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Disneyland Article
Disneyland And Imagineering Part 13
Disneyland, the idea, came from the mind of Walt Disney, but Disneyland, the theme park, was a collaborative effort. It took a great many men and women to create it. Since all men are created equal, everyone who contributed should be credited. I've known about C.V. Wood for many years, and although he was not an Imagineer, he was a land developer who made significant contributions in terms of sales and management for the park during construction. His position was technically above Joe Fowler's, although Fowler did confer with Disney personally on a regular basis. Not important in the creative sense artistically, Wood was a creative salesman. He was a Texas native, born in 1920, and became acquainted with Disney while working for Stanford Research, the company charged with location studies for the park. When it came to general publicity, he has been credited for showing Disney the land and location that was selected for the park. Because of his charm and skill from dealing in sales and land development, he was lured away from Stanford Research, going to work for Disney. In turn, Wood introduced Disney to both Joe Fowler and Van France, who, also became key personnel for Disneyland. He was given the dubious honor of being the first employee of Disneyland, assigned as general manager and briefly as Vice President. Aside from all these different credits he was given, in the background he was negotiating contracts with the sponsors and vendors that would sign on with the park. Wood, like Roy Disney, was more of a businessman and less of a dreamer. He better understood the bottom line and was more pragmatic and shrewd in his business dealings. He was large in stature and could persuade with his charm and confidence. The problem as far as Disney was concerned was that maybe there was a little too much "con" in his confidence. But while that may be true, in some ways, they were very much alike, and the rule of two roosters definitely applied. Both were ambitious, creative and very driven. During the construction period, he oversaw all activities within the park, with Joe Fowler working as construction supervisor. But even with similarities, C.V. or "Woody," had Texas charm, leadership ability, and a tendency to be somewhat rowdy. Disney, on the other hand, was soft spoken, from a strict family oriented background and was more of a dreamer. The contention between them was not based on one flaw or failure. It was much more complicated than that. It was partly due to business disagreements, Wood doing things surreptitiously, as well as having a different management style. They both possessed strong leadership qualities and could be very stubborn. When it came to finances, Wood saw things in terms of dollars and sense rather than in pictures. There were disagreements between them about what Wood thought was overspending on detail that was negligible. He also disagreed with some of Walt's ideas to enhance the park when post-opening sales started to drop. He warned him of the risks. When things went as Wood predicted, Walt felt an undercurrent of "I told you so." Since Wood was the park general manager and first official employee, Walt always blamed him for the opening day failures. Disney had Roy release him from his contract in early February of 1956. From that moment forward, any mention of him was discouraged, and records of his involvement were removed from the official Disneyland archives. Just like that he was gone, almost as if he never existed. Questions about his contributions were politely sidestepped. Wood went on to create a great many amusement parks over several decades, although he never elevated to the Disney quality and standards; not that he wanted to. What resulted was Fowler, who was more willing to work under Disney, assuming Wood's title. He was the obvious choice to take over, because he was easing into the position as Disney had wanted before opening day, until Wood's dismissal. Then the responsibility for the entire park would rest on him. Ironically, Wood introduced Disney to Fowler. The way I see it, if you try avoiding inquiries by erasure, you are potentially elevating the story to legend status. Sometimes it is better to give credit where credit is due and move on. It's only business.

July 17, 1955

Black Sunday

"If we build it, they will come sooner or later."

Opening Day came early; actually, before dawn. There were some crew and staff on the property that entire night, including Disney, who spent the night in his upstairs apartment. Before dawn and continuing to the last possible moment, workers put the finishing touches on Main Street buildings, removing scaffolding and ladders. Then, they decorated with balloons, pennant flags, and bunting to distract from what was undone. Imagineers, including Bob Gurr and Roger Broggie, were on site early and remained all day. Not long after sunrise, the first employees for Disneyland started arriving, working for a $1.65 an hour. Many of the rides and areas were roped off. Parts of some attractions like the Flight to the Moon were accessible. John Hench was working on the attraction before opening. He recalled, discovering afterward, that a disgruntled employee had tampered with some of the wiring, disabling the projection system. In spite of this, in the televised production, invited guests can be seen entering the front foyer. For the Sunday opening, there were roughly 11 thousand guests invited. Billed as Press Preview Day, it was technically not open to the public, but that wouldn't stop them. Unlike a usual day at the park, entrance was staggered starting midmorning and continuing into the afternoon. Because there was a live production being telecast for 90 minutes from 4:30 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. that evening, it was posted that there would be very limited access just prior to and during the production. An hour prior to the park opening, Van France boarded a Goodyear blimp to view the activities from one of the best vantage points. But it wasn't just to view the park, it was to monitor the influx of traffic approaching the park. What seemed odd was that although the uncompleted Santa Ana Freeway leading to the park was open, traffic was light to nonexistent. An hour passed, then another. It seemed puzzling, but something obvious had been overlooked. It was Sunday. In 1955, a great many families attended church regularly. Los Angeles was still relatively small as a metropolis goes and it was a time when families did more together, including Sunday worship. So, once church was dismissed, cars filled the roads leading to the park. By mid-afternoon traffic resembled what you can see now on any LA freeway any day -- total congestion for miles. What began with guests casually showing up at first, would suddenly become a chaotic surge.

