Pirates Premiere

by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, staff writer

March 18, 1967. Pirates of the Caribbean opens in Disneyland's New Orleans Square on a dreary, rainy day — what some called fitting considering the attraction's theme. Reporters are invited onboard the Columbia Sailing Ship where “pirates”—including Mr. Golden Horseshoe himself, Wally Boag—dance, cavort and drink grog prior to premiere of the first attraction to open after the death of Walt Disney in December 1966.

The Sailing Ship Columbia prepares to participate in another kind of Pirates premiere. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

The afternoon sun shines through a movie poster strung from the ship. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Fast forward to June 28, 2003. The 80-something degree-day at Disneyland turned into a clear, cool night—what the folks behind the scenes of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, based on Walt Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean attraction—had been praying for. The Sailing Ship Columbia was used this time as well, although only invited guests, celebrities and selected members of the media had the opportunity to see it.

The giant screen was lifted onto the island in pieces by helicopter. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Cast members make sure the bleachers are clean, and the souvenir blankets folded. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

But before the guests even made it to the 1500-seat Sea World-like bleachers set up around the Rivers of America, they had to walk down what was referred to by several stars as “the world's longest red carpet.” Many celebrities, including Raven-Symone (That's So Raven) and Pirates leading lady Keira Knightly (Elizabeth Swann) regretted wearing such high heels for the walk from the Mad Hatter shop (next to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln on Main Street), around the flag pole, down Main Street and past Sleeping Beauty Castle, until reaching the entrance to Frontierland.

Disneyland's K-9 team sniffs around the special event area. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

The rules say no recording — and Maynard is on guard to enforce them. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix

Premiere guests ate dinner in one of five designated areas. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

After the premiere, all in attendance were treated to a seafood feast of crab and lobster, and enjoyed sweet treats of chocolate and special gold coins made just for the event. [Thanks to Thomas in Foods for the delicious behind-the-scenes scoop]. They were also invited to experience the Haunted Mansion, Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Splash Mountain and, of course, Pirates of the Caribbean, which closed at 4 p.m. that day along with almost the entire west side of the Park, to anyone who lacked proper identification.

The red carpet wound around Town Square, and up Main Street. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

The red carpet lines the entirety of Main Street USA, from Town Square (seen in the back). Fans line behind the barricade on the left, while broadcast media take positions on the right. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Disney maps are usually printed a week at a time, but when visitors came to Disneyland Saturday morning, they were given a special one-day-only map Each map had a page called “Tips to Make Your Day More Magical.” It invited visitors to view the red carpet arrivals and reminded them that certain attractions would be closing early: 3 p.m. (Mark Twain Riverboat); 4 p.m. (Davy Crocket Explorer Canoes, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, Tarzan Treehouse, the Disney Gallery and Winnie the Pooh) and 5 p.m. (Frontierland Shootin' Exposition and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad). Indiana Jones and Jungle Cruise remained open until 8 p.m. The map also noted that Disney's California Adventure would be open until midnight.

The red carpet path winds around the hub and ends abruptly at the entrance to Frontierland, where the final roll of carpet stands ready to complete the route. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Members of the print media wait for the celebrities to arrive. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

The earliest closure in the history of Saturdays at the park didn't dampen the spirits of most visitors, even though new admissions were halted at 6 p.m., and the entire park was closed to visitors at 9 p.m. On the contrary, several visitors had arrived at the park as early as 5:45 a.m., 45 minutes before the park even opened, to grab a spot along the red carpet hoping to catch a glimpse of Pirates of the Caribbean leading men Johnny Depp (Captain Jack Sparrow) and Orlando Bloom (Will Turner).

A crowd of Orlando Bloom fans travelled from Riverside, California—and waited over 12 hours—just to see their favorite star. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

This group arrived even before park opening to stake their spot on the red carpet. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Amy Jensen and Erica Abke were among the early risers and had made an enormous sign hoping to catch Bloom's attention. By 4 p.m., the Riverside residents had made friends with the strangers who piled in around them over the course of the day.

