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Disneyland Article
Disneyland And Imagineering Part 12
Although Disney had a dislike for the typical carnivals of the time, it wasn't so much the content, but the environment and the lack of attention to detail. Long before the park was built, after one of his frequent visits to Griffith Park with his daughters, he stated, "Things could be done better than this. A park should be designed for total family enjoyment. Besides a merry-go-round, there could be other rides, but they should all be safe and attractive. The grounds should be landscaped, clean and well maintained " So when he started to imagine his theme park, elements that were a part of that environment carried over into Disneyland. As we saw from Anderson and Coats' contributions, one of them was the dark ride. But, the most significant fixture of the amusement park, the one that had most impact and the one that triggered his vision was the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round. It was built by Spillman Engineering in 1926, first transported to Mission Beach, Southern California, and in 1937 moved to Griffith Park. It has become the last Spillman Carousel that is still in operation. The horses were hand made with the carousel housing a Stinson 165 Military Band Organ, custom made to supply the music. It has been seen in numerous television and motion pictures over several decades. As he sat watching his daughters ride round and round, this is what truly started it all. Of course, this wouldn't be just any carousel, but I should point out, there's some debate about the difference between a merry-go-round and a carousel. Some argue that a carousel is more ornate, featuring horses and spinning counter clockwise. The word carousel comes from the Italian word "carosello" meaning "little war" and was originally used for mounted combat training. Since most knights were right handed, this direction allowed for the right arm to be on the outside. A merry-go-round contains horses, lions, tigers and elephants, spun in the opposite direction and was generally of a much simpler design, generally found in traveling carnivals. Today, the terms have become pretty much synonymous, with a variety of all types and sizes. Placement of the carousel was moved around with it ending up in the medieval themed Fantasyland. Like the Disneyland Railroad and the Mark Twain, it would be unique and have to have Disney's stamp of approval. Disney went outside his own pool of Imagineers to find just the right carousel. He chose Ross Davis, a specialist and owner of carousels, one of them being the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round. Davis was someone Disney put his confidence in to find the right carousel for the park, and he didn't let him down. Two thousand miles away, in Toronto's Sunnyside Park, resided what would become King Arthur's Carrousel, adding an additional "r" to its name. It was built in Philadelphia by William Dentzel, during the 1920s. Housed in a domed building located next to a popular boulevard, it could be seen and heard easily through its open doors. Whether a merry-go-round or carousel, they take on a life of their own and have their own language. First, a carousel can either contain horses or an entire menagerie, including bears, cats, deer, elephants, giraffes and horses. Included in the design there may also be chariots, where riders can sit, but still ride. With respect to the horses, there are "standers," which are stationary, positioned around the outer edge. There are also "jumpers," which are crank-driven, and are typically positioned in the two inner rows; however there is no hard, fast rule. The Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round contained all "jumpers." The horses are hand painted in different color schemes and decorated with a variety of ornaments such as jeweled bits, bridles, collars and harnesses. Underneath the equally decorated saddles were blankets of all different colors and patterns. In addition to being stationary or moving, artistically, the horses are given labels for the different poses they represent. A horse with one ear cocked forward and one back is referred to as a "listener." Horses with their heads tilted back looking upwards are "stargazers," and when all four feet are off the ground they are "jumpers." Less often seen are "top knot ponies," where the forelock is blown upwards as if by the wind. Oftentimes, a carousel will have a "lead horse," one which has had special attention from the woodcarver, showcasing his best work. It is often more ornate and is more likely poised for action. When it comes to the overall design of all the horses on the carousel, they each have a "romance side," that is, the side that faces the public. As with the "lead horse," the romance side shows more detail, again showcasing the woodcarver's expertise. When it came to safety, it was extremely important that riders were loaded in a very specific way. Riders had to be loaded evenly around the center hub, keeping the weight distribution uniform as well. Failure to follow this rule would result in the pole running through the horse to drop too low and come in contact with the ground.

When discussing Fantasyland with a reporter, Walt Disney proudly announced that, "In the middle of Fantasyland will be the King Arthur Carrousel, with leaping horses, not just trotting, but all of them leaping!" So in the fall of 1954, Ross Davis, in conjunction with Arrow Development, dismantled and transported the carousel to the park. As it was constructed originally, it was "menagerie" styled with a variety of animals. Since Disney had decided he wanted the carousel to be all "jumpers," a lot of major restructuring was going to have to be done. Additionally, Disney also wanted seventy-two horses total on the carousel, with thirteen backups making the final tally eighty-five. This meant that while the original carousel had rows of three, to get the number Disney wanted, the rows would have to increase to four. So when it came to rotation of the rows of horses for refurbishing, it was dubbed "four on, four off," because they were rotated out one row, four at a time. Assembling the horses, it soon became apparent that there were not enough to complete the project. So a search was made with horses coming from Looff, Coney Island, and Whitney's Playland. The flooring, outer rim, ornamentation, and center remained for the most intact, but the animals were removed and the crankshafts had to be re-engineered to accommodate the new stable of horses. When completed for the opening the horses were painted in base colors of brown, black, grey and reddish brown. Included in the design was "Jingles," Disney's "lead horse" for King Arthur's Carrousel. To draw attention to the original ornamentation and the newly detailed horses, Disney had the Imagineers design a high-peaked aluminum canopy to the overall design.

