Thursday, October 27, 2016

Three Score and Two Years Ago

President Emeritus Tom Sito relates:

Oct. 27, 1954- The" Disneyland" television show premiered. Up until then the major Hollywood Studios were all boycotting the new upstart medium of television, then mostly done in New York by blacklisted stage actors and writers. MGM Production head Dori Schary called TV “the Enemy”.

Walt Disney is the first to break ranks with the major film studios and get into television production. He even films the shows on film in Technicolor, figuring television will develop color broadcasting eventually. ...

For mortals today, it's hard to fathom that Walt Disney Productions, now a muscular, international conglomerate, was hanging onto solvency by a wispy thread.

Walt's television show was part of a larger deal with ABC to co-finance his amusement park in Anaheim. ABC bought Disney's weekly anthology show (also the Monday-through-Friday "Mickey Mouse Club") and sank a bunch of money into the Orange County Disneyland for a ten percent stake.

The park was built in a year. When it opened, the place was an immediate hit, and pulled Walt Disney Productions away from the insolvency that had stalked the company for the previous ten years. (The popular animated feature Lady and the Tramp also helped).

Walt Disney Productions was a different animal in 1954. The animation staff was far from the highest paid group of artists in the animation industry, but the lot had a relaxed atmosphere, there were lunchtime softball games on the ball field where the Team Disney building stands today, and employees often performed double duty: animation gagman Roy Williams was the "Big Mooseketeer" on the Mickey Mouse Club; animation staff motored down to Anaheim to paint murals and work on Fantasyland dark rides in the months and weeks before the park opened in the middle of '55.

Disney staffers were, at the time, enfolded in a corporate paternalism that departed the Walt Disney Company decades ago.

But then, the fifties were a different universe from the one humanity occupies today. America was the premiere economic power on the planet, and Americans, by a country mile, enjoyed the highest standard of living.

A different universe. As was, then, Walt Disney Productions.


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