This past weekend, fans gathered at Walt Disney World’s Contemporary Resort Hotel for the opening of D23’s look back on a pivotal point in Disney’s history: The 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. This was day one of Destination D: Attraction Rewind and the “D” could have easily described delight AND discovery.
Inside, some large pieces of Disney history welcomed attendees.
The event experience began as guests received their credentials a surprise loomed inside the bag of swag: Stamp’d23 – a mousterpiece of modern technology: on a mobile device with the D23 website open, the ‘stamp’ is placed on the screen and exclusive content is unlocked, the first of which was a welcome video by Colonel Critchlow Suchbench (the half bodied, gin and tonic loving Grenadier from the Adventurers Club) that set the tone for the weekend.
In main event room, ceremonies were brought to order with a welcome from the new head of D23 and the Disney Archives, Adam Sanderson. He introduced day’s topic, the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, celebrating its 50th anniversary. Hostess Kristen Rodack from D23 then reminded attendees of that the treat they were about to experience was the most comprehensive look back at the World’s Fair that the Disney Company has shared publicly.
It all began as Disney Historian Bill Cotter set the stage with an overview of the historic event, a presentation called “Welcome to the World’s Fair.” An overview of the mammoth event was revealed in dozens of images from the time.
– References to the 1939 World’s Fair held at the same site; the same roads and fireworks techniques were again used in the 1964-65 fair.
– Several Fair Firsts: including a family sized photo booth that featured a new “touch tone” technology, carbonless copy paper introduced by NCR, and computers (the size of a hotel room) had their first ‘use’ by the public (IBM, NCR and NY State)
These gems and more can also be viewed on Mr. Cottler’s World’s Fair website: worldsfairphotos.com.
Disney Legends Marty Sklar and Bob Gurr then discussed “Walt Disney – A Giant at the New York World’s Fair”. The playful interaction between Marty and Bob had the amusing delight that would make any topic entertaining, and almost eclipsed their passionate presentation.
– It’s a Small World, through the use of boats to convey guests, increased guest hourly capacity from the average of 1100 for attractions prior to the fair, to an amazing 3800 an hour.
– The same day the 1964-1965 World’s Fair opened, Disney purchased the first piece of property for Walt Disney World in FL.
When asked about what they attraction they would come up for a World’s Fair in today’s time, both Marty and Bob agreed that a Fair today would be unlikely due to how fast information moves and how the high expectations of modern audiences would make it very difficult to amaze.
(A similar presentation was also given by the same two, along with Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald, at the recent IAAPA Expo just a few days prior.)
Stacia Martin’s discussion of Disney Music Magic at the New York World’s Fair began with an overview all that the Disney company was doing as work commenced on the four famous fair pavillions.
This included the debut of the very first animatronic attraction: The Enchanted Tiki Room; movies like Son of Flubber, The Sword and the Stone, Mary Poppins; and the popular Wonderful World of Color and segments for the Mickey Mouse Club TV shows.
Among the many hints of history, guests learned that Buddy Baker was asked to weave classic patriotic American tunes into the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Baker was also ‘instrumental’ in stylizing the famous Carousel of Progress song into various musical styles (from Victrola to rocket ships) over the years eras experienced in the rotating ride.
“Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” had Disney Historian Michael Kelly introducing (and chatting with) Former Imagineer Jack Gladish. Originally conceived as part of a Hall of Presidents for Liberty Street (a never built Disneyland attraction), the Lincoln attraction was created as a scaled down version of the for the State of Illinois pavilion.
Details in the creation of a brand new form of entertainment, Audio Animatronics, included challenges in creating an effective flexible ‘skin’ and a pesky program problem traced to fluctuating power flow that would cause the 16th President to flail as the power frequency changed. Jack also relayed how a cleaner at the warehouse, upon finding Lincoln’s head on a crate, ran out screaming “he looked at me!”
“Ford’s Magic Skyway” saw the return of Bill Cotter and Bob Gurr to the stage. As the only 1964-65 NY World’s Fair attraction not fully transferred to Disneyland (with the exception of the famous dinosaurs now found along the railroad journey), the pavillion was as much about queue entertainment (including an orchestra of engine parts) as it was the Magic Skyway journey through history of mankind (in Ford vehicle “time machines”).
