A Carousel of Progress Christmasby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
Christmastime is a season to not just look forward to the coming New Year, but also to reflect on past years. This spirit was captured in one of the Disney theme park’s longest surviving attractions: The Carousel of Progress, especially with its final scene devoted to this special time of year that reflected on how, over the decades, life has gotten better thanks to technology.
Walt Disney felt that the future was not to be feared, but embraced, because it would be a great big, beautiful tomorrow—thanks to the new technology developed by American industry. Families would be able to celebrate Christmas together, free from the hardships and struggles of the past.
In an attempt to convince General Electric to continue their sponsorship of the Carousel of Progress attraction at Disneyland, Imagineer Marty Sklar wrote a brochure in 1965 explaining the many advantages of the attraction, including the fact that “The last act would remain entirely flexible, so that General Electric products of today and tomorrow could be brought up to date from year to year. There is an allowance in the budget to accomplish this.”
Disney fans are well aware that the final scene of the four-act show has undergone many changes over the years. When the attraction moved from the New York World’s Fair to Disneyland in 1967, the final scene was changed. When the attraction moved from Disneyland to Walt Disney World in 1975, the final scene was changed again. That final scene was also changed in 1981 (to update the setting into the 1980s), 1985 (to eliminate all the General Electric references since the company was now sponsoring the Horizons pavilion in Epcot), and, finally, in 1994.
In the beginning, there was supposed to be a 20-year gap between each of the scenes. The first scene took place at the turn of the 20th century and then jumped to the late 1920s and then to the late 1940s and finally to the late 1960s, a few years after the then current date. Today, with all the changes, the final scene has gradually leapt from the third act more than 60 years to the turn of the 21st century with a few occasional new prop additions every now and then (like a fairly recent replacement of the television to a flat screen and the computer to a laptop).
The original version of the attraction planned for Edison Square in Disneyland would have had the final scene take place in “an electronic island in the sky” floating high above a futuristic New York City in some vague time near the end of the 20th Century. This residential home would have included space scanners, sky views (of stars both above and below the room), self-propelled serving carts, protein measurements, a large screen television to watch spaceships heading to Venus and a “programmer controlled kitchen.” Items included in Monsanto’s House of the Future would also have been included.
When General Electric became the official sponsor and proposed it be developed for the upcoming World’s Fair instead (to help generate positive publicity for GE that had recently been found guilty of price fixing on electrical equipment and penalized with hefty fines), it was determined that the final scene would showcase all the great, big, beautiful, new wonders offered by the company.
For the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, the final scene showed an all-electric Medallion Home of the mid 1960s “with its leisurely push button living” as Walt reminded us on his weekly television program. There were no scrim covered tableaus on either side of the stage. The tastefully decorated home with its modern economy of design filled up the entire stage. Mother relaxed on a sofa with father sitting in a nearby chair in a living room decorated for Christmas, surrounded by gifts and electronics. A decorative latticed covering obscured the back windows forcing the audience to focus on the GE items in the room.
A sprightly version of "Jingle Bells" played softly in the background. The official guidebook for the World’s Fair described the final scene: “The glories of today glitter in a living room at Christmastime, a glass-enclosed, electrically heated patio; a kitchen that all but runs itself.” In addition, there were translucent plastic paneled walls with “Coloramic” lights to change the mood at the flick of a switch.
What was a Medallion Home? In October 1957, the Live Better Electrically (LBE) group launched the Medallion Homes campaign, which sought to sell almost 1 million all-electric homes nationwide by 1970.
To earn a gold medallion—a circular decal affixed to a home's entryway and approved by home builders, electrical utilities and electrical manufacturers—a home had to have multiple built-in electrical devices like an electric range, electric clothes washer and dryer, waste disposal, refrigerator and all-electric heating and lighting. The Medallion Homes campaign was a huge success.
However, the concept of a Medallion Home was pretty much outdated by the time the show was transplanted to Disneyland, so references to it were eliminated. References to outdated products were also eliminated while others, like the then amazing option to videotape television shows in your own home, were added. Since the show was primarily a living advertisement for General Electric, it did not require a ticket but was free and that added to its popularity.
Right behind mother and father, the huge picture window offered a glimpse of the towering Cosmopolitan Hotel, the centerpiece of Walt Disney’s dream for his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. After the final scene, guests could board a speed ramp escalator to go to the second floor to see a huge model of “Progress City.” In 1967, the Disney Company was still debating about pursuing Walt’s dream, so the city was not referred to as "EPCOT." Since General Electric’s slogan was “Progress is Our Most Important Product” the name “Progress City” was chosen, as GE would have been a major participant in the planned community in Florida.
What was that final scene like when it opened at Disneyland in 1967?
