(These videos may not be available in your region.) In 1954, the Disneyland TV Show premiered on ABC television. The show started a year in advance of the opening of the park and was a way for Walt Disney to use the power of television to advertise and drum up anticipation for his new park. ABC agreed to be the guarantor on a loan for the park. In return, the last place channel got quality entertainment from the most popular entertainment company in America. The show would run on all three networks for 36 years, missing only the 1984and 1985 season. For 25 of those years, it would air on Sunday. It was the second longest running show on television. Since getting rid of Netflix, Jenya and I have been exploring the offerings on YouTube for the Disneyland TV series.
On Sunday, July 17, 1955, ABC ran the first live broadcast of its kind for the opening of the Disneyland theme park. Jenya and I have listened to Walt Disney’s opening day speech hundreds of times on a CD in the car:
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.Walt Disney, Disneyland Dedication Speech
I still don’t have it memorized. I have seen this show a couple of times, including once at Disneyland as an AP holder when they dissected the mistakes that happened live. (Maybe, it was at D23.) I am still surprised at the prayer ceremony, and in 2020, there are a lot more questionable things in the 1955 park than I would’ve thought about in 2015. Still, it’s fun to see Art Linkletter, Ronnie Reagan (not-yet U.S. President), Bob Cummings, and Walt Disney run around the park trying to show it off, and knowing what’s going on behind the scenes – what the camera isn’t showing.
In 1959, the Disneyland TV show changed its name to “Walt Disney Presents” and aired on ABC on Fridays. However, this newsreel was cut from the show, and I suspect shown in theaters. Called “Gala Day at Disneyland,” it shows the new additions to the park: Journey into Liquid Space (Submarine Voyage), the Monorail, and the Matterhorn, the first tubular steel track roller coaster ever built. It was something short we could watch while exploring the evolution of the park.
The Golden Horseshoe Revue, 1962
In 1961, the anthology show changed its name to “The Wonderful World of Color” and moved to NBC. Walt Disney had shot a lot of his earlier shows in color because he thought he could reuse them on the big screen. When TV started broadcasting in color, it’s said that Disney’s show was responsible for people buying new color television sets to replace their black and white TVs.
This particular show featured the 10,000th performance of the Golden Horseshoe Revue at Disneyland. The Revue became the show with the greatest number of performances of any theatrical production according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It closed in 1986.
I’ve seen this episode in the distant past. I wanted to show Jenya what the show was like and thought this would do it, but it’s not the show I remember. The 1962 version doesn’t have the tenor, Fulton Burley or Jay Meyer, in it. It does, however, feature Native American stereotypes dancing to an Annette Funicello song, and it has cowboys leering at can-can girls, including Funicello in a risqué can-can outfit. What may have been all in “good” fun in 1962 wouldn’t make it today. Still, Wally Boag’s performance is funny. Ed Wynn’s reminiscing on Vaudeville is informative, and seeing Gene Sheldon communicate without speaking is amazing.
Disneyland After Dark, 1962
Another 1962 episode, this show featured Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory. If you don’t know, Ory was a pioneer of Jazz music in New Orleans. To see him play with Armstrong was a delight, especially after having read about the Jazz movement. Annette Funicello was in this one as well. She danced to the music of Bobby Rydell. The Osmond brother quartet makes a quick appearance, too. Perhaps, my favorite part was the Royal Tahitians. When I was young, we did the Tahitian Terrace almost every trip. The fire-dancing and the hula girls always left an impression – and the food was amazing.
Memories of Childhood
Sharing these with my wife allowed me to go back to my days as a child. I realize that there are problems with the presentations when looked at through the lens of today, but for me, for a short period of time, I’m transported back to a place that existed only in my mind. That brings me joy and peace. I also get to dissect what I am seeing to help both myself and my wife understand the changes in America. Seeing it in historical context with the styles and the reactions of the crowd provides a wonderful glimpse of an idealized America that for a moment allows us to escape the politics of now.
- Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walt_Disney_anthology_television_series
For more on Disneyland and the Disney Company, check out my books “Penguinate! the Disney Company,” Disneyland Is Creativity,” and “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” There are also stories on this blog about Disneyland and Disney – just click on the appropriate tag.