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Inventing Disneyland, the Book

I was just informed that my book about the creation of Disneyland California, Inventing Disneyland, is now available, just in time for Christmas. It's the (I hope) entertaining story of all the people not named Walt Disney who worked so hard to make this singular place a reality. Walt shows up in the story, too, of course.

This is the result of years of research and interviews with the principals, organized as a chronological journal to let you experience the process as it unfolded.

When I worked for WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering) many years ago, I studied the original plans for Disneyland (some of which are available on the internet) in my spare time. I was lucky enough to be able to chat with Disney Legends like Herb Ryman, Sam McKim, and Bill Martin--and they were extremely generous (with everyone) with their time. Others, like C. V. Wood, Jr., I had to track down.

One thing missing from Disneyland books, in general, is a sense of context. What was happening in…
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What's a Disneyland? you ask. It's late September of 1954, and you would be forgiven for not knowing the slightest thing about it. Disney had been approaching General Motors, General Foods, General Mills, General Electric, but that list doesn't include your company.

Television insiders were surprised six months before when Variety and other papers said that Walt Disney had agreed to join dozens of other celebrities to host a television show, but it wouldn't debut until the week of Halloween. At the time, there was mention of a kiddieland, but you ignored that as just ballyhoo for the new variety show. It's show biz, not your biz.

You run a company like Sunnyview Farms, makers of jams, jellies, and sugary candies. Maybe you're Anne Cole, designer of swimwear, or the Bekins brothers, leaders in the moving and storage trade. You could be in charge of advertising for the Pen Corporation of America, or the Shoe Corporation of America, for that matter. Maybe you are …

The Time Nat Winecoff Invented Disneyland

Walt Disney's creative vision and dogged determination made Disneyland a reality. The park embodies his dreams and ideals, but the hard fact is that he needed a lot of help to coax his ideas into tangible reality. Many assume that Walt turned to his world-class staff of artists to develop his park, but they formed the reserves. In fact, Walt formed a cadre of white men mostly in their forties from outside the studio to invent Disneyland.

September 1952 was a pivotal time at the Disney lot, five months before the release of Peter Pan. Walt had built himself a party house farther from the studio, was distracted by his backyard train and other hobbies, and had begun spending weeks at a time in Europe. He returned from his fourth summer in Europe to find that his brother, Roy, had apparently foiled Walt's plan for a Mickey Mouse Park on studio property in Burbank with a whisper campaign among city politicians and money men.

Walt was as restless as his brother Roy was conservative…

Original Signs

Many of the familiar fancy electric signs missed opening day at Disneyland. There were a few--the Main Street Cinema, the Emporium--but many were hand-lettered. There were elaborately framed wooden signs, individual letters, and hanging signs. Gold leaf lettering on the various wagons and street cars, show windows, and some second-floor window credits, at least the one honoring Walt and Roy's father, Elias.

These photos have been cropped to emphasize the signs, in the process cutting off watermarks from Daveland and Stuff From the Park. Some photos are from unknown sources.

I like to think, personally, that the Main Street Tobacconist shop was originally called the Tobacco Nest, and not that Disneylanders couldn't spell :-).

The fancy woodwork sign with raised gold letters at the Golden Horseshoe Revue arrived years later. It was originally three fluttering banners. The hand-painted sign on the Adventureland Bazaar was intentionally uneven--the "R" is larger than th…

Of course, a Carrousel

In 1937, just as Walt Disney was finishing up Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a merry-go-round opened in Griffith Park along the route Walt drove to work each day. Walt's daughter, Diane, was only three, but that's old enough to enjoy one of the most classic of amusement park rides.

Walt struck up a conversation with ride's owner. Ross R. Davis owned and operated merry-go-rounds in Los Angeles' Lincoln Park, Tilden Park in Berkeley, and now in Griffith Park. Davis' newest ride had been built by Spillman Engineering for San Diego's Mission Beach Amusement Center (now Belmont Park) in 1926. It had 68 hand-made horses, all jumpers, and a band organ that played more than 1,500 songs.

Walt wasn't specific in his 1948 memo describing Mickey Mouse Park, but he had a clear preference for Davis' Griffith Park design over the 1913 Herschell-Spillman ride at Henry Ford's Greenfield Village. That one was a so-called "menagerie" carousel, with chario…

Where Chemistry Works Wonders For You

Chemistry leads to the future. A future filled with rocket ships, submarines capable of sailing under the polar ice caps, new medicines, fast food, and plastics. No surprise, then, that the entrance to Tomorrowland includes the portal of the Hall of Chemistry.

A bridge over an architectural pool led through the beckoning doorway. Inside, the hall was dominated by a revolving display of eight test tubes—the Chemitron. Each test tube contained one of the "eight basic materials found in nature from which countless chemicals and plastics can be made."

Salt, Sulfur, Oil, Coal, Air, Phosphate rock, Limestone, and Water. You were expecting more periodic table? "Did you know that from coal it is possible to make over a quarter of a million different substances? From plastics to perfumes, from drugs to disinfectants—hundred of the things you use today...and will use tomorrow...are derived chemically—from coal. And thousands more will be found tomorrow."

The Chemitron (spel…

The Incredible Mr. Long

There is a small mailbox next to a dummy door at 110 Main Street. As a teenager, I tried to open that door and—for some reason—I reached into the mailbox. I found a single business card.

Dwight Stanley Long decided to see the world on his 21st birthday, but not like other men might. Dwight turned 21 in 1933, probably the worst year of the worldwide Depression. Like Walt Disney, Dwight had funds when many were poor. He bought a 32-foot ketch, the Idle Hour, and sailed around the world for the next six years as Walt created Snow White and built his Burbank studio.

Long was born in Seattle and studied journalism at the University of Washington. (Long was three years younger than Ken Anderson, who earned a BA in Architecture from UW '34, and the same age as Van France, who was also born in Seattle, but raised in San Diego. Welton Becket graduated UW '27.)

Color movies were brand new in 1933—Walt created the first color cartoon, Flowers and Trees, with help from Technicolor, only …