The 1965 Florida Press Conferenceby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
No transcript of the famous 1965 Florida Press Conference seems to exist in any book or website or magazine article. There are numerous examples of the actual conference on YouTube like this one.
However, for a project I am working on, I wanted a transcript to consult, so I sat down and did a transcription myself (although I hate transcribing with a fiery passion) and decided that the readers of MousePlanet might appreciate having it, as well.
On Sunday, October 24, 1965, The Sentinel-Star newspaper in Orlando, Florida, expanded on reporter Emily Bavar's previous October 21 story and ran the headline: "We Say: 'Mystery' Industry is Disney" and revealed details of the coming Florida project. According to the article, Disney was planning on creating two cities. One would be named "Yesterday" and the other "Tomorrow" (supposedly "the world's first city completely powered by atomic energy").
General William Potter, who after his work on the New York World's Fair took over the job of handling the Disney Florida project, was staying at the Robert Meyer Motor Inn. When he went down to breakfast Sunday morning, he saw the paper's headline and story. He immediately phoned California.
The lawyer in charge of purchasing Florida property under pseudonyms was Robert Price Foster who was in Orlando at that time, as well. When he saw the article, he immediately called Walt Disney, fearing he would be blamed for the leak.
Walt reassured him that he himself was to blame and took full responsibility for perhaps spilling the beans in an interview done with Bavar during Disneyland's Tencennial celebration where Walt revealed he knew an awful lot about Central Florida.
The Bavar story was so authoritative and so convincing that the Disney Company knew they had to take some immediate action to control the story.
After talking with Governor Haydon Burns (who was in bed with a case of pleurisy), Disney chose the following Monday, October 25, in Miami—where Burns was scheduled to speak to the Florida League of Municipalities Convention—to make it official that Walt Disney Productions "will build the greatest attraction yet known in the history of Florida."
Haydon Burns, the 35th Governor of Florida served from January 5, 1965 to January 3, 1967. Prior to politics and his WWII service as an aeronautical specialist, Haydon earned his pilot's license and operated a flying school. In addition to adding to Florida's tourism development, Governor Burns also helped establish the Board of Regents for the state university system and helped create the University of West Florida in Pensacola, Florida Technological University in Orlando, and the College of Law at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Burns announced at the gathering: "Walt Disney has extended to your governor the privilege of making the official announcement that Disney Productions is the mystery industry (purchasing land in Central Florida)." The announcement was followed by "wild applause."
The official confirmation to the press came on November 15, 1965 at 2 p.m. in the Egyptian Room of the Cherry Plaza Hotel in Orlando, Florida, with Walt Disney, his brother Roy, and Governor Burns. That meeting resulted in confusion, disappointment, and uncertainty in addition to the jubilation of Disney coming to Florida.
The excitement was so high that a week prior to the official press conference, the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Orange County recorded land transactions on the periphery of the previously purchased Disney property exceeding $2.6 million. It contributed to an overall total of $6 million by land speculators.
The night before the press conference (November 14), the Disney brothers met with Florida political leaders at the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee. With the governor, the Disneys flew to Orlando by private plane early the next morning, giving Walt and Roy time to physically check out some of the land they had purchased.
Seven-hundred governmental and civic leaders and their spouses attended the conference for a standing-room-only presentation.
A banner stretched outside the hotel with the face of Mickey Mouse. It proclaimed "Cherry Plaza Welcomes Walt Disney." Walt Disney and the Burns stepped out from the back of a limousine and made their way through a corridor of enthusiastic people accompanied by Florida State Troopers.
At a long table, with a cloth skirt surrounding it, sat from left to right Walt Disney, Governor Burns and Roy O. Disney. In front of each of them were individual name cards and there was a cluster of microphones near the center of the table.
Here is the transcription of that press conference. I have taken the liberty to edit or eliminate some of the comments by Burns which primarily kept reinforcing how excited Florida was to have Disney. I have eliminated many of the "ands" that Burns and Walt both used that resulted in many run-on sentences.
It is important to remember that Walt was not speaking from a prepared script. He was speaking contemporaneously with no understanding of how high the anticipation was for him to just say, "I am building another Disneyland."
He was not building another Disneyland, even though he had had many offers from throughout the world, including Egypt, Japan, Brazil, New York, and more to do so. While he always intended that there would be an amusement venue included, he did not intend for it to be the primary focus nor to be just a clone of Disneyland.
So Walt is not being coy at this press conference. He was just being careful not to share too much because it was all still in the earliest of planning stages and things would very likely change. In addition, he was acutely aware that the state had to make certain concessions in order for the project to continue and those were still under discussion.
