Disneyland 1968by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
What a year 1968 was which is why there are so many 50th anniversary celebrations happening this year!
Anti-Vietnam War protests around the world. Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson, who announced he would not run for re-election. Richard Nixon elected President of the United States.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy assassinated. Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis. The manned spacecraft Apollo 8 orbited the moon.
The movie Planet of the Apes was released, as was Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary's Baby, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Odd Couple, Funny Girl, Barbarella, Oliver!, The Producers, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and, for Disney fans: The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band, Blackbeard's Ghost, and The Love Bug, along with the featurette Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.
The musical Hair opened on Broadway. The Beatles announced the creation of Apple Records and released The White Album. Hawaii 5-0 debuted on CBS, as did 60 minutes and The Prisoner. Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In began on NBC as did Mr. Roger's Neighborhood on educational television.
Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color was still running on NBC on Sunday nights, although a year later in September 1969 it would be renamed The Wonderful World of Disney. The show still ranked in the top 20 most watched shows in 1968 and would remain in that ranking for the next several years but there was no host for the show since the company felt no one could replace Walt Disney in that role.
United Artists pulled 11 classic animated cartoons, now known as the Censored Eleven, from circulation and ever being seen again (this included Coal Black and the Seven Dwarfs) because of offensive racist stereotypes. The first 16 Hot Wheels cars produced by Mattel were introduced. The first Big Mac went on sale for $0.49.
Actresses Molly Ringwald, Lucy Lawless, Traci Lords, Kristin Chenoweth, Gillian Anderson, Debra Messing, Naomi Watts, Lucy Liu among others were born.
Disney fans can give thanks that the year also saw the births of Paul Rudish, who is the executive producer and director for the new Mickey Mouse cartoons on the Disney Channel and Pete Docter, now chief creative officer of Pixar Animation who directed Monsters Inc. (2001), Up (2009) and Inside Out (2015)
Minimum wage was $1.60 an hour. An adult ticket book to Disneyland with admission and 10 tickets would have cost $4.75 (a $8.60 value claimed the book). A child ticket book (ages 3-11) was $3.50 (a $5.55 value).
A ticket: $0.10. B ticket: $0.25. C ticket: $0.35. D ticket: $0.60. E ticket:$0.75.
An interesting oddity is that in the guide book for 1968, the Columbia Sailing Ship is listed as an "E" ticket, but the Columbia below decks museum is listed as a "B" ticket. Everyone knows that when you sailed aboard the Columbia you could go down below for free inside of viewing the Rivers of America. However, during the winter months, the boat was dry docked and not in use, but apparently the museum was still open for visitors with a "B" ticket.
Disneyland in 1968 was a bubble frozen in time, a fantasy world removed from the unpleasantness outside the berm, and was taking a moment in time to catch its breath. Annual attendance would end up being 9.4 million guests making a grand total of 77 million paying guests since opening day in 1955.
Walt had died in December 1966, and in 1968, his iconic signature was no longer on the little blue welcome note at the front of the ticket book. It was now Walt Disney Productions that welcomed guests to the park.
With the massive capital investment one year earlier in 1967 with the opening of a new Tomorrowland (that included six new attractions) and Pirates of the Caribbean in New Orleans Square, no new additions to Disneyland were in the immediate future.
All the resources and finances were being directed to Walt Disney World in Florida, since the necessary legislative bills establishing the Reedy Creek Improvement District and other authority necessary had been signed on May 12, 1967, paving the way for the preparation of the land and the building.
Of course, Haunted Mansion would open in 1969, but one of the reasons for its completion was that an exact duplicate was built at the same time for WDW to save costs and was, in fact, completely installed there and operational by April 1971, more than six months before the rest of the park opened.
The new Mark III monorails (the last with the bubble head and with a newly designed interior) would officially debut in 1969 with five cars instead of four for each train. However, there was some testing done throughout the year on the tracks beginning in February 1968, primarily with the new Monorail Green to help among other things in the adjustment of the the extension of the stations at both the Disneyland Hotel and in Tomorrowland for the new longer versions.
Yet for a quiet year, it was not an uneventful one.