Meanwhile back in the park, workers could smell gas, originating in the front section of Tomorrowland. The cause was a faulty gas line. It became evident very quickly that, however unlikely, there could be an explosion. Beyond that, what to do if the leak could not be repaired? Would they have to evacuate? Could there be other leaks, as yet undetected? As it turned out, the problem was located and for the moment, repaired for the moment. Aside from the potential disaster in Tomorrowland, the first of many problems started literally at the front gate. The tickets for the opening were not as sophisticated as tickets are now. This was a major event, so even in 1955, counterfeit tickets were popping up everywhere. Tickets or not, that wouldn't stop others from jumping the 8 foot fence, some brazen enough to use ladders to climb over. Try doing that now.

A Hard Soft Opening

A lot has been written about the Opening, so, in general, its' pretty well known what happened. While many reporters wandered the entire property, a larger group had a private area toward the front of the park, close to Town Square. Disney was making himself available, definitely wanting to appease and impress them, offering food and libations. Some were put off that no alcohol was served. At that time, magazine and newsprint had a great deal of power and effect; the information highway of its' time. Reporters were often more like critics; to them, either way, it was a story and they could spin it. Whether a colossal failure or a resounding success, they were going to report. Since the more exciting or devastating the story, embellishment usually factors in to some degree to be sure. Words like colossal, devastating, horrifying; you get the idea. There was speculation all along from many corners that Disneyland would fail. So it's not a stretch to imagine if it's bad, make it sound worse; sensationalize on it. If it was a failure, they wouldn't pat Walt on the back and tell him, "That's okay, better luck next time." They would each want to be the first to break the story with the most flair and get the most attention. So when things went from bad to worse as the day pressed on, most of the press already irritated from the shortage of amenities and the heat, graded Disneyland's Opening Day a failure. Some even told Disney that they intended on making it sound as bad as they could. Problems were pointed out claiming, "Everything that could possibly go wrong did," which wasn't true, even statistically. The unusually hot weather is always mentioned in discussions, showing up as an unexpected guest. One favorite story refers to women's shoes getting stuck in the asphalt because of the devastating heat. Devastating? That's my point: embellishment. It wasn't devastating, it was very hot. Devastation is what happens in an earthquake, sweating is what happens when you're hot. It didn't start to get uncomfortable until after mid-morning. Being familiar from spending time in the park area regularly, the mornings are generally cool with a high dew point for a good part of the morning, haze and some pollution thrown in for good measure. As the morning haze burns off, it gets hot and stays hot until early evening. Humorous now, and a bit ironic, it's no secret Disney produced some of the best and most memorable nature films, many revolving around the weather. He educated us that sometimes nature can be unpredictable, unforgiving and cruel. Disney's nature films were of such high quality, Mother Nature herself would undoubtedly bow to him. However, he overlooked two things: The weather is like justice; it's blind and has no bias. So, on that hot Sunday afternoon, Disney experienced firsthand that nature can be cruel, even to its' most ardent followers. But in spite of the heat, the main reason women's shoes got stuck in the asphalt was because it was poured that morning, right up to the moment before the gates were opened. With increasing foot traffic, heavy film equipment moving across it continuously and, yes, the heat, the asphalt never had a chance to cure. You hear about it on opening day, but not after.

Although Disney could not harness the weather, he would ultimately silence his critics. But, he still had to get through Opening Day. With the combination of invited guests and gate crashers, attendance swelled to almost 30,000 before the end of the day. The unofficial tally was over 33,000 guests. That's almost triple what was expected, and the staff was not even prepared for that. Things were about to get even more chaotic. The film crew was scrambling around trying to position 24 cameras in a variety of locations. The Imagineers were tripping over equipment, trying to get to the rides that were not operating properly or at all. The guests were trying to maneuver through all of it.