In interviews, Walt had a tendency not to always answer the question that was being asked but to expound on what he wanted to talk about at the moment. He often thought out loud, as he did in story meetings at his studio, so it sometimes seemed like he was wandering because he often talked in fragments. For him, it all made sense and connected but his listeners often had to try to piece things together.
Governor Burns: Walt Disney, who will bring a new world of entertainment, pleasure, and economic development to the state of Florida. Walt Disney. (applause)
Walt Disney: Thank you, Governor.
Burns: May I also introduce on my left, the financial genius of Walt Disney Productions, its president, Mr. Roy Disney.
Roy Disney: Thank you, Governor.
Burns: Mr. Disney, this is the largest press aggregation I've ever seen in the state of Florida and I think it bespeaks the interest of the 6.5 million citizens of Florida for the great expectations that they have from this hour.
Walt: Well, Mr. Governor, this has been a wonderful reception that you've given us here. All the faces seem friendly and feel very much at home. This is a big exciting project for us too, you know. In fact, it's the biggest thing we've ever tackled and I'd like for the benefit of the press, I would like to explain that my brother and I have been together for 42 years now.
He's my big brother and he's the one when I was a little fellow went with some of my wild ideas and he was the one to straighten me out, put me on the right path or something or if he didn't agree with me. I'd work on it for years until I got him to agree with me. But I must say that we've had our problems that way but that's been the proper balance that was needed in our organization. He watches out for the financial side of it, the corporate side.
On this project though I'd just like to say I didn't have to work very hard with him on this project. He was with me from the start. Now, whether that's good or bad I don't know. But I think that having the enthusiasm on the part of our whole organization and on the part of the people of the state of Florida really is a good start.
We hope what we develop here will be a real credit to the state, a credit to the Disney organization and I might say that when we were planning Disneyland, we hoped that we could build something that would command the respect of the community. And, after 10 years, I feel we have accomplished that not only for the community, but the country as a whole.
And that is actually what we hope to do here is to really develop something…more than an entertainment enterprise. It's something that contributes in many other ways. Well, educationally. One thing that is to me the important thing is the family and if you can keep the family together with things. That has been the backbone of our whole business. Catering to the families. That's what we hope to do.
Burns: Well, Walt, everyone in the state has been thrilled with the announcement of your purchases some 12 miles south of Orlando and, of course, they are all excited as to just what type of attraction or usage will be made at this great location.
Walt: Well, Governor, at this stage it's hard to spell it all out. The Disneyland operation is unique and, out of the 10 years of experience at Disneyland, we've learned an awful lot. It's like anything. Once you've done something, you see with the experience and all of that what you might do if you were starting from scratch. Here, after taking a look at the land this morning, I say we are starting from scratch. We have many things in mind that could make this unique and different than Disneyland.
Burns: Will it be a Disneyland?
Walt: I've always said there will never be another Disneyland, Governor, and I think it's going to work out that way but it will be the equivalent of Disneyland. We know the basic things that have this what I call "family appeal." But there are many ways you can use those certain basic things and give them a new décor and new treatment. In fact, I've been doing that with Disneyland. Some of my things I've redone them as I've gone along. Reshaped them.
Right now I am in the process of adding $20 million of new things to open next June at Disneyland. This concept here will have to be something that is unique so that there is a distinction between Disneyland in California and whatever Disney does…notice I didn't say "Disneyland"…Disney does in Florida.
We have many ideas. I have a wonderful staff now who have ten years of experience of designing, planning and operating. In fact, we did the four shows at the World's Fair and it was a new departure for us. It was something we had never tackled before. Fortunately, they were four very successful shows at the World's Fair.
In fact, one project there which was one of the top attractions at the World's Fair was called "it's a small world." It was sponsored by the Pepsi-Cola Company. They came to us 11 months before the fair opened and asked us to come up with some kind of a show for them. And we had the show open on time and when they first came to us we didn't have any idea what the show was going to be.
But it's one of those things you get in. We call them "gag sessions." We get in there. We toss ideas around. Everybody's been thinking on the staff of things that might be done if we're re-doing Disneyland and we throw 'em in. Put all the minds together and come up with something and say a little prayer and open it and hope it will go.
I'm very excited about it because I've been storing these things up for years. Certain attractions at Disneyland that have a basic appeal I might move here. Then again, I'd like to create new things. You hate to repeat yourself. I don't like to make sequels to my pictures. I like to take a new thing and develop something, a new concept. So that's about the only way I can put it, Governor.