Countdown to Black Sunday

When we last left off, the clock was ticking-down to opening day, which was considered a "soft opening;" that is, dignitaries, invited guests, VIPs and limited public access. The following day, the park would be officially open to the public. We met Claude Coats and Ken Anderson, the two Imagineers that were largely responsible for the design of the dark rides that resided in Fantasyland. Initially, their job was to design the rides, but ultimately, they themselves had to physically install them as well after they were delivered by Arrow Development. Disney had hired an outside company to create the scenery for the Mr. Toad attraction. Their job was to take the sketches and dimensional tabletop model that Coats provided and create the twenty foot high cutouts. But the artists were not familiar with how to integrate the color scheme to the new and untested black light environment. So, what started with Mr. Toad, resulted with Coats and Anderson providing the scenic interiors for all three rides that would be combined with the ride systems that, as yet, had not been installed. The interior scenery was pre-constructed at WED studios and then transported to the park. When it came time to install the ride systems, the Snow White and Peter Pan tracks fit with few problems. However, when it came to Mr. Toad, at one section of the ride, the sets and the track did not fit. So, the crew had to quickly annex one end of the building to accommodate the oversight. In addition to the three dark rides, Arrow Development was also contracted to create the ride systems needed for the Mad Tea Party Teacups, Dumbo Flying Elephants, and the engine for the Casey Jr. Circus Train.

Even with the tension that developed at all levels as the park project progressed, Disney was adding artists and overseers and maneuvering them around. Nowhere was it more apparent than in the creation of Disneyland that Disney had astute intuition for assigning the right people to manage, design, or create for him. Nobody has a perfect track record. There are some well documented records and incidents involving different staff members that for one reason or another didn't remain on the Disneyland project. But, most of those didn't involve the Imagineers. More often than not, he was dead on. Even if they couldn't see it in themselves, he could. What ultimately existed in the spring was Joe Fowler running the daily park activities revolving around the physical construction, with Marvin Davis overseeing the artistic teams and their directors. Underneath Fowler and Davis were Bill Martin managing Fantasyland, Harper Goff in Adventureland, Wade Rubuttom, an Art Director, who worked briefly the first year managing Main Street. George Patrick and Gabe Scognomillo handled Frontierland and Tomorrowland respectively. It was becoming apparent that the park would open with Tomorrowland intact, but it was going to be a sprint to get "Tomorrow" ready for today. The pace was increasing park-wide as summer was approaching, adding nature's warmth as it might be described in a True-Life Adventure. But, on a hot day in late spring, workers undoubtedly described it a bit differently. But, it had to be a bit of a boost for the staff inside the park, as the construction was drawing curious onlookers driving around outside the property, wanting to get a closer look. These curious crowds were growing in size along the perimeter causing more traffic in the area, regularly. Many didn't just circle the property, but came closer to inquire more about how the project was developing. The activity around the park was gaining the attention in the local newspapers, and the Disney studio reported at one point, 9,500 potential guests had stopped for information. In a different article, it was reported that, "15,000 autos filled with curious kids and their no-less curious parents drove out from Los Angeles and surrounding cities for a preliminary peek every weekend."

In the meantime, the combination of the local plumbers and asphalt layers going out on strike put Disney in a precarious position. He was ready to use pay toilets to supplement the lack of bathrooms, and limiting drinking fountains, knowing full well that there was piping that still had to be completed, regardless. At the same time, the Teamsters were pressuring management in the park to unionize certain positions. How would he meet his deadline without the contracted workers? Could he risk loosing more workers in a sympathy walkout if he used non-union employees? If local union problems weren't complicating matters, at the end of May, Joe Fowler received a message that the Mad Tea Party ride system wasn't completed. To make matters worse, it was in Mountain View, California, 400 miles away and there was a truckers strike in effect, threatening to cause more delays. Being a former Admiral, Fowler realized that he would have to use his influence and skill as a leader to approach the union representatives directly. It paid off, but it would cost the company more to have the plumbers return, having to agree to pay their post-strike wages retroactively. As far as the asphalt layers were concerned, Fowler wasn't able to negotiate successfully, so instead, he hired truckers to circumvent the strike area thereby getting the much needed materials to the park. Without having the paving completed, the park would look like a ghost town. For all of Fowler's leadership and ability to problem-solve, Disney asked him to remain on after the opening to run the park, which he accepted.