CAROUSEL OF PROGRESS CHRISTMAS 1967-1973
Let’s begin our spin on the carousel with the iconic song "There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" by the award-winning song writing team, the Sherman Brothers:
Oh, there's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day
There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
And tomorrow's just a dream away
Man has a dream and that's the start
He follows his dream with mind and heart
And when it becomes a reality
It's a dream come true for you and me
So there's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day
There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Just a dream away
Mother: Merry Christmas!
Father: Merry Christmas. We were just reminiscing about Christmas in the old days…
Mother: When getting ready for the holidays meant hectic days of cleaning house and preparing extra food…
Father: And as I started to say…
Mother: When Christmas Day arrived, I was too exhausted to enjoy it.
Father: But today our new…
Mother: Yes, today our new all electric home gives us lots more time to enjoy ourselves.
Father: In fact, it's a…
Mother: And would you believe it? I'm cooking dinner, or rather, my electric range is. I just set the time and temperature controls and relax. It even has a self-cleaning oven. And we were able to pick our appliance colors from so many beautiful combinations.
Father: All of the appliances are improved today, take a refrigerator. Why I remember when…
Mother: When the man of the house had to work twice as many hours to earn one as he does now. And today we have a better product.
Father: You took the words right out of my mouth, dear.
Mother: And I'm thrilled with my new dishwasher. And doing a big family wash is simply a breeze now. Oh, how I used to dread doing that job!
Father: Now Mother has time for…
Mother: Activities like my Garden Club, the Literary Society, Ladies Bowling League, and…
Father: Quiet while Mother's interrupting!
Mother: Home entertainment for our family is centered in one area. And from here we can enjoy radio, hi-fi, and stereo music anywhere in our home. We can even change our lighting to match the mood of the music. (Panels change color.)
Father: Our television console is more than just a TV set. It has a built-in video tape recorder…
Mother: Now we can record our favorite shows for viewing at a more convenient hour. And television programming is so much improved today.
Father: What Mother means is, they're still shooting it out, but now it's in color. (The previous act had shown a black and and white clip on a small television screen of cowboys riding horses and firing guns. This was the exact same clip but in color.)
Mother: You're probably wondering what happened to Grandma and Grandpa. Well, they're no longer with us. (Pause) They have their own home now in a community for senior citizens.
Father: Grandpa's in the eighties…his golf score that is.
Mother: The children are meeting Grandma and Grandpa right now at our new jet airport. (Out the back window, the audience saw a moving light suggesting a plane arriving.)
Father: And speaking of new…
Mother: We haven't said anything about our community.
Father: That's changed. too, and in a…
Mother: And in a great, big, beautiful way. Yes, the progress of the last century has changed not only our homes, but also our transportation, recreation, and the places we work.
Mother: It has brought convenience and enjoyment we never knew before.
Mother: Dear, you've hardly said a word. Why don't you say something?
Father: Well, I would like to say this much, progress is something we can't take for granted. Progress takes a lot of people wanting it and willing to work for it. And so next, Mother and I invite you to come along and see some of the electrifying new ideas from General Electric for our city, and for your own hometown.
The Carousel of Progress lasted at Disneyland from July 2, 1967 to September 9, 1973 and entertained more than 31 million guests.
With the opening of the Magic Kingdom in Florida in October 1971, General Electric saw the opportunity to reach a new audience. Surveys had shown that 8 percent of the guests visiting Disneyland came from east of the Mississippi. So, the still popular Carousel of Progress closed and was relocated to Walt Disney World.
The Carousel of Progress opened in Tomorrowland in Walt Disney World on January 15, 1975, along with another attraction, Space Mountain.
Extensive changes were made to the attraction from the elimination of the Kaleidophonic Screens (where hundreds of colored lights were synchronized to music and sound effects) in the prologue and epilogue to the removal of the second floor model of Progress City. The theater no longer rotated clockwise since there was no reason to position guests to go up a speed ramp after the final scene. Now the theater rotated counter-clockwise with the exit being next to the entrance.
There had been a change in leadership at General Electric and the new management felt that the song "There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" was implying that GE customers should wait to purchase products because new and better things were coming just around the corner. The Sherman Brothers composed a new song, "The Best Time of Your Life," often mistakenly referred to by its opening lyric that “Now is the Best Time.” Now was the best time to buy products from General Electric. So, the tone of the show changed from looking to the future to appreciating the gifts of the present.
Not only was there a new theme song that was repeated throughout the show but once again, the final scene was updated to showcase the late 1970s and a new voice cast recorded newly scripted dialog for the entire show.
While I grew up with the Disneyland version, I know many readers had their first experience with the Walt Disney World version. So, let’s take another spin on the carousel.
