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Thursday, June 08, 2017

One-Stop Vacation For A Nation

Theatres Tout Disneyland USA

Walt did this Cinemascope featurette to further herd his public toward vacationing Mecca that was Disneyland, open one year as of 1956 and already a place everyone must see before they die. To pay admission for what amounted to promotion for something you'd pay admission for again was proof of Disney's grip on a family audience that rivals saw slipping as the picture habit became less of a habit. Success of the park would make movies at Disney less of a do-or-die proposition. His name alone made motorists load up offspring and drive up to 3000 miles for access to the Magic Kingdom. My family made that maximum haul in 1962 (NC to California being truest cross-country), drawn in part by drumbeat of magazines and WD's TV program. Disneyland was less miracle in itself than miracle of marketing to address everyone alive from day the park opened. That event, on ABC, is said to have had 90 million viewers. I wonder if any broadcast will get so large an audience again.

Westward Ho, The Wagons! led for Christmas 1956, but it was Disneyland USA where skill was greater applied. These forty-one minutes had to sell the place, make it worth traversing American frontier to get to. Yes, travel was easier than in old West days, but sections could be rugged, eight or even four lane highways certainly not a given except for approach to biggest towns. Disneyland seemed less amusement park than World's Fair, and folks had not minded long trek to those over a last century. Best of all, they'd settle in for days or even a week of spending once installed. You would need that to take it all in, as evidenced by Disneyland USA being but cursory glimpse of joys to be had. It was an Other World experience Disney offered, one to take us forward or back to times happier than what 1956 could offer. Now, of course, a lot would choose 1956 as retreat from present, but consider fact that Disneyland's "Main Street" was turn of 19th to 20th century, a gap many could close with memory and longed for security that past offered. Walt Disney himself was among these. Had he been born (much) later, would Walt have made Main Street an Eisenhower-era paradise with malt shops and early rock and roll played by roving bands? Probably so.

Disneyland USA was officially part of the "People and Places" series being released parallel to the True-Life nature shorts. One or the other came with most Disney features through the 50's, for audiences had built acceptance, if not embrace, for Walt's ongoing effort to enrich them. Winston Hibler's narrating voice of authority lets us know that Disneyland was more than mere pleasure stop with rides, being distinct place on a world map to equal stature of a National Park, with in fact, values of all these combined. Cinemascope conveys vastness of the place. You wouldn't know how confining Anaheim was from watching Disneyland USA. We don't get snarled approach to the town or parking ordeal, as this tour opens on tram arrival to the park's Hotel, where the pool looks like dream dips all of us took in youth when chlorine-tinted water seemed pure as what baptized believers at the River Jordan. There is no delay or inconvenience at this idealized Disneyland. Was the actual park so smooth a process then? I don't recall our having a problem in 1962, but time has a way of sifting out troubled memories to leave but happy ones, that being of course, the entire mission of Disneyland.

The Main Street was fashioned after small towns Disney knew growing up. Many a 20th century tycoon wished for lost innocence and simpler times. Henry Ford built his Greenfield Village to celebrate the country as it once was, and now Disney would answer a same impulse with this first sight to greet guests at Disneyland. It is what we see at a start of Disneyland USA, music underneath from a gay 90's-set Donald Duck called Crazy Over Daisy (1950). Horses haul streetcar-fulls to and fro, and Disney's beloved trains are omnipresent. He had one in the yard at home that guests could sit on and ride, and maybe elixir from rails was as strong for folks entering Disneyland in 1956, but ... what about now? Are there still trains there, or horses, or the old movie house where silent films show? If not, then I guess the fishing hole where you could sink a hook and keep the game you caught is gone too. Sixty years have changed a lot of things, nowhere I'd suspect, as much as at Disneyland. Among other likely casualties: a staged bank robbery and law catching up to miscreants with six guns at the ready. Gone too? Likely so.

Westward Ho, The Wagons! was a fairly punk feature. You can't see it now except in lousy pan-scan DVD or paid streaming. William Beaudine directed, so no one's time or money got wasted. There was at least Cinemascope to distinguish Wagons from stuff on TV. Fess Parker toplines, but he never really took off as a major star for Disney. He had hoped to be loaned to do The Searchers at Warners, but Walt nixed, and Jeffrey Hunter got the job. Fess did Wagons for his western instead. That had to hurt, considering hit The Searchers was in 1956 and status it attained later. Westward Ho, The Wagons! had campfire singing in search of a next "Ballad Of Davy Crockett," and there were Mouseketeers along for the trail ride. Indians on hand are much more good than bad, so excitement is lessened. Down-the-cast was George Reeves, who, as opined before, would have made a perfect and ongoing live action hero for Disney had he lived into the 60's, but then we'd have had less, or none, of Brian Keith. Disneyland USA was cut up and used for parts as later shorts and TV programs updated the Magic Kingdom pitch. The featurette was put right for inclusion in a Disneyland DVD box that is out of print and goes for blue fortune at Amazon. You can catch Disneyland USA, at least for the moment, on You Tube. It's a glorious time capsule and probably the best evocation of infant Disneyland that there is.


Blogger DBenson said...

The Disney obsessive rides again:

The song "Crazy Over Daisy" was retrofitted with new lyrics, "Meet Me Down on Main Street", and was a semi-official theme song. It's featured on the 1956 album "Walt Disney Takes You to Disneyland" as an instrumental, and the Mouseketeers sing it on the "Fourth Anniversary Show" of Disneyland (the one where Walt green lights "Rainbow Road to Oz" as a Mouseketeer movie).

At least two episodes of "World of Color", "Disneyland After Dark" and "Golden Horseshoe Revue", were released as featurettes; don't know if the theatrical versions were substantially different. "Gala Day at Disneyland" covered the 1959 opening of the Monorail, the Matterhorn and the Submarines. The event was a staged as a live B&W TV broadcast with film inserts, but it was also filmed in color so the theatrical version must have been assumed. The TV versions of all three are on the DVDs.

So far as I know, other films from the "People and Places" series haven't been released or shown at all in recent decades. A matter of aging badly, or were they unsuccessful in their own time?

At some point the Main Street Cinema in Disneyland abandoned silent reels in favor of vintage Mickey Mouse cartoons, but at least it's still a show. The Florida park's version became another merchandise dispensary.

3:26 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I rode the Matterhorn at Disneyland in 1962 and it scared me nearly to death.

A collector friend has a 35mm theatrical print of "Disneyland After Dark" on IB. It's a beaut.

Too bad the Disney Treasures DVD series never got around to "People and Places," as I'd like to see all of these.

4:24 PM  
Blogger A A Boyd said...

"Had he been born much later, would Walt have made Main Street an Eisenhower-era paradise with malt shops and early rock and roll played by roving bands? Probably so."

Funny you should mention that...

When Disney opened the new "California Adventure" theme park next door to Disneyland in Anaheim in 2001, they had musicians playing Beach Boys and Jan & Dean tunes on the back of a pickup truck that would stop at various locations in the park. For awhile there they actually had Jan & Dean's backup band (which included several former Beach Boys sidemen) after Jan Berry passed away and the bandmembers found themselves needing a new steady gig.

(A couple of the guys later said it was one of the more arduous and humiliating experiences of their careers...)

12:34 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Is there a book on tough life of old rock and rollers playing nostalgia routes? If so, I'd like to read it.

4:53 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Back in the 1960s there was a family from the maritime provinces in Canada that went to Disneyland I believe in a covered wagon. They said they were broke, wanted to see it and hoped Walt would let them in on the house. They got there. Walt didn't.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

Saw Disneyland in 1967 when a kid. My parents traveled by air from New York to take me there, bless them. The real bonus was a tour of Disney Studios, where I stood on a soundstage as a Disneyland-themed show was being filmed in front of a bluescreen. It all seems like a fabled dream the older I get. Right now the Disney parks seem like such a daunting expense, and too complicated an endeavor compared to the original experience I knew.

8:36 AM  
Blogger A A Boyd said...

Bob Greene wrote a highly entertaining, and at times poignant and heartbreaking, book about Jan and Dean's last years on the road (including the band's stint at Disney's California Adventure) titled "When We Get To Surf City." County fairs, amusement parks, nostalgia package shows, the occasional millionaire's private party, life on the endless road, singing the same songs every's quite a read.

12:15 PM  
Blogger FrankM said...

I remember "People and Places" as the price we had to pay before seeing Disney features. They seemed to go on forever and were about as much fun as school geography lessons.

2:12 PM  
Blogger scott said...

Are there still trains there, or horses, or the old movie house where silent films show? Yes

I guess the fishing hole where you could sink a hook and keep the game you caught is gone too. You haven't been able to fish at Disneyland in over 50 years.

Among other likely casualties: a staged bank robbery and law catching up to miscreants with six guns at the ready. Gone too? Yes.

And are you sure about George Reeves hosting a Disneyland introduction?

1:49 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Someone sent me a still once of Reeves with Disney and indicated that he helped out with hosting duty on opening day. A myth? Perhaps --- but the photo sure looked like GR was more than just another guest Walt was welcoming.

4:11 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Is it true that the smaller than normal Main Street buildings incorporate Forced Perspective to make them seem larger than they actually are?

10:46 AM  
Blogger scott said...

The hosts for Disneyland's opening were Walt Disney, Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings and Ronald Reagan. There were many other celebrities present but they weren't hosts.

Just about every structure (building, mountain etc.) at Disneyland uses forced perspective.

1:21 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks, Scott. Guess that was a myth, if a hopeful one. I would like for Superman to have been a host as Disneyland opened its magic portals, but ... oh well.

3:51 AM  
Blogger brickadoodle said...

I asked my dad one time to take me to Disneyland. He said: "Son, it's on Channel 12 every Sunday night..."

9:20 PM  

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