Disneyland at 60: Five great musical moments at the Magic Kingdom

18 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

1955: When Disneyland Was Hailed as “A New Amusement Wonderland”.

July 17 marks the 60th birthday of Southern California’s Disneyland, and while fans were very excited about the opening, business people were worried that it was a high-risk venture.Several thousand people – many dressed in 1950s garb – lined up early to be among the first in line to celebrate the moment when the Disneyland gates opened. The imaginative Walt Disney, inspired by visions of magic and grandeur, started designing the huge amusement park in the early 1950s as a place that would have both educational and amusement value. “It came about when my daughters were very young and Saturday was always daddy’s day with the two daughters,” Disney said, according to the DisneyParks blog. “I’d take them to the merry-go-round and I took them different places and as I’d sit while they rode the merry-go-round and did all these things—sit on a bench, you know, eating peanuts—I felt that there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together. The focus over those six decades has been rides and adventures, but the park also HAS featured live entertainment since the beginning, including comedy acts, barbershop quartets and strolling Dixieland bands, along with big-name pop and jazz performers.

It’s also now home to 83 rides — more than five times the number it had upon opening — and has sister posts across the world in Orlando, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. So that’s how Disneyland started.” Despite a rough opening day that was riddled with problems, including wet paint, food shortages, and malfunctioning rides, Disney managed to carry through with his plan to make his park an international tourist destination. The doubts seemed confirmed when the park opened to the press on July 17, 1955, causing a PR fiasco: Counterfeit tickets led to overcrowding, vendors ran out of food and some of the 18 attractions were still not ready. Later this year, PBS and American Experience are airing Walt Disney, a four-hour, two-night film about the man with a dream who built the “Happiest Place on Earth.” Mashable has the latest look at the documentary: a clip featuring an inside take on just how involved Disney was with the park and its visitors. (Spoiler: very.) The clip, courtesy of PBS and American Experience, is an affectionate look into Disney’s devotion to his creation. But Beth’s an original: She left me a CD compilation of the best of the Disney songs, and I cried for two weeks as I drove up Santa Monica Boulevard or over Laurel Canyon or to the beach.

Approximately 31,000 invited guests, adults and small fry, packed the $17,000,000 recreation center occupying 160 acres at Anaheim, and judging by the enthusiastic reactions of the cuffo crowds, who invariably are more critical than paying customers, there is no doubt about the success of the gigantic entertainment enterprise, which official opens its gates to the public today. Now situated in Anaheim, California, the theme park hosts more than 14 million visitors a year, ranging from kids who want to live out their fantasies to adults who want to reclaim their childhood, and everyone in between. According to Disneyland’s designers, Disney was able to walk around unnoticed, getting up early in the morning to walk from his personal apartment above the firehouse on Main Street, U.S.A. to get orange juice in his bathrobe. “He used to get in line,” said designer Rolly Crump, “and stand in line as long as it took to see the attraction, and just listen to what people had to say.” When told by a friend that his popularity could win him a presidential election, Disney retorted, “Why would I want to be President of the United States? In fact, Disneyland executives and the concessionaires and sponsors with space at the park immediately began revising upward their estimates of annual attendance, which they now figure might run close to 7,500,000, with gross intake of $16,000,000 or more. From basic amusements to grandiose attractions like Space Mountain and the thrilling Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Disneyland has come a long way from its original $17 million price tag.

July 15, 1971: Linda Ronstadt (and the Eagles): Ronstadt had established herself as a star with her band the Stone Poneys in the late-1960s, and was booked for a week of shows at Disneyland in 1971. I’m the King of Disneyland.” The park, for its part, hasn’t forgotten its roots — an antique lamp still burns in Disney’s personal apartment, in loving memory of the man who dreamt it up. Actual park capacity is about 40,000 persons, but on holidays and weekends it is expected that, with some turnover, attendance will run as high as 60,000. One night I stopped at a beautiful edge on Mulholland Drive and looked at the twinkling lights of the city, the years seeming to roll back with Louis Armstrong’s version of “When You Wish Upon a Star.” If modern sentiment has an architecture, it was Disney that built it. A 100-acre parking lot provides space for 12,175 cars — a potential load of about 50,000 adults and kids — and an “elephant train” takes guests from the parking lot to the main gate.