While Civil Rights was a hot topic in 1968, I want to remind readers what entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. said in 1988 about early Disneyland: "Frank Sinatra and I went to a preview of Disneyland. We had a ball. Disneyland has never gotten any credit for integration. Walt never made an issue out of it. He just did it. He has blacks and Asians and Italians and everyone and it's no big deal. It shouldn't be an issue and it's not."
In fact, in videos of Disneyland beginning in 1955, there are images of children of all races enjoying the attractions together. In 1968 black cast members were not just performers or worked backstage, but were in on stage roles defined as "people contact positions". Akinola James Owosekun, a Nigerian exchange student attending Cal State Fullerton, was working as a skipper on the Jungle Cruise.
More than 30,000 people applied to work in one of the 3,000 jobs available at Disneyland.
However, Disneyland in 1968 was a bit archaic by today's standards with now politically incorrect "unfriendly Indians" who burned a settler's cabin on the Rivers of America; a tobacco shop on Main Street U.S.A., where one could stock up on cigarettes; and women being auctioned off in the Pirates of the Caribbean.
There was also the Kodak store, where guests could purchase plenty of rolls of film and have them developed with no one suspecting such a business would ever become out-of-date.
In 1968, the Disneyland Ambassador was 21-year-old Sally Sherbin originally from New York City, taking over from 1967 Disneyland Ambassador Marcia Miner. She grew up in California and eventually enrolled at UCLA where she was a Bruin Belle and freshman cheerleader. She started at Disneyland as a hostess at Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and later became a tour guide before moving to the Carousel of Progress as a VIP hostess.
By the way, the 1968 Disneyland Tour Guide of the Year, voted on by all the 85 female Guest Relations tour guides on who they felt was most representative of the charm, knowledge and enthusiasm of the group, was 21-year-old Vicki Rue from Downey, who was attending USC as a senior. It was her second summer as a tour guide. These guides in their plaid outfits and riding crops (to point, direct and keep eager young male admirers at bay) hosted more than 200,000 guests during the year.
Since no new attractions would open during the year, more than $1.5 million dollars was invested for live entertainment like the Big Band Festival that ran from May 29 to June 1, featuring Lionel Hampton (Tomorrowland Terrace), Harry James (Tomorrowland stage), Stan Kenton (Golden Horseshoe stage), and Wayne King (Plaza Gardens). The Dixieland at Disneyland event took place that year on the weekend of September 27-28.
There was a Spring Fling Party with nightly performances in different areas of the park by Bill Elliott and his Disneyland DateNiters Orchestra (Plaza Gardens), the Young Men from New Orleans (Mark Twain steamboat) and The Royal Tahitians.
Live entertainment offerings throughout the park during the summer alone included: Dapper Dans, Coke Corner Pianist, Plaza Inn Strings (female violinists who serenaded diners in the Plaza Inn), Keystone Kop Sax Quartet, Strawhatters, Adventureland Safari Band, Royal Tahitians, Royal Street Bachelors, Shoeshine Boys (Kenny and Teddy tap dancing), Delta Ramblers, pianist Joyce Cook, Pirate Band, Blue Bayou Strings, New Orleans Banjo Kings, Firehouse Five Plus Two, Teddy Buckner and his Allstars, El Zocolo Duo, Indian Dancers, The American Brass, Clara Ward Gospel Singers (nightly at the Golden Horseshoe), Fantasyland Polka Band, Matterhorn Music (including a yodeler as well as a Swiss Chordabox player), Pearly Band, The New Establishment (a rock band at Tomorrowland Terrace), The Hager Twins, and The Mustangs (dance band in the "it's a small world" dance area).
All of this, as well as the daily Golden Horseshoe Revue, the Disney costumed characters (more than 32 every day during the summer), the nightly fireworks show, and even more including some "name act" singers.
For the Fantasy on Parade, more than eighty Disney characters (including ones from the 1967 animated feature The Jungle Book) and new floats were in view.
The Disneyland Kids of the Kingdom first appeared in 1968, modeled after the Up with People! and Doodletown Piper singing groups. Fifteen perky, upbeat and clean-cut performers in their white outfits with red trim usually performed on the Tomorrowland Stage and sometimes the movable Tomorrowland Terrace stage. They also recorded a record album on Vista Records in 1968. Yes, they were integrated and there was an odd number so that if someone was ill or couldn't make it, there was always a spare back-up.
