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A look back at Disney history
Walt first met Lillian Bounds when she was an inker and painter at the Disney Studios. Initially too absorbed in the Studio happenings to take notice of her, Walt soon found himself enamored with Lillian. He occasionally drove her home from work and soon asked her out. The marriage of Walt's brother, Roy, brought the idea to the forefront of Walt's mind. Before long, Walt and Lillian were themselves engaged! The couple was married at Lillian's uncle's home in Idaho on July 13, 1925. After honeymooning in the state of Washington, the two returned to Southern California and settled down as Walt built his entertainment empire.
As Disneyland was nearing completion thirty years later, Walt and Lillian's wedding anniversary was also drawing near. What better way to celebrate than by throwing a party and giving guests a sneak peek at Walt's latest and greatest dream? Lillian Disney invited guests to a "Tempus Fugit Celebration"...
WHEN: Wednesday, July 13, 1955 at 6:00 in the afternoon.
WHY: Because we've been married 30 years.
HOW: By cruising down the Mississippi on the Mark Twain's maiden voyage, followed by dinner at Slue-Foot Sue's Golden Horseshoe!
Hope you can make it, we especially want you. And, by the way, no gifts please, we have everything, including a grandson!
Lilly and Walt
Disneyland construction chief Joe Fowler was especially nervous about the event. The building of the Park was something akin to a nightmare- come- true for all involved. As we know, the soil of the Rivers of America quickly absorbed the water that was intended to fill it. The night before Walt and Lillian's party, Fowler had a dream that that had again happened to the frontier river! Luckily, it wasn't a premonition, but it did nothing to calm his nerves in the tense days before opening. The paddlewheeler that plies the Rivers of America - the Mark Twain - was to make its first run on the night of July 13; not surprisingly, Fowler arrived at the party early and headed to the Mark Twain to make sure everything was shipshape.
The Mark Twain Riverboat on the Rivers of America
As he approached the sternwheeler, he found another person already at work getting the ship ready for its maiden voyage. The deck was strewn with wood chippings and shavings from last-minute woodwork to get the Mark Twain ready for Opening Day. Fowler was asked to grab a broom and contribute to the effort to sweep the deck, and thus Joe and Lillian readied the ship themselves!
As the invited guests arrived, they were transported down Main Street and into Frontierland via horse-drawn surreys. Keep in mind that these people had never seen Disneyland before - what a night this must have been! This was the first big preview of Disneyland and Walt was able to relax and enjoy himself for the first time in months, if only for one evening. A reception of sorts was held in the Golden Horseshoe to give everyone ample time to arrive and enjoy the cocktails. Once everyone showed up, it was off to the Mark Twain and the first test of its seaworthiness.
Surprisingly, the ride went off without a hitch. It must have been a very serene voyage - there would have been no lights on the backside of Tom Sawyer Island and definitely none of the crowd noise that is impossible to escape at Disneyland today. While a band played on the second-deck stage, waiters went around offering the guests mint juleps, like those sold today in New Orleans Square. After so many nights of worry, Walt was able to see that people were finally enjoying the theme park he had created - the very one that he had been told would never work.
When the Mark Twain returned to dock, it was back to the Golden Horseshoe stage and time for another preview; the Golden Horseshoe Revue also made its debut on the night of July 13. With his family - his two daughters, Sharon and Diane, and his wife, Lillian - Walt watched the show from his box on the lower level. It was obvious to anyone watching that he was having the time of his life.
At one point in the show, star Wally Boag shaped his finger like a gun, pointed at Walt and "fired." Walt cocked his finger in the same manner and copied Wally's action. Walt became really involved at this point and stood up from his chair. As the audience saw this - and cheered him on - Walt advanced toward the stage, eventually bringing the show to a standstill as he stood on stage and took everything in. Some of the guests were clamoring for a speech, but Walt simply stood on the stage, hands on his hips, looking out over the audience.
As the applause continued, Lillian joined Walt, hoping to force him offstage. But that was not to be - Walt was just too happy with the excitement of his guests! In time, the entire Disney clan was onstage. The band eventually stuck up a tune and dancing ensued on the stage, allowing the Disneys to gently drag Walt away from the limelight.
The night had been a big one for Walt as he was finally able to see his dream-come-true play host and bring happiness to guests. He was certainly exhausted after working on Disneyland all day and partying most of the evening! As his daughter Diane recalled about the drive home, "He just climbed in the back seat of the car. He had a map of Disneyland, and he rolled it up and tooted in my ear as if with a toy trumpet. And before I knew it, all was silent. I looked around and there he was, with his arms folded around the map like a boy with a toy trumpet, sound asleep."
Yes, Walt's little Mickey Mouse Park had certainly come a long way. He and his team had endured countless naysayers, unable to comprehend what Walt envisioned. Before they knew it, Opening Day was upon them. Think everything went smoothly? Not a chance!
Questions about this column or about Disneyland history in general? Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
An inker and painter is a person who (as the name implies) applies ink and paint to the cels which make up cartoons.
Joe Fowler was a former Navy admiral who managed the construction of Disneyland and later Walt Disney World. He also was involved in the daily operations of Disneyland after it opened.