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Magic Kingdom Chronicles
A look back at Disney history
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Jason Schultz

Roy Heads East

With Herb Ryman's Disneyland rendering firmly in hand, Roy Disney headed east. The Disneyland project was badly in need of funding and it was hoped that Roy would be able to drum up monetary support from the financiers in New York. Roy also took with him a small booklet titled "The Disneyland Story," explaining the planned Park from a Guest's point of view. The original concept began by stating what Walt's dream was all about:

Dedication Plaque
The Town Square plaque containing Disneyland's dedication speech

The idea of Disneyland is a simple one. It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge.

It will be a place for parents and children to share pleasant times in one another's company: a place for teacher and pupils to discover greater ways of understanding and education. Here the older generation can recapture the nostalgia of days gone by, and the younger generation can savor the challenge of the future. Here will be the wonders of Nature and Man for all to see and understand.

Disneyland will be based upon and dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and hard facts that have created America. And it will be uniquely equipped to dramatize those dreams and facts and send them forth as a source of courage and inspiration to all the world.

Disneyland will be something of a fair, an exhibition, a playground, a community center, a museum of living facts, and a showplace of beauty and magic.

It will be filled with the accomplishments, the joys and hopes of the world we live in. And it will remind us and show us how to make these wonders part of our own lives.

This introduction was the basis for the dedication speech Walt gave at Disneyland's opening on July 17, 1955. The rest of the writing describes the concept Herb had drawn just days earlier. It goes into the details of all the lands, including mentions of moving sidewalks in the World of Tomorrow, a miniature American village in Lilliputian Land and the home of the Mickey Mouse Club on Treasure Island. (In the 1960s, the Club found a home in the then-unused Opera House in Town Square on Main Street.)

Now, say you had just seen this very large and very impressive drawing by Herb and had just read the excitatory booklet. Would you be willing to contribute money to the project? Unfortunately, despite Walt's established reputation as a showman, he was unable to convince these money men of the possibilities of a true theme park. But one company did have faith in Walt - in return for a weekly television show, ABC gave Walt some major financial backing for his Park.

Before we begin talking about the ABC detail in any depth, some background: in the 1950s, television was still a developing medium and the broadcasting companies were anxious to get their hands on unique and compelling content. Most filmmakers were firmly opposed to television - they were afraid people would stop trekking to the theaters and it would thus hurt them where it really hurts - in the pocketbook. (These same fears were later rekindled with the advent of videotape and VCRs, but looking back it seems these too were unfounded.) Walt was the first major producer to see the boundless possibilities television could offer in terms of advertising and public awareness.

The first Disney television appearance was entitled "One Hour in Wonderland" and aired on Christmas Day, 1950 on NBC. It was a look at the upcoming animated feature "Alice in Wonderland" and was important for testing the television waters. One year later a second television special was aired - "The Walt Disney Christmas Show." This live show offered further proof to Walt of the viability of future advertising on television. And, of course, the story of television is intertwined with that of Disneyland's creation.

NBC and ABC had been after Walt for some time to create a weekly television show. The networks knew that programming bearing the Disney name would be a huge success and thus garner them more exposure. However, when Roy was on the east coast trying to drum up some money, they were none too easy to work with. After an exasperating day of meeting with NBC executives, a frustrated Roy called up Leonard Goldenson of ABC. The two struck it off and Walt soon found himself with some major money backing him up.

Disneyland TV Show
The opening of the original Disneyland TV show Disney

In exchange for a weekly television show from Walt, the American Broadcasting Company invested $500,000 for a 34.48% interest in the Park. In addition, the network agreed to guarantee loans up to the amount of $4.5 million. Each TV show was one hour in length, was hosted by Walt Disney, and featured programming related to four of the Park's five themed lands - Adventureland (True-Life Adventures), Frontierland (Davy Crockett), Fantasyland (animated shorts and films) and Tomorrowland (original programming such as Ward Kimball's Man in Space). In an even more synergistic move, the new television series would appropriately be named "Disneyland."

In return for more funding for his Park, Walt agreed to produce a second television show for ABC. Through privately-owned WED Enterprises, Walt licensed the story rights for Zorro from a Hollywood agent by the name of Mitchell Gertz. A few years prior Gertz had received those rights from creator Johnston McCulley. While initial ideas for a Zorro series went as far back as 1952, it didn't premiere on television until October 10, 1957 - the folks at WED were busy designing Disneyland!

El Zocalo
El Zocalo was inspired by the Zorro TV series

Zorro-inspired settings made their way into the planned park, in the form of Mexican Imports, a merchandise location near the Conestoga Wagons, and in El Zocalo, an open area inspired by Mexican architecture that has survived in the Park to this day.

While the ABC deal was major, it was by no means the only source of funding for the Park. Walt Disney Productions itself also invested $500,000 for a 34.48% interest in the Park. An investment of $200,000 gave Western Printing and Lithographing a 13.79% interest in Disneyland. Rounding out the original investors was Walt Disney himself, who was able to put in $250,000 of his own money for a 17.25% interest. Walt was able to accomplish this by selling off Smoke Tree Ranch - a vacation home of his in Palm Springs - and "borrowing to the hilt" on his life insurance. However, it should be noted that the costs kept rising - over the course of construction, the Park's total cost ballooned from $4 million to $17 million!

ABC would remain one of the owners of Disneyland until Disney repurchased the investment in 1960; ABC received a hefty $7 million for its original $500,000 investment. The financing story came full circle in July 1995 when The Walt Disney Company had acquired enough market strength to actually buy Capital Cities/ABC. The merger cost? $19 billion.

The television show went a long way toward putting Disneyland in the forefront of the public's eye. Who wouldn't want to visit a land of fantasy created by master storyteller Walt Disney? In order for his dreams to become reality, Walt needed to find some competent people to head up the construction. How does a retired navy admiral fit into the Disneyland story? We're about to find out!


Questions about this column or about Disneyland history in general? Send them to me at jason@mouseplanet.com!


NEXT UP: Construction Men

EXTENDED INFORMATION

Herb Ryman was an artist influential in the design of Disneyland. He drew the first conceptual map of Disneyland that was used to drum up financial support for the Park. Later, he was involved in the design of Sleeping Beauty Castle, New Orleans Square, and even the Indiana Jones Adventure.

It is widely acknowledged that Roy O. Disney was the financial brains behind Walt's dreams. Roy was sometimes reticent about Walt's projects, but when he saw that they would work - as with Disneyland - he gave the venture his full backing. After Walt's death in 1966, Roy saw to it that Walt Disney World was built and opened to the public.

For many years, Western Printing and Lithographing operated the Disneyland Book Store in the corner of the Emporium. They also published many of the early Disneyland paper items found throughout the Park.

 

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