During the hour long history lesson, Bob again entertained the crowd with more fascinating (if not outright humorous) anecdotes: As the ground under the Ford building was not paved, box lunches would be enjoyed sitting on the mounds of dirt, watching the steady flow of mice scatter as the Pinkerton guards – also on a lunch break – would fire their 45 pistols at the ever-present creatures.
The presentation culminated in a video ride-through of Ford’s Magic Skyway (narrated by Walt Disney). Of particular interest were show scenes that seem to foreshadow EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth (both in scenes and “‘time machine” vehicles), Horizons and World of Motion. Bill hinted that this virtual trip back in time should be available online sometime soon.
The Path to Progressland proved positively passionate in Disney Legend Marty Sklar and Imagineer Gary Landrum’s discussion about the “Carousel of Progress.” With its origins in Edison Square, fans were advised how this attraction originally designed for side street/walk thru at Disneyland was a similar show to Carousel, without the theater (telling story of electricity and how it changed the world).
Showing some concept drawings for Carousel, Marty told everyone that attraction concept art was “specifically vague” (citing the art of Herb Ryman and John Hench) – they were specific enough to show what was in it, but vague enough to allow sponsor input for something they might want included, stating how could tell the client “oh, that’s really in it, it’s not detailed in this particular drawing”.
At Gary’s request, Marty then recalled a related lighthearted story about working with Walt Disney. In discussion about Pirates of the Caribbean, Walt said that the pirates were going to be running around, burning and sacking the town and then they are going to do some pretty exciting ‘things’ – a tag Walt used to use a lot, leaving Marty and others to wonder just what those other ‘things’ could be. Marty and Gary continued to detail the work and people involved in making this iconic show that is the said to be the longest running theater show in history.
During the talk, when a photo of several Disney Legends was shown, Marty also relayed the story of how artist Marc Davis was brought over to WED when Walt asked him to take a peek at the park and give his opinion. Marc did just that and advised Walt that the one thing missing was humor. He pointed out that in all of Disney’s movies mirth was a strong point them and the park needed comedy too (at that time the Jungle Cruise, for example, was presented as a straight forward ‘true life’ adventure). Thanks to Marc Davis, bathing elephants, trapped safari men and more are now key elements to the famous river ride.
To chat about “It’s a Small World”, Tim O’Day introduced Disney Legend Bill “Sully” Sullivan. (Alice Davis was scheduled to appear but not able to attend the event due to health reasons; Tim assured us that she was resting and doing well). During their chat about “the most Disney-like” of the World’s Fair Attractions, D23 members learned about what it was like to work with Disney Legends Marc Davis and Mary Blair.
Tim reminded fans that the “happiest cruise that ever sailed around the world” was always in the top 10 for the fair’s attractions (many times in the top 5). However the ride and its famous song almost didn’t happen. According to O’Day, co-sponsor Pepsi almost didn’t go for the concept – until one the board members, Joan Crawford, who knew Walt, insisted on green-lighting the project.
It’s a Small World was actually a flume ride, the first of its kind, according to Sully. It also was the only Disney attraction to be completed (concept to opening) in only 11 months. Video of Walt and Rolly Crump touting the tower 4 winds, a 12 story centerpiece to the attraction, was also shared.
Sketches of Alice Davis’ costume art work were also shown. Alice believed each doll in the ride to have its own personality and has a personal favorite she called ‘the girl in the tutti-fruity hat’ (shown to an image of a Carmen Miranda-like doll).
Wrapping up this magical time trip was a moving clip commemorating the 50th anniversary of It’s a Small World, featuring songwriter Richard Sherman. This touching tribute was highlighted by singers from all over the world singing the instantly recognized iconic song – culminating with the final line sung on board the international space station with a view of that very small world.
During the “Lost on the Way to the Fair” presentation, Walt Disney Archives director Becky Cline revealed a never produced Coca-Cola/Disney movie that would have seen various elves and sprites playfully enjoying a drink under a waterfall of carbonated water (where an elf named Clumsy accidentally dropped fruit into the magical water to create Coca-Cola).
