My story and adventures with Herbie The Love Bug
By Hugh Chitwood
Photography by Dave Singha and Miles Liptak
Well, it all started for me in March 1969. I caught the "Love Bug" as millions of other people did that year. My family had just moved from Spartanburg, South Carolina to Ohatchee, Alabama, known as "The Biggest Little Town in the South". I was in the middle of the 3rd grade. As a child I went to the local theater to spend my Saturday's watching Disney movies over and over again. Well, I happened to see The Love Bug and couldn't get enough of Herbie and the amazing cast. The movie starred Dean Jones, Michele Lee, Buddy Hackett, David Tomlinson, Benson Fong and a wonderful casting of great Hollywood character actors. Dean Jones is and will always be a great role model to me. I'm honored to know him and his wonderful wife, Lory. They are pure blessings from the Lord!
Also in 1969, Walt Disney Productions produced a traveling show called, "Disney on Parade". This was an arena show that showcased the Disney characters in various production numbers. Fun stuff! I had to see the show. Why you ask? Because Herbie was in it! This was the Disney Studios way of promoting their new star. Herbie was the Disney Studios first live Disney character. Meaning, Herbie wasn't an animated character drawn with ink/paint. He's a real object that Disney's amazing special effects artists created. I believe that is one of the many reasons Herbie is so popular. You don't have to go see Herbie just in a theater, you can see him in real life. I've seen children and adults get so excited when they see Herbie in person. Their faces light up with delight. The adults become kids again because they are reliving what they experienced when they first saw a Herbie movie. It's a wonderful thing to see that excitement in people. Even if you see a VW that isn't detailed like Herbie, we still refer to it as a Herbie. I mean, come on. Volkswagen is known as "The People's Car". And that's what Herbie is too.
So I begged my parents to take me to the Birmingham Alabama Convention Center to see Disney On Parade. It was so cool! Mickey Mouse and all his Disney pals were in the show. Goofy and Herbie had a funny skit together. Goofy drove his ol' broken down Model T Ford car onto the arena area. He performed some funny gags with his car. Then all of a sudden Herbie drives out on stage. The crowd went crazy! Because as you know, The Love Bug was a smash hit and the top grossing film in the United States during 1969. Everyone loved Herbie! So I rushed down to the stage to try to get some pictures. I was in such a hurry that most of my pictures were out of focus. Herbie and Goofy had some funny moments together. Herbie drives off stage chasing Goofy. Then Goofy appears on a tight rope above the crowd. And who follows him on the tight rope. None other that Herbie The Love Bug! It was amazing to see that great stunt in person. That topped the show and I'll never forget it!
I mention that story because the Herbie in the Disney on Parade show is the same Herbie that Dean Jones owned. That was his Herbie you saw on The Love Bug DVD. I'll give you a brief story on how Dean became the owner of an original Herbie car. Back in the early 1990's, I believe it was 1994, Disneyland contacted Dean and said, and "We would like to give you an original Herbie car." Dean accepted their offer. They invited Dean to Disneyland and had a parade down Main Street USA Dean was standing inside of Herbie waving at the crowd through Herbie's rag top. Dean was presented with a huge Herbie "pink slip" in front of the Disneyland Castle along with Mickey Mouse. Disneyland also had made up special license plates that said, "I'm Dean's".
Now this Beetle was no ordinary Beetle. Back in 1968 the Disney Special Effects Department took a real 1963 VW Beetle and gutted the inside. They removed the front and back seats, gear shift, motor, etc. Then they put a wooden platform where the front seats were. Underneath the wooden platform is the main electrical panel that operates Herbie. The original metal floor pan was still there but they put an electric motor where the VW motor use to be. This Herbie is technologically speaking, a golf cart as far as the electrical panel and motor go. Dean's Herbie was not street legal and is known as a Special Effects trick car which was made especially for the 1969 Disney on Parade arena show. Dean owned Herbie for about ten years. He fixed up Herbie and loaned it to his friend who had a car dealership. Herbie was in the showroom for years. If anyone would like their picture taken with Herbie, the dealership would charge people and that money went to charity. Dean said they raised thousands of dollars for charity. A perfect idea! Because that's what Herbie is all about, helping people.
I worked at The Disney Company for over sixteen years and thirteen of those years at Walt Disney Imagineering as an Archivist in the Slide Library. Then one day a Disney employee suggested me to the DVD team to be a consultant on The Love Bug DVD. So when they asked me I was honored to help in any way I could. Which I might add, is a pure dream come true for me. I could never have imagined that this would have ever happened to me. I had worked on several Disney DVD's for the team. I had met Dean several times over the years. The first time we met was in a parade in Gadsden Alabama back in 1977. Dean went back to Alabama to see his family and while he was there he got to be in a Christmas parade in Gadsden. Dean was raised in Decater Alabama, which is about an hour from Ohatchee where I was raised. This is another amazing thing that connects Herbie, Dean and I together. Meaning, Dean's from Alabama and I am too. When I saw Disney on Parade that was the same Herbie in the show that Dean now owned. The Herbie car Dean owned was sent to Disneyland after the Disney on Parade arena show ended its tour. That Herbie was in the Disneyland parades for over 20 years, then Dean owned Herbie and now I do. The connections still amaze me!