A crew of pirates entertains the crowd during the long wait. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Fans jockey for position to see who's next down the carpet. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Down the red carpet in front of the Plaza Inn were James Miller and his wife, Noemi, who had flown in from Las Vegas and were celebrating Noemi's birthday by making friends with the Carroll family, who had traveled from Vancouver, Washington. The two groups took turns saving each other's spots so both families could enjoy the attractions throughout the day.

Both families had known about the premiere. The Millers saw the notice on the Disneyland Web site, while the Carrolls, who booked their vacation through Walt Disney Travel, already had made plans to come down when they received a phone call from the company informing them about the event. But not all the guests that day were as fortunate as the Carrolls and Millers.

Disney Archivist Dave Smith (left). Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Actress Jane Seymour and her husband, James Keach. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Elsie, her coworker, Dale and six others had made the trip down from Seattle and arrived in Anaheim Friday night. They made it to the park around 10 a.m. and were only able to enjoy a handful of attractions. They weren't sure if they were going to head over to Disney's California Adventure park or if they were just going to return to their hotel for the evening. The group, who were sitting in front of City Hall, didn't know about the event and hadn't planned to stay for the red carpet walk, but were stuck because Elsie's daughter had taken a spot behind the rope along Main Street. “We can't go, because she's in there somewhere,” Elsie said, gesturing to the mass of people in front of her.

Comedian Tommy Smothers. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Actress Lea Thompson. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

The crowd, which enjoyed the entertainment provided by jugglers on stilts and a accordion-playing pirate who led everyone in a singalong of “I Fought the Law and the Law Won,” finally got its reward when, around 6:45 p.m., the Who's Who of Orange County, Disney, and Hollywood descended upon the red carpet.

Champion ice skater Michelle Kwan. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Actress Teri Hatcher (left). Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, regarded by many to be the finest-fielding shortstop. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Among them: Disney Archivist Dave Smith; James Keach and Jane Seymour (who walked down to shouts of “Dr. Quinn!”); comedian Tommy Smothers; Giovanni Ribisi (Friends); Lea Thompson (For the People), who said that the evening was a great idea because it made the celebrities feel really famous; Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap), who noted that it was great to see Disneyland taking this kind of leap; Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith who came in his Pittsburgh Pirates jacket and hat; Danny Bonaduce (The Other Half); David Hasseloff (Baywatch); the cast of 8 Simple Rules minus John Ritter; Mr. Nigel Channing (aka Eric Idle); skater and Golden Dreamer Michelle Kwan; Teri Hatcher (Lois and Clark); actresses Kelly Lynch (Curly Sue) and Daryl Hannah (star of the first Touchstone movie, Splash), who were both decked out in pirate garb; Drew Carey (Whose Line Is it Anyway?); model Rachel Hunter; Jon “Ducky” Cryer; Cloris Leachman (Facts of Life); musician Kenny G; and the film's director, Gore Verbinski.

Actress Cloris Leachman poses for a photo with her fans. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Imagineer Tony Baxter. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

While the movie was the reason for the season, most couldn't help but share memories of Disneyland and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Imagineering guru Tony Baxter, who scooped ice cream at Disneyland in 1965, remembered being around when the attraction first opened, and said that the movie premiere was the largest he'd ever seen. The sentiment was echoed by actors Christopher MacDonald (Spy Kids 2) and Oded Fehr (The Mummy) and Disneyland Resort President Cynthia Harriss.

Actor Enrique Murciano. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

X Games athlete Kevin Robinson takes a break from DCA's X Games Xperience soft opening to attend the premiere. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Randy Baumberger, Senior Vice President of Resort Operations and Sales for the Disneyland Resort, was thrilled with the whole thing and hopes Disneyland gets to host more world premieres. When asked if The Haunted Mansion (starring Eddie Murphy, Don Knotts and Jennifer Tilly) would have its premiere at the park when it opens in November of this year, Baumberger said, “We're certainly lobbying for it,” but that the final decision would be up to Buena Vista Pictures.

