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Disneyland Article
I Love You, Baby, But The Season's Over Part 1
Dick Steele
Winter Quarters

October 20, 1955

At age 17, I graduated from Dorchester High School in Boston in and soon ran away from home to join my older brother, Tony, who was a flying trapeze artist with the Gil Gray Circus, traveling throughout the Mid-west and South.

I had started with the show in mid July, playing 25 dates in 77 days, traveling through seven states: Nebraska, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. We were now heading to Winter Quarters at the fairgrounds in Enid Oklahoma.

It was to be a less hectic time. No more one night stands. We wouldn't have to set up and tear down the entire show almost every day, and then drive all night to the next town. I found a corner up in the loft of the barn where I set up my Army cot and dumped my trusty leather bag which contained everything I owned and settled in for the night, waiting to see what tomorrow would bring.

I woke up bright and early the next morning as usual and was taking a walk around the fair grounds when I saw a car a '53 Buick racing across the track, raising dust behind it in the morning sun. It came to a screeching halt outside Mr. Gray's house trailer.

The news was that Ted DeWayne had appeared on The Mickey Mouse Club television program on their first Circus Day episode and had been talking with Hal Adelquist from the Disney staff. It seemed that a crisis was looming. Disneyland had opened but one of the sections was not completed on time and Walt wasn't happy. DeWayne suggested putting a circus starring the Mouseketeers in that spot temporarily. Adelquist agreed and they were ready to hire "The Show Beautiful" to fill the spot from November 25 through January 8, with two seventy-five minute performances a day, seven days a week, including Christmas and New Years. They had ordered "The World's Largest Candy-striped Circus Tent" and it would be dedicated on November 11.

The equipment was in tough shape after the season of travel and wear and tear. . It was now October 21, leaving us only 2 weeks to set up, rehearse with the kids, and open the show on the 25th.

It was well known that Walt Disney did not accept anything shoddy. The story goes that a couple of days before the park opened in July, Mr. Disney had inspected Main Street USA and found the paint job unacceptable. He ordered the painting crew to repaint the whole town. They offered to get it done that weekend. Walt said," No, I want it done by tomorrow." Every available painter in the area was commandeered and they worked all night to get the job done for the dedication ceremony on Sunday July 17 and on time for the official park opening on the 18th.

So, that now left the few of us to complete the refurbishing and painting which had originally been planned for "all winter", to be done and transported 1400 miles to Anaheim in three weeks. So much for the "less hectic time". We worked day and night and feverishly finished preparing everything for The Mickey Mouse Club Circus. . We got it done on time and we were ready to go.

We arrived in Anaheim on Thursday, November 10th and drove down a short road into an orange grove, in the middle of which was a large white house. This was to be our living quarters for our stay at Disneyland. It was across the road from the park and would be an easy walk to the under construction highway to get to The World's Largest Candy-striped Circus Tent, which I could see in the distance was just being raised.

In the morning I grabbed a ride with the show manager, Max over to the park to begin work. The tent was up all brand new and beautiful. Our rigging trucks were temporarily parked by the back door so we could begin unloading.

The animal trucks were across the yard. The animals were outside under canopies hooked to the trailers enjoying their new surroundings after the long ride.

As I was looking around scouting the terrain, two more trucks pulled in, towing large trailers- not quite house trailers and not quite commercial rigs. They were beautiful and painted bright red. It turns out that these were to be school classrooms for the Mouseketeers. Max called us all together and outlined what we needed to accomplish. He had a clip-board and a bunch of papers. He explained that in California we would need to join a labor union in order to work. I wasn't sure I was going to like that until he advised us that our new rate of pay would be $126.50 per week with time-and-a-half for overtime, and double time for Sundays. This was far better than the $75 a week I had earned during the season, so - without hesitation; I signed my paper and was now a proud member of "The Laborers and Hod Carriers Union, Local 652".

Since we had to work over the weekend in order to get everything done on time for opening, my first pay check amounted to $214.98. I immediately hitched a ride into Santa Ana and purchased a 1946 Ford Sedan. It was black, it ran, and it was only $200.00. I also got my California Drivers License with my home address listed as "Disneyland Circus, Anaheim, California." I was living the high life and proudly drove my car home to the orange grove.

Thanksgiving Dinner

The tent was up, the rigging was all set, the performers were all here, and we had rehearsed with the Mousketeers all week. I had been assigned to Annette Funicello for the spec and web productions. That meant that I would boost her onto her pony for the opening parade and finale numbers and lift her up to her perch for the Spanish Web routine, spinning the rope when necessary and generally spotting her during the aerials. I was excited and as usual, rose early, more than ready for our dress rehearsal. I put on my new dark blue coveralls with the bright red belt and wide stripe down the shoulders and legs. I carefully placed the double pointed service cap on my head. It had the Mickey Mouse Club logo embroidered on it. I put on my brand new five dollar steel toe work boots, looked in the mirror and thought Dick, you're a damn good looking man! I jumped in my new car and tooled over to the employee parking lot. The guard lowered the device in the ground where the sign read "Serious tire damage may occur," and let me pass. I was ready to go. By nine a.m., all the cast and crew had arrived and the dress rehearsal began. Oddly enough, it ran flawlessly and was carefully watched by the Disney staff.

Ted DeWayne invited everyone to come back to the tent after changing to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. When we arrived, there was a magnificent catered spread. There was a straw cornucopia full of fresh fruits, several roast turkeys, mounds of corn on the cob and a large pot of mashed potatoes. There was cranberry sauce and hot gravy. There were gallons of California apple cider and then there were the pies apple, squash and mincemeat. We all picked up a metal tray, paper plates, cups and flatware and walked along the table where we were served, then went to sit in the audience seats to enjoy our meal.

This was a great opportunity to meet some of the performers who had not been with us on the Gil Gray show during the regular season and to kibitz with the Mouseketeers. They were all there and I noticed that Annette and Lonnie were holding hands. Was this behavior allowed? This was my most unusual Thanksgiving ever. From now on Mickey and Minnie would always be included in my holiday celebration along with John and Priscilla.

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