At Walt Disney World, finally the entire family is gathered for the holidays, but now, instead of being Christmas, it is New Year’s. However, the Christmas tree is still up and there is still the feeling of that holiday, as well. Mother had become much more assertive and very involved in community activities in this decade of women’s liberation. The Ladies Bowling League was replaced by her work on the Clean Waters Committee. The fashions spotlighted trendy bell bottoms. Grandpa and Grandma seem to have survived, as well. Father is now the official cook. The brick-walled, country style kitchen and living room were not as “futuristically” modern as the Anaheim version and seemed more familiar to audiences.
CAROUSEL OF PROGRESS CHRISTMAS 1975-1981
Now is the time.
Now is the best time.
Now is the best time of your life.
Life is a prize, live every minute.
Open your eyes and watch how you win it.
Yesterday's memories may sparkle and gleam,
tomorrow is still but a dream.
Right here and now,
you've got it made.
The world's forward marching and you're in the parade!
Now is the time.
Now is the best time.
Be it a time of joy or strife.
There's so much to cheer for, be glad you're here.
For it's the best time of your life.
John: Well, it sure is nice to have the whole family home for the holidays. Right now, I'm cooking my one and only specialty. Chili! It's our traditional New Year's Eve snack. (Clatter of dropped pans.) Oops, sorry!
Sarah: My, that chili sure sounds good!
Grandma: Mmm, smells good, too.
John: And it better be good, Grandma. With Mother spending all of her time on the Clean Waters Committee, I may be the only one left with time to cook.
Sarah: Now dear, you encouraged me to get involved.
John: Good grief, did I do that?
Jane: My mother the activist? I think that's kind of neat.
Sarah: I think it's kind of neat, too! Did I show you the letter from the mayor, thanking us for getting the bond issue passed?
Son: You've done it again, Mom.
Grandma: In my day, women only had time for fun things, like-
Sarah: Canning and polishing the stove?
Grandpa: Now, Grandma, things haven't been all that bad. We've been a pretty good team.
Jane: But on your team. Grandma spent most of her time on the bench!
Sarah: Speaking of the bench, I suppose you men are going to sit all day tomorrow watching football on TV!
John: You better believe it!
Grandpa: And while we're warm and cozy in front of the TV, I'll be feeling mighty sorry for all those people out there that bucking traffic and those crowds.
Jane: Why Grandpa, you really do care about people! (Sings and strums her guitar and sings.) "The world's forward marching and you're in the parade."
Grandpa: Young lady, I've always been in the parade! My generation has always been concerned about people.
John: You're right, Grandpa. And progress for people has always been the real challenge in every generation.
Son: I agree, Dad! When we've had the most problems, that's when we seem to make the most progress.
Grandpa: Well then sonny boy, you've sure got your work cut out for you.
Sarah: Father, it's getting close to midnight in the East. Let's watch the New Year's celebrations on TV. (The TV in the background is turned on.)
1st Newscaster: (The sounds of "Auld Lang Syne" can be heard.) And that's our story in Times Square. Now let's go to Walt Disney World, in Florida.
2nd Newscaster: From high atop the Contemporary Resort Hotel, we can look down on all the exciting celebrations. Across the way is the Magic Kingdom, where people from everywhere have come to greet the New Year with hope and optimism. (The television shows fireworks over the Magic Kingdom as Disney costumed characters like Mickey appear delighted.)
Jane: Speaking of optimism, how's the chili coming, Dad?
John: Patience everybody! I haven't missed a New Year's yet. (Dog barks.) Mind your manners, Sport! Dogs don't eat chili.
Jane: (First humming the tune as she strums and then sings.) “Now is the best time of your life.”
Grandpa: You know, Grandma, she's right. We've seen a lot of New Years' come and go. And we've shared the good old days. But I admit, the time we live in, really is the best time.
John: Yes, this is the best time. One of the reasons is because electricity has improved all our lives.
Sarah: And if we use it wisely and well, each new year and each new day can bring a better way of life.
John: Well said, Mother! If we have hope and confidence, every day of the year can be-the best time of your life.
Jane: Happy New Day, everybody!
(As the audience moves to the final scene and exit, the sound of fireworks continues and fireworks images are projected on the curtain.)
John: All of us at General Electric thank you for joining us and for helping us celebrate this day. Now, will you step outside. Have the best time of your life. Happy New Day, everybody!
Today, the final scene of the Carousel takes place at the verge of the turn of the 21st century celebration (although the Christmas tree and Christmas presents are still very much in evidence) but dad is making a turkey, the son is playing a virtual reality space game (“Cyber Command”) on the television with his grandmother, and daughter no longer strums her guitar—but plays with her new ski boots.
However, the spirit is the same as it has been for decades. The holiday season is a time for the entire family to gather together and share a meal and some lively conversation and even have a few laughs. I hope that scenario is the case for your family this year, as well, and that now is the best time for all of you to enjoy a great, big, beautiful tomorrow.