Disneyland 1958 - Part Twoby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
Last week, I took a look at some of the familiar attractions that were introduced to Disneyland in 1958. Today, I am going to conclude that look with a few more treasures that Walt introduced to his park.
While today, we think of Disneyland as a floral paradise, the Los Angeles area is actually pretty much a desert. In 1955, Disneyland was pretty barren from a landscaping perspective, but, three years later, it had filled in and with significant growth in the young trees, the park was truly beautiful.
In 1958, a guest could still board a Conestoga Wagon in Frontierland before dusk would close the attraction. While there was no Nature's Wonderland yet, guests could still see the Rainbow Caverns from the Mine Train.
It was $4.25 for adult admission and 15 attractions—but that was actually a $5.85 value, so the ticket book was a real bargain. A ticket book with admission and 10 rides was $3.25. Disneyland was open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. generally (summer and holidays had extended hours usually 9 a.m. to midnight). It was closed Monday and Tuesday because it "provides the necessary time for rehabilitation and maintenance," but was open every day during the Christmas holidays, starting December 17.
In 1958, three different variations of the souvenir park map, drawn by Sam McKim, were issued. Some variations are slight, like the inclusion of Cascade Peak, or the color of the water for the Jungle Cruise, while others are more significant, like the first version that still featured the Viewliner, which would disappear by the end of the year.
Also the first issue of Vacationland published by Disneyland appeared in the fall. Previously the colorful slick magazine had been called Disneyland Holiday and was offered at local hotels. It has been speculated that the name change was to be more inclusive of other Southern California tourist attractions, like Knott's Berry Farm.
Here are some things that you might have forgotten were from 1958:
Alice in Wonderland
A flyer handed out to guests described the new attraction as:
"An exciting new attraction in the happiest kingdom of them all…travel down the Rabbit Hole to see Alice's thrilling dreams come to life…through the Oversize Chamber and the Upside Down Room…visit the Mad Hatter and his wild Tea Party…the March Hare, Cheshire Cat and White Rabbit…experience the astounding adventures from this famous story!"
When Fantasyland opened in 1955, it had three dark rides. One was scary (Snow White), one was funny (Mr. Toad) and one was beautiful (Peter Pan). Walt decided there needed to be one that depicted craziness common in cartoons.
Bruce Bushman had done some concept sketches for a walk-through attraction. However, financial issues prevented the attraction from appearing on opening day which turned out to be a good thing because the attraction evolved.
Walt assigned Claude Coats to the project, who had done color styling for the 1951 animated feature film Alice in Wonderland and had shown a skill at utilizing black light on early Disneyland attractions.
Coats was in charge of everything from design and layout to creating the contemptuous caterpillar vehicle with a sneer on its face. He had originally suggested using playing cards as a vehicle, but it was Walt himself who said, "Use the caterpillar."
As a result, neither Alice nor the caterpillar appeared in the original version of the attraction. Blaine Gibson sculpted the vehicle from Coats' illustration. The design was patented on January 12, 1960 (the application was submitted May 8, 1959) in Coats' name and he signed over the patent to Disneyland Inc. for $10.
The vehicle was longer than the other dark ride vehicles, so it could seat more people, and it went slower because it was heavier, and the lowest gear had to be used in order for it to get up the incline to the second floor.
It was the only two-story dark ride in Fantasyland and that second story was over the Mr. Toad's Wild Ride attraction. Bob Gurr assisted with mounting the fiberglass caterpillar onto a ride vehicle purchased from Arrow Development. He also helped install some of the moving gags with Roger Broggie Jr.
Coats was assisted in the artwork on the plywood two-dimensional cutouts by Colin Campbell, Blaine Gibson, and Ken Anderson.
Most of the gags were some character moving up and down (like the Dormouse's head popping up the lid on the sugar bowl at the Mad Tea Party or the Accordion Owl stretching its neck in the Tulgey Woods), that was accomplished fairly simply by air cylinders and, when the value was shut off, something would come back down.
The scenery and figures, like the smiling Cheshire Cat, were "flat" on plywood or masonite and painted so that ultraviolet black light would make the colors more intense, unreal and seem to glow.
Kathryn Beaumont, the young actress who had provided the voice for Alice in the film, recorded the lines for the attraction. She was about 21 years old at the time.
Mouseketeer Karen Pendleton, dressed as Alice, appeared at the ribbon-cutting ceremony roughly two months after the ride officially started operating on June 14, 1958. She and Walt were taken to the entrance of the attraction in a horse-drawn carriage. Pendleton was handed a gigantic flimsy, flat golden key by a badly costumed White Rabbit performer who came skipping out of the rabbit hole. You can see most of the back of the actor's head behind the mask. A costumed Mickey and Minnie, wearing their frightening Ice Capades' costumes, were also in attendance along with Chip'n'Dale. Walt and Pendleton boarded the caterpillar vehicle, sitting behind the White Rabbit, followed by Mickey, Minnie, and Chip'n'Dale.
