- Dateline: Disneyland

Waltís nephew, the Reverend Glenn Puder, leads the assemblage in a silent prayer with representatives of the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish faiths. Governor Knight follows with a few remarks calling Disneyland, "a wonderous community with all the charm of the old world and all of the progress and ingenuity of the new world." The American flag is raised as the National Anthem is played. Then itís on to the inaugural parade! Art Linkletter and eldest son Jack describe the march from high above Main Street as we catch glimpses of the Disney family, marching bands, several celebrities, Fess Parker as Davy Crockett and Buddy Ebsen as Georgie Russell, and of particular note odd representations of the classic Disney characters. For the parkís opening and a short period thereafter, Walt had to borrow costumes from the Ice Capades. They didnít quite match the cartoon look, as they were designed for ice skating. Thus it is somewhat disillusioning to see a gap-toothed Mickey Mouse and a human face peering out of Donald Duckís neck. A quick shot also captures the first appearance of what Art calls "the performing children who are going to be on the 'Disneyland Mickey Mouse Club.'" More on them later. As the parade winds down and each section representing the respective lands break away from Main Street, we return to Cummings who expresses his feelings about being part of the grand opening: "I think that anyone who has been here today will say as the people did many years ago when they were at the opening of the Eiffel Tower - I was there. I am very proud to say I was at the opening of Disneyland."

While Waltís words dedicating Disneyland are well-known, what is not commonly recalled is that all but one of the four lands had special dedications in the program too. We start off with Frontierland. In Waltís words: "It is here that we experience the story of our countryís past - the color, romance and drama of Frontier America as it developed from wilderness trails to riverboats to railroads and civilization - a tribute to the faith, courage and ingenuity of our hearty pioneers who blazed the trails and made this progress possible." In the summer of 1955, Davy Crockett was a national phenomenon and so it is appropriate that Davy and pal Georgie would play a prominent part in this area. As the senior Linkletter attempts to make mention of some of Frontierlandís attractions, including the Trading Post and Davy Crockett Museum, all his other son Robert and daughter Sharon want to see is Davy Crockett himself. With the help of a toy gun shot into the air, from off in the distance behind the Indian Village and through the Painted Desert, along comes Davy and the gang - a little late and apparently a lot wet as a sprinkler was accidentally turned on them as they rode through! The segment is highlighted by a song and dance tribute to Davyís gun "Olí Betsy" who helped him fend off some "redskins" along the trail. Different times, indeed!

Keeping with the frontier theme, but moving up a few years is the Golden Horseshoe Revue, which would run for more than 50,000 performances before a new version took over in 1986. Of course we canít skip over the Mark Twain Riverboat, particularly since it was on the verge of tipping over due to too many passengers, or as Irene Dunne exclaims, "My, itís listing!" Dunne (who mistakes Art Linkletter for Walt) christens the ship with a bottle containing water from some of the major rivers of the U.S. The Mark Twain is ready to barely make its maiden voyage around the Rivers of America! More music is then on tap as we return to "ah, yessir folks: itís Bob Cummings again!" and a Dixieland performance by the Firehouse Five Plus Two, a band consisting entirely of Disney Studio employees. There is an emphasis on the New Orleans Dixieland Jazz, but it would not be until July 1966 when New Orleans Square was added. The bandís performance is nothing short of foot-stomping fun. Cummings himself has an especially great time when he is caught on camera passionately kissing a young fan. She sees the cameraís "on" light, quickly runs off and Cummings has to do a quick but terribly flubbed recovery: "Well folks, as you can see Iíd like to stay at the Mardi Gras forever, but thereís a Dixieland train getting ready to leave the western station and we donít want to miss that. Itís taking us to more and exciting lands, so take it away on the train, Ronnie Reagan!" Love that Bob!