By mid-afternoon, the park filled exponentially and over 20,000 families had descended upon the staff. Unexpected, untrained, untested, unfinished Unbelievable, that's what it was. The operative word for the day was shortage. It wasn't long before the young staff was running out of everything. Food ran out first and beverages followed shortly after and as a result, there was a large accumulation of trash piled up behind Main Street. Although the plumbers had returned to install the bathrooms, there just weren't enough and the lines were long. Some of those that were installed were pay-toilets. That's enough to make anyone irritated. On the flip side of guests relieving themselves, there weren't enough drinking fountains. Cast members were sent into the crowds with water tanks, handing out cups of water. Meanwhile, down the street at Sleeping Beauty's Castle, workers had left the doors inside the castle unlocked. Guests walking through thought this was just another attraction and were going into unfinished backstage areas. Needless to say, word got back to Disney, who quickly sent Van France to secure the backstage and upstairs areas. Over in Tomorrowland, the heat was wreaking havoc with both the Phantom Boats and Autopia. Vapor lock was the main culprit. The intense heat in the engine compartments of both attractions would cause them to shut down continuously. On the Autopia, what cars were running were taking a beating. There was just no keeping up. With no dividers on the roadway and little padding or recoil springs, it was a chiropractor's dream day. Excited, but inexperienced, drivers were bashing their way along the course. Surprisingly, there were no serious injuries. In fact, there are some good moments filmed around this attraction in the recorded broadcast. However, what the cameras didn't show was that Imagineers were having difficulty getting updates across the park to each other because of the crowds. Disney would have loved the cell phone age. In addition to the Rocket to the Moon being out of operation, the 20,000 Leagues attraction, also closed, was just something to pass by and peek in. Which is sad, because it was something Disney threw together himself as a filler. It was a good idea, and for all the physical work he put into it himself, it was a shame to see it not make the deadline. Meanwhile, Roger Broggie was running from the Main Street Station to Tomorrowland and then over to Fantasyland. The Pirate Ship moored behind King Arthur's Carrousel didn't make the deadline either, and the Imagineers only had time to finish painting the side facing the guests as they passed. Desperate reasoning was that access to the ship was limited, so guests couldn't get close enough to see the unpainted half anyway. The three dark rides all shorted out at one time or another during the day, at least once. Peter Pan's Flight should have been renamed Peter Pan's Wild Ride. It was a fun ride; maybe a little too fun. The ride system was new and had been tested but they were pretty basic test runs performed by grown men. What the Imagineers should have done was stick a couple of eight-year-olds on it and let them test it out. You hang a flying ship on a narrow track and send it out a window, that's exactly what it's going to do. When kids figured out that you could swing the ship from side to side, it left Imagineers thinking it was a miracle there were no major mishaps. This would be another attraction for the re-tooling list. The Canal Boats of the World, forerunner to the Storybook Land Canal Boats, hold special significance to Disney, much like King Arthur's Carousel. The idea for telling Disney films in dimensional miniatures goes back more than 10 years when Disney was building them as a therapeutic hobby. Unfortunately, it didn't even come close to making the Opening Day deadline, however, it is listed as an operating attraction. Technically that was true, because guests were boarding the boats and riding through what would become Storybook Land. But this will have to be listed as a short story, because what guests got was a winding trip through Piles of Dirtland, literally. All that had been completed was carving out the canal and grading the earth for the areas that would receive models and scenery. Did I forget to mention that the boats were extremely loud? It's true. I guess the Canal Boats attraction pre-dated the Motor Boat Cruise. Another major let down for Disney, as this was another one of his pet projects. The Dumbo Flying Elephants made a very brief appearance, but the leaking piston problem had not been resolved, so it was a very short day for that ride. Because of its' spotty performance it was shut down, but positioned with the elephants elevated for aesthetics and reopened the following month. Compared to the other lands, Frontierland came through relatively unscathed in terms of the number of problems. However, there was one tiny incident involving the Mark Twain. A castmember loading passengers onto the Twain was given a crowd ticker to keep track of the number of guests he was loading. The range was 200-300, no more. With the lines getting longer and his lack of attention, he lost track, loaded more guests and sent the Twain on its' way. It left the dock and began to navigate around the island when it bound up and stopped dead in the water. Guests that were thirsty didn't have far to go, because water began to splash over the bow, with the boat listing to one side. Some had to disembark and wade across the two foot river. As the boat emptied, it was able to right itself back onto its' track and after being checked, resume operation. When the castmember learned of what had happened, he told his supervisor he had loaded 250 guests. Afterward, he looked at the ticker; it read 508. Interesting to note, when ABC was filming the Mark Twain being christened by Irene Dunne, she exclaimed, "My, it's listing." This segment was filmed before the incident took place. Adventureland probably fared the best with the Jungle River (Cruise) attraction staying in operation throughout the day. Funny though, it was the only attraction in that land. The only problem was one of the large elephants was sinking in the sand and had to be supported.

