MousePlanet: You probably knew Walt
Disney fairly well before you were asked to host the opening of
Art Linkletter: I was a very close personal friend of
Walt Disney. We've traveled around the world together and our
families socialized together.
MousePlanet: Weren't you neighbors?
Art Linkletter: Yes, we lived a few blocks from each
MousePlanet: In Holmby Hills?
Art Linkletter: Yes.
MousePlanet: So you probably saw his
trains he had there...
Art Linkletter: I was there and saw the trains, and I
was astounded to learn that he did most of the work there. He was
a mechanic, he was an artist, and he was a craftsman. He was more
than just a dreamer.
When it came time to announce that he was going to make Disneyland -
before, in fact, he announced his plans, he took me for a ride out there
with the Stanford Research people. They were hired by him a year
beforehand to find which part of Los Angeles would be growing, and in
the next 50 years would be the place that would be central to most of
the travel and recreation.
So they came down to show him the place, and he called me up and I
rode out with him in the car. And we went and went and went and
went and went, down through the orange groves. And finally we came
to the place where it was going to be, and I couldn't believe my eyes -
because it was so far from downtown Los Angeles. And it was so
small - the communities in those days were so straggly.
And I thought, "my gosh, to put up a bunch of merry-go-rounds
out in the middle of a cow pasture is ridiculous!" But I
didn't say anything!
MousePlanet: Of course not!
Art Linkletter: ...And I also didn't buy any real
MousePlanet: Oh, man.
Art Linkletter: So, anyway, I went on - and I began to
realize how great it was, because I'd go down to see them building, and
I'd talk to Walt. And then came the time when he came to me and he
said, "Art, this is a difficult moment for me, because I would like
to ask you to be the Master of Ceremonies of the opening, and work with
me, but I don't know how to approach you!" I said, "What
do you mean?" He said, "Well, you don't have an
agent! Why don't you have an agent like everybody else I talk
to?" And I said, "Well, Walt, you know me - I'm my own
business man, I've always done it, never had an agent, and I make my own
"Well," he said, "let me begin by telling you, as you
know, we've had cost overruns, I've had to borrow money against my
studio - I can't really afford to pay you what you're worth."
And I said, "Walt, how about scale?" He said
"Scale? A couple hundred bucks?" I said,
"Yeah! This is a big community event - it's a national event
- in fact it's a world event. And I'd like to be a part of
it. And we're good friends."
And I said, " On the other hand, I'm a businessman, and there's
something you can do for me. I'd like to have the photographic
concessions for 10 years. All film and all cameras sold at
Disneyland, and I'll pay your regular concession fee that you would get
from anybody who has it." He said, "It's a
deal!" And that's how I got the job.
Art Linkletter: Then he said "Art, suggest a couple
more people. We need three or four of us to cover the whole
grounds, jumping back and forth from one venue to the other."
And so picked two of my very good friends that I thought were very good
talkers and ad-libbers, and one of them was Bob Cummings, a wonderful
comedian but a marvelous speaker - and Ronald Reagan.
MousePlanet: The name is familiar...
Art Linkletter: We don't know whatever happened to
him. The four of us showed up with no rehearsal of course, we had
kind of a rough working script - and it was all live. And I was
perched in various places overlooking various parts of the park, and
they were around and we'd hop and jump over.
On one occasion, Walt was going from one place to another, and he was
going up an alley shortcut, and there was a guard there. He said,
"You can't go through here." And Walt said to him,
"Do you know who I am?" And the guard said "Yes Mr.
Disney, I do, but I have my orders - nobody can go through
here." And Walt said, "Well, I'M going to go through
here. If you get in the way, you know what's going to happen to
you!" And he walked right by.
I was in another place (in front of the Mr. Toad ride) and they left
the microphone under a pile of lumber. They said, "When you
get there, the mike will be there." And there's a long
distance camera shot from a rooftop. I got there and I couldn't
find the mike! I only had about 3 or 4 minutes before it was going
to switch to me, and I'm scrambling around looking under trash barrels
and everything else - I eventually found it.
And then of course the opening was done on a very hot day, and a lot
of the tar that had just been freshly laid was sticky, and the ladies
got their high heels caught in it! And some parts weren't quite
finished. And after it was all over, some of the reviews were kind
of cruel. They said the park wasn't ready, and it wouldn't be a
success. Ha ha!
MousePlanet: Well, everyone there
refers to the opening day as "Black Sunday." Aside from
the small mishaps that one could see, were they still really scrambling
to get things finished in time?
Art Linkletter: Sure, some of them were. Of course
I was just there skimming the surface, going from place to place, and I
had a lot of stars to work with. We had people like Frank Sinatra, and
Sammy Davis (Jr.), and Danny Thomas, and the others were all out there,
and it was exciting. I had been doing the opening of World's Fairs
for many years before that. I did San Diego in '36, Dallas Texas
in '38, San Francisco in '39 - and a lot of special events.
