DISNEYLAND AT 30: THE UNOFFICIAL HISTORY
For those hardy individuals who sampled Disneyland on opening day 30 years ago, everywhere was Adventureland.
Some women feared they would become permanent attractions as their spiked heels sank into the fresh asphalt on Main Street. Fantasyland had to be closed because of a gas leak. The Mark Twain steamboat was flooded due to overcrowding--admission tickets had been counterfeited.
And there were almost no drinking fountains. Later, responding to charges that he had been trying to promote soft-drink sales, Walt Disney explained that there had been a plumbers’ strike and he’d had to choose between constructing restroom facilities (of which there were many) and drinking fountains for opening day. The former won out, he explained, because “people can buy Pepsi Cola but they can’t pee in the street.”
Disney remembered opening day, July 17, 1955, as “Black Sunday” and personally checked every attraction daily for weeks afterward, ensuring that the Magic Kingdom would become a model of down-to-earth efficiency. It also became the world’s most famous amusement park, an impressive achievement when it is recalled that almost everyone advised Disney beforehand that his idea would be a flop.
Still, over the past three decades, not even The Happiest Place on Earth could sweep all of the Real World under its carpet. Inevitably, the Disney folks and the park have experienced a few unscheduled adventures over the years, including these in:
YIPPIE-I-O-LAND--More than 300 long-haired, bedraggled Yippies flocked to Disneyland on Aug. 6, 1970. Not yuppies--Yippies: members of the so-called Youth International Party, a collection of radicals and anti-Vietnam War protesters. They gathered first at the drawbridge to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, where they chanted, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh is going to win!” Then they snake-danced to Tom Sawyer Island, where they scared off customers, ran up the Viet Cong flag over a fort and passed around marijuana. For a while, it looked like Fantasyland and Tomorrowland might fall next, upholding the Domino Theory. But then--just like in the movies--a riot squad from the Anaheim Police Department came to the rescue, arresting 23 of the invaders. The park was closed six hours early, and refunds were given to the other 30,000 or so customers. A rear detachment of Yippies tried to take over the Disneyland Hotel, but that effort also failed. Thereafter, long-haired males were often denied entrance to the park.
NO-BALDING-WORLD-LEADERS-LAND--The most famous person refused permission to visit Disneyland was, of course, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, in 1959. The length of his hair was not a factor, however, since he had almost none. Security was said to be the problem. Or was it because Washington didn’t want Mr. K. to peep at Disney’s submarine fleet? Whatever, Khrushchev, spotting a propaganda opening, replied: “I thought I could come here as a free man. Is there some kind of cholera or launching pad out there?” Instead of Disneyland, U.S. officials showed Khrushchev and his wife a somewhat less exciting Tomorrowland--a model housing development in the San Fernando Valley. Alas, there was no Sherman Oaks Galleria back then.
BR’ER-BEAR-ON-STRIKE-LAND--"Disneyland is a kingdom all right,” cute and cuddly Br’er Bear told a reporter in 1970, “and we’re the serfs.” Yes, even a Magic Kingdom has work stoppages. Br’er Bear was joined on the picket line by about 80 other union hands that year, including 10 Indian dancers at Frontierland who emphasized their wage demands with placards that read: “Mickey Mouse Is an Indian Giver.” Br’er Bear growled that he was underpaid, his outfit was too hot and little kids jabbed him from behind and did other mean things to him. Tinker Bell refused to join in the strike, possibly because she performed above the little kids on a cable. It was the first of three strikes that would hit Disneyland. During the most recent stoppage, which lasted 22 days last year, a psychiatrist assured parents that a strike at the Magic Kingdom might be a useful experience for children since it would teach them “that even Mickey Mouse has problems.”
DIAPER-LAND--Rosa Salcedo thought she was still a few days away from giving birth when she felt labor pains on the Submarine Ride on a Fourth of July afternoon in 1979. “I thought I had at least until night,” she said later. But as she and her husband walked across Main Street, she felt three “real big pains.” An ambulance was summoned but Salcedo got only as far as a nearby park bench. There, with the help of park nurses, Salcedo gave birth to a 6-pound, 10-ounce daughter, Teresa, Disneyland’s first real-life creation.
