Disneyland 1967 Part One: Pirates of the Caribbeanby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
Disney has been around so long and has done so many things in so many different areas, that, these days, every year seems to be a significant anniversary of something. This particular year is the 50th anniversary of Disneyland 1967 which most people don't think of being an important celebration.
However, 1967 marked the first year that Disneyland and the Disney Company had to adjust to not having Walt Disney around since he died in December 1966.
Even the cast training program for Disneyland was re-named "Traditions," because both Dick Nunis and Van France worried that new hires to the company needed to be reminded of Walt's personal philosophy, since the "boss" was no longer there personally to model the proper attitude and behavior.
For Disneyland in 1967, the park still featured Walt's special touch with the opening of an attraction that has become the iconic Disney theme park attraction that influenced all future rides (Pirates of the Caribbean), the addition of a brand new land (New Orleans Square) and the complete re-imagining of another land (Tomorrowland) to more completely reflect Walt's vision of the future.
In addition, there were many smaller touches also introduced to the park, including some additions to the Jungle Cruise attraction with some new dancing natives and two new gorillas.
Walt had personally developed and approved all of these changes, but, unfortunately, was unable to see them open. Walt's experiences with his contributions to the 1964-65 New York World's Fair notably influenced the updates.
One new addition from the fair that is usually forgotten was that Walt went to the Spanish pavilion and saw a display and demonstration by the Arribas brothers and invited them to open up a shop at Disneyland. Disneyland had a glass blower from 1955-1966 named Bill Rasmussen who left the park to open a series of shops in cities like San Francisco and Boston.
In 1967, the brothers came to Disneyland and opened a glass shop and now have shops at a number of different Disney theme parks.
On November 20, 1967, Disneyland got permission from Anaheim to expand its borders both in the park and the parking lot. By end of December, 7.9 million guests had visited (meaning since the park's opening in 1955 roughly 67 million guests had been in the park). There were 4,910 cast members who worked the park that had more than doubled the number of attractions since 1955.
Anaheim Stadium opened in 1966 (home of the California Angels) and the Anaheim Convention Center opened July 12, 1967. Hotels/motels had grown from 60 rooms in 1955 to more than 6,500 rooms in 1967.
And sadly, 1967 was the last summer for mermaids in the Submarine Lagoon.
Fortunately, the changes in the summer of 1967 were documented in the Wonderful World of Disney television program "Disneyland: From the Pirates of the Caribbean to the World of Tomorrow" that aired on January 21, 1968.
Walt Disney had earlier provided a sneak peak at the Pirates attraction in the episode titled "The Disneyland Tenth Anniversary Show," which was shown January 3, 1965. Both episodes are easily found online with a little effort.
Walt Disney had wanted an attraction featuring pirates at Disneyland as early as 1954 to be part of the pre-Civil War New Orleans area of the park. On the July 17, 1955 telecast of the opening of Disneyland, co-hosts Ronald Reagan and Bob Cummings both referred to the New Orleans flavor at the edge of Frontierland "down on New Orleans Street".
Wrought iron balconies and similar New Orleans architectural touches decorated the exterior of the Aunt Jemima's Pancake House and Chicken Plantation Restaurant. Imagineer Herb Ryman had done a concept piece of artwork where there would be a pirate shack with the pirate's laundry hanging on an outside line and further down the block Bluebeard's Den.
In 1958, artist Sam McKim further expanded on the concept on his Disneyland map design that included a haunted house and a Pirate Wax Museum featuring a Rogue's Gallery of famous pirates and a Thieves Market for merchandise.
In 1961, Walt approached artist Marc Davis. Davis studied the history of pirates and came up with some dramatic tableaus to tell the story in a walk-through attraction meant to be underneath the New Orleans location. Up above would be an enormous enclosed area where it was always a moonlit twilight and guests could wander through a Pirate Alley shopping district and an elegant restaurant located outside of a plantation near a bayou.
Davis went through three different designs of the underground pirate presentation where guests in groups of 50-70 would walk through a harbor town, onto a pirate ship and then through a tavern and a cobblestone town square. There were discussions about having simplified electro-mechanical pirates narrate the story as guests gazed into the various tableau scenes. Electro-mechanical figures, like the ones on the Jungle Cruise or the Rivers of America, could repeat two or three motions and were the forerunners of Audio-Animatronics.
At the World's Fair, Walt saw how successful the sophisticated Lincoln Audio-Animatronics figure was and how the boat system in "it's a small world" was so efficient in transporting a large number of guests through an attraction. Even though a huge hole had been dug for the Pirate Wax Museum and concrete and steel already laid in anticipation of finishing shortly after the fair, Walt had it all torn out and he started over.