As the film crew was gearing up for the live broadcast, the park had been open for several hours. So with all that was going on, Disney had to prepare to present his park to the world on nationwide television. It's hard to gauge the immediate impact the park had on the entire world, because television was still very new. But, out of 165 million in the United States, 90 million of them were warming up their televisions in anticipation of the big event. This means that a large number of the population who owned a television, were watching the broadcast. Crowd control was a big issue, so specific areas for filming segments were blocked off in advance. Town Square, Autopia, Mark Twain, Frontierland Corral, and the Fantasyland dark rides were the main areas cordoned off, as the crews switched from location to location. For the welcoming ceremony, guests were backed up to the Main Street Train Station and down Main Street sidewalks toward Sleeping Beauty's Castle to create a perimeter for Town Square Park. It was here Walt Disney gave his famous dedication on July 17, 1955:

"To all who come to this happy place: Welcome.
Disneyland is your land.
Here age relives fond memories of the past -
and here youth may savor the challenge and promise
of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams
and the hard facts that have created America - with the hope that
it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world."

The broadcast was emceed by Art Linkletter, who, like many of the co-hosts had either experience in television, movies or both. Luminaries and co-hosts included Bob Cummings, Ronald Reagan, Danny Thomas, Sammy Davis, Jr., Irene Dunne, Buddy Ebsen, and Fess Parker. This is main reason why, although the broadcast was extremely complicated to pull off, the hosts smoothed it over with their self-effacing styles and abilities to improvise. Although Disney came off as relaxed on his regular program, this was not one of those occasions. He was extremely nervous, flubbing some of his lines or when dedicating Tomorrowland, having to start over after a miscue. But it's not like there was any pressure.

The broadcast opens with Art Linkletter introducing Disneyland as the "Eighth Wonder of the World." To note, a lot of critics mention missed cues and flubs, and seem to emphasize them. At the very beginning of the broadcast, Linkletter addressed that, and joked, that it was "all in fun," which puts it into better perspective. He also mentioned that there were 15,000 in attendance. Whether he knew the actual number is uncertain, but he was there for a good part of the day. Ceremonies for the theme park opening set a precedent. Glen D. Puder, Walt Disney's nephew and military chaplain, led the guests in a silent prayer. Also included were a speech by the Governor of California, Goodwin Knight and a flag dedication. In the broadcast is an interesting piece of trivia; During the flag ceremony the clock tower is visible in the background. The time reads 4:45, which is something to say, "This is when the flag was originally flown over Disneyland." Following the dedication, a formation of planes from the 146th fighter interceptor wing of the California Air National Guard flew overhead as a tribute to the Governor. In total, there were quite a few local dignitaries, their wives, and children also in attendance. As the festivities continued, the Disneyland Marching Band, led by Vesey and Tommy Walker, marched down Main Street playing the "Star Bangled Banner," followed by a parade of Disney characters and floats. Disney, lacking time and money to create the original character costumes, accepted them on loan from John Harris' Ice Capades. In the parade procession were some of the Autopia cars. If you look closely, you can see that the three cars in the front have police badges on the hoods. These were the cars that Disney had requested to be created as showcase cars. Reaching the end of Main Street, the activities switched back and forth between lands. Disney made individual dedications for each one interspersed with many of the hosts happily ad-libbing and improvising. Some of the best moments in the broadcast were the Mardi Gras dance and musical numbers performed in Frontierland. Next was a trip into Tomorrowland to view the world in the very distant year, 1986. A local Boy Scout Eagle Band performed at the gateway as the flags were raised for the 48 states, plus one of "Old Glory." Disney always emphasized that Tomorrowland would not be another Fantasyland, but a fact-based representation of the future. Toward the beginning of the Tomorrowland segment, Art Linkletter points that fact up before describing Autopia incorrectly as Autotopia. Also included was some of the film simulation for the Rocket to the Moon attraction, although it was not operating.

