“Serpents and spiders, tail of a rat. Call in the spirits, wherever they’re at!” I’d have to say, one of my favorite Disney characters is Madame Leota, the fortune telling woman whose head is projected in the crystal ball in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion attraction. In my recent trip to Disneyland, I noticed the woman looked different than the woman I remembered as a child. Did Disney update the ride some time ago and replace the original Madame Leota with a new actor? I decided to investigate and was quite pleased with what I found. The original voice of Madame Leota was Eleanor Audley. The original actor for Madame Leota was a well respected Walt Disney Imagineer named Leota Toombs Thomas. Leota began working for WED (Walt Elias Disney) from a very young age and became a talented model builder, character artist and costumer for the company. She worked on several projects throughout her careeer including The Enchanted Tiki Room, The Hall of Presidents, The Haunted Mansion, and The Jungle Cruise. Her first husband, Harvey Toombs, was a Disney animator. She met her second husband, Hugh Thomas, while inspecting the banks of The Jungle Cruise ride in Florida. (There’s that Disney magic!). People who knew her and had a chance to work with her said that she was a gifted and extremely dedicated hard worker, and was an extremely nice and generous person.
Leota was not only used for the Madame Leota crystal ball, but also the ghost known as “Little Leota”, the tiny lady in a wedding dress you see as you are exiting the ride. “Come back…Come back…be sure and bring your …death certificate.” So why arent they using the original Madame Leota anymore? Well in 2006, Disney Imagineers revamped the crystal ball effect so it would float above the table. Kim Irvine, the daughter of the original “Madame Leota” has taken the place of the spirited psychic so now it’s Kim’s face you see in the crystal ball. How fitting. Leota Toombs is not forgotten however. She has become a Disney Legend and was memorialized in the Haunted Mansion in Florida with an animated tombstone that reads:
- Dear sweet Leota
- Beloved by all
- In regions beyond now,
- But having a ball
Here’s to you Leota, my favorite happy haunt!