The freight train C.K. Holliday is shown leaving Frontierland as Reagan says, "It takes us 100 years into the future to Tommowland." Well, not quite that far. At the time the target date was 31 years or as a breathless Cummings says, "The year is 18 ... uh, 1986. Thatís way ahead!" But first there are a few words of dedication from Walt who has gotten the wrong cue: "A vista into a world of wonderous ideas signifying manís achievements ... I thought I got a signal." [an off-camera voice says something to the effect of ĎWalt, you did. Sorry.í] After a slight pause, he starts over: "Before our preview of Tomorowland, Iíd like to read these few words of dedication. A vista into a world of wondrous ideas signifying manís achievements - a step into the future with predictions of constructive things to come. Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventures and ideals: the atomic age, the challenge of outer space and the hope for a peaceful and unified world." When Disneyland opened, Tomorowland was barely completed and in fact consideration was given to delaying this sectionís opening. But it did premiere with the rest of the park containing the Rocket to the Moon attraction, the 360-degree Circle-Vision film A Tour of the West, SpaceStation X-1, a few corporate-sponsored exhibits and the very popular Autopia. It is this attraction that is the most camera-friendly as several famous celebrities whisk by: Frank Sinatra; Sammy Davis, Jr.; Don DeFore, who played neighbor Thorny on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet; and Gale Storm, the star of My Little Margie, who proclaims the Autopia to be "the greatest ride I ever had!" At the Aluminum Hall of Fame (sponsored by Kaiser and featuring an icon of a huge aluminum pig!), Heinz Haber, a scientist who served as a consultant to the Disneyland space-themed episodes, appears to offer a demonstration of atomic energy using a chain reaction sequence involving ping-pong balls on mousetraps. The balls represent atomic neutrons and when one ball, or neutron drops, it sets off all the others. According to Haber, this is "an important part of your future: the power of the atom. When you grow up, be certain that you use it wisely."

Along with his theme park, Walt wanted to build a hotel. Unfortunately there wasnít enough money to do so, so he persuaded his friends Jack Wrather (a hotel owner as well as producer of the shows Lassie and The Lone Ranger) and wife Bonita Granville to build and operate one for him. The hotel wasnít ready that first day, but would open a few months later. Speaking with Reagan near the short-lived Phantom Boats, the Wrathers offer a preview of their $10 million property located across the street. The Walt Disney Company would eventually buy out The Disneyland Hotel as well as the entire Wrather Corporation in 1988.

A look at the Rocket to the Moon ride with Linkletter and Danny Thomas follows but it is cut short due to time constraints and an audio glitch. Thatís too bad because alongside Thomas are his children including young Marlo, whom America would come to know 11 years later as That Girl and more recently as Rachelís mom on Friends.

Another break follows and next up Fantasyland is dedicated. Walt says, "Here is world of imagination, hopes and dreams. In this timeless land of enchantment, the age of chivalry, magic and make-believe are reborn and fairy tales come true. Fantasyland is dedicated to the young and to the young-at-heart: to those who believe that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true." The drawbridge of Sleeping Beauty Castle is lowered as eager children run into the enchanted land as we hear the signature Disney theme "When You Wish Upon a Star." We again see the odd-shaped characters and lots of kids running to the King Arthur Carrousel, Peter Panís Flight, Snow Whiteís Adventures, the Mad Tea Party and Mr. Toadís Wild Ride, where in the midst of all the excitement Linkletter wanders aimlessly for a moment, having lost his microphone! Of note is comedian Jerry Colona as the head engineer of the Casey Junior Circus Train. Well, sort of. It wasnít fully operational on opening day and could only travel a few feet, but that was enough for the cameras. It would officially open two weeks later. The Canal Boats of the World were operational, but there was very little to see, thus earning the nickname The Mud Bank Ride. Within a year miniature scenes from the animated features would be added and the name would change to the Storybook Land Canal Boats. Moving over to the Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship and Restaurant, "Itís Bob Cummings again!" as he speaks briefly with a grown-up Bobby Driscoll, who appeared in the live-action Treasure Island and gave voice to Peter Pan.

