Walt Celebrates Disneyland 1965

by Wade Sampson, staff writer
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Each year, it gets harder and harder to write something about Disneyland’s birthday because so many things have been written already about its creation.  In fact, I have written several articles about it myself. For instance, here  and here.

Around this time, I always look at the video clip from the Canadian television show, Telescope”from September 25, 1963 where Walt was interviewed by Fletcher Markle.

Walt:  “Well, it [Disneyland] came about when my daughters were very young and I … Saturday … was always Daddy’s day with the two daughters.  So we’d start out and try to go someplace, you know, different things, and I’d take them to the merry-go-round and I took them different places and as I’d sit while they rode the merry-go-round and did all these things … sit on a bench, you know, eating peanuts…. I felt that there should be something built … some kind of amusement enterprise built ... where the parents and the children could have fun together. So that’s how Disneyland started.  Well, it took many years … it was a … oh, a period of maybe 15 years developing.  I started with many ideas, threw them away, started all over again.  And eventually, it evolved into what you see today at Disneyland.  But it all started from a daddy with two daughters wondering where he could take them where he could have a little fun with them too.”

As always, I want to give the MousePlanet readers something they can’t get at other Web sites or in other books so even though I hate transcribing with a passion, I pulled out a special treasure from my collection to share with all of you this year.

In 1965, Disneyland was celebrating its Tencennial. It was such a large celebration that it was even necessary to create the role of Disneyland Ambassador to assist with all the publicity. It was an exciting time. The Disney Company had four innovative attractions at the New York’s World’s Fair that would soon be installed at Disneyland, there were plans to re-do Disneyland’s Tomorrowland completely, Pirates of the Caribbean was being delayed because of a massive change from a walkthrough attraction to a boat ride, Walt was already thinking ahead to Epcot and Mineral King, and Jungle Book was in production. 

It seemed like the future would be a great big beautiful tomorrow and listening to Walt inspired confidence and enthusiasm that the next five years would be filled with even more wonders especially for Disneyland. 

Well, there was a special celebration for Disneyland cast members held at the Disneyland Hotel Magnolia Room on July 17, 1965. 

For the finale, Jack Sayers introduced Roy and Walt and invited them to speak.  Fortunately, somebody had the good sense to tape Walt’s remarks at this historic occasion and luckily I have a tape of Walt speaking “off the cuff” to his fellow cast members.  He obviously had some idea about what he wanted to say but it was not a speech written by the usual Studio publicity people.  It was not a formal speech and Walt wandered over several different topics.

I wish I could re-create for you the experience of actually listening to Walt because he easily could have had a career as a stand-up comic.  His timing, his choice of anecdotes and how he told it with the appropriate emphasis on the right word resulted in honest, hearty laughter and applause from the audience. It was apparent that Walt was relaxed and in a playful mood and the encouragement he got from the crowd inspired his storytelling.   In the transcript, I’ve included just a few of the loud, good-spirited laughter that greeted Walt’s words to give some idea how happy the occasion was.

However, I can share with you Walt’s own words from that occasion that I transcribed one recent weekend so that you can experience Walt’s feelings about 10 years of Disneyland. Unfortunately, you miss Walt stretching out words like “well” or mispronouncing some words like “acrost” for “across” and you can easily see how he constantly used the word “things” to fill in gaps. Just try to imagine Walt’s introductions from the beginning of his weekly television show and that MidWestern twang and rhythm as you read his words.

Jack Sayers:  “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the boss … Walt.”

Walt Disney:  (clears his throat) “I can go back beyond 10 years on this deal.  I remember a few little things that went on before the opening.  I was trying to put a show together for the Golden Horseshoe.  Well, I had known Donald Novis for years and Donald had been around to see me.  I said, ‘Isn’t there something we can do? Can you get me a comic?’

“And he said, ‘Yes, I know a fella I was in Australia with.  He is getting a little bored living out of a trunk and traveling around the country and the nightclubs … and he might be interested.’

“I had a little interview over at the Studio.  In came this fellow.  He had a little bag with him and in the bag he had a dummy.  And he had some other things.  And he had some bagpipes.  He came in there and was on the stage all alone.  And I said, ‘Well, we’re trying to put a little show together.’ I said.  ‘You know this Disneyland, it’s going to be a family place.’  And he said, ‘Well I have some routines I’ve been doing in night clubs.’  He said, ‘I can clean ‘em up!’ (laughter from the audience). And he cleaned ‘em up, you know.  But I think there’s just a little hangover in a few of those little jokes in there, but it kinda slips by and nobody realizes it. 

But…that was Wally Boag.  Wally, we’ve been very happy.  We hope you stay with us. Wally, I hope you’ve been happy….”

Wally Boag: (from the audience) “We’re still in rehearsal, Walt.”

Walt:  (laughing)  “That’s my tag line.  You stole it from me.

(Walt talks briefly about Vessey Walker, the bandleader at Disneyland and his son Tommy but the section is garbled on my tape.  Sorry.)