It was the first time that Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner performed together, and it wasn’t long until they’d flown the coop as Ronstadt’s supporting group to take flight as the Eagles. 1982: L.A. pop eccentrics Sparks. In time, the power of Disney came to light up your hall and your landing, its vapors making their way over your vacuumed carpets and into the minds of your children. Brothers Ron and Russell Mael were a decade into their envelope-pushing career with Sparks when they released “Angst in My Pants,” their album that included the minor radio hit “Mickey Mouse,” in which they sing from the perspective of the world’s most famous rodent: “And my name is Mickey Mouse/To the right is Minnie Mouse/And we own a little place in Disneyland, California.” That landed them a spot on the park’s Tomorrowland Terrace stage for one of the quirkier moments in Disneyland’s music legacy. Disneyland’s 500 employees had 30 different job classifications, and many were low-paid; the highest earners were the horseshoe-ers, at a whopping $2.82 an hour. To take in all the rides and attractions, priced at 15 to 50 cents, it would cost an adult $8.70 and a juvenile $5.15; and it is doubtful that all the amusements could be covered on a single visit since it is necessary to walk nearly a mile and a half to take in all the “lands” of Disneyland.

Eating facilities, with 20 restaurants and snack bars spotted all over the lot, can serve 8,000 hourly and are designed to accommodate 15,000 visitors daily and a peak of 60,000 on special days. The founding member of the punk-glam New York Dolls was doing his Buster Poindexter lounge act at the time, having scored a pop radio hit with his rendition of the calypso song “Hot Hot Hot.” His act was a bit risqué for the squeaky-clean Disney image, and when he tried to lead a rumba line into the crowd, security cut the number short and the show was over.

Jazz, various: Fans used to eagerly await the summer season of music at Disneyland’s Carnation Plaza Gardens stage, as it served up a bonanza of big band greats for decades until the plaza’s entertainment ended in 1999, and the Carnation Plaza itself gave way to Fantasy Faire. When foreigners think of Scotland they often think of beautiful mountains and deep shadowy glens, apple-cheeked girls wearing tartan, men in kilts drinking whisky and staring bravely into the future. The four major features of Disneyland are “Fantasyland,” “Tomorrowland,” “Adventureland” and “Wonderland,” and in each there is a sponsor tieup, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Carnation Co., Chicken of the Sea Tuna, Kaiser Aluminum, Richfield Oil, Monsanto Chemical, Bank of America, Gibson Greeting Card Co., Frito Co., American Motors, Pendleton Mills, Welch’s Grape Juice, Swift & Co., and others. And he oversaw every detail, from the architecture to the Jungle Boat foliage to a ban on chewing gum (he didn’t want guests to accidentally step in something that might mar their visit).

But in the 1960s and ‘70s guests could still hear orchestras led by Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Gene Krupa, Stan Kenton and Woody Herman. In other words: They think of “Brigadoon.” But it’s worth remembering that when Arthur Freed, the well-known producer of musicals at MGM, was scouting locations for that film, he came back from Scotland disappointed, complaining it didn’t look “Scottish enough.” So the town of Kilmarnock — despite being the place from where the great poet Robert Burns published his debut poems, the famous Kilmarnock edition — was a place where dreams had traditionally come crashing down. Potentialities of sponsors tieups alone are considerable. “Fantasyland” is a small fry’s paradise, with Dumbo the Flying Elephant, the Mad Hatter and March Hare, Sleeping Beauty’s castle, a pirate ship, King Arthur’s Carrousel with 72 medieval steeds prancing to calliope music, a Mickey Mouse Theatre and other attractions. “Tomorrowland” features rocket ships and other scientific wonders, including the 160-degree Circarama screen. Into the ‘80s and ‘90s, bands led by Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson and other jazz veterans were mainstays of the summer entertainment. “I enjoy the Disneyland gig more than any other we play all year because the band can blow,” Les Brown told The Times in 1990. “Actually, the only time we can blow out the way we like to blow out and play the arrangements that we recorded and the way we recorded them, full blast, is at Disneyland, or an occasional concert.” The cinema was half-empty, and I was young enough to need a booster seat, but I’ll never forget it, the return of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” which seemed to me like a vision of higher possibility.

