Friday, July 17, 2015

Happy 60th, Disneyland!

It was 60 years ago today, on the afternoon of July 17th, 1955, that Walt Disney unveiled his magical theme park, Disneyland, to the world.  Ground broke on an unassuming bunch of orange groves, and neighboring houses were relocated to make room for a man with a dream of a theme park that both parents and children could enjoy together.

Walt needed funding to make his dream a reality, and he found a financier in ABC Television.  They promised to provide funds in exchange for family programming for their network.  Walt had never done television before, but it was a medium he had been curious to dabble in.  His first program was titled, "An Hour in Wonderland" and had used his new film Alice in Wonderland as the perfect subject.  ABC had encouraged, then later demanded, Walt host the program, himself.  While reluctant, we did as they requested, and a television star was born.

The park was scheduled to open a mere year after breaking ground.  It was only broadcast on ABC television, as they owned 33% of the park  at the time.  Hosts Art Linkletter, Ronald Regan and comedian Bob Cummings acted as emcees and saw the program to completion with jokes and warm commentary.  They sought out Hollywood elite who were invited to explore the park.  Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Danny Thomas were among the celebrities who brought their children to check out the magnificent display.  Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen were in full character from the set of Davy Crockett to introduce Fronteirland.  Those interested can search the internet for "Disneyland USA", a 2 disc DVD set from the Walt Disney Treasures Collection.

The opening was not without it's issues.  A week before opening, contractors sought out Imagineering (then called WED) approval for plumbing matters.  They hadn't funds or time to install both drinking fountains and restroom plumbing, so someone had to make the executive decision.  Engineers found Walt to decide.  It is said he was quoted, "Well, people can drink Pepsi or Coca-Cola, but they can't pee in the streets."  Concrete wasn't poured until two days before opening, and the hot summer sun kept it from curing.  Women's heels sank into the streets.  And to make matters worse, counterfeiters had forged copies of tickets to the event.  When cast members brought this to Walt's attention, he shrugged his shoulders and asked they honor the tickets.

Reviews were mixed the next day, however California residents drove in large numbers for the first public opening.  Walt was upset by the negative publicity, but the rave reviews that came in out shone the negative.  Disneyland was a success.

On this, Disneyland's 60th anniversary, I salute Mr. Disney.  He had a dream, saw it through despite a brother who tried as he could to keep an eye on out of control spending, and financiers who piled on the demands.

Without Walt, we wouldn't have Disneyland or the other 5 theme parks around the world.  I'm sure someone would eventually have had a similar idea, but I can assure you that it wouldn't have the same kind of luster.  Walt strove for attention to detail, storytelling and above all, heart.

Personally, I have a strong attachment to Disneyland.  Sure, being from the east coast, Walt Disney World was my Disney vacation destination for many years.  But it was here where Walt walked the streets.  His apartment above the firehouse remains as it was when he stayed there.  You can feel his presence when you hang around the firehouse doors.  But for me, Disneyland is also the place where I met my future bride.  I proposed to my now wife in front of the castle.  I love Disneyland.  Happy Anniversary, Walt!

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