Disneyland 1961

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

I always love talking about Disneyland when Walt Disney was alive and his hand was evident in the park. With Disneyland still being closed, I decided this week to look back 60 years to take a glimpse at what was new at the park.

By 1961, Anaheim was the fastest growing city in the United States, and Orange County the fastest growing county in the nation thanks to Disneyland. The Disneyland Hotel was the largest hotel in Orange County.

While Disneyland was still enjoying success from the introduction of its first three "E Ticket" attractions in 1959, it became apparent that most of Disneyland's income was coming from summer attendance. It was calculated in the July issue of The Disneylander that during the summer season guests "were pouring through the Main Gate of Disneyland at the average of thirty-three people every minute."

However, it was not as active during the rest of the year. Disneyland had not yet developed into a year-round attraction. When kids were back in school, attendance dropped significantly.

In order to try to rectify this situation, Disneyland became involved in establishing the Anaheim Visitor and Convention Bureau to help promote all of Anaheim as a major tourist destination. Disney gave the bureau interest-free loans to help get the organization started. Disney was already publishing the quarterly Vacationland magazine given away in local hotels to promote all entertainment venues including Knott's Berry Farm.

Disneyland welcomed its 25 millionth guest Dr. Glenn C. Franklin on April 19; Vice President Richard Nixon visited on September 2 with his daughter Tricia; and President Dwight Eisenhower and his wife Mamie were guests at the park December 26. Actor Leslie Nielsen, who was filming Swamp Fox for Disney, visited the park and posed with the submarines.

In September, the Holidayland picnic area would close as would Don DeFore's Silver Banjo Barbeque restaurant.

A 16-piece Navy band was on hand in Tomorrowland June 17 as television cameras and photographers covered the ceremony of 17-year-old Timothy Townsend as the 5 millionth guest to ride the Submarine Voyage.

Officiating at the ceremony was Joe Fowler, described as the Admiral of the Magic Kingdom's Navy, who read a letter from Walt Disney and presented Townsend with a Disneyland Submarine pin and cap making him an Honorary Captain of the Disneyland Submarine fleet.

Walt intended to take author P. L. Travers to Disneyland on her first full day in Los Angeles, which was Easter Sunday, but it was much different than depicted in the film Saving Mr. Banks (2013).

In a letter dated March 31, 1961, Walt Disney wrote to the author:

"I'm sorry I can't be on hand to greet you on your arrival in Los Angeles, but I have been fighting a cold for some time and have been spending as much time as possible in the dry desert air hoping to shake it…It was my thought that you might like to go to Disneyland on Sunday. Mr. Dover will take you down there—perhaps going down to the Park in time for lunch and spending the afternoon there. He will discuss the details with you."

Storyman Bill Dover had been assigned to "babysit" Travers. Walt gave them full access to his apartment above the firehouse on Main Street, use of his little personal electric car, and the assistance of a guest relations hostess. Despite later claims by Travers that she was not pleased with her one and only time at Disneyland, according to Dover's trip notes she seemed to have enjoyed the experience.

The first all-night Grad Nite Party was held at Disneyland Thursday June 15, bringing 8,500 young guests from 28 Los Angeles area schools for the biggest high school graduation party ever held in the United States. The students transported to the Park on buses were accompanied by chaperones from their schools. The party lasted from 11 p.m.-5 a.m. and included admission to Disneyland, free admission to all rides, attractions, entertainment and more. However, food and the shooting galleries were not included. Students were required to meet dress code standards. Popular music groups played live to the excited crowd. Cost of ticket was $6.

Snow White Grotto

Imagineer John Hench retold the story of Snow White Grotto in his book Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show (Disney Editions 2003).

There was a perspective problem with the figures at Snow White Grotto

"We encountered a special challenge when Walt unexpectedly received a gift of statues of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs carved from pure-white Carrara marble, which arrived in wooden crates from Italy with no return address or any other indication of who might have made and sent them. Walt called me down to the studio warehouse to look at them, and told me he wanted them somewhere in Disneyland. I had to tell him that we would have a perspective problem with the figures. The sculptor had carved Snow White the same size as the dwarfs. 'Just figure it out', said Walt."

Hench's clever solution was to put the Snow White figure at the top of a cascading waterfall, next to an undersized deer and bird, and the dwarfs much lower and closer to the guests so it created a forced perspective situation where Snow White seemed in the right proportion. Hench's vision for the fountain was inspired by one he had seen in the small town of Brie, north of France.

On April 9, 1961, Walt Disney dedicated the Snow White Grotto, and the illusion that Hench had created was enjoyed for decades by guests who never noticed his sleight-of-hand maneuvering. The Wishing Well was Walt's idea—so the coins could be easily collected and donated to charity and to discourage Park guests from tossing coins into the Castle moat.

One persistent addition to the story over the years was that the statues were a gift from an Italian sculptor who used a set of hand soap bars of the characters released in Europe as his reference and Snow White was the same size as the dwarfs in the set so she could fit in the box.