In “Adventureland” the customers can ride a boat called the Congo Queen along winding rivers infested with crocodiles and other animated plastic animals. “Frontierland” takes folks back to log cabin and Indian days, with a Davy Crockett museum, a Mississippi River boat called the Mark Twain, a massive Golden Horseshoe refreshment palace, and other historic landmarks including a Santa Fe & Disney Railroad with an oldtime depot on the oldtime saloon-type Main Street. If it was fabricated or designed, then it appeared so, to me, only in the way life was fabricated or designed: Snow White and her prince and her little friends were agents in a social-realist drama, a description of society and moral life that was fundamentally true and based on observed experience. ABC debuted a weekly series in 1954 called “Disneyland,” which aired every Wednesday night, and the anthology show offered free promotion for the upcoming theme park and other Disney projects. The “Disneyland” anthology series rotated its fare, with each episode pegged to an area of the theme park: An intro said “Tonight from Fantasyland,” with the hour featuring classic Mickey, Minnie and Donald cartoons; the following week, Frontierland offered nature films, and so on.

Today Disney will greet local dignitaries and Hollywood stars when they arrive at Disneyland by helicopter in the first scheduled flight there from L.A. But it was not impossible, and it seemed we all had an obligation to live as colorfully as that, if only the gods and the reality managers would allow it. My entire sense of work and play, of domestic life and love, was informed by that film, and stamped American, not because I recognized it from life, but because I wanted to. Adjacent to Disneyland, but not connected with it, is another fabulous enterprise, the $10,000,000 Disneyland Hotel, a resort hotel and motor hotel along distinctive lines being erected by Wrather-Alvares Hotels, Inc., headed by Jack Wrather.

I was too young to recognize the look — the German Expressionist aspect of that film, by way of Gustave Doré — but it seeped into my unconscious and expanded for all time my wish to transport myself. It’s all tangled up now — it always is, and that’s how Disney captures you for life, by generating tenderness mingled with regret — but the singing of “Heigh-Ho” on the car journey home will always stay with me as part of the lost essence of my family. The appeal of the tribute to Walt Disney was largely to the juveniles, who made up the bulk of the audience of some 13,000, and they either sang along with Davy in happy abandon or cavorted in other fashion, all in all a most unusual sight for the Hollywood Bowl.

Guest conductors John Barnett, Paul Smith, Sonny Burke and George Bruns underscored the antics of the energetic audience with music form Disney films, while midgets attired as Disney characters cavorted in the precincts of the shell. The Disney view of happiness — embodied in a perfect street, a cast of animals, a fairy-tale castle, a bunch of rides — might be foolish but it is also attuned to the habits of modern yearning.

Buddy Ebsen, Cliff Edwards, Gloria Woods, the Mellow-men, Winston Hibler, Sterling Holloway, Governor [Goodwin] Knight and the Roger Wagner Chorale also participated in the revels, which were carried into Friday night. In the world of Disney, we feel homesick for a home that never really existed, yet everything we care about, whether being loved or feeling right or having fun or looking good, stems from a set of narcissistic compulsions that Disney embraced and built to graphic completion. That is his contribution, and, however foolish, however impossible in the end, it gives life to the notion that happiness is a creation, something made rather than inherited, a beautiful, necessary lie. She asked if the shops would be open all day and all night and whether the food was free. “Nothing is free, darling,” I said, “but it is free to you and that’s why it’s a treat.

Flying over the Atlantic, I woke up shivering and with swollen sinuses and a feeling of a coming flu like a gathering storm, a tempest in my happiness firmament, and I perceived from that moment a kind of Miltonic rebellion rising inside my head. A writer, you might say, is someone with an acute interest in oppositions, and our journey toward Disneyland was by necessity going to involve a certain conjuring with misery. And by the time we were standing at reception in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, I was sneezy, I was dozy, I was happy but suffering a private existential crisis about what happiness meant. Disney music, that endless, tinkling sound of make-believe and mend, was playing through the universe — or was it just the street? — and I lay on the Disney bed and felt simply awful. Let me just say that a part of me will forever be lying bravely on that bed in Disneyland, with grinding bones and head of fire, while the music from “The Lion King” mocks me from the window.

With Disneyland, Walt Disney felt he was giving America a better version of itself: “The idea of Disneyland is a simple one,” he wrote in a prospectus for the park. “It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge. It’s from a woman called Kathryn in New Zealand, left on May 31, 2015, with the headline: “I felt like the best parent in the world”: “My husband and I grew up watching Disney every Sunday night.

