The people are what makes Disney magic. We would discover this to be true whenever we’d visit Disneyland. Cast members there all wear name tags, and underneath their names, the tag lists where they’re from. This would lead to lots of interesting conversations—and we were always looking for people from West Virginia. Over time, we found several, and it was fascinating to learn how they’d made their way to California just as we had.
If people are what makes Disney magic, then that’s especially true of Betty Taylor. She performed on stage at Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe Revue for over 31 years, popularizing the role of Slue Foot Sue. Her life story is an interesting one, and as with many famous Disney figures, one that we can take inspiration from.
A Performer from the Start
It might be that Betty was born for the stage. She came into this world on October 7, 1919, born in Seattle, and by age three, she’d already begun taking dance lessons. When she was 12, she landed her first professional stage role in a production that played in Vancouver, British Columbia. By age 14, she was singing and dancing in nightclubs around the United States, and when she was 18, Betty had her very own band. This band was called “Betty and Her Beaus,” a group of Betty plus 16 male musicians. They were quite popular in Seattle, appearing all the time at the Trianon Ballroom.
On Stage At The Golden Horseshoe (Postcard)
A lively, gay finale by the colorful costumed cast of the Golden Horseshoe Revue in Frontierland, one of Disneyland’s many exciting entertainments.
From there, Betty moved on, ultimately performing with a western radio show called “Sons of the Pioneers.” Prior to Disney, she had quite the career, traveling to perform with Les Brown, Red Nichols, and Henry Bussey, all of whom were big band leaders. Most notably, Betty performed with Frank Sinatra. This was a gig that lasted six weeks in Las Vegas.
It was in 1956 that her big break with Disney came. She was in Los Angeles, and about to go on the road as a drummer for a music group. The opportunity for a “singing and hoofing” job at Disney’s new theme park came her way, and she auditioned, landing the Slue Foot Sue role.
As Slue Foot Sue
Slue Foot Sue started as a cartoon character from the 1948 Melody Time film. She was a cowgirl in the Pecos Bill segment, a blue-eyed, red-haired daredevil with a sassy personality. Betty recreated this role on stage, and it was a position that she enjoyed for many years, one where she brought life and magic to the stage. Comedian Steve Martin, who used to be a Disneyland coworker, once wrote of her, “How come I’m the only one who grows old around here?” Betty herself said that the role wasn’t a difficult one, “but rather like a Mae West or a Kitty on the vintage television series Gunsmoke.”
In this role, Betty was the leader of a group of sassy western dance hall girls called the Golden Horseshoe Revue. The Revue (which was originally called the “Golden Horseshoe Saloon”) is a western-themed restaurant with a stage inside that originally opened at Disneyland in 1955. Though another actress originally played the Slue Foot Sue role, in 1956, just a few months after the show’s inception, the part was recast. Betty won a four-week contract—but her career with Disney would go on much, much longer than that!
The show’s story had her as the sweetheart of Pecos Bill, who was played by Wally Boag. For close to three decades, the show ran for five days a week, which is how it ended up going on to become the world’s longest running stage show—even going so far as to earn a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. Betty appeared in nearly 45,000 performances for close to 10 million guests over the years.
There were times, too, when Betty and the Revue group would perform outside of Disneyland. One notable instance was a 1968 USO tour that took them to Newfoundland and Greenland. Two years after that, the troupe performed at the White House for President Nixon and his family. And on TV, in Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Walt Disney himself asked her to perform her Golden Horseshoe routine for a national audience.
Betty Taylor’s Retirement
The final Revue performance came on October 12, 1986, and Betty’s retirement came shortly after that in 1987. Even after her retirement, though, she still performed at special events. One example was “Walt Disney’s Wild West,” which was a retrospective of his vision of the American West that was played in 1995 at the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles.
Pepsi Cola’s Golden Horseshoe (Postcard)
One of the few can-can shows. The most scintillating shows in Disneyland at Pepsi Cola’s Golden Horseshoe
Personality Onstage and Offstage
Steve Martin wasn’t the only one who had nothing but the best to say of Betty. So many people described her as “elegant on and off stage,” and she was known as a kind, generous and ageless figure within the Disney landscape.
She always seemed to make the best of things, too. In one notable instance, her microphone cut out during a performance. Instead of trying to hide it, she used it to comedic effect, making the malfunction part of the performance rather than something that took away from it. On stage, she reached down the front of her dress and pulled out the microphone’s body pack, handing it to the stage manager while explaining, “This is how it works!” as the stage manager brought her a new microphone.
Though she led a busy life with her usual Disney performances, Betty would also participate in charity events and other Disneyland features. For instance, she spent many years voicing an audio-animatronic pig at the America Sings attraction. Here, she’d sing “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey?”.
Even in later years at her nursing home, Betty would continue to sing, often performing for fellow residents. Singing and bringing joy to the world was what she loved to do.
Unfortunately, it was on June 4, 2011 that Betty Taylor passed away—just a day after her old Golden Horseshoe co-star Wally Boag, as chance would have it. Still, with so many performances behind her, Betty left a stunning legacy in her wake. The stage was definitely her passion, and she proved that with a life spent performing.