Skip to main content


Showing posts from July, 2018

Casey, Jr. Thinks He Can

"I think I can... I think I can..." The Little Engine That Could is one of the most popular children's stories of all time. The version published in 1930 as the work of Watty Piper (a pseudonym for publisher Arnold Monk) retold an older tale emphasizing the value of positive thinking. The "Story of the Engine That Thought It Could" appeared in the New York Tribune on April 8, 1906, as part of a sermon by Reverend Charles Wing.

When Disney's artists made a film version of Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl's 1939 story, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, details of the train that transported the circus from venue to venue needed inventing. Disney historian Jim Korkis wrote about the original book in 2004, and made no mention of an anthropomorphized locomotive. For the film, the undersized engine pulling cars full of elephants and other wild animals took on characteristics of the famous Little Engine That Could.

For the engine's name, Joe Grant and other artists…

So Much Carpentry!

The first building erected at Disneyland was a 14,000 square foot prefabricated steel building designed to house $50,000 worth of woodworking equipment. The studio carpentry shop was running at full tilt on the Disneyland project, but anything built in Burbank had to be trucked to Anaheim. The new Mill Shop, operational by mid-January 1955, began by fabricating the scaled-down wooden doors, dormers, railings, and double-hung windows called for by WED's plans.

The Mark Twain's superstructure, a dozen train cars, four streetcars, and a variety of wagons including Concord stagecoaches were built at the studio, but an amazing amount of carpentry was performed on-site. All the facades on Main Street, the train station and City Hall tower cupolas, the filigree of the Golden Horseshoe saloon, the turned posts of the British Colonial jungle boat dock, and even the huge pirate ship for Fantasyland, were built at, or immediately outside, the Mill, which was located between the Administ…

Walt Introduces Disneyland

The world learned that Disneyland was intended to be a real place, not just a television show, when Walt Disney told them in his debut episode. Plans were already quite far along, but nothing more than clearing, grading, utilities, and some foundations had been accomplished in the Orange County farm country.

Walt referred to the 1:48-scale model of Main Street built by Fred Joerger and Wathel Rogers, with the overall rendering of the park painted by matte artist Peter Ellenshaw on the wall behind him.

Did you get to see the original Main Street model when it was displayed on East Plaza Street at the entrance to First Aid in the early 1970s? Or later, at the Disney Gallery in New Orleans Square, perhaps?

Tiki Bars and Adventureland

Adventureland, squeezed into the plan for Disneyland at the last minute, so to speak, was largely the work of art director Harper Goff. Focused on his river ride, he created a little outpost of civilization at the jungle's edge without worrying which continent he was representing.

To reproduce the ambiance of the third world--bustling trading towns from to Leticia to Timbuktu--Goff led with exotic merchandise and used a lot of thatch. The river ride was inspired by the film The African Queen (1951), set in the Belgian Congo in Equatorial Africa, but that continent's rich design history was not yet in vogue. Goff's simple market street of one and two-story shops has been extensively remodeled over the years, partly to include more African art in the mix.

Because the theme was not geographically-specific, decorating Goff's mix of indigenous and colonial architecture was challenging. Luckily for him, interest the Pacific Islands was at a peak in the United States followin…

Pirate Ship Could Never Float

The beautifully detailed galleon at anchor in a lagoon in Fantasyland was not the slightest bit seaworthy. Instead of ribs that curved to meet at a keel, the bulging sides were framed conventionally and bolted to a concrete slab, like anyone's garage. That it looked like a real boat is a testament to the skill of its designers—Bruce Bushman and Don DaGradi got the window credit—and the carpenters and others, including sculptors Chris Mueller and Blaine Gibson, who created it. The authentic masts and rigging were provided under contract by Todd Shipyards.

Upjohn's Apothecary Was Enthusiastically Real

Main Street, U.S.A. was listed as one of Disneyland's many "free exhibits" in some early materials. Many of the sponsored shops featured priceless, one-of-a-kind antiques on display. The Yale and Towne lock shop put some very old devices out, U.S. Time's Timex shop exhibited bejeweled timepieces, there were vintage pianos at the Wurlitzer corner, and antiques at the Bank of America, but no sponsor outdid Upjohn Pharmaceutical's Apothecary.
Upjohn's president, Donald Sherwood Gilmore, was fast friends with Walt Disney. Gilmore lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but vacationed at Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs, where he and Walt would ride horses and relax. Gilmore, son of a department store founder, proved himself invaluable to his step-father and father-in-law, William Erastus Upjohn, the inventor of the modern friable pill and founder of the pharmaceutical company. Don Gilmore admired intricate silver work and collected vintage automobiles. Don't worry, Wal…