Most significant about this segment is a performance outside the Fantasyland Theater by those 24 "performing children" seen earlier in the parade. Of course, we know them as the Mouseketeers, who according to Cummings are "a group of talented boys and girls who will be on the Mickey Mouse Club show this fall, October 3rd. And I guarantee you that many a future star will be coming out of this group." Dressed in western attire and along with adult leaders Jimmie Dodd and Roy Williams, they sing their Friday Talent Round-Up Song capped off by the famous roll call. Soon all of America would come to love this group of extremely talented kids.

At this point time was quickly running out and it was about time to wrap up the special. But wait: havenít we forgotten something? A whole land, perhaps? Indeed, Adventureland was practically short-changed. Standing outside Sleeping Beauty Castle, Linkletter and Walt ponder this thought for a few seconds before sending it over to "Bob Cummings or somebody ought to be waiting to let us see that over there!" Yep, "itís Bob Cummings again ladies and gentlemen! We are now at the beginning of a true-life adventure into a still unconquered and untamed region of our own world." As the camera pans around it, is clear just how heavy the crowds are as guests await a ride on the Jungle Cruise, "down the tropical waterways of the world." That basically takes care of Adventureland.

After one final commercial break, itís back to Linkletter, who remarks, "Walt, youíve made a bum out of [P.T.] Barnum today." Walt laughs and responds, "I know, but I just want to say a word of thanks to all the artists, the workers and everybody that helped make this dream come true." Linkletter concludes: "Letís go into Fantasyland and have some fun. Good-bye folks!"

And thatís it. But rather than have fun, Walt would have to deal with what was going wrong. Within a short amount of time the disasters of opening day became a distant memory and Disneyland became a huge success. It would set the quality standards for theme parks that continue to this day. One bright spot of "Black Sunday" was the success of the live broadcast. Rating measures determined that a then-record 90 million viewers tuned in. No doubt many of them were soon planning their own trips to Waltís Magic Kingdom. Four years later on June 15, 1959, to celebrate the first significant expansion of Disneyland, which included the Monorail, Matterhorn, Submarine Voyage, Motor Boat Cruise and an extension of the Autopia, there was another live broadcast presented as Kodak Presents Disneyland '59. Although it was initially preserved on videotape, no copies have been located. Thatís a shame because in addition to having the rare chance to see Walt on tape, the listing of celebrities seem to indicate that it is more star-studded than the first special: Art Linkletter serves as the overall host again, along with appearances by then-Vice President Richard Nixon and his family, Roy and Edna Disney, Guy Williams, Annette Funicello, Fred McMurray, Edgar Bergen and his family, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Lawrence Welk, The Lennon Sisters, Zasu Pitts, Jon Provost with Lassie, Clint Eastwood, Dennis Hopper and more. And yes, Bob Cummings is back again, ladies and gentlemen!

Another by-product of Disneylandís success also came in the form of the many approaches Walt had to build another Disneyland-type theme park. He consistently resisted until the mid-1960s. Faced with the proliferation of gaudy hotels, shops and restaurants outside of Disneylandís 160-acre complex, Walt entertained the thought of acquiring a vast amount of land not just for a theme park, but for a complete vacation resort including an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. In November 1965, Walt announced his purchase of more than 27,000 acres near Orlando, Florida. While the futuristic city idea never panned out, the other aspects of his "Disney World" went forward. Its October 1, 1971, opening called for another major television special. While the Dateline: Disneyland program has been repeated many times over the years on The Disney Channel (and now available - albeit slightly edited - on DVD), The Grand Opening of Walt Disney World has only aired on a couple of occasions. Weíll look back at that NBC broadcast in part two of this series.

Production Credits for Dateline: Disneyland
[aka "Walt Disneyís Disneyland"]

    Executive Producer: Walt Disney
    Produced by: Sherman Marks
    Directed by: John Rich and Stuart Phelps
    Musical Director: Walter Schumann
    A Walt Disney Production in association with
    The American Broadcasting Company


- Essay by Bill Griffiths
  Photos ©Disney


E-mail your comments about this story to discuss this article in the Disney Discussion Forums or use the Talkback feature below.




This site is in no way endorsed or approved by The Walt Disney Company or any of its subsidiaries.
Please read the Copyright and Disclaimer page for more details.

Additional site information: Privacy Policy