Disneyland's New Orleans Square, based on concept art by Herb Ryman, was officially dedicated on July 24, 1966 by Walt and Victor Schiro, who served as mayor of New Orleans from 1961-1969. Schiro made Walt an honorary citizen of New Orleans. It was Walt's last major public appearance in the park before his death.
However, because of Walt's new vision influenced by the World's Fair, the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction would be delayed until 1967 along with the Blue Bayou restaurant and Club 33 (inspired by the VIP lounge he saw in operation on the second floor of the Tower of the Four Winds in front of "it's a small world").
Why was it called New Orleans Square since it doesn't seem to be a square at all, but a series of curved, winding streets? The Vieux Carré is the historic name for the actual New Orleans French Quarter, and translates from the original French into "Old Square."
In an interview I did with Marc Davis in 1998, he told me:
"Walt came to me and said, 'Marc, I'd like to do an attraction on pirates. You know, maybe pirates of the Caribbean.' He had come up with the name for it by that casual remark like he often did. He named the PeopleMover that way but thought it would just be a placeholder name and we would come up with something better but we couldn't.
"Originally, this was going to be a walk-through wax museum down under New Orleans Square and feature the real pirates of history like Captain Kidd and [Captain] Morgan, but after the success of the boats in 'it's a small world' at the New York World's Fair, he realized it would be so popular that it needed a larger capacity than a walk-through, and the boats would provide that.
"He had [Head of Disneyland construction Joe] Fowler rip out all the steel that had already been laid and re-designed the entire thing with waterfalls so it can go under the berm and train track to a larger show building. That was an expensive decision but the right one."
The original hole dug for the museum is now the caves before the main show.
During Davis' research, it turned out that real pirates were not as interesting and dramatic as people remembered, so the thrust of the new show was to create the world of pirates people knew from the movies and books.
Davis' specialty was humor, and his skill was utilized to take the edge off the nefarious behavior of characters who proudly admit that they "kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot." Instead of being rough men who would take advantage of women, they became lonely bachelors desperately looking to "buy a wench for a bride" to fill their affection-starved lives.
Exaggerated facial features (especially since the figures would only be seen for a few seconds) and a light-hearted theme song also underscored that these were simply "boys will be boys" having some fun like a high school football team out of control after winning a game. That certainly doesn't excuse their actions, but it made it all a bit more understandable for guests and less offensive for almost thirty years when some changes were made.
Lust is one of the seven deadly sins, but so is gluttony so, in 1997, instead of chasing the women, the Disneyland pirates were after food to have a good meal for once. In 2006, elements from the popular film franchise were introduced into the ride.
Musician George Bruns, whose previous credits included co-writing the hugely popular song "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," composed the attraction's score, with lyrics and script created by the Francis Xavier "X" Atencio, who later penned the narration script and song lyrics for The Haunted Mansion.
Atencio had never written a script before and is still unclear why Walt decided the he could do the job. Atencio studied not only the Disney live-action film Treasure Island (1950), but similar Hollywood films like Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, Blackbeard the Pirate and The Buccaneer.
Atencio voice-directed the performers for the attraction, but had some help from Imagineer Marty Sklar. Paul Frees did the voice of the Auctioneer and some of the other pirates. He was the voice of the Ghost Host in the Haunted Mansion, Ludwig von Drake, Bullwinkle's foe Boris Badenov, and countless other credits.
Thurl Ravenscroft, best known as the voice of Kellogg's Tony the Tiger for decades and the singer of "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" did several pirate voices, including the accordion playing one in the trio of minstrels by the donkey and the drunk pirate hanging on a lamppost. He also did the sound of the singing/howling dog with the minstrels as he had supplied dog sounds in Disney's animated feature Lady and the Tramp (1955).
J. Pat O'Malley who was a popular Disney animated voice artist, including Colonel Hathi in The Jungle Book (1967) also voiced several pirates. He has become notorious as the person who Walt had coach Dick van Dyke for his cockney accent for Mary Poppins (1964).
The voice of the magistrate's wife pleading with Carlos not to be "cheeken" was supplied by June Foray, who has countless credits, including being Grandma Fa in Mulan (1998). She will be celebrating her 100th birthday this year.
A long model of the attraction was built. The figures were each nine inches high and could be moved from place to place. It was put up in sections on sawhorses with rings for each scene, so that someone could get the same view that the audience would see. A desk chair with rollers was pushed through the path. Walt went through many times and made suggestions and changes.
Before Walt's death, a full-sized mock-up of the auction scene was set up in a WED (Imagineering) warehouse in Glendale. A dolly with a chair on it was rigged up so that Walt could be pushed through at two feet per second (the approximate speed of the boats). Walt also got to walk the unfilled flume of the attraction, but there was not much in place in terms of scenery and figures to see.
