Monday, July 18, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 427: Black Sunday In The Magic Kingdom

I don't think my family owned a TV set during the Summer of 1955. But if we had, I'm sure it would have been tuned to the same channel 50% of televisions were tuned to the night of July 17th -- the live broadcast of the opening of Disneyland.

From the moment we did get a TV set (maybe a year or two later) the Sunday night Disney hour was sacrosanct. I owned a "Davey Crockett" coonskin cap, dressed as "Zorro" on Halloween and followed the adventures of "Johnny Tremaine", "Texas John Slaughter" and "Elfego Baca". 

Interspersed with these were Mickey Mouse Cartoons, wildlife documentaries and Werner Von Braun explaining how we'd get to the moon -- as well as Walt Disney himself extolling the charms of his Magic Kingdom.

I didn't make it to Disneyland until I was in my mid-20's and visiting friends in Los Angeles. They promised to take me there my first Saturday in town and even fixed me up with a "beautiful California Blonde" named Bambi as my date.

Bambi turned out to be quite beautiful and blonde -- and was also 12 years old. But any disappointment I might've felt was short lived because -- because the company of a kid (especially one who knew how to get past the lines for "E" Ticket rides) helped the magic of the place come alive.

As of today, 61 years later, 3/4 of a Billion people have visited Disneyland. But what a lot of people don't know is that it almost didn't make it past opening day -- a day that became known as "Black Sunday".

Disney's skill at promotion and the popularity of his films and TV show had raised interest in the park to a fever pitch. And despite a carefully chosen guest list of family and friends, more than 30,000 people arrived at the front gates. Most with forged tickets.

People were seen literally tossing their children over the heads of early arrivals to make sure they got to the front of the line. Overwhelmed ticket takers had no choice but to open the gates to anyone who wanted in.

Food ran out. Rides broke down under unexpected traffic and the Paddle-wheeler "Mark Twain" ran aground from the sheer weight of its passengers. 

Sleeping Beauty's castle was pillaged for souvenirs and restrooms couldn't handle the overflow -- partly because a Plumber's strike had forced Walt Disney to choose between building the number required and making sure the plaster elephants on the African Cruise ride could shoot water from their trunks.

And the entire fiasco was broadcast live, with various celebrity hosts cutting back and forth to maintain the feeling that nothing was wrong, while everything collapsed around them.

That broadcast is still with us, a reminder of just what it's like to do live television and a testament to how professionals behave in a crisis.

61 years ago today.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

1 comment:

aarrkk ark said...

I've long thought I should see this grand bit of set-deccery