The ride was a "C" Ticket or $0.35. The 8-foot-tall ticket booth was a giant mushroom with an open Alice in Wonderland storybook on top. Sometimes the female ticket seller inside wore an Alice in Wonderland costume.
According to legend and an unpublished manuscript about the history of Disney entertainment by Ron Logan, one day in 1958, Walt Disney supposedly remarked to his friend Dr. Charles Hirt of the University of Southern California, "We need Christmas carolers at Disneyland. Can't we have a choir assembled at the hub of Main Street by the Railroad Station in Town Square? Have them sing to the guests there, and I'll listen from my office over the Fire Station."
And so, the celebrated tradition of The Candlelight Processional began.
While this is a charming story, I have not found any documentation or confirmation that it was Walt himself who came up with the idea of the Candlelight Processional and presented it to Dr. Hirt to make it a reality.
That is not to say there isn't some truth in that story. It only means that in my research I couldn't find anything to confirm it. However, I suspect like many Disney traditions, this one developed gradually to the level we recognize it today.
There were already Christmas carolers at Disneyland that very first holiday season in December 1955, mere months after the park officially opened. During December 1955, there was a group of 12 Dickens Carolers (from the University of Southern California), under Hirt's direction, who performed throughout the park and guest choirs were invited to perform daily in the Main Street bandstand, which had been recently moved to the Magnolia Park area of Adventureland by the Jungle Cruise.
In addition, in 1955, for the opening afternoon of this holiday tradition, the Dickens Carolers and a 300-member massed chorus made up of visiting choirs stood together on the Main Street Train Station steps and sang Christmas carols accompanied by visiting school bands. They stood on the steps so they could be seen clearly and easily by the guests.
By Christmas 1956, this holiday entertainment event was officially christened the "Christmas Bowl," perhaps borrowing from the concept of the "Hollywood Bowl" that provided holiday concerts. A sign proclaiming that title was placed over the entrance to the bandstand area in Magnolia Park. Under Hirt's direction, the carolers and singers from eight visiting choirs also performed as a group on the station steps, this time accompanied by the Disneyland Band.
In 1957, the event grew larger as choirs followed the Christmas Around the World Parade from Sleeping Beauty Castle into the Plaza where they performed. The Christmas Around the World Parade premiered at Disneyland in 1957 and ran until 1964 (later revived for 1980 through 1985) when it was officially replaced by the Fantasy on Parade, which ran to 1976 during the holiday season. The Christmas Around the World Parade included brightly costumed local ethnic dance and choral groups.
Unfortunately, due to the size of the crowd, the singers were unable to form a circle in the center of the Plaza as planned. Instead, they stood around the Disneyland band and performed in an informal manner.
The choirs and carolers were so well received by Disneyland guests that, in 1958, Hirt suggested to Disney Entertainment that performances by a larger massed choir group would be a welcome addition to future holiday events. Hirt taught at USC's School of Music for 35 years. He organized the first USC concert choir and then the Chamber Singers who toured worldwide.
So, in December 1958, the first evening Candlelight Processional was held with singers from 16 choirs moving down Main Street to the Plaza where they performed a full concert with the Dickens carolers singing from the Sleeping Beauty Castle balcony above.
As Hirt remembered in later years, "When we first did the ceremony in 1958, the carolers all gathered around the flagpole in Town Square. It was a beautiful ceremony, but we made one mistake: it was difficult for people to see since the singers were all in a circle with me in the center conducting. So the next year, bleachers were constructed adjacent to the Train Station so that the carolers were facing the spectators on Main Street."
Celebrity narrators were introduced in 1961, with actor Dennis Morgan having the distinction of being the first one. He performed that role 1961-1964 and again in 1966. Dick Van Dyke, to help promote Mary Poppins, was the narrator in 1965.
Not everything that Walt planned for 1958 was realized. One of his ambitious proposals was for a side extension to Main Street to be called Edison Square and would feature his first attempt at the Carousel of Progress.
At the end of Main Street, on the right side of The Hub, would have been another more urban, residential street named Edison Square. It would have been built on what was then known as "Plaza Street" near the Plaza Inn (at that time called the Red Wagon Inn). It was announced that Edison Square would open Easter 1959.
As shown in a full-color concept painting by Imagineer Sam McKim, the entrance to this suburban addition would resemble a gated community with two red brick pillars supporting a curved all electric sign saying "Edison Square."
There would be a brick paved street, the most modern of electric and gas-powered "horseless carriages" and, of course, "brand new" electric street lights instead of Main Street's gas lamps.