With the budget for landscaping now close to $400,00, Harper Goff and Bill Evans were still filling in the jungle foliage in Adventureland by searching the surrounding valley. Whether private home owner, local business, or even the city, if they had shrubbery they were willing to part with, Goff and Evans were more than willing to oblige. Next to the store in Frontierland the animal handlers were using college football audio tracks to gauge the reactions of the animals if they were exposed to excessive noise. Over in Tomorrowland, with a scant number of actual attractions completed, excluding the exhibits, it appeared more like a collection of independent vendor shops. A large portion of the two show buildings on the right and left side of the front corridor were still vacant. Completing the Rocket to the Moon attraction, sponsored by TransWorld Airlines, on-time was questionable as were the newly conceptualized speed ramps. Kaiser had struck a lucrative deal to be the supplier of aluminum, which was in every corner of the park. Ironically, the exhibit located in Tomorrowland that was to represent their company was also not finished. True, having the sponsors pay annually anywhere from $10,000 to $45,000 for the space they used helped budget-wise, but it was a compromise that never sat well with Disney. At some point he probably felt he should have named it Sponsorshipland. Although the 20,000 Leagues attraction was successful, it was an eleventh hour addition decided personally by Disney, figuring he would capitalize on the film's recent success and add a more dynamic attraction, even though it was more of an exhibit. Even with the desperate attempts to fill in and dress up Tomorrowland, it was incomplete, and to some degree, off center from what he wanted it to be.

Enter the Castmembers

Disney hired Van France earlier in the year and in late May he assigned him to create the cast members training program and manual. Being a former labor relations consultant for General Dynamics, the Kaiser-Fraiser Corporation and Kaiser Aluminum, this was a daunting task for someone who had no experience in the entertainment industry. Disney had very specific ideas in mind for how the staff would integrate with the guests, and he delegated his ideas to France. The park philosophy to be followed was, "Employees at Disneyland would create happiness for others". Feeling overwhelmed, it was to Van Frances' advantage that this close to the opening, his boss was literally running from place to place entrusting his subordinates to complete their assignments. He would often order changes involving detail that was questionable when it came to the bottom line. But, for Van France, it gave him and his assistant the much needed independence with only weeks to assemble the policies and procedures to present for approval. The projected number of employees needed was close to 600. Then he had to assemble a team of managers to interview and hire them. He was relieved that his work was generally accepted and moved quickly into the hiring phase. The actual training initiated the idea of looking at guests as something more than just someone going to an amusement park. It also transformed employees into castmembers. There were the castmembers who primarily ran attractions, and store salespeople and service oriented castmembers. All were expected to treat the guests as if they were more than just someone walking around, and if someone appeared to need assistance, that they stop what they were doing and make sure they got the helped they needed, to be pleasant, and smile. Disney wanted to create a themed park where people could go and have family fun together. He wanted guests to feel that as they entered through the tunnels and into the park, they could leave their problems behind and be transported to another time and place.

During the last few weeks in June, and all the way through to the soft opening, the size of the working crew went from approximately 800 to over 2000. Many were working overtime, double shifts, seven days a week, with some staying on the property for days at a time. Walt had his small upstairs apartment above the Firehouse, where he was spending more and more nights. While the rate of pay for many workers was ten times what they would normally make in 1955, it was adding more to the debt. Just prior to the opening, costs were estimated at somewhere between $11 million and $15 million.

Lights, Camera, Action! sort of

ABC was gearing up for the most extensive televised coverage ever attempted much less for a theme park opening. It was an ambitious project as only Disney would be a part. It wouldn't be just a telecast, it would be a live telecast for 90 minutes while the world watched, and the world would. Out of 165 million, 90 million viewers tuned in. In planning such an event, there where several problems to be addressed. Some dealt more with engineering and technical problems with the Imagineers frantically trying to get the attractions operable. A film production company that is going to move into a particular location to film, typically demands control of the area. Often times areas are cordoned off, detouring people and traffic. Televising a large theme park opening posed a great many problems. This was an event that was designed to invite guests to walk around, see what Disney had created, ride the attractions, and so on. But how was the film production crew going to be able to maneuver around the onslaught of an unknown number of people? Having cables running everywhere, and trying to ensure the guest's safety, could prove disastrous. Line directors and cameramen wouldn't know where guests would walk without being directed. Additionally, celebrities would be on hand to participate in different segments in the production, which adds to the already complicated situation. Sheldon Marks was an ABC producer selected to handle the opening, but was inexperienced at coordinating a production of this type and size. He would have to be able to coordinate with line or segment directors as the telecast moved from location to location. But unlike Disney, he was autonomous, unsure of himself, and did not realize the importance of delegation and teamwork. So, within the production crew, problems ensued, sometimes bumping heads with the Imagineers as well, who were dealing with their own problems.