Actor Corbin Bernsen wishes for strawberry fields forever. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Spy Kid Daryl Sabara (left) said that the Pirates premiere was much bigger than the premiere for his movie at Disney's California Adventure. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Corbin Bernsen (Celebrity Mole) said the park was a great place for a premiere and that it brought back a lot of memories from when he was younger as he has been coming to Disneyland from “the day I was born.” But he also joked, “Bring back the orange groves and strawberry fields.”

“Spy Kid” Daryl Sabara exclaimed that this premiere was quite the contrast from the Spy Kids 2 opening at Disney's California Adventure. “It's the whole Disneyland Park!” he said.

His Spy Kids co-star, Alexa Vega, said this was the longest press line she had ever been in, but she was very excited to see the movie and ride Pirates of the Caribbean.

“I've always been scared of the pirate on the bridge whose leg hangs down,” she said. However, she planned to face her fears and ride the attraction again—even bringing her sisters along for support.

Marcel the Monkey sits on the shoulder of his trainer Nerissa Pulizer. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar signs autographs for his fans. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

So would the pirate with the hairy leg be making an appearance in The Curse of the Black Pearl? And just how much influence did the attraction have on the movie?

According to the production information, “the film is an homage to the popular Disney ride, not a direct interpretation of the attraction itself, although [filmmakers] did rely on sketches and original concept drawings by Marc Davis, one of the ride innovators, for reference points.”

Isaac C. Singleton Jr., (Bo'sun in the film), greets the press. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Composer Klaus Badelt wrote the movie score without ever riding Pirates of the Caribbean. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

One part of the movie that didn't have an attraction reference point was the music, as composer Klaus Badelt (The Time Machine), has never been on Pirates of the Caribbean.

“This way, there is a fresh perspective,” he said, although “Yo Ho, Yo Ho; a Pirates Life for Me!” by X. Atencio does make a few appearances throughout the film.

While the invitation said “topical attire,” some people opted for the eyepatch look. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann in the film), said she wished she had worn shorter heels. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

“The first ride we would always go on was Pirates of the Caribbean,” explained Verbinski in the production notes. “Something in the song and in the images of the ride is ingrained in our collective psyche. It was very scary when I was young, yet we celebrate that macabre sensibility. We're trying to do a contemporary version of that while keeping the same spirit of the ride.”

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer pointed out that, “It's important to give an appreciative nod to the artistry of so many people who worked to put it together.”

Co-writer Terry Rossio noted that fans of the attraction would appreciate certain elements in the film.

Orlando Bloom, who plays Will Turner in the film. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Orlando Bloom speaks with Orange County Film Commissioner Janice Arrington. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

“Marc Davis and, of course, Walt Disney, did an amazing job,” Rossio said in the production notes. “Serious fans of the ride will look for and recognize similarities, even in small details, such as the crab in the sand next to the back-stabbed skeleton… So the movie offers plenty of vignettes and tributes to the ride. But, most importantly for us, we hope people will find the same spirit of excitement, fear and humor they experienced when they first plummeted down into those haunted caves.”

So did the premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Movie make people as happy as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Attraction? It depends on whom you ask.

Johnny Depp, who plays Jack Sparrow in the film. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Actor Johnny Depp. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

The Mendez Family from Salinas were not too happy to learn of the early closure, until Disneyland signed the backs of their one-day tickets—and the one-day tickets of any guest who wanted it—to allow them to visit Disney's California Adventure. While another family who visited DCA after Disneyland closed hoped there would be another premiere soon, because they didn't have to wait in any lines in Fantasyland after 6 p.m.

Disney execs should have been very happy with the hundreds of guests who made their way over to DCA from Disneyland, bought dinner and might have enjoyed one of the additional performances of Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular, Who Wants to be a Millionaire – Play It! and Disney's Electrical Parade. Visitors could also catch a “soft open” performance of DCA's Xtreme Xperience, which officially starts on Tuesday.

Orlando Bloom signs autographs for an esctatic crowd. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

As for the celebrities? Judging by the buzz the film is already generating and the reports by some cast members who worked the event, it looks like Disney might have found gold. Yo ho!

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl opens in theaters Wednesday, July 9.