Disney Company, in all its market-hogging magic, can trace its TV legacy
back to the medium’s inception, in 1954. It was that year in which the
fledgling, struggling ABC network invested millions of dollars in the
construction of the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California. In return,
Walt Disney was forced to host a weekly children’s program called
devil’s bargain turned out to be a boon for both parties. ABC’s ratings
skyrocketed like the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom in the opening
credits. As well, Walt Disney discovered that cross-marketing his 160-acre
theme park to millions of baby boomers on television was as easy as stealing
candy from a baby.
before the Six Flags Company or even Disney World itself, Disneyland became
the destination of choice for breeders of all shades of Caucasian. Week to
week, Disney is able to build anticipation for the coming super park, in
between screenings of “slice-of-life” films of exotic, faraway places (i.e.,
Third World countries), a boring song warbled by Fess Parker, and dry
explanations of what the future holds
(by scientists who Walt hurriedly
show is anal-retentively divided into categories that copy the eventual
layout of the park (Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and
Adventureland) – one category is featured on the show per episode. You are
stone out of luck if one week you tune in with a jones for Adventure but all
you are served is a dish of Tomorrow.
series reaches its scary apex only a year later, when the Disneyland park
officially opens its gates on a Sunday afternoon. A whopping 90 million
viewers tune in to watch the festivities, recorded by 29 cameras, reported
by 1,000 “newspapermen,” and attended by the
governor of California, the mayor of Anaheim, and a token priest, minister
and rabbi (the minister’s blessing: “To all who come to this happy place,
welcome. Laughter for the children, memories for the mature.”).
well, there are 15,000 “especially invited guests” (by sheer coincidence,
all Caucasian!). The event is hosted by California smoothies Art Linkletter,
Bob Cummings and Ronald Reagan. Their enthusiastic Stepford-like families
serve as window dressing, who ooh and aah on cue. One of
Linkletters’ brats demands to see Davy Crockett, and Linkletter does all he
humanly can to keep from bopping him on the head with his microphone.
“[This is] one of the most exciting moments of my life,” gushes Bob
Cummings, who likens the event to the opening of the Eiffel Tower.
Linkletter kisses Disney’s ass more successfully when he exclaims, “Walt,
you’ve made a bum out of Barnum today!” And special guest Danny Thomas, who
annoyingly keeps popping up with his family at just about every occurrence,
claims he is “flabbergasted.”
this era of Communist witch hunts, it is important to state that the park is
“all built by American labor and American capital.” Meanwhile, in an
insurance-policy nightmare, hundreds of young children, unaccompanied by
adults, stampede in a free for all toward the opening of the Magic Kingdom’s
gates and try to stifle their vomit while riding the spinning tea cups.
pre-Jed-Clampett Buddy Ebsen explains his late arrival to Frontierland by
stating “them redskins was just itchin’ to lift our scalps,” while Aunt
Jemima struts out and does a carefree Negro dance.
Perhaps the most interesting neighborhood in the Kingdom is the well-meaning
Tomorrowland, in which Walt mistakenly assumes that American ingenuity (and
not Japan’s) will solely be responsible for a better world.
the fifties, America
was very impressed with pushing buttons, and nobody pushed our buttons
better than Disney himself. In his glimpse of the world of 1986 (strangely
without Don Johnson, Wang Chung, and moussed hair), Disney dreams of an
atomic-powered Autotopia in which go-carts travel by computer. We see Frank
Sinatra riding an example of this contraption with his unhappy-looking son,
who proceeds to get rear-ended by none other than Sammy Davis, Jr. What an
über-boring explanation of atomic power by a shady
German scientist leads him to warn America’s youth, “What you have seen here
with the mousetraps and the ping-pong balls is part of your future. Use it
the early 60s, the company is at the vanguard once again with its new
series, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Though the majority
of Americans will not own a color television set until later in the decade,
Disney is already singing the praises of this exciting new technology with
gorgeous, vivid films of nature and animation.
most interesting episode is broadcast on April 15, 1962, called “Disneyland
After Dark.” Aimed primarily to sell tickets to more teens and adults, it is
a filmed travelogue of the theme park and its attractions after the sun goes
down and the Magic Kingdom
is most fascinating is not the scheduled talent (like Annette Funicello
rocking out with, “let in the cat, let out the squares”) but the throngs of
ordinary tourists strolling leisurely in their bouffant hairdos, crew cuts,
madras shirts, Capri pants and cat glasses. It’s very rare to see ordinary
people of this era being ordinary in living color.
Disney himself hosts the extravaganza, voyeuristically claiming, “I have fun
watching others have fun.” While being bombarded by
autograph hounds, he
introduces acts like the very young Osmond Brothers, who do their barbershop
quartet shtick (watch closely: you’ll see a real-life bohemian hipster
beatnik in the audience, with a goatee and longish blonde hair, his jaw
dropped in disbelief and apparently stoned out of his mind as he tries to
make sense of the Osmonds – something the rest of America will do ten years
later. Do not miss this. I repeat. Do not miss this.).
Armstrong, doing his benign trumpet act for whitey, is an easy pleaser,
while the crowd strains its neck to get a glimpse of Bobby Rydell, who is
actually a well-known star for fifteen minutes in 1962. And nobody Tony
Paris (whose claim to fame is that he sang with the Ray Conniff orchestra)
leads the obliging crowd in a rousing rendition of “Twilight Time” and
Disney, in his determination to lure more adults, exhibits Tahitian women
swiveling their hips in an approximation of the sex act. Leering,
middle-class men look on as their frumpy wives blush. And because the early
sixties was a time when it was okay to fast-dance (even men were allowed to
twist without having their sexuality questioned), the entire tourist crowd
performs the Mexican Hat Dance to a fever pitch, without shame or even an
ounce of self-consciousness.
weakest addition to this collection is the tenth anniversary celebration of
Disneyland, which was broadcast in color on January 3, 1965. Walt Disney
introduces an intensely sixties Miss Julie Green, who is dubiously crowned
Miss Disneyland Tencennial (“My, what a pretty dress, Julie,” Uncle Walt
leers). Though she is attractive enough, she is lacking in the charisma
department, and is as stiff as Disney himself will soon be in his frozen
cyber chamber. Equally strange is Julie’s getup, which consists of a
horse-riding costume and a wicked riding crop. Don’t ask.
Disney drags Julie around to meet his hard-working, subservient staff, and
they all hop to it as he firmly asks them to explain everything from
animation to costume design. We also get to meet “the newest member of our
Disney family,” Mary Poppins, who from that point on will fly in to every
Disneyland parade holding an umbrella and then proceed to dance with chimney
sweeps, whether you like it or not.
host and happy-go-lucky movie critic Leonard Maltin calls Disneyland “a
tribute to Americana and the embodiment of the American Dream,” and dang-darnit
if he isn’t right. It’s just the scary perfection and the in-your-face
marketing of this glorified commercial that underlines the statement.
All rights reserved. Posted: August 20, 2005.