The World of Tomorrow, circa 1953

This sketch illustrates the plan drawn October 8, 1953 by Marvin Davis. The atmospheric rendering, reportedly drawn by art director Dale Henessy, son of Disney artist Hugh Henessy, imagines looking down the entrance avenue, flanked by exhibit spaces, toward the circular courtyard dominated by the Rocket Ship theater. In the days before commercial jet travel, an Aviation Exhibit (on the left) would illustrate how far modern airplanes had come from the Wright brothers. Davis later developed the suspended monorail (left of center), reached by a rooftop station, that would offer a winding, curvy view of the entire land.

Art director Gabriel Scognamilo was hired to help imagine the future in 1954, but this rendering shows the pre-Scognamilo future. Artist John Hench was thinking about cigar-shaped rocket ships (four years before Sputnik) and ways to fool an audience into believing that they were still inside the rocket they thought they had entered (if that makes sense).

The open, covered…

It Was 63 Years Ago Today

Walt Disney had shown many celebrities, reporters, and friends around his new park, but he must have been especially excited this hot Monday morning. The people waiting outside the turnstiles were the park's first paying customers.

The park wasn't quite ready--a number of attractions that were supposed to be finished were not, quite. The shows that were ready had been previewed at the televised party the day before, but Circarama didn't make it. It would see its first audience in a few minutes, fingers crossed.

Hot Rods and Dune Buggies

Los Angeles in the fifties--Jalopies, souped up Model A's. Charlie Ryan first recorded Hot Rod Lincoln in 1955. The Chevrolet Corvette, introduced in limited numbers in 1953, was the first generally available car with a fiberglass body. In LA, hobbyists were making rugged off-road vehicles for desert driving known as dune buggies.

At the Disney studio in Burbank, machinist Roger Broggie was trying to source a go-kart for kids to drive on a "freeway of the future" for Tomorrowland. In mid-1954, a ride importer delivered a little car made in West Germany on spec. It was painted yellow and green, smelled bad because the two-cycle engine burned oil, and had "Disneyland" painted across the front. A fleet of oil burners didn't sound very attractive, so Broggie contracted with a hot rodder named Johnny Hartman in Montrose, California to develop a welded steel go-kart that needed a body.

In the meantime, a junior accountant in the Disney payroll office threw himsel…

McNeil Construction Clears Trees, Shapes Rivers and Hills

Disneyland on Wednesday, September 22, 1954, after tree clearing and the start of preliminary grading. The house circled in white is George Vandenberg's house--the "White House" mentioned in Van France's book "Window on Main Street." The house circled in black is the Dominguez family's home. The house below and to the left is the home of Gerard R. & Anita B. Callens. This house and the Dominguez home would be moved and connected to form the park's first Administration building.

Bruce Bushman, Disney Legend

Original imagineer Bruce Bushman has not been recognized by the Walt Disney Company as a "Legend," and that's an omission—he had a tremendous influence on the design of Disneyland.

Bruce was born in New Jersey on April 20, 1911, the son of film star Francis X. Bushman and his first wife, Josephine Fladune. He and his brothers and sisters were raised in Baltimore by their mother. Josephine moved to Santa Monica, California in the late 1920s and Bruce followed around 1931. He attended UCLA and the Chouinard Art Institute and made his living as an artist before joining Walt Disney Productions in the late 1930s.

Bruce was a layout artist on Pinocchio (1940), co-art directed the Nutcracker Suite sequence in Fantasia (1940), and laid out many short cartoons. His first screen credit was on the short First Aiders (1944), and he contributed to the classic short Pigs is Pigs (1954).

Bushman became a sketch artist for the live action film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in late 1953, …

Welcome to Inventing Disneyland

This will introduce the new website Inventing Disneyland, where we will discuss the creative team that invented the original Disneyland in 1955. Welcome!

Although Walt had dreamed of a park since the 1930s, Disneyland was first described in a memo from Walt Disney to artist Richmond Irwin "Dick" Kelsey in August 1948, and plans were made for a Tivoli-sized park in Burbank and a traveling show of Disneyana, but the concerted effort that invented what the world knows as Disneyland began in May 1953. The park was, in many ways, still being invented after opening July 17, 1955.

"After the third or fourth day, the appeal factors never really changed after that," the park's original general manager, C. V. Wood, Jr., told me. How to deal with celebrity visitors, the ABCs of tickets, and seasonal events all had yet to be worked out. I think the "inventing" period only ended when C. V. Wood resigned in January 1956.