Remembering Disneyland Circa 1950s
B. Cheny recently wrote ALL EARS® to share his
memories of the early days at Disneyland.
We wanted to share them with you.
Our family was among the 35,000 invited guests for Opening Day in July 1955; I was 8 years old, my brother 11. Unfortunately it was a mess. The 2-1/2 hour backup on the Santa Ana Freeway made our trip from North Hollywood arrive at the completely full parking lot at about 1:30 in the afternoon. My brother and I were unable to get on any rides, since they either broke down (Mark Twain Riverboat) or were hopelessly congested. The rides were free but, as I said, unreachable.
Highlight of Opening Day for my family was the TV broadcast, on which my brother and I appear twice, once with Bob Cummings from Tomorrowland, and me by myself with Heinz Haber (German rocket scientist) in a mousetraps-and-pingpong-balls demonstration of a "chain reaction." I would pay real money to have a tape of the broadcast, since my memories of 50 years ago are fading fast.
A much more memorable occasion was the Studio Party for employees and their kids in October 1957. A tent was set up in the picnic area and the Mouseketeers entertained us.
Jimmy Dodd was MC, and although Annette was absent, we got Darlene, Cubby and at least six others. Jimmy made periodic announcements of the score of the ongoing World Series game between the Yankees and the Braves. After the party we kids lined up to shake Walt's hand. My memory is of a dapper, broadly smiling Walt sincerely pleased just to meet me.
For seven years my mother saw Walt at the Studio daily, since her office (Character Merchandising) was located just above Ink and Paint where Walt often hung out–the man was never deskbound. My brother and I were frequent summer visitors at the Studio since my mother didn't know what to do with us when she couldn't afford camp. I met Ducky Nash, Pinto Colveig (Goofy), Guy Williams, Fred McMurray, the cast of Spin and Marty, Fess Parker and many others. Eating at the Commissary was great, since all the actors showed up in costume for lunch. My mother hung around the soundstages quite a bit when Sean Connery (and Janet Munro) were filming "Darby O'Gill"; she thought he was the most handsome man on the planet, an opinion others have since shared.
Since employees got press passes or free ticketbooks we visited the park monthly for five years. I remember the first A/B/C ticketbooks and the long, long one for the train ride around the park–there was a separate "ticket" for each Land plus coupons for important stops between Kansas City and Los Angeles, the same train trip Walt took in 1923 to get out here.
We left Disney in 1960 as my father took us to Europe for five years. For a quarter century thereafter, my mother was able to call the Studio and get us free passes to the Park–unless you were an animator you never left Disney and they never forgot you. Although pay was low for everybody (my mother made $280 a month maximum as a secretary, a supporting actor/contract player like our neighbor Harry Carey Jr. got $200/week and could afford only a small house on Stern Ave. where we both rented), the family atmosphere was awesome.
I saw the Matterhorn being built; at one time you could spot it from 4-5 miles away on the interstate. Now you have to be standing at the Main Gate.