GAY-DAY-LAND--When Scott Forbes booked the park for a private party for the Los Angeles Bar and Restaurant Assn. a few years ago, he didn’t mention that the association was made up mostly of gay-clientele businesses. “We decided to tell them--after we’d signed the contract,” said Forbes, the owner of the Studio One nightclub in West Hollywood. “They were pretty surprised,” he added, laughing, “but they were very nice about it. They didn’t back down or try to cancel. Word got out, though, about the first ‘Gay Day’ at Disneyland and we were picketed there by about 40 or 50 people from church groups. But it was a great night. Over 15,000 people showed up, and there were no problems inside.”
TRUE-ROMANCE-LAND--"Most of the park’s costumed characters are young guys, and when I was there it was not unheard of for them to pick up girls,” recalled a former member of the Seven Dwarfs (he declined to identify the specific dwarf). “Young girls were tremendously attracted to the costumes. They’d literally be hanging all over you. And, it’d get to you after a while. You were never supposed to talk while in costume--the idea was no one could duplicate the voice of the character--but some characters would ignore it and arrange to meet with girls later. I remember once when one of the Three Little Pigs got in trouble for that.”
KIDDIE-CONTROL-LAND--"It used to be incredible when packs of little kids would descend on us,” said the same former Seven Dwarfsman. “Mothers would say stuff like, ‘Go hit him in the nose.’ And the really bad part was that the nose on the huge costume head was just below the belt. That could be real painful. But, luckily, the costumes we had back then also had fake arms, stuffed with padding, and hard rubber hands. When it got bad, we’d start spinning around, and, let me tell you, did those arms move ‘em back!”
BOYS-ON-THE-DANCE-FLOOR-LAND--Andrew Exler, 19, was dancing on Date Night in September, 1980, when a security guard tried to cut in. The guard didn’t want to dance; he wanted to break up Exler and his partner, Shawn Elliott, 17, who was also a male. Exler later testified that he “danced around” the less-nimble gendarme. But, reinforcements showed up, and the two dancers were ejected from the park. They sued, and an Orange County Superior Court judge later deemed the ouster a violation of their civil rights. Alas, Exler and Elliott did not return to the next Date Night. They broke up shortly after the incident.
REDHEADS-HAVE-LESS-FUN-LAND--In May, 1984, Victoria Penley claims in a pending lawsuit, she was refused permission to enter the park because the color and style of her hair were deemed “inappropriate.” Penley, 39, said the color and style of her hair were the same as when she had been the principal of a school for handicapped children. “I’m a redhead,” Penley said. “I have had this color hair since I was 10. . . . It’s the color of Lucille Ball’s, only it’s not so carroty.” Her daughter Kathryn, whose hair color and style were similar, was also turned back. Disneyland declined comment on the suit, but repeated its general policy: “We have a reputation for wholesomeness and try to maintain a comfortable atmosphere for our guests.” After leaving Disneyland, the Penleys said they were admitted to Knott’s Berry Farm.
SWAN-SONG-LAND--From the start, Disneyland’s workers have been carefully screened for degree of clean-cut-ness, workers with pimples or braces often being assigned out-of-view jobs, such as washing dishes. Every employee is trained at “Disneyland University” in courses ranging from philosophy to upholstery. Toiling in such a controlled, restrictive climate has led some employees to let off a bit of steam when leaving their jobs. “People do some funny, amusing things on their last day,” a Jungle Cruise worker said recently. “One guy ripped his shirt open when he got to the hippo pool, waved his rubber knife, dove into the water and attacked the fake hippo. Another guy got a rope and tied it to the tree and did a Tarzan routine, while another guy pulls out his gun and shoots him with blanks.”
And . . . t-t-t-hat’s all, f-f-folks.
Lisa Teasley, a former Calendar intern and a graduate of UCLA, contributed to this article.