Burns: I don't think you've mentioned the amount of money of the investment that would indicate the size of this project.
Walt: (laughs) A heck of a lot. There was a time in my life when I didn't think there was that much money. The initial stage here has to top what we have or at least be equivalent to what we have now in California. But my big brother says we can do it. He's the money man.
If everything were set right now…in other words, we have a few preliminary things to go through. We have to lay out certain projections and things…financing, how we're going to pay off that money, how it's going to come out and so forth. We need to work with the government here for certain things they will do for us and with us to make this possible.
But if all that were settled and they gave the word…I don't go to work, you know, until we get all those things settled. Then I put my team on it and I'd say it would take a year and a half to plan and while we're planning we would be doing a lot of basic work on the site and a year and a half to develop…three years total. Don't hold me to it. (laughs)
Burns: There are many questions to be discussed. Should the engineering and design of all of this be a part of the cost of developing this instrument that will be used for the purpose of selling admissions and generating sales tax? These are the areas in which governmental cooperation is required. The Disney attorneys are busy compiling this whole area of necessary loophole closing in our statutes. It's a matter of when they present their requests.
Walt: I found in Southern California that the incentive to come to an area…when they once get in the area, then they will take in all these other things. That happened when Seattle had its World's Fair.
Seattle is way up in the northern part of Washington, yet people went to the Seattle fair and Disneyland and tied the two of them together in a regular loop. We found that people who'd been to the fair had taken in Disneyland on their way home and vice versa.
(In a response to an unintelligible question). Well, I got a lot 'em [ideas] and haven't worked them out. I carry ideas around in my head for a long time. Kinda keep working them out as I carry them around. I got ahead and throw it out to my team and then I can firm it up. And I don't think at this stage….I've got so darn many…it would take up the whole afternoon. But it isn't right to put them out at this stage. Gotta firm up a little bit.
We've been making a survey of potential locations for an additional type of operation like Disneyland for the last ten years. We surveyed the whole Eastern coast and narrowed it down to regions like Florida. It just seemed to us the land is available. The freeway routes coming from all directions bisect here. That was mostly it, I think.
Burns: He has said there will only be one Disneyland. That's in California. He's referring to a name. Disneyland. He said that there will be a family attraction of the same nature except larger and obviously newer than Disneyland in Anaheim, California. This will be the core, central development. Is this right?
Walt: That's right. We hope we might bring some Californians over to Florida to see the new one in Florida if it's different.
(A reporter asked if it would be called Disneyworld.) Disneyworld. That term has been used in many ways in our business. We have a publication called The Disney World which encompasses all our activities for our employees and offices all over the world. Disney World is something we have been using. We've been using the term to encompass all our activities. Now what we'll call this here, we haven't gotten into that. That takes a little study.
Burns: I didn't interpret Mr. Disney saying he was going to break ground the first of the year. Even if he could work things out, I think I understood him to say it takes a good while to plan these things, to conceive the ideas and develop exactly the course that he is going to follow. The matter of the timing in respect to legislation to be needed is now in the hands of Mr. Disney's attorneys and we're in the process of considering the various questions that they are presenting.
I pledge today on behalf of the various officials that we would cooperate to the fullest degree to meet the requirements of Disney Production Inc. in this development. I'd say that cooperation to the fullest extent could include the calling of a special session of the legislature.
Know that we can only go on past experience that the 15 million tourists that we have now contribute some $3 billion a year to the economy of this state. I predict with this Disney attraction we will experience at least a fifty percent and possibly hundred percent increase in tourism in the state of Florida.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for the very fine coverage that you have given this event today. I have made the appraisal that this is the most important day in the progress and the future development of this state. I know of no single thing in history that could have made the impact that the establishment of the Disney facility here will make.
Roy and the Governor got up and left the platform but Walt lingered and looked at the microphones. In an example of his boundless curiosity, he leaned down and started to touch one and the Governor had to return to get him.
"It says 'the seal of Virginia'," smiled Walt as he followed the governor off stage to a cocktail reception where everyone wanted to take a photo with the great storyteller.
Many of the attendees were less than enthusiastic, hoping that Walt would make a spectacular announcement of some amazing fantasy environment rather than talking about taxes, drainage, public service facilities and more. It was too vague.
The chairman of the Osceola County Commission said, "He's going to have to tell us a little more before we know what to do. I'm ready to work with these people 100 percent."
Mayor Russell Thacker of Kissimmee said, "It's going to be something big but I don't think they've told us anything except that it is definite."