The Happiest Place on Earth wasn’t anything of the sort for 13 months of pandemic closure. But, happily, Disneyland began coming back to life in late April and by June 15 wasn’t facing any capacity restrictions. Now it’s celebrating the 66th anniversary of its Grand Opening July 17, 1955.
To help finance Disneyland’s construction in Anaheim, Calif., which began July 16, 1954, Walt Disney struck a deal with the then fledgling ABC-TV Network to produce the legendary DISNEYLAND series. For helping Walt raise the $17M he needed — about $135M today — ABC also got the right to broadcast the opening day events.
Originally, July 17 was just an International Press Preview and July 18 was to be the official launch. But July 17’s been remembered over the years as the Big Day thanks to ABC’s live coverage — despite things not having gone well with the show hosted by Walt’s Hollywood pals Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings & Ronald Reagan.
Live TV was in its infancy then and the miles of camera cables it used had people tripping all over the park. In Frontierland, a camera caught Cummings kissing a dancer. Walt was reading a plaque in Tomorrowland on camera when a technician started talking to him, causing Walt to stop and start again from the beginning. Over in Fantasyland, Linkletter sent the coverage back to Cummings on a pirate ship, but Bob wasn’t ready, so he sent it right back to Art, who no longer had his microphone. Outside, it was 101 degrees and high heels were sinking into freshly poured asphalt. Meanwhile, a plumbers
strike forced Walt to choose between having water for fountains or restrooms. He opted for restrooms, but then people complained it was a ploy to sell more soda. Not surprisingly, press coverage of the opening was negative. For many years, Walt and other Disney officials had unhappy memories of July 17.
Happily, things improved very quickly for Disneyland. By 1960, Walt was able to buy out ABC and other early partners. In 1995, Walt Disney Corp. acquired Capital Cities/ABC for about $19 billion, also bringing on board its president — future Disney CEO Bob Iger. Over the years, Disneyland rides have inspired some of the studio’s hit movies — like five PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN episodes and the new action comedy adventure JUNGLE CRUISE, starring Dwayne Johnson & Emily Blunt, that’s widely expected to be one of this summer’s biggest blockbusters when it opens July 30.
“To all who come to this happy place, welcome. Disneyland is your land…dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.” – Walt Disney