While I urge all those interested in Disney to come to MousePlanet every day for interesting and informative material on all things Disney, I fully realize that many of our readers also visit a handful of other Disney sites just as I do.
In fact, new sites are appearing everyday including a Disney history site (link) hosted by Didier Ghez who also hosts a site devoted to Disney books that are in print, out-of-print, and forthcoming (link). I highly recommend checking out his Disney history site if you are interested in a wide range of international Disney history and checking out his Disney books site to find some wonderful surprises to add to your "want list" of Disney books.
At Didier's site there is also a link to yet another new Disney history site, but this one is devoted specifically to the activities of the Disney Studios during World War II (link). It is hosted by David Lesjack who wrote the book Toons At War that is being prepared for an updated second printing. I have a copy of the first printing and found it an invaluable and accurate reference when I am researching articles.
However, there are also the Disney sites that seem to have been around forever and one of them is LaughingPlace.com that I used to visit more frequently to read the memories of Bob Gurr. Bob wrote his last column (link) for the site in February of this year after over 50 installments about his life and career. In fact, I wish someday someone would gather together all those columns and publish them as a book.
Bob Gurr is a Disney Legend and began working for the Disney Company in 1954 as a designer on the mini-cars for the Autopia in Disneyland's Tomorrowland. He officially retired in 1981 although he occasionally came back to consult and also worked on projects for other companies including Universal Studios' King Kong.
During his nearly three-decade employment with Walt Disney Imagineering, he worked on over 100 designs for attractions that include the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Monorails, Matterhorn Bobsleds, the well-loved and remembered Flying Saucers, and the original Abraham Lincoln "Audio-Animatronics" figure for the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, along with the Ford Motor Company's Magic Skyway Ride.
We still haven't quite finished celebrating Disneyland's 50th anniversary and I was fortunate enough to find some wonderful quotes by Bob from a brown bag luncheon from 1990 where he shared some personal memories of the opening of the Autopia attraction.
Because I always believe it is more fun to hear history from those who were actually there, I am sharing those notes with you today so that future historians can utilize them in their research. Also, you may wish to visit the archives at LaughingPlace to read nearly six years worth of Bob's memories.
Bob Gurr on Disneyland's Autopia Opening Day July 17, 1955:
"Walt had a beautiful, famous redheaded movie star and her young twin boys with him as the parade was about to start. Since she wanted to tag along with Walt, he told her Bob Gurr would be delighted to babysit the boys for her!
"We had a large number of untried Autopia cars in the parade which constantly stopped with fuel vapor lock. They were restarted by hard stomps on a kick starter, and my legs were becoming cramped in the 100 degree heat. All I needed was some little kids to watch. They loved the parade view from inside the cars as their mommy waved back.
Autopia cars parade down Main Street on Disneyland's opening day. Screenshot taken from "Walt Disney Treasures: Disneyland USA" DVD, © Disney.
"Later, her sons had to ride with me in one of the two police cars that were supposed to pace guests in the regular Autopia cars. Their idea of pacing was to get me to chase their mother's show biz friends with red light and siren. 'Git him!' they hollered as we pursued a short man wearing an eye patch. We hit him and he went over the curb onto the grass, giving us a startled look. The next morning's paper had photos of the famous guests, and sure enoughit was Sammy Davis Jr.
"I didn't see her until very late after dark when she finally came back to Autopia to collect them. If she only knew what a wild day we had!
"So many opening day guests were in a frenzy to ride every attraction that they just went nuts. As the number of available Autopia cars dwindled due to mechanical breakage, guests jumped over the railings and ran up the track. They stopped the returning cars, pulled the occupants out, and drove off right past the ride entrance.
"It was possible to spin out the Autopia cars and reverse the direction of the ride. Several super head-on collisions took place while the ride operators were trying to hold back the crowd at the gate. One crash injured two little boys. One, holding his knocked out teeth carefully in his hands for me to see, came over to me. When I escorted them to the City Hall first aid, they began to cry. They thought they would not be able to come back and finish their Autopia ride.
"Starting out with 40 Autopia vehicles (two of which were police cars and one on display as 'Walt's Car') left 37 for guests. Mechanical failures happened faster than we could fix them. Since all the mechanics were repairing other attractions, which were vitally needed, I pitched in with my own tools to help the lone repairman. Shortly we were down to just two running cars. All the rest were hopelessly wrecked.
The Autopia track on Disneyland's opening day in 1955. Screenshot taken from "Walt Disney Treasures: Disneyland USA" DVD, © Disney.
"When Walt came by and saw our 'junkyard', he sat in the little car shelter sadly staring at the scene. No mechanics. No maintenance. No tools. No place to work. Nobody to go get parts. All my time was spent fixing, none on improving the first design. I wondered if I should haved stayed in Detroit as a car stylist, now that I was an 18 hour day auto mechanic. In a few days, the area began to show signs that Disneyland would indeed live. Walt responded to reality and we were off to 35 wild years!"
(Send an email to Wade Sampson)
Wade Sampson grew up in the Los Angeles area and since the age of five was a frequent visitor to Disneyland. He was an original member of both the Mouse Club and the National Fantasy Fan Club. He attended all the local conventions where he had the opportunity to interview many of the people who actually worked with Walt Disney. Wade describes his house as looking like "a toy shop and a bookstore exploded and I decided to live in the remains". For over two decades, he has been a freelance writer and a teacher and for a while was a dealer in animation artwork and related resources. His columns concentrate on sharing stories of Disney history that haven't been recorded elsewhere.