While the animated feature was never drawn, Coke and Disney did team up for Walt Disney’s very first TV special – the Christmas day 1950 “One Hour in Wonderland” special featuring Walt Disney, Edgar Bergin & Charlie McCarthy, Bobby Driscoll, Katherine Beaumont, star of the upcoming Alice in Wonderland.
Disney and Coke continued to enjoy a partnership with the cola company’s sponsor ship of Disneyland (Coke Corner). In 1962 Coke representatives were shown “One Nation Under God” (forerunner to Hall of Presidents), but did not feel it a good fit for their company. A second concept was pitched: The Enchanted Tiki Room – as read by Becky from a September 10th letter (out of the Coke archives). The script would be reworked to a show entitled “Legends of the Enchanted Island” – this time in large theater that would have a 31,000 guest daily capacity.
Sadly, in 1963 Coca-Cola determined it was not financially feasible to incur the expense of changing their existing plans. Becky beamed that artwork Marc Davis and Colin Campbell created for the project was just recently discovered (mislabeled as the Enchanted Tiki Room) along with the script for the potential pavilion. D23 members were treated to a reading of the script and images of the concept art, complete with erupting volcano and crashing thunderstorm, seen above.
The finale of day 1 of Destination D: Attraction Rewind was a highly anticipated look into a “great big beautiful tomorrow” as Supervising Art Director Ramsey Avery dished a sneak peek into creating the look for Disney’s upcoming feature film, “Tomorrowland”.
After thrilling the audience with an opening scene from the movie (spoiler filled synopsis below!), Ramsey shared the difficulty in finding just the right location to recreate the pivotal NY World’s Fair and remain within budget. Orlando’s Tupperware Center was considered, but eventually Vancouver’s Simon Frasier University was used.
Next the process of finding the right look was described in detail: trials and tribulations of getting 1960s period vehicles (including finding an accurate 1960s Small World boat) and period architecture, and having to take artistic license where copyright owners could not be found. The end result is a ‘feel’ that is emotionally true to the spirit of the fair.
SPOILERS: The shown movie clip opened with a young boy (Frank) on a 1950’s bus arriving at the beautifully vivid 1964-65 NY World’s Fair, complete with all the electrifying bustle and iconic structures one would expect of the huge festival). “Flushing Meadows, Corona Park, Worlds Fair! Don’t forget your valuables and enjoy the future.” cries the bus driver as Frank departs and is amazed by the activity of a thriving fairground.
We follow young Frank as he journeys through the fair’s attraction, including stops at the Carousel of Progress and the integral probability machine. The scene cuts to Frank sitting on a bench just outside the Kodak pavilion where a young girl hands him a pin (a stylized “T”), encouraging him to follow.
Fred is then seen alone in a boat traversing the It’s a Small World attraction, with the young girl who gave him the pin briefly glimpsed in a boat ahead of him. A laser projects from the ceiling and traces the pin he just received. The ride stops, the floor drops and the boat plummets along a steep flume to eventually glide to a stop along a lonely dock with a solitary white building. (Now THAT’s a ride!)
Upon entering the new room, a speaker makes an announcement after which an elevator-like transport activates and Frank is transported to the future. End of scene. Just a tease of the futuristic take on Disney’s history that’s to come in “Tomorrowland” when it hits theaters on May 22, 2015.
Along with a D-lightful first day of discovery, D23 guests were treated to a pop-up version of Walt Disney Imagineering’s Mickey’s of Glendale store, complete with event specific merchandise. Another amazing allure was a new “Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives” exhibit featuring souvenirs from the 1964-65 NY World’s Fair, props from attractions (including a figure of Mr. Toad!), and a working Mold-A-Rama machine, still spewing out injection mold-made Mickeys, all seen in the video and photos below.
We’ll have much more to come from Destination D: Attraction Rewind after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, including an in-depth look at day 2 as well as the finale Pleasure Island: Rewind party.
Photos from Destination D: Attraction Rewind day 1: