Wednesday, June 10, 2015

60 Days to 60 Years of Disneyland - 1978

Welcome to my contribution to 60 Days to 60 Years of Disneyland. As we move towards Disneyland's 60th anniversary on July 17, we continue to look at what happened year by year at the park. 1978 was rather an uninspired year for Disneyland, but in this entry we will look at an event that happened that year that is still impacting Disney Parks and Resorts division to this day! But more of that later.

First, you have to know how Disneyland (and then Walt Disney World) has been a part of my family's consciousness since - well, the beginning. (Be sure to click on the links along the way.)

I was two and a half years old (because at that age, half years are important) when Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, so I really don't have a memory of watching the TV special - though I am told that we did. But I do remember watching the Disney Sunday night TV shows through all of it's name and network changes and clearly remember that my favorites were those which featured Disneyland. It seemed all so wonderful - but living in NYC it also seemed all so far away. A place I would never get to. Flying to go on vacation was not yet common. So for now I would enjoy Disneyland through the magic of black and white TV.

Then came a series of shows on The Wonderful World of Color describing some new attractions that WED Enterprises (today known as Walt Disney Imagineering) was developing. These shows weren't going to Disneyland - at least not directly - but would be featured at the New York World's Fair of 1964/1965! Right in my "back yard!" I would get to experience Disneyland style attractions for myself! And in April of 1964 I did just that during the first of many visits over the next 2 years.

We saw the Ford exhibit with its history of man - though what we most remember of that were the dinosaurs. We drove past the cavemen and the dinosaurs which we had seen on Sunday night as Walt showed off his World's Fair shows. We sat and listened to Lincoln give a speech and we paid our 10 cents to take a boat ride while being serenaded by the children of the world. However, the one attraction which stood out for me was General Electric's Progressland! Imagine ... the line for this was consistently 3 hours or more! Remember, no one had seen human audioanimatronics before the fair ... and this show had lots of them ... and a theater that revolved around the stage.

After two years the fair was over and I thought that was it for Disney attractions for me. Then in the summer of 1968 my parents (teachers with 10 weeks of summer vacation just like us kids) announced that we would be driving cross country from NY to California and would be visiting Disneyland. (And a lot of other places ... but ... DISNEYLAND!!) So in 1968, I actually got to go to The Happiest Place on Earth!

Of course, I once again saw the Disney shows which thrilled me so much at the NY World's Fair. The Ford dinosaurs could now be seen from the Disneyland Railroad ... The Pepsi/UNICEF boatride still serenaded you in It's A Small World ... Lincoln still orated at Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln ... and the theater still revolved around the decades at Carousel of Progress (relocated now to the east coast and which remains a favorite of mine).

We did that again in 1969 - and I got to experience that year's new attraction, which continues to be my all time favorite ... the Haunted Mansion. But still, Disneyland was too far from us for frequent visits. Then we heard rumors that Walt would build a Disneyland on the east coast. Could it be true? It was, and on December 25, 1971, my family and I walked through the gates at Walt Disney World in Central Florida for the first time. (Did you know that until Disney started televising the Christmas Parade that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were the least crowded days of the year at the Magic Kingdom?) Now we could visit more often and we did.

But in 1978, Walt Disney Studios (as the company was still called) was in deep financial trouble. The movies that were released were lackluster to say the least, and the company was about to come under attack for the purpose of takeover and probably having its parts sold off. (Can you imagine Disneyland being owned by Six Flags for example? Most people don't know, but the original Six Flags park - Six Flags over Texas - was Disney inspired. Following a visit to Disneyland, wealthy real estate developer Angus G. Wynne, Jr. decided that his home state of Texas should have a local park for entertainment.) For the first time Disney reached into its vaults and released a few titles on laserdisc. (When I was able to obtain a laserdisc copy of Disney's Song of the South, I promptly went out and bought a laserdisc player!) Disneyland (along with Walt Disney World) was suffering as well. Not much new was happening in Disneyland with the exception of the Matterhorn bobsleds reopening after a rehab which saw new sights - three abominable snowmen and a glowing ice cave - added. An adult ticket with 11 attractions would cost you $6.75. And, oh yeah, Mickey Mouse celebrated his 50th birthday in 1978. Attendance was down at both parks ... DL and WDW (which only had the Magic Kingdom at this time). Part of the problem, at least as far as the parks were concerned, was that Disney, now led by Walt's son-in-law Ron Miller as company president and Card Walker as CEO, was still blindly continuing most of Walt's policies. One of those policies was to do no advertising for the parks. Walt and Roy didn't think it was necessary, and the powers that be at the Walt Disney Studios were timidly sticking to the old ways. WDW did get some exposure, however, when it was announced that a new park would be built, to be called EPCOT Center ... a permanent world's fair type park.

It would not be the EPCOT that Walt described as his Florida Project. Roy had never bought into that, but when two separate ideas for the new park were put together in what would become Future World and World Showcase, Walt's Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow was revived as the name of the soon to be second gate at Walt Disney World.

But wait ... at the beginning I mentioned that something would happen in 1978 that is still impacting Disney Parks and Resorts. If not the announcement of EPCOT, then what could that be?

On July 26, 1978, my daughter was born! So how does this affect Disney Parks and Resorts? First of all, you have you realize that with parents (yes, my wife fits into this as well) who are huge Disney fans, she and my son would have no choice but to be as well. They started being regular visitors to Walt Disney World at a very young age, and have even made the pilgrimage to the west coast to visit Disneyland.

As she prepared to enter high school, she auditioned for the marching band since she knew that each February they travelled down to WDW to perform. Two years later, my son took the same path. During the trip in her senior year I overheard her telling a friend that after college she would work in Disney World. That same trip she ran into a former band member who was working in EPCOT on the College Program. In her senior year in college she interviewed for and was accepted to the Walt Disney World College Program (WDWCP) and would take part the autumn after graduation. Unlike her brother who did the College Program two years earlier (he worked in the Haunted Mansion), she planned on staying on at WDW. That was 15 years ago. After working at Conservation Station in Animal Kingdom, and then at the front desk at Caribbean Beach Resort (with brief stops at All Star Sports and Grand Floridian), she has spent most of her Disney career in the IT Department where she is now. If you have ever been checking in at a Disney Resort and the front desk agent had a problem with the check-in computer system and called for help ... there is a good chance that your check in was facilitated by her.

Then in August 2011, she got married in a Disney Fairytale Wedding. (You know how many dads will tell you that their son-in-law is goofy? Well, I have the pictures to prove it.) (At least he was a while ago, he has since moved on.)

The family tradition continues and my son's twin 5 and a half year old boys (that half year is still important!) have been to WDW four times already (and while they don't yet know it - are returning in less than 2 months), and my daughter is about to have her own Disney Princess this summer ... and no doubt that WDW will be her playground.

So there you have it ... why 1978 was crucial to Disney Parks and Resorts ... at least in my humble opinion.

For more entries in 60 Days to 60 Years of Disneyland, click on the links below.