I was an ad-libber, so - chaos is made for me. Rehearsals are
NOT made for me. I hate the ordinary memorization and the
rehearsals and the shooting of the same scene 24 times from different
angles. I love the catch-as-catch-can, people who don't even know
they're on the air, or people I select who are wandering around
wondering what to do next and I try to get something out of them.
That's my business. So this was made to order.
And afterwards, we had a party and celebrated. And as the years
have gone by, of course, it's been played many times. And I just
love to hear me saying to Ronald Reagan, "Hey Ron, can you run down
to the corner there and get that thing for me?" And now he's been
the president of the United States. (Laughs)
MousePlanet: You said at the beginning
of the broadcast that 29 TV cameras were there - which seems like more
than one TV studio would have had at the time.
Art Linkletter: Well, ABC was a partner - and ABC had a
lot of cameras! And since we didn't have any chance to rehearse,
and we didn't have time to move cameras around because the park was so
big, we just had to have that many.
There were times, of course, when there were a few little boo-boos
made when somebody didn't show up someplace, and we had to do something
else, but we covered it pretty well. I remember one time standing
at the big steamboat with Irene Dunn...
MousePlanet: ...At the Mark
Twain. She seemed a little out of it. Did she really call
Art Linkletter: Yes. (Laughs) Yeah.
And there were other times when we weren't sure when we said "Take
it away, Walt!" whether Walt would be there, or whether he'd take
There was another time when I was on a balcony on Main Street,
overlooking the parade that was coming through. They had arranged
a monitor for me to look at, so I would know what the cameras were
looking at, because they were somewhere else covering the parade from
another angle. But by the time that the show was on in the late
afternoon, the sun was shinning right into the monitor - so I couldn't
see what the camera was covering! So I'd say something like
"now here comes Mickey Mouse," and they'd be on a band!
And the director of course realized pretty soon that I couldn't follow
the cameras, so the cameras had better follow me! So as I would
talk about something, they would search it out.
So those were some of the things that went on at what was really a
highlight of my life of sixty seven years of broadcasting.
MousePlanet: How often have you gotten
out to the park since then?
Art Linkletter: I had a Gold Pass in the early
days! I haven't been out there now for a couple years.
Having a family of eleven great grandchildren, and nine grandchildren, I
get out there every year or so.
MousePlanet: It's sure changed a lot
since it opened.
Art Linkletter: Yes, it's changed a good deal. And
a few years later, Walt Disney had a birthday party at his home, and he
took me aside. And he said, "Art, I have a little
confidential thing I want to tell you - it can go no
further." He said, "We've been offered an opportunity to
go to Florida and build another Disneyland."
And I said, "Walt, you know, I was secretly very pessimistic
about what was going to happen to the first one. I would have
advised you not to have done it. Of course it's a success.
But now," I said, "on the second one, I can give you better
advice. And that advice is, be SURE not to do it!" He
said, "WHAT? You don't think I should do it?"
I said, "I'll tell you why. Disneyland is the only thing
of it's kind in the entire world. It's unique. It's like the
Grand Canyon, of the Pyramids of Egypt." I said, "No, as
soon as there's a second Disneyland, then there isn't only one - it's
not unique anymore." He said, "Art, you're right about
that. BUT - we learned SO much about the fallacy of putting
together a huge show in the middle of territory we didn't own. And
everybody came in with hotels, and restaurants, and surrounded us -
because we only had a few acres, comparatively.
In Florida," Walt said, "I can get ten thousand
acres. I can control the roads, the highways, the entranceways,
the hotels - and it's going to be a Kingdom! We're going to have
it done where all the people who are in the International exhibits will
be living on the grounds - and it will be like a permanent World's Fair
of the artisans and the craftsmen of the world who live on the grounds
and make it work."
Well, it never worked out that way after Walt's death, because
monetarily and otherwise, it was too difficult. But they do have
that beautiful place down there in Florida with all of the foreign
exhibits around it. But they don't really live there.
MousePlanet: It was never the
community of the future he wanted it to be.
Art Linkletter: No. It wasn't that. But I
went with him to Florida, and I floated around in a balloon with the
Governor of Florida secretly. We looked down at the site.
Secrecy, in a big real-estate deal like that, is the most important
thing in the world. And we managed to keep it secret.
And I was there for the ceremonies there, but not the opening - and I
did other things. And I feel like I'm a part of the Disney family.
MousePlanet: Absolutely! How do
you think he would feel about the new park they're putting in, right
across from Disneyland?
Art Linkletter: I don't think that he would have done
it, but I think it's in the nature of the people running it now, who
want to grow. And there's only one way to grow, and that's to keep
changing and moving. You cannot sit on your laurels in any field
today. In the computer field, as we now know, a guy like (Bill)
Gates could be out of business in three years if he didn't keep
moving. That's what makes life so fascinating today.
And I'm - at 88 - busy now in many kinds of businesses.
Including Solar Renewal - I'm the on the Board of Directors of a big
company and we're going to change the whole world of heating and
electricity with a new solar invention. Nice to have a patent on
the sun! And we practically have it.
MousePlanet: Art, we appreciate the
time you've taken to chat. Thank you.
Art Linkletter: It's been a delight to talk to you and
recall some of these memories.