The next stop was the entrance to Fantasyland for the famous lowering of the drawbridge. Once passing through the castle, various stops are made, including Peter Pan's Flight and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Another interesting factoid is when Art Linkletter describes the Mr. Toad journey, he narrates the path of the ride leaving out the final scene. His explanation was that he didn't want to spoil the finish, which is when the rider visits hell. After visiting Fantasyland, the final stop is Adventureland and the Jungle River Ride. As far as how the production appeared on television, a concentrated effort was made to make the park look as good as possible. As chaotic as the day was, the broadcast went off fairly well. That's not to say it wasn't without its missed cues, commentary being out of sync with the activities, and overlaps on the audio. The program script was written to put Disneyland in the best possible light and the filming reflected that, albeit somewhat staged. In true Hollywood fashion, several rides that were filmed were only shown partially because they weren't fully operational. Case-in- point: Casey Junior's Circus Train with an adjusted elevation, driven by Jerry Colonna, and the Rocket to the Moon. Listening to some of the dialog now, it does sound a little stilted and corny. However, the segment when the drawbridge is lowered and the children race across it into Fantasyland is an iconic moment from the twentieth century. Another moment that I think is overshadowed by that is Davy Crockett and George Russel's entrance from behind the Friendly Indian Village, earlier in the broadcast. It is important to remember that the characters portrayed by Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen were believable and very popular with children of that time period. Watching the broadcast, I felt the excitement as the guests' attention was directed in anticipation for their arrival. This was a highlight for the children, hearing they were approaching, running down the wooden walkway to get the first glimpse of their heroes in person. I can relate to this completely. When I was a kid, the 1960s Batman television show was my favorite. I thought he was the coolest hero ever. Well, he and Spiderman. I know it's a little off topic, but I mention Batman specifically, because it was just a few days ago that Adam West passed away. Those characters were a product of the time. Because of limited media for entertainment, that magnified these heroes. It is certain that for all the confusion that day, the children who were fortunate enough to be there will never forget it.

Post-Opening Reflections

A good businessman has to look at his failures as well as his successes. Regardless of what was spoken, or not, Disney wasn't living in delusion and felt the failures personally. He would walk areas of the park, often-times late at night, and could see it wasn't what he wanted. Deep down, he knew. It had to be a huge disappointment. Hindsight is great, but he could have moved up the start of construction to early 1954 instead of mid-summer. That would have given him the much needed time to complete what wasn't finished and not miss the very important summer opening. It was either that or wait another full year. He was such a forward thinker that his ideas were simply ahead of their time technologically. He could have waited years for more resources, but he saw his window of opportunity and he took it. Because he thought in ideas first and cost second, it's easy to see why he was struggling financially and why it put so much tension between himself and his brother.

Disney didn't fail so much, he simply bit off more than he could chew. First, he planned a groundbreaking theme park, something that had never been attempted. It was a huge undertaking. He committed to an overly ambitious deadline. Then, he borrowed money until there was nothing to borrow. In the financing, as if building the park wasn't enough, he negotiated to have the Opening Day ceremonies broadcast live nationwide, also never attempted. At times he was unsure of just where the line was drawn between success and failure. He wouldn't have to wait long to find out. In spite of all the bad press, hot weather, and ride malfunctions, come Monday morning, the gates were jammed with people eager to enter the Magic Kingdom. One thing was for sure -- Walt Disney did something that in theory was thought impossible. In spite of the financial bottom line, Disney would land his dream park in Anaheim, give it to the world and promise us this was not the end, it was just the beginning.

It was just the beginning. Disney, with all he had to contend with, was still looking beyond Opening Day. A lot that was slated to be completed and wasn't, was brought into operation quickly. Plans for expansion, and in many cases, replacements, were already in the works. Despite the negative backlash, he moved forward. But what about the future? Would Disneyland end up like a kid's new toy, popular at first, then it's forgotten? What about beyond the summer tourist season? Every tourist-based business is confronted with this at one time or another. Disney made his deadline, although he kind of limped across the finish line. One observation was that it was "probably the best and worst day of his life." What effect did all of this have on Walt Disney? Several of the Mouseketeers had joined him early in the morning in his apartment. Sharon Baird, one of the original Mouseketeer's summed it up best: "When I looked up at him he had his hands behind his back, a grin from ear to ear and I could see a lump in his throat and a tear streaming down his cheek".

As the series continues, we'll see how he dealt with managing the first, and still the most, unique theme park of its' type beyond Opening Day.

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