Choreographer for the group was a young Barnette Ricci who later went on to direct the original Disneyland's Main Street Electrical Parade in 1972; write/direct/choreograph The Magical World of Disney stage show at Radio City Music Hall with the Rockettes and 82 Disney costumed characters in 1985; and wrote the Disney Channel Christmas show A Magical Kingdom Yuletide Special that same year that featured Scrooge McDuck. Ricci also became the artistic creator and director of the original Fantasmic! in 1992 among many other credits.
She eventually became vice president/show director of Special Events. She is an incredibly talented woman who should probably be a Disney Legend because of her many significant contributions (including as a performer) to Disney park entertainment at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World (where among other things she also directed the original Fantasmic! and WDW's version of Kids of the Kingdom). I believe she is now 71 years old and living in Camarillo, California, and has never been interviewed extensively about her milestone career, a wonderful opportunity for a budding Disney historian.
There is a video clip of the Kids of the Kingdom singing This Land Is Your Land on the March 22, 1970, episode of The Wonderful World of Disney titled Disneyland Showtime, focusing on the opening of the Haunted Mansion hosted by Kurt Russell (and featuring the Osmond Brothers and actress E.J. Peaker) at this video link at about the 20-minute mark.
In addition to all the entertainment, the year saw the debut of many special events, including the first St. Patrick's Day Parade and the first Cinco de Mayo Festival. On Easter Sunday, there was an Easter parade down Main Street with antique automobiles and more than 200 people dressed in turn-of-the-century finery. Easter week had 311,000 visitors.
More than 76,000 high school seniors celebrated at five all night Grad Nite parties or approximately better than one of every three high school graduates in Southern California total that year.
Sixty private parties for companies like Bank of America, Pacific Telephone, and McDonnell Douglas during non-public hours filled up just about every Friday and Saturday evening up to the summer season. Fourteen of those were held on Sunday or weekday evenings. Attendance at some of these events exceeded 15,000 people.
By the way, the New Year's Eve Party that year saw 23,000 celebrating guests turn out. In 1967, there were only 18,000. Celebrity guests throughout the year included President Richard Nixon, Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Princess Magaretha of Sweden.
The Disneyland/LAX Helicopter
Since July 6, 1954, people had been able to take a helicopter from the Burbank airport to Anaheim in about a third of the time it would take by automobile.
There were two Disneyland related major tragedies in 1968. The Disneyland/Los Angeles International Airport helicopter service suffered two of the worst civilian chopper crashes in U.S. history.
The first crash occurred on May 22, 1968, when N303Y was en route from Disneyland to LAX. At about 5:50 p.m., Flight 841 was flying near a Paramount dairy farm. A single missing bolt in the main rotor hub caused it to detach and struck the helicopter's fuselage and caused the other four rotor blades to go out of control. All 20 passengers who had spent the day enjoying Disneyland and the three-man crew were killed.
The second crash, on August 14, 1968, involved N300Y, operating as Flight 417 from LAX to Anaheim. One of the main rotor head spindles failed due to metal fatigue and the attached rotor blade separated completely. The resulting imbalance sent the helicopter out of control and it crashed in Leuders Park, killing all 18 passengers and three member crew.
The type of helicopter involved in both crashes was the Sikorsky S-61, operated by Los Angeles Airways, which had regular passenger service between Los Angeles International Airport and the Disneyland/Anaheim heliport. In 1963 the Disneyland Heliport was moved from the Disneyland Harbor Gate area to a parking lot annex on Winston Road, almost a mile away next to a golf drive range/parking lot. "Anaheim Disneyland Heliport" was a Transportation Center for buses/limos as well as L.A. Airways
The one-way fare was around $15 (although some airlines offered a massive discount to its passengers who wanted to add the service to their booked flight). Thousands used the service each year as well as private and military copters using the site as well.
However, local Anaheim motel owners had protested for years that the service was dangerous and the noise disturbed their guests. In January 1968, they had petitioned the Anaheim City Council to limit the flights but the Council sided with Disney that the value far outweighed the "minor disadvantages" to residents.