However, after Hench's death, paperwork was discovered that the sculptures were actually commissioned by Walt Disney. Milan based sculptor Leonida Parma fashioned the figures from pure Carrara marble and had sent a message that there had been a mistake in the measurements due to a mistake in translation.

Each of the dwarfs were 31 inches tall, which was fine, but Snow White was only 39 inches tall. It would cost $2,000 to re-sculpt Snow White. However, it was only $611 to carve some small animals.

When Tokyo Disneyland wanted a duplicate of the Snow White Grotto, the sculptures were removed from Disneyland and copied in fiberglass. Since they had suffered in the weather over the years, they were warehoused with the duplicates taking their place in the park.

Then, Disney forgot they had the originals stored away until, during some moving, the Snow White figure was dropped and was damaged. The little princess did get repaired, the other figures rescued and all of them are now safely housed at Imagineering in California. Some guests on the Adventures by Disney Backstage Magic tour get to have a glimpse of these Disneyland treasures.

Flying Saucers

Opening on August 8, 1961, because of mechanical issues, the Flying Saucers was the first announced Disneyland attraction that failed to debut on schedule.

The Flying Saucer attraction did provide great fun for the over 5 million guests fortunate enough to ride this modern version of carnival bumper cars or the Midwest "duck bump" attraction that Walt was familiar with where guest in a larger inner tube maneuvered around a pond and could bump into each other.

A guest would board one of the 64 one-person saucer vehicles designed by Bob Gurr and would be lifted by pressurized air from valves on the 16,000 square foot metal arena floor and could hover. Gurr described it to me as "a human air hockey rink". Each saucer had a lap belt like the ones on the Autopia.

More than 5 million people enjoyed the flying saucers.

By leaning, the guest could control the direction but not the speed of the vehicle. As the pilot leaned, the saucer would tip slightly in that direction, decreasing the gap between it and the floor and allowing air to escape in the opposite direction thus propelling the craft.

The blue-floored arena had two sides that operated somewhat independently. A large boom would sweep across half the circle, collecting saucers and maneuvering them back to the loading area while the just-loaded saucers started their ride. It operated continuously so a group was always loading or unloading while another was gliding and bumping into each other on the floor.

Hovercraft vehicles were very popular at the time and a German inventor brought one of his versions to the Disney Studios to try and sell it to Walt Disney. Gurr who had become responsible for all moving Disneyland vehicles took it for test run on the backlot. While it handled well, Gurr worried the high speed razor-sharp blades were not safe in the general public and the individual motor might fail under the demands of constant use.

Gurr created a design that was basically an overturned bowl with no moving parts. He added two handles by the seat for guests to grip but they had no effect on the movement. Arrow Development who had built many Disneyland attractions including the Matterhorn Bobsleds developed the arena. Four 100 HP motors supplied 300,000 cubic feet of air per minute pressure underneath the arena that was covered with thousands of damper baffles that would open and close to control the air flow to different sections of the floor. As a saucer approached a given area, the air pressure under the saucer would increase, lifting the saucer by inches.

There were difficulties with the attraction from the start and, in fact, it did not even open on schedule. The dynamics of this scale pneumatic system were pretty much unknown so the constant bouncing sometimes introduced a vibration, like an echo upsetting the flow of air, and caused the system to stop.

The sudden drop in air pressure would create a sound like a sonic boom heard throughout the park. Guests who were too heavy had difficulty lifting the vehicle and guests who were too light could not properly move it.

Lack of dependability, limited capacity and the plans for the remodeling of the new Tomorrowland to open in 1967 with new attractions resulted in the attraction being closed. Space Mountain later occupied the same space.

Monorail Extension

Until June 1961, the only ways to go between the Disneyland Hotel and Disneyland Park were to take the tram, or to walk across the parking lot, or to drive your own car, or—if you were a VIP—to be driven in one of the hotel's VIP station wagons.

Then the Disneyland Alweg Monorail was extended. The monorail station was adjacent to the lobby. Tram service was still available, but the cool way to go to Disneyland was to take the monorail.

Walt did this because he was upset that no one was taking the monorail as a serious transportation alternative. Las Vegas has turned down his proposal to have a monorail going down its strip corridor to the casinos. With this extension, Walt hoped that the monorail would stop being considered an amusement park ride but a legitimate form of transportation.

Although all other guests entered Disneyland at Main Street Station, Disneyland Hotel guests who arrived by monorail train entered the park in the back corner of Tomorrowland. It operated at a top speed of twenty-five miles per hour.

The Mark I trains (Red and Blue) consisted of three cars each. In 1961 it became a true transportation system when Tomorrowland station was lengthened to accommodate the debut of the four-car Mark II and the additional new Yellow train. The monorail were now longer at 112 feet and each train could carry up to 108 guests since it had an additional car.

At Walt's suggestion, the front cab was changed with an enlarged bubble dome so that more guests could view the scenery. The electrical system was upgraded as well as the air conditioning. The track was extended two and a half miles outside the park and a second platform was constructed at the Disneyland Hotel station

The new link went over the berm, ran south along Harbor Boulevard to the auto entrance, turned west across the parking lot and went over West Street to the Disneyland Hotel. When it left that location, it returned by passing Holidayland and the Park's main entrance, went over the employee entrance and back into Tomorrowland where it completed its trip over the original route.

