Madame Leota has been frightening park guests for decades in DISNEYLAND. While her face is instantly recognizable to millions of park guests, most of them know little about the woman who provided a face for this classic character.
Like many stories involving the mansion, the true story behind Madame Leota is certainly stranger than fiction. When Imagineering conducted tests of the various special effects, they needed to use someone as a model just to show park management what the effect would look like. (It was assumed an actress would eventually be used for the permanent show.) They turned to a fellow Imagineer to sit in for their ghostly presence- the appropriately named Leota Toombs.
Ms. Toombs started out in Walt Disney Animation, eventually transferring to Imagineering to work on various projects at DISNEYLAND. Her performance dazzled park management, who assumed they were looking at the final version of the projection. While the soft spoken Leota Toombs didn't sound like a ghostly visage, she certainly looked like one and she was immortalized as the mysterious Madame Leota. Eleanor Audley, who provided the voices of Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and Lady Tremaine in Cinderella, was selected to provide Leota's voice. Ms. Toombs didn't set out to become a legendary Disney star, but she became one nonetheless.
Originally projected onto a stationary crystal ball, the special effects were upgraded and digitized and Leota now flies around her table. It's an amazing effect. Even better, Ms. Toombs' original footage is still used today in the classic attraction. Ms. Toombs passed away in 1991, but she is fondly remembered by the millions of people who still enjoy her work.
In 2001, DISNEYLAND created an attraction overlay for the holiday season themed after The Nightmare Before Christmas. New Leota footage was needed, so DISNEYLAND chose to keep Leota in the family so to speak, hiring one of Ms. Toombs' daughters to fill in.