Walt: “I can go back to Joe Fowler.  We had to have somebody to really put this together.  Someone to take hold of this thing and really make it work.  We were told about this retired admiral.  He had run the San Diego Navy yard. The commandant of the Navy yard who had built ships in China and all of that.  And he was starting a subdivision up in San Jose.  So I remember we went up to see him. We went out and met Joe at his home.  His lovely wife.  We had dinner there.  We had steaks.  They were wonderful.  So we sort of prevailed upon him to come down and sort of be a consultant for us and things.  And, little by little we got him sort of trapped into the thing.  We got him so wrapped up in it that he said to hell with the subdivision.  I think he owns half of Newport Bay or something now.  (laughter)

“Well, we had a lot of problems putting this thing together.  There was pressure for money.  A lot of people didn’t believe in what we were doing.  And we were putting the squeeze play where we could.

“I remember that we were dealing with all three networks … they wanted our television show.  And I kept insisting I wanted this amusement park.  And everybody said, ‘What the hell’s he want that damn amusement park for?’

“And I couldn’t think of a good reason except … I don’t know ... I wanted it.  (laughter)

“I remember we had a session with NBC. They wanted this Disney television show and we were stubbornly insisting we wanted to start an amusement park with it. David Sarnoff was sitting in on this thing and he said, ‘I want your television show but why the hell do we have to take that damned amusement park?’

“Same thing went with CBS.  Yeah, they wanted the television show but the insistence on the backing of this amusement park…

“ABC needed the television show so damned bad (loud laughter from the audience) that they bought the amusement park.  (laughter and applause)

“Well, five years later, my brother figured we better buy those guys out.  They had a third interest.  They only had a half-million dollars invested in the park.

“But my brother figured, ‘If we don’t buy ‘em out now, we’re going to payin’ a lot more later.’  My brother paid them, after five years, $7.5 million dollars for their $500,000 investment.  And it was a smart move that he did it then. (laughter)

“Well, my brother has had the worries of getting this money and fighting the bankers and things.

“And there was a time, I think it was after we opened the park, that our bankers said to my brother ‘Now about that damn amusement park, we’re not gonna let you put another nickel in it.’  And my brother said, ‘Well, if you’re gonna start running our business, we’re going out and we’ll find some other place we can borrow money.’  And by gosh, they finally gave him the money.

“But it has been nip and tuck.  I mean when we opened, if we could have bought more land, we’d have bought it.  Then we’d have had control and it wouldn’t look too much like a second-rate Las Vegas around here.  We could have had a better chance to control it.  But we ran out of money.  And then by the time that we did have a little money, everybody got wise to what was going on and we couldn’t buy anything around the place at all. (laughter)

“A lot of people don’t realize we had some very serious problems here, keeping this thing going … getting it started.  I remember when we opened we didn’t have enough money to finish the landscaping.  I had Bill Evans go and put Latin tags on all of the weeds.  We had a lot of inquiries. (laughter) That’s a fact.  You ask Bill Evans.  Of course, every weed to Bill Evans has got a Latin name, you know.

“But at this time ... 10 years…I want to join my brother in paying thanks to all you people who’ve been here with us and been a part of making this thing come across.

“But I just want to leave you with this thought … that it’s just been sort of a dress rehearsal and that we’re just getting started.  So if any of you start to rest on your laurels, I mean, just forget it.

“I’ve had Dick Nunis on my tail and he says, ‘You know,’ he says, ‘we’ve got to take care of these people.’  He’s got me workin’ harder than I’ve ever worked before trying to enlarge the park to take care of the extra millions he thinks we’re gonna gain every year.

“Now … he’s got us working hard ... honestly.  I mean, he says,‘ Walt, we gotta expand Fantasyland.  We gotta expand this’…and he shows me this graph where you started here out with $3 million and the way he’s got it going up to $10 million, and he may be right because this year we’re just bulging at the seams there.

“But do we have plans to expand it … to open up new areas.  It’s like a sponge.  You have to have these areas to absorb the people.  And we hope to have these things going. 

“We have a whole new plan for Tomorrowland. You know, of course, of our plans for New Orleans and eventually the Haunted Mansion.  We have a new Fantasyland coming … that’ll be next year.

“And really, we’ve got about $40-plus million  worth of stuff planned for the next five years.  Now … I don’t know whether we’ve got the money to do it with, (laughter) but…Thank God for Mary Poppins out there! (loud laughter and applause)

“You know, my office is above my brother’s, and I look down, when I see him walking on the ceiling.  You know that’s the time I go down and say, ‘Let’s put another $10 million in Disneyland.’  And lately he’s been walking all around the ceiling.

“Well, I know ... are you gonna have some dancing?  These boys [the band] haven’t done a damn thing all night. They’ve been sitting over there…on double time, no doubt, huh? (laughter from the audience)  And I think that…with just a thanks and appreciation to my big brother…to Joe Fowler…to all the boys…the top boys and all you people down the line, who’ve been a part of this thing…as I say, we’re just getting started, you know.  The show goes on next year…Yeah!”

As Walt exited, the band played The Bear Came Over The Mountain.

The show did go on the next day at 8 a.m. for many of those people who celebrated late into the evening.  In another year and a half, Walt would be gone but Disneyland continued for over four more decades as his living legacy to families and to the child in all of us.