Fantasyland in Disneyland Park was reborn 40 years ago last month. But there was an extra bit of magic still missing from the land when it finally reopened.
Since 1961, Tinker Bell had “flown” 160 feet from the top of Matterhorn Mountain and above Sleeping Beauty Castle to ignite the nightly Fantasy in the Sky fireworks show. It was an idea developed by Tommy Walker, the first director of Disneyland Entertainment, and subsequently became an icon of the Disney experience.
Having a flesh-and-blood Tink fly through the air may not seem that important to the show at first glance. But she gave the fireworks a human element the audience could connect with. A unique something extra that made the fireworks “Disney” fireworks.
However, in order to accommodate the construction of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Tink was grounded in 1978 and didn’t return when the new attraction was finished and opened a year later.
Five years after Tink’s last appearance, Disneyland Entertainment saw the opening of New Fantasyland as the perfect opportunity to bring Tink back to the skies above the park. Gina Rock, an accomplished international circus aerialist, was selected as the new Tinker Bell.
On June 18, 1983, 40 years ago this month, Tink flew gracefully over the castle once again—reviving the uniquely Disney element to Fantasy in the Sky and bringing smiles and delight to millions of guests.
Gina continued to portray Tink for the next 22 years—the longest run of any Disneyland Tink performer—and hung up her wings in 2005.
Gina Rock (Geospatial Intelligence Graduate Certificate) has more than a decade of disaster response experience, and, over that time, has been deployed to 32 disaster declarations serving victims of flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, landslides, ice storms and wind driven rain.
“During my deployments, I had to travel extensively to reach victims affected by these disasters, and if it were not for our current GPS systems, and available mapping tools I would not have been efficient with time management,” Rock said. After Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, Gina was deployed to Beaumont, Texas, where she is training new site inspectors to assess damage to parks, roads, city hall, schools, fire stations, historical landmarks, bridges, hospitals, culverts and the removal of debris.”
In July 2017, I had the second edition of my book published. It is about Disneyland and all of its history. It contains over 3,700 fun facts and over 750 photos. Inside on page 430 I wrote a mini biography about Gina. If you would like your own copy of this 700 page book, just visit my website.
An article about the flying Tinker Bells in Disneyland was written by author Jim Korkis on March 9, 2022. Tiny Kline, Mimi Zerbini, Judy Kaye, Patty Rock, and Gina Rock were the topic of discussion.
There certainly seem to be a lot of Tinker Bell fans and I've written about live action Disney Tinker Bells several times in the past. Here is the story of the fourth Tinker Bell to fly over Disneyland: Gina Rock, who did so for over twenty years and retired just as the new fireworks show, "Remember: Dreams Come True," at Disneyland began for the celebration of the 50th birthday.
Like many specialty performers, Gina Rock has had a long and varied career from dangling from a high-wire motorcycle to being hung from the neck as a human "clanger" on the Liberty Bell in the bi-centennial edition of the Ringling Brothers circus to being turned into an ostrich in a Hollywood magic show.
Rock was the daughter of a physics engineer named Robert and his wife Bernice who was content to be a homemaker. It was during gymnastics practice at her high school in the 1970s that legendary Hollywood stuntman Bob Yerkes spotted Rock tumbling and invited her to train in his back yard, a dangerous area designed to train stunt people and keep them in top shape.
Currently in his Seventies, Yerkes has doubled for celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bob Hoskins as well as performing very dangerous stunts and being a stunt coordinator and advisor on films like "Batman Forever" and "Problem Child".
While practicing in Yerkes' backyard, the high school senior met a man from the Shrine Circus who was working on a motorcycle act. He suggested she slide down a high wire dangling by her neck. After mastering the trick, she was invited to join the circus in Texas as an aerialist. Her parents instantly hated the idea but it didn't prevent her from joining the circus and learning first hand the hard life of a circus performer, especially one who did not come from a circus family.
One night a fellow performer told her about a special Ringling Brothers Circus audition and he drove her 250 miles to the audition. She was signed on to be a showgirl/aerial ballerina for the 1976-77 bicentennial tour.
For two years, she performed with Ringling and then spent another three years on the flying trapeze at the Circus-Circus casino in Reno, Nevada.
Eventually, Rock returned to her home in the San Fernando Valley where she married a trapeze artist she met in Yerkes' backyard. In need of work, she recalled her grad night at Disneyland when she first saw Tinkerbell fly and had thought: "Oh, my God. I want that job."
Rock knew that Tinker Bell's nightly flight had been sidelined when her landing tower had been torn down to
build the new Fantasyland in 1983. Being petite herself and with a love of flying, Rock called to see if Disneyland had plans to bring back Tinker Bell's flight.
As luck would have it, auditions to find a new pixie were under way at that very moment. Rock auditioned and got the job. At twenty-seven years old, she would be Disneyland's fourth flying sprite. The previous flying Tinks were Tiny Kline, Mimi Zerbini (who only performed one summer), and Judy Kaye who like Rock all had previous circus experience.
The only stipulation from the Disney Company was that she not get pregnant. "Two weeks after they put that wand in my hand ...," Rock laughed without finishing the thought. She flew through that first summer anyhow in the early stages of pregnancy, with no one the wiser. (In fact, she flew two summers as Tink while she was pregnant.)
On a typical night, Rock disguised herself in a coat and hat to make her way through the park to the Matterhorn. There she rode an elevator five flights, then climbed five sets of stairs. At the top, two men took wind readings. If it was safe to fly, they hooked her to a trolley wire and then basically threw her off the Matterhorn.
"It was like launching a rocket," she said, "What I would do is close my eyes right before I flew. On top of the Matterhorn, especially on a full-moon night, it was so beautiful. I would listen to the story, and become the character"
With a spotlight on her, Rock traveled 13 miles per hour, as high as 160 feet above the park for two football fields. Her actual shift lasted about 23 seconds, depending on the wind. She passed over Sleeping Beauty's castle, slipping into a landing tower at Thunder Mountain and sneaking back to her car.
"She's supposed to be a light," Rock says of Tink. "She's really not supposed to be a person." Said Rock who won't reveal how much she was paid for her short flight. "That's part of the mystery of Tinker bell."
In the second summer, Rock brought her sister-in-law in as a backup. About eight years ago another woman was hired to share the flights.
Rock was given an opportunity to audition for the new fireworks show with a more intricate flight pattern for Tinker Bell. However, now 48 years old, she felt it was finally time to hang up the wings and wand and chose not to audition despite pangs of regret.
"I mean, 21 years was a beautiful run," she said. "The whole first part of my life was like living a `Quantum Leap' episode. Like living in a dream."
Currently, she is writing a motivational book for children that encourages them to follow their wildest dreams. "I'm the kid who read all the books and I wanted to live in those books. I didn't want to keep reading. I wanted to jump into it," stated Gina who hopes her book will inspire a new generation to soar like Tinker Bell in the night sky while fireworks frame their silhouettes.
By Author Jim Korkis (photo from Yesterland)
Gina did her first interview with me at the end of 2015. My article was published in the Disneyana Fan Club Newsletter for April/May 2016.
The article was re-published on www.DisneyScoop.com in January 2019 with more photos added in and some updated information.
You can click to download the newsletter further down.
Check out this great video by Disney Dan. He talks about the history of Disneyland's flying Tinker Bell and mentions Gina at the 6:30 mark (video is already queued to start at that part).