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Magic Kingdom Chronicles
A look back at Disney history
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Jason Schultz

A Glimpse at the Site

The "Disneyland" TV show debuted on ABC on Sunday, October 27, 1954. Like the others that would follow until his death, the program was hosted by Walt Disney himself. The show was the public's first real exposure to the plans of Disneyland - people might have heard that Walt Disney was building an "amusement park" in Southern California, but they certainly had no idea just what he had in store with Disneyland. And what better way to teach the masses about this new concept in entertainment than through television?

We've seen how Walt struck a deal with the fledgling ABC in return for funding - the first major filmmaker to do so. Other Hollywood men feared that television would put them out of business. In brief, Walt agreed to create a weekly show for ABC in return for financing of the construction of his Park. The agreement was equally beneficial to both parties - Walt was able to get his Park built and in the public's eye, and ABC was able to boast programming from master showman Walt Disney to distinguish it from other networks.

The opening sequence of the television show was also a tie-in with the Park - each week, the theme of the programming would be "based" on one of the themed lands at Disneyland! For instance, when episodes of Davy Crockett were shown on the weekly show, it was said to "originate" from Frontierland. Other land/programming combinations included Fantasyland (animated shorts), Adventureland (True-Life Adventures) and Tomorrowland (programs about space). Tinker Bell - who served as hostess of the show - introduced each land in the opening sequence, doing slightly different "dances" for each land. The evening's program would then begin...

Walt Disney
The original model of Main Street at Disneyland Disney

The first episode - titled "The Disneyland Story" - began in the Disneyland Plans Room at the Studio, where Walt gave a brief overview of what the Park was to be. Peter Ellenshaw's beautiful overhead artwork of the Park was first shown, then compared to aerial footage of the construction site. At this time - October, 1954 - construction still hadn't really begun in earnest in Anaheim, so the footage of the site was kept to a minimum. Nor was there a lot of concept art shown. The thing most worth mentioning is the scale model of Main Street, a portion of which made an appearance in the "Designing Disney's Theme Parks" touring exhibit. The camera did a brief "walk-along" of the model and Walt discussed the concept of the "Central Plaza" - "it'll save a lot of walking!" The show then branched out and introduced some of the things that appeared on the show, including the first appearance of Davy Crockett on television.

Construction site
The Rivers of America taking shape at the Disneyland construction site Disney

The next Disneyland-oriented show wasn't until February 9, 1955 - "A Progress Report." In the interim period, construction on the Park had accelerated and the public could finally take a look at what was going on in Anaheim. The program again started with Walt and Ellenshaw's map - with a look virtually identical to that in "The Disneyland Story" - before offering a glimpse of the site. The helicopter fly-over showed just how much work still needed to be done before the Park's July opening. The Rivers of America had taken shape... and the outlines of the Main Street buildings were beginning to go up... but other than that, not much else had been accomplished.

The notable exception was the Jungle Cruise. A remarkable amount of work had been done on that single attraction - to the detriment of all others, it seems! Bill Evans and his landscape team worked hard to gather a large enough variety of trees and other plants to make the ride's jungle convincing. They gathered so many plants, in fact, that it made landscaping other areas of the Park difficult! (There was only so much greenery to go around.) Because it was the most completed attraction in Disneyland at that time, this update (and the first Disneyland-centric show after the Park's opening) focused almost entirely on the Jungle Cruise.

Rambler cruise
Touring the Jungle Cruise in a Nash Rambler Disney

At the time, the riverbed was still dry, so the viewers obviously couldn't be treated to a tour of the jungle via a boat. But how would Walt showcase the attraction? The answer to this conundrum came through synergy! A Nash Rambler - a tie-in with one of the show's sponsors - was used to give the TV audience a sneak peek at the attraction by driving along the unfilled river (this was possible because the center guide rail for the boats had not yet been installed). Most of the bank was still pretty barren, with only occasional patches of grown-in "jungle." Schweitzer Falls - the famous Jungle Cruise landmark that Walt once claimed was a waste of money - was fairly well underway construction-wise but had not yet been tested.