It was the first passenger-carrying monorail in America to run adjacent to a major highway and cross a street. A Disneyland survey found that 99.6 percent of the passengers felt that the experience was superior.

The cost of the extension was $1.9 million dollars ($500,000 more than the cost for the original Monorail). The construction required more than 118,000 man hours of labor, 10,760 tons of sand, 66,700 bags of cement, and 702 tons of steel with over two hundred new pylons added.

The addition of the monorail strengthened the Disneyland Hotel's competitive advantage and during the summer months the hotel's 306 rooms were operating at 100 percent capacity.

The Disneyland Hotel made plans to expand all areas, including rooms, restaurants, convention facilities and entertainment/recreation. Ground breaking was done for the eleven story high Sierra Tower that would open the following year in September 1962. The high-rise tower would become Orange County's tallest building at 118 feet.

The year 1961 did see the hotel open a new 40-acre golf complex consisting of an 18 hole course, a 250 yard (50 tee) driving range and a miniature golf course named the Magic Kingdom Golf Course, where each hole was themed to a different Disneyland attraction. It was illuminated for night playing. Disney Studios art director Al Applegate was the construction supervisor of Disneyland personnel Andy Anderson, Larry Smith and Bud Washo.

Hole one was a replica of the Main Street train station. Hole three was Sleeping Beauty Castle with a draw bridge and courtyard. Hole five was the Matterhorn mountain. Other holes were themed to the TWA Moonliner, an Octopus lair from the Submarine Voyage, the Frontierland Painted Desert, the Frontierland fort, Skull Rock from Fantasyland, Tom Sawyer's Island, and Monstro the whale.

The final hole was titled Mickey's Lagoon and featured a large fountain with a sculpture on top of Mickey Mouse holding a golf club. Mickey's figure, like the other statues on the course, were originally all white to suggest Greek or Roman statuary, but at multiple requests from the guests, they were eventually painted.

Tinker Bell's Flight

The popular weekly Disney television show opened each week with Tinker Bell introducing audiences to the four lands of Disneyland. She became closely associated with the new theme park especially with some Park specific merchandise like a glow-in-the-dark wand and a little bell that one of the most frequently asked questions of cast members was "Where is Tinker Bell?"

Disneyland sponsored "Disney Night" at the Hollywood Bowl on August 1, 1958. One of the highlights of the evening entertainment was a 1,000-foot glide over the audience by aerialist Helen "Tiny" Kline dressed as Tinker Bell and that gave Walt an idea.

The first Tinker Bell to fly at Disneyland in the summer of 1961 was Tiny Kline. She was 4-feet, 10-inches tall and weighed 98 pounds. Tiny Kline came to America as a Hungarian immigrant at the age of 14. She became a well-known and popular burlesque dancer. She also worked off-Broadway in theater productions and caught the attention of a well-known Wild West trick rider whom she married shortly thereafter. Five weeks after the wedding, he fell off of his horse and died, leaving Kline to begin her own career in the circus.

Starting at the bottom as a virtually nude, painted "statue girl," she worked her way up to "Roman rider" which meant she stood atop a charging steed in the chariot races at the end of the show and eventually became the queen of the aerial iron jaw act. That act became her trademark when she performed for Ringling Brothers.

Kline, at age 70, became the very first Tinker Bell at Disneyland. Suspended 146 feet up in the air, she glided down a long wire from the Matterhorn to Sleeping Beauty's castle to signal the beginning of the fireworks. She was on a wire but most high wire acts in the circus are done no more than 50 feet above the ground. She was put into a harness, her wings attached and then hooked up to the cable. The entire flight took approximately thirty seconds.

Disney Legend Bob Matheison remembered:

"The first woman to do it at Disneyland was Tiny Kline, who was a grandmother in her 70s and had worked in the circus doing an Iron Jaw act. That is where she grabbed this ball with her mouth and twirled and slid down the cable and such. However, since she grabbed the thing with her mouth, she was always looking up, not down. So sometimes when she looked down off the Matterhorn she froze up for a moment and we had to give her a little push.

"At the other end were these two big guys with mattresses, padding and the like and even though she was this tiny little thing, she built up so much momentum that she would knock these guys over. Then she had to rush to wardrobe to change and run to catch the last bus leaving for Los Angeles, which was at 10:30 p.m. so we would all be there shouting and cheer her along as she ran on these tiny legs to catch the bus."

Her "Catching Tower" was behind the Fantasyland Theater. Kline performed for the next two summers but in 1964, she succumbed to cancer and the wand (and harness) went to 19-year old French circus acrobat Mimi Zerbini. Zerbini was also a circus family veteran but only performed as Tinker Bell for that one summer. In 1965, Judy Kaye began a career of more than a decade of flying across the night sky at Disneyland.