When we walked in, I felt like crying with happiness, and over the three days we visited, that feeling never went away.” Nell came into our hotel room with a rasping love of the place that got me up from my philosophical sickbed. We went into the Disney California Adventure Park and found ourselves in a colored clamshell, entering the Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, a ride in the Paradise Pier section. Lights and cold air gave us the illusion of floating underwater, and Nell looked up at me to see if I was believing. “This is awesome,” I said. “I dunno. When we stood in front of a giant painted billboard near Mickey’s Fun Wheel, and Sophia went to take a picture, Nell started doing the Charleston and I felt that the best spirit of all the best girls resided in my daughter. So that is an evening we will always remember, the evening we looked up and imagined the sky too must be Disney. “Less is a bore,” said the American architect and writer Robert Venturi.

During my time in Disneyland I thought about him a lot and believed his thinking was slightly like that of most 11-year-olds today, who live in a world of super graphics and aesthetics linked to shopping. Floating over the emptiness of the parks in the minutes before they opened each morning was the pall of prepurchase. “I really want some ears,” said Nell, “like really, really.

The idea of buildings being symbols of what they are — of a concession stand shaped like a hot dog, a swimming pool that looks like a wave — is not only accessible to children but makes perfect sense to them. Venturi tries to argue us out of our adult complacency. “Let us remember,” he writes, “that throughout the history of architecture and urbanism, iconography has always dominated the scene, instructing and persuading us with its religious and civic content in ways no different from today’s vigorous (and despised) commercial iconography. Let us today transfer the murals from the inside to the outside of the buildings!” As an adult in Disneyland, you’re subconsciously waiting for answers. Arguably, in the days of warty witches bearing questionable apples, it used to be more psychological, but today’s screen princesses are savvier, more materialistic — as are their fans — and one can feel that fashion virtues outdo ordinary virtues in the kingdom of “Frozen.” Cascading stardust must seem to be the opposite of spilled blood, but actually each is thrilling in its own way.

There is something non-negotiable in how the children, especially the young girls, especially my own daughter, see access to princesshood, and beauty generally, as a power grab and a way to have everything they want and still keep singing. Gary, the storefront operator who looked like an extra from “Glee,” twirled, curled and generally outgirled the gaggle of tiny females surrounding him. Nell played it cool — she knows her beauty secrets — but her eyes widened when he showed her the book of hairstyles. “That one, please,” she said. “Well, we know all about tired daddies here.

And all these girls — complete strangers to what they had — were primped, braided, gelled, glittered and generally, but equally, made to look like mini-adult punk girls with no faith in natural beauty. And as one, the staff shouted, “Let it go!” “Cool, thank you,” she said, very politely, inspecting her new postapocalyptic hairdo. “Can we go to Autopia now? They are often ersatz children, like the Seven Dwarfs, or ageless children who never grew up, like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, or children who are made of wood, like Pinocchio, or children’s favorite stand-in, animals. And the stylistics of Disneyland depend on the idea, not that childhood is an awfully great adventure, but that adulthood is, especially American adulthood, with its cars, its fantastic journeys, its fearful secrets and its love of prospecting for gold and spending it.

I mean, if Disneyland is an alternative world, a better world than actuality allows, how can it be preserved as such, without Real World Problems climbing over the fence? My days in Disneyland helped cure my sickness, not because of any profound (or even basic) medical provision, but because it reminded me that the bloods of happiness are thicker than the waters of discontent. But when we got to Autopia, I saw that children can be what Saul Bellow called “reality instructors,” perpetually animating the world around them with harsh self-interest.

Disneyland, a bit like the garden in Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” is a place with no need for a police force, because sin doesn’t exist and can barely even be imagined. But for the sociopathic among us, the greatest happiness of the greatest number will always find itself challenged by a basic wish to drive your car off the rails and go harum-scarum into the sunset. As we swept round on the Golden Zephyr, I felt we were part of a simple factor of joy and on the Grizzly River Run we held on to each other as if meeting the thrill together was an unforgettable thing. In the Enchanted Tiki Room, when the mechanical birds opened up and sang to us, I felt much more than myself, much more than the emperor of ice cream and a lovely girl’s daddy: I felt transported into her realm of astonishment as her eyes blazed with wonder. Show-business values abounded, and only a curmudgeon, or a writer, would choose to question the authenticity of the performers’ smiles or ask how much they are being paid.

I feel that many a father before me, in his private self, hoped that, when the bomb comes, he would be in the teacups with his daughter, gently turning, turning gently, while believing that those odd streaks across the sky are merely the fireworks that nightly light up the windows of Main Street. “Let’s go and find Mickey Mouse,” Nell said.

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