The television tour of the Jungle Cruise also offered a behind-the-scenes peek at the workings of some of the mechanical animals that would find a home along the riverbank. The critters were shown at the Studio, where testing was taking place. The crude movements of a hippopotamus, giraffe, and an elephant were all showcased. However, in the days before Audio-Animatronics, even the unrefined motions of these animals must have been pretty impressive!

The final progress report on Disneyland's construction aired just 4 days before Disneyland's opening, on July 13. It was appropriately titled "The Pre-Opening Report from Disneyland." The special was far more comprehensive than the previous shows, and with good reason - they finally had something to show viewers at home! In the final months of Park construction the pace had picked up dramatically. As workers and designers became more comfortable with their roles, their ability to work faster grew accordingly.

Railroad construction
Disneyland Railroad coach construction at the Burbank Studio Disney

While the buildings and layout of Disneyland was taking shape down in Anaheim, work at the Studio was also progressing apace. Entire soundstages were taken over for the construction of things like the Mark Twain and Disneyland Railroad coaches, while monkeys and other animals for the Jungle Cruise were being created nearby. These - and other assorted Disneyland-related projects underway at the Studio - were shown to the TV audience at home. By this time - 9 months after the Disneyland TV show debuted - viewers were familiar with the Disneyland concept and the footage of the attractions only served to whet their appetites further.

There was a lot of work going on around the Studio. Peter Ellenshaw was busy painting the 360-degree mural for Space Station X-1. Some of the dark rides - like Peter Pan and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride - were fully or partially mocked-up to allow for testing before transportation down to Disneyland. It was especially important to test the Peter Pan ride system as it was a new concept that hadn't yet been put to extensive use. All manner of vehicles for the Park were being put together by Studio machinists. Wheels for the Conestoga Wagons and Stagecoach attractions were handcrafted while the frames were assembled nearby. The decks of the Mark Twain were constructed entirely indoors - a most unusual way of building it, to be sure, but the decks were designed be disassembled, allowing for ease of transport down the I-5 Freeway.

What would a construction report on Disneyland be without a visit to the actual Park? The show transitioned from Burbank to Anaheim by showing the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad cars traveling down the freeway - even passing by a billboard for the Santa Fe Super Chief! It's fascinating to glimpse the state of Disneyland just before opening. Today it's tempting to compare the images of the Park's construction to what Disneyland has become, but at the time nobody had seen anything like it before.

The television special wasn't just a tour of the Park as it was days before opening - it also included clips of construction milestones that happened since the previous progress report in February. Just what kind of landmarks were shown? Let me elucidate...

Mark Twain construction
Putting the Mark Twain together at Disneyland Disney

Beginning the flow of water to fill in the Rivers of America
Assembling the Mark Twain in Fowler's Harbor - amazingly enough for Disneyland's problem-laden construction, it fit together perfectly on the first try!
Linging the Jungle Cruise riverbed with clay - they learned from their experience with the Rivers of America that they couldn't turn on the hose and expect the water to remain above the thirsty soil!
Laying the tracks for the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad
Running an engine around the railroad tracks for the first time

The visual tour of the Park's construction ended with a series of shots of completed or nearly completed sections of Disneyland, offering a nice look at the architecture of Main Street. The shots are very artistic and seemed to convey the sense that Disneyland construction was finally completed. It was a great way to renew public enthusiasm about Disneyland and get them to visit as soon as possible - the Park needed to start generating some cash flow to cover all the construction costs!

While this show was airing on television, a very special event was happening at Disneyland. July 13th marked the first real preview of the Magic Kingdom. Why, you may ask?

"Walt and Lillian, you're observing your 30th wedding anniversary. How are you going to celebrate?"

"We're going to Disneyland!"


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


NEXT UP: An Anniversary Celebration

EXTENDED INFORMATION

Bill Evans first met Walt when he were asked to landscape his backyard. It was quite a task, but it paid off when they were asked to help with the landscaping of Disneyland.

In terms of landscaping, the Park was something completely different than anything tried before. Bill Evans later wrote a book on Disneyland landscaping: "The World of Flowers."

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