The facades of the buildings would recall the red brick houses of Philadelphia, New York's brownstones, the wooden edifices of St. Louis and San Francisco, the graystones of Chicago, and the colonial brick of Boston—truly making it part of a larger Main Street U.S.A., rather than just a small Midwestern town.
Prominently displayed at the center of this cul-de-sac area in a little fenced-in circular, green park would have been a life-sized statue of inventor Thomas Edison, with his right arm raised high in the air and his finger pointing upward.
Walt Disney had quickly learned that the participation of major corporations in partnering on a Disneyland attraction could be beneficial to everyone. Walt got funding for research and development of his concepts that could not only be used in the attraction itself but also expanded to other areas.
The companies got an important "billboard" showcase, where their name and products were tied to happiness and magic, and had a captive, receptive audience. Walt was clever to promote projects that not only met the needs of the client, but also the guests and the Disney organization.
After the opening of Disneyland Park, General Electric's Lamp Division had visited Walt at WED to discuss the possibilities of sponsoring an attraction at Disneyland. While they were clear about what they wanted to advertise, they left it to Walt's storytelling to come up with an appropriate showcase.
The result was a new area for the park spotlighting a unique four-act play with a prologue and epilogue titled "Harnessing the Lightning."
Walt saw the play Our Town at least three times at the urging of Imagineer John Hench when it was performed in Los Angeles and used it as the inspiration for the show.
"Harnessing the Lightning" would be performed in a hidden horseshoe theater with multiple stages inside the buildings at the far end of the cul-de-sac of Edison Square. In four acts, it would follow a typical American family through the decades with each step showing how G.E. had made the future brighter and better.
Mr. Wilbur K. Watt, the "K" standing for "Kilo", would be the on stage narrator for the show. According to the brochure prepared for G.E.: "Our narrator, Wilbur K. Watt, is an incredible electro-mechanical man. As he rocks back and forth in his armchair, he describes the scene we see on stage. It is almost as though Mr. Watt were alive, for his movements are synchronized and life-like as he describes the play."
At the appropriate time, a group of roughly 125 people would be funneled into the first theater. The audience would stand on a four-tiered platform, with each tier separated by continuous railing, very similar to the pre-show of Stitch's Great Escape attraction at Walt Disney World.
When the scene was finished on the first stage, the lights would dim and automatic doors would open to allow guests to move into the next area to see the next scene while another group was funneled in behind them to see the first act.
There were four acts altogether, lasting a total of 15 minutes. After the final act, the guests would enter an epilogue room showcasing GE products.
In addition, Imagineer John Hench had suggested that the figures be "highly stylized" so that they didn't resemble a realistic human being too closely. They would have more caricatured bodies and oval shaped heads so that if they didn't move smoothly or made a jumpy action, it would still be accepted by the audience. They were not cartoons, nor were they human, but some intermediate hybrid.
Act I. 1898. "1% Inspiration—99% Perspiration." The days before electricity in a typical American home. Sitting in a rocking chair is Wilbur K. Watt. The characters demonstrate the newest home appliances like the washing machine, a new stove, an ice box and even a wind up phonograph. Basically, most household marvels were human powered.
Act II. 1918. Post War. "The Initials of a Friend." (The initials, by the way, are G.E.) Although he is not named, Cousin Orville in the bathtub with his own version of "air cooling" made an appearance. There is a jungle of wires to run the new devices like household lighting, refrigeration, toasters, water heaters and other appliances. Watt points out how thankful we all are for that new company founded by Tom Edison, General Electric.
Act III. 1958. "Live Better Electrically." John Hench came up with the idea of having the children wearing Mickey Mouse ears sitting on the floor watching The Mickey Mouse Club on a small black and white television. Remember at the time, this was the present. So it was the interior of an upscale contemporary home where mom and dad enjoy modern comforts like climate controlled radiant heat, television, "hot food from a cold oven" and "a poached egg in 20 seconds!"
Act IV. 19?8. "More Power to America." The question mark in the date is intentional since this was some indeterminate time in the future. A penthouse overlooking New York City. It is an Electronic Island in the Sky with stars both above and below.
Predicted products included space scanners, luminous walls, self propelled serving carts, protein measurements, programmer controlled kitchen (a prototype of a personal computer), microwave oven, and other new, automatic time saving devices. Guests would have been invited to actually step on stage to experience the home of the future…but only within the three-minute time limit.
At the close of the act, the interplanetary large screen television showed Wilbur K. Watt landing on the planet Venus in a rocket ship with a G.E. logo. "We step confidently into the future," he assured us.
Guests were then ushered into a final room with modern G.E. products on display. With some script revisions, the show became: The Carousel Theater Show, and then was changed to The Carousel Theater of Progress and finally just The Carousel of Progress for the 1964-65 New York World's Fair.
From Edison Square to The Carousel of Progress…. Now, that's progress!