Blaine Gibson told me that the Auctioneer's face was "inspired" by a fellow Imagineer but refused to reveal the identity. Studying the original head without facial hair and hat, to me it looks very much like a young Rolly Crump.
While, for the most part, the faces of the pirates came from Davis' drawings, Gibson added in some faces of people who sat in the pews at his church on Sundays that he sketched when he was bored. The singing minstrel in the middle of the singing trio was based on a janitor at WED.
Several of the sculpted heads are re-used throughout the attraction. For instance the character in his chair outside his shack across from the Blue Bayou Restaurant was also used as the standing pirate in the jail cell trying to tempt the dog to give them the keys.
In September 1998, I also got to talk with Alice Davis, Marc's wife, who was responsible for doing the costumes on the attraction. In the early days, she and her team of four costumers would go through each morning and check the costumes and adjust the wigs and with their own make-up kits applied make-up to each of the human figures and then powdered them so they looked more realistic. Today, Disney merely paints the faces.
I got to see her in person do a drawing of one of the costumes she did for a child in "it's a small world," and I am telling you that she was an amazing artist herself, even though she always chose to stand in the shadow of her husband.
She has told the following story in a variety of places, but this is how she told me and if you have never heard it, then it is new to you:
"I graduated from (doing costumes on "it's a small world") sweet little children to dirty old men overnight.
"I had the machinists make some special bras for the women in that chase scene. It was some sort of contraption so that when the girls were running, their bosoms would bounce up and down just as in real life.
"The red head in the auction scene was a real problem at first. From the area below her bust to her hips the only thing there was a two inch tube holding her up straight. I came up with the idea of making this special stiff corset that would attach just below the bust and then to the top of the hips to give her some shape but really she's all just hollow inside there. With costuming, it is all about what the audience sees. It is an illusion.
"About two or three months after the attraction opened, there was a real fire in the ride in that final burning town scene. It had melted some of the figures with wires hanging out and the faces pretty much gone except for the glass eyes. Some of the costumes were burned and there were others that were damaged when the sprinklers went on.
"I had wanted to make a back-up set of costumes for emergencies but Dick [WED president Dick Irvine] said it was too expensive and we would worry about doing it later. I realized they had no idea how much it took to make a costume so I simply ordered twice as much yardage and we made a second set. It is easier to do that when you are doing the first one rather than wait. I just told the bean counters that the costumes cost double what they actually did.
"The show had just opened and was a huge hit and they worried how long the attraction would be down before they could get it up and running again. Dick came to me in a panic and said, 'Alice, what are we going to do? How long will it take to make new costumes? How much overtime?' and so on and so on.
"I replied, 'I think we can be ready in about a half an hour' and walked over to a cabinet and opened it and there was the second set. He didn't know whether he wanted to kiss me or kill me for tricking the accountants, but Pirates opened the next day and now they generally make three sets of costumes at the same time for a new attraction."
Several Imagineers have told me that they felt the story in the attraction was a dream, a dead pirate's dream. It is his last memories on earth before he became one of the skeletons. It is highly doubtful that Walt consciously thought that was the story. Walt was very instinctive and just "knew" when a story seemed to work.
While the Blue Bayou (originally designated as the Blue Bayou Terrace) was ready to open months before the attraction, Walt refused to do so because he felt that part of the experience for the restaurant was to see the bateaux slowly drifting in the nearby bayou. Both Pirates and Blue Bayou restaurant opened in March 1967. Club 33 opened in June 1967.
The opening of the attraction had the media reporters on the Sailing Ship Columbia. Comedian Wally Boag (iconic for his performances in the Golden Horseshoe Revue) was dressed as a pirate captain in a row boat along with his pirate crew.
They climbed aboard the Columbia and took the reporters prisoner (and brought up some attractive and appropriately dressed young women from down below, sometimes slung over their shoulders) and celebrated with music and dancing on the deck. Then they herded everyone off the ship and marched them toward the attraction.
In front of the boarded up entrance were two armed soldiers guarding the place but they were quickly overcome. The pirates used a huge log to "smash" open the door and the media entered for the first time.
The attraction cost more than $8 million dollars and was the longest attraction adventure at Disneyland.
In 1997, the original Pirates of the Caribbean attraction became the first recipient of the Classic Attraction award from the Themed Entertainment Association (THEA), an honor accepted by Disney Legend Marty Sklar.
Sklar called the attraction the quintessential Disney show, saying, "It broke the mold. It created a genre that was so new, that everything else that follows has to be measured against it. The one constant at Disneyland is change, and the attraction has had some changes over the years, but it kept the spirit and values that Walt envisioned."
Next time: I take a closer look at the New Tomorrowland that opened at Disneyland in 1967 and reveal some things that might not be common knowledge to most Disney fans.