During The Love Bug DVD production I was asked to be involved with the research, interviews, commentary, etc. Dean and I got to talk about many things over this time. One day Dean said, "Hugh, why don't you have a Herbie car?" I said, "Well Dean, I've had several VW Beetles over the years hoping to make it into a Herbie. It never worked out for many reasons." Dean said, "Well, I think you should have a Herbie." I agreed completely with Dean. So then he said, "Why don't you cover over to my house and meet Herbie. I think you of all people should own Herbie." One Saturday I went over to Dean and Lory's house to meet Herbie. It was an amazing day! Dean and Lory welcomed me into their home as family. As I pulled into the driveway there was Herbie. I got that feeling that I talked about earlier. I was so jazzed to see Herbie in person! I felt like I did when I first saw The Love Bug in the theater when I was a child.
And especially when I saw Herbie in Disney on Parade. And that's the same original Herbie car 33 years later! As I got out my car (his name is Buddy) I walked up to Herbie and patted him and said, "Hey Herbie. My name is Hugh Chitwood. It's nice to meet you." Then I went in the house to visit with Dean and Lory. I talked to Dean about why I've always wanted an original Herbie car and what I would do with the Herbie he owned. I wanted to have Herbie available for parades, press events, car shows, charity fundraisers, etc. Herbie should always be used for positive things in life. Helping people is what Herbie is all about. So after we talked Dean said, "Well Hugh, that's sounds great. Let's go outside so you can meet Herbie." I have to say, it was a very exciting feeling to have Dean Jones introduce me to Herbie. He showed me all of Herbie's special effects. I don't know if you know this or not, this Herbie is a trick car. Dean is an amazing man! He climbs in Herbie and sits in the special seat in the back of Herbie where you drive him. Dean starts pulling levers to open up Herbie's trunk to show me Herbie's teeth, gums and tongue. Then Dean pulls another lever to make Herbie's doors open and close. It was so cool to experience and see this in person. It brought back so many great memories of when I saw this same Herbie car in the Disney on Parade show in Birmingham, Alabama 33 years ago.
Dean then started to explain how Herbie works. Meaning how to make Herbie's special effects work and how to drive him. Dean knows Herbie inside and out. I was and am still amazed at Dean's knowledge of his Herbie car. We then sat outside in a swing under these beautiful trees in Dean and Lory's backyard and talked about Herbie and various other things. Mainly about making a difference in this world. Being a positive influence in life. I told Dean that he's been a great role model to me in my life and to so many other people. Dean is a humble man and was very grateful and thankful for what I said. Then Dean suggested that I think about if I would like to own Herbie and to let him know. I'd been thinking about owning an original Herbie for over 33 years at that time. Still, I understood what Dean was saying, it is a big responsibility. And I was willing to take that responsibility to make sure I always do a great job to represent Herbie, Dean and the Disney Company in a positive way. Dean, Lory and I are Christians. Dean knew I needed to pray about this big decision. So Dean said, "Hugh, I going to leave you alone here with Herbie. I know you need to pray about this decision. Please take all the time you need. When you finish praying and have peace from the Lord. Come on in the house. Lory and I will be there for you." So I prayed very hard about this big decision. After a while I went back in the house to see Dean and Lory and told them I have peace about my decision and I would be honored to be the new owner of Herbie. They were very happy and we all hugged each other knowing the Lord's will was done. And that's the way it happened and I still can't believe it did happen at all. It still seems like a dream to me. A wonderful dream I get to live again and again every day. I could have never imagined this, especially for a country boy like me from Alabama! All I have to say is that dreams do come true and I'm sure of that! And I say to everyone, go after your dreams with all the passion you have inside you. Your dreams will become a reality. If you believe!
Well, that’s my adventures with Herbie…so far. New adventures are to come. I just finished late last year in 2005 having a two car garage built for Herbie. I call it, “Herbie’s Firehouse”. I’m very pleased with how it turned out. And, yes, Herbie likes it too! He smiles everyday when I see him. I also formed a small business called, Hughbie. I’m now working on my website www.hughbie.com or org or net. My friend Bruce Gordon helped me get the website set up. He’s amazing! So check it out to see what new adventures Herbie is up to. You know Herbie, he’s always moving forward. He doesn’t stay in neutral or reverse. Ha! Ha!
For me, dreams do come true. Just have faith, believe in yourself, set goals and work hard to accomplish your dreams. And hopefully along the way encourage others to do the same. Always moving forward in life.