurant décor.

Now, let's watch the 1982 opening of the Epcot Computer Central exhibit that is pure early 80s goodness. With that comes jumpsuits, bland colors with the occasional use of sequins, and some funky dance moves. I really enjoy the flag bearers holding the Communicore logo. This is vintage 1980s Epcot at its finest...

As E. Card Walker, former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, said at the opening of Epcot on October 24, 1982...

To all who come to this Place of Joy, Hope and Friendship

Epcot is inspired by Walt Disney's creative vision. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, wonders of enterprise and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all.

May EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire and, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man's ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere.

My hope is that Epcot can find it's way once again and return to a time when it really did entertain, inform and inspire as these classic attractions once did for so many.


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

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