Karl Bacon and Ed Morgan from Arrow Development traveled to the park to oversee the installation of the Teacups, Dumbo Elephants, and the Casey Jr. Engine, which proved to be the most problematic. The ride was designed as a curved path with several hills. However, in designing the engine, they did not calculate correctly for the grade elevations in relation to the size of the engine. Consequently, when the engine was tested by Roger Broggie, he could not navigate up a 45% grade. As the front of the engine started to lift off the rails, threatening to fall back on Broggie, a technician jumped on the front to offset the oversight. This was not only a major setback, but also could end up with someone getting seriously hurt, or worse. Fowler broke the news to Disney, who understood the safety issue. He publicly promoted a park that was safe, so after the opening, the track path would be regraded with a few other adjustments to the track curves to ensure no other mishaps. But, none of this could be done by the opening, so that meant a sidelined attraction. It would take over a month to revamp the track. Although he never became overly upset, outwardly, it was clear Disney was frustrated. In hindsight, he probably realized that although he was a stickler for his designs being followed, these changes would prevent a potential tragedy. Not as serious, but still another problem developed with the Dumbo attraction. The arm-lift system that was devised to raise and lower each 700 lb. elephant couldn't operate due to the weight. Upon the advice of a NASA engineer, Bacon and Morgan tried mixing nitrogen and hydraulic oil, to give the hydraulic arm more power, but the mixture leaked, causing the system the inability to operate. With the opening so close, details to this ride had to be postponed. Originally, Dumbo's ears were supposed to flap, but, again with miscalculating the weight of the ears and the size of the motors to operate them, they were inoperable. Across the courtyard, painters were hurriedly painting Captain Hook's Galley. It was obvious because of the size and detail, it would not be completed in time. So, Bill Martin decided since at the time it was just a shell and would not be accessible, he had the painters paint the side of the ship facing the public.

Probably the most potentially dangerous situation involved a new resource. Like aluminum, natural gas was a new product of the time, this one being used as a new clean energy source. Hastily persuaded, Disney had gas piped into the park during construction. This was a decision that would come back to haunt him at the worst possible time. The first week of July, Disney invited some of his staff and their children to come in and preview the park. Both Fantasyland and Tomorrowland were closed. The Jungle Cruise was running but not completed, with many of the animals and set pieces missing. Frontierland was sparse with many shops still vacant, but the Mark Twain would be ready to sail and the burros and horses were all ready to receive guests for a trial run. Although a lot of work had been done to create landscaping throughout the entire park, particularly vegetation for the Jungle River, it was evident that it was still very barren. The one saving grace for Frontierland was, "Well, it's supposed to look like a desert". So, Evans and his crew were instructed to paint the dried out grass green as well as labeling anything that looked green with exotic botanical names. Over on Main Street, large sections had still not been paved. This had been causing problems for the production crew trying to run through their segments for the live telecast. Where the streets had been paved the heavy equipment was settling into warm asphalt. The areas that had not been paved were rocky and ungraded, causing problems for smooth trucking shots of the park. The Imagineers would move or disconnect equipment the film crew was using for rehearsals to make way for their own equipment, causing tension between the two. The disagreements between Sheldon Marks and his own segment directors for the telecast had escalated to the point were the production's musical director suffered a heart attack. The film production's infighting threatened to derail the opening. When the threat of a walkout by some of the line directors was issued, Disney finally had to step in. He had put every penny he had and then some to get this park open. His ultimatum was simple. Get on board or leave. It was evident that although tension from the chaotic work pace and workers tripping over each other, cooler heads ultimately prevailed so work and rehearsals could continue.

Disney, along with his wife, were supposed to entertain VIPs the night before the opening. But with so much undone, is was apparent, as far as the park was concerned, he wasn't going anywhere. Around dusk, after walking the park, he spent the last few hours before midnight painting background scenery for the 20,000 Leagues exhibit in hopes of having the attraction ready. John Hench wasn't far away, working with electricians attempting to ready the projection system for the Rocket to the Moon. For over a year Disney had put every ounce of his being into transforming an orange grove into his dreamland. Rather than return home, he retired to his upstairs apartment on Main Street. In just a few hours, rain or shine, Disneyland would open.

In the next article, Disneyland would officially greet the world, on a very warm July Sunday. But as events unfolded, it would get even hotter. We'll find out what resulted and how it was perceived.

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