Helicopter service ended in August 1972 and the bulldozed heliport became a parking lot for the Disneyland Hotel.
Some other Disneyland highlights of 1968:
Mickey Mouse 40th Birthday
Officially, Mickey Mouse's birthday is November 18, 1928, and we will be celebrating his 90th in just a few months.
Disney Archivist Dave Smith determined through a program from the Colony Theater in New York that Mickey's first truly public appearance was in Steamboat Willie on November 18, 1928 and for the 50th birthday in 1978 that became the official birthday.
For the previous 50 years, the Disney Company selected any date from September through late November as Mickey Mouse's birthday primarily as a merchandising tool to encourage theaters to rent Mickey Mouse cartoons and to do special promotions like parties or to attract attention to a new film release.
At one point, Walt Disney himself told newspapers that October 1 was Mickey's birthday.
According to an 1968 issue of Disney News magazine, Mickey's 40th birthday was to be officially celebrated September 27, 1968.
However, Mickey's official birthday was celebrated at Disneyland on September 22, 1968 with nearly 35,000 guests in attendance including more than 11,000 of them being children.
There was a big birthday parade down Main Street with more than 40 Disney characters and 12 of the original Mouseketeers from the original television Mickey Mouse Club show. Guest bands performed and there was the giant dancing birthday cake from Disneyland's Tencennial.
All children 11 years old and younger (the official Disneyland cutoff for a child's admission ticket) received some type of gift ranging from Schwinn bicycles, to Mickey Mouse 45 rpm singles and long playing (LP) records, half-gallons of Carnation ice cream, Revell Model Kits, Mattel Kola-Kiddle dolls, six pack cartons of Coca Cola, Whitman Tell-a-Tale books and Disneyland ticket books.
Many children had brought birthday cards and presents for Mickey, as well, primarily packages of cheese.
Disneyland Parking Lot
Six new parking lot trams replaced the old side seating trams that had been operating for over a decade. According to Bob MacKinnon, Manager of Main Street and Parking Lot Operations, the new trams were equipped with automatic shifts, air brakes, a public address (PA) system from driver to rear operator, a warning light buzzer system and improved mirrors for greater visibility for the driver.
The seating configuration was changed to forward seating with each car accommodating roughly 30 people and the entire tram now holding at least an additional 25 people total. Powered by a Clark tractor, the fiberglass five-string trams cost approximately $50,000 each.
In 1968, parking lot attendants parked 345,260 cars generally holding 3.7 people in each car. The cost for parking was fifty cents and surveys showed that eighty-one percent of the people that came to Disneyland came by car. On August 17, 1968 a record of 15,449 cars were parked in the 120 acre lot. Using a checkerboard rotation process, the crew was able to park more than 15,000 cars per day even though there were only 11,000 spaces.
With all the added nighttime entertainment and later hours, especially for the summer, Dick Irvine worried about the lighting since Tomorrowland was way too bright while New Orleans Square with just its vintage light posts was way too dark. Imagineer Rolly Crump handled the changes in lighting for Frontierland and New Orleans Square. Imagineer Yale Gracey took on Main Street U.S.A., Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. Each night they would go out with a crew of electricians and make changes.
In 1968, Disneyland had a Decorating Department with a staff of 21 men who were responsible for keeping the attention to detail up to Walt's high standards. Each trash can in the park was monitored and hand-painted at a cost of more than a $100 each. The ones in Fantasyland were brightly colored while the ones in Frontierland had to resemble wood. They had extra trash cans back stage so they could pull ones from on stage to work on during the day.
They were also responsible for painting the park benches to keep them looking new, maintaining the awnings, curtains and banners. One person was assigned full time just to keeping the teepees, clothing, headdresses and more in the Indian Village always in shape. They had extra shells and fish for the Submarine Voyage as well as extra awnings and curtains for all the shops. They had thousands of artificial flowers for use anywhere in the park. In Spring 1968, the men voluntarily attended a series of classes in floral arrangement held after working hours.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, here are two video links of what Disneyland looked like in 1968: