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Wednesdays with Wade: Linkletter looks back at Disneyland's beginnings

Wednesdays with Wade: Linkletter looks back at Disneyland's beginnings

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Art Linkletter was a close personal friend and neighbor of Walt Disney before he was asked to host the opening ceremonies of Disneyland in 1955. He also hosted the "Second Opening of Disneyland" in 1959 although that rare bit of video history seems to be lost to the ages. Isn't it odd that a copy of that ninety-minute special that was sponsored by Kodak and aired in 1959 has never surfaced in any Disney collector collection? Parts of that special were used in the "Gala Day at Disneyland" theatrical short. And, yes, you can count me among those fans that feel that Linkletter should be involved in hosting the 50th birthday celebration at Disneyland. Despite nearly a century on this planet, Linkletter is still sharp and charming.

Walt Disney even provided an introduction to Linkletter's 1957 book, "Kids Say the Darndest Things" based on conversations from Linkletter's popular segment on his successful television show. (Illustrations for the book were done by Charles "Peanuts" Schulz so you can see the power of Linkletter.) And yes, when Disney released that new Pirates of the Caribbean game following the format of the game of "Life", they had to get permission from Art himself since he owns the game and the original version even featured his face on every $100,000 bill.

Linkletter was given a "Gold Pass" so he visited Disneyland often in the early years with his family. The following is an excerpt from the September 1960 issue of "The Ford Times", a special publication of the Ford Motor Company given to new owners of Ford automobiles. This essay was authored by Linkletter to share with readers across the United States the wonders of Disneyland and its recently installed new attractions.

The article was entitled "A Child's Garden of Fantasy" and included illustrations by Ralph Hulett, a Disney background artist, who began his Disney career in the Thirties, worked on many of the animated features and passed away in 1974. He was also a renowned as a watercolor painter and his interpretation of Disneyland is charmingly in the style of a children's book.

I can't vouch for all of Linkletter's facts in this article but it certainly is fun reading a perspective from someone who was actually there in the early days of Disneyland.

"In the five years since Disneyland threw open its doors, twenty-three million people have walked up its Main Street, U.S.A. Although adults outnumber children four to one, Disneyland is truly a child's garden of fantasy. And adults, often as not, turn into children for a few enchanted hours as they view the dreams and legends of childhood, much of it in five-eighths scale.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle, the paddlewheel steamboat, Mark Twain, and cars of the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad are a few of the attractions built to exact scale. The reduced size is for the benefit of smaller children who find it easy to lose themselves in the illusion that they are grown-up people in a real world because of the exactness of detail which the Disney craftsmen and researchers have put into their creation.

Take Walt's Main Street, period 1890. Its researchers looked through thousands of early American out-of-print texts. As a result, you can immerse yourself and your children in a half-century of American history during the two-hundred-yard walk from the railroad station to the town square.

Kids are sharp, but it still surprises me sometimes how quick and keen their perceptions and associations can be. One time I saw a youngster standing by one of Main Street's hitching posts, and overheard him say: 'Mommy, aren't those funny looking parking meters?'

Though Disneyland is an integral part of the community, and many of the youngsters living in surrounding Anaheim and Orange counties have parents working there, the children still bask in the garden of fantasy and believe in the park's famous inhabitants-Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and Peter Pan. Almost every day some local child phones to ask: 'Can Donald Duck come out to play?' The answer, or solution, to this eager question is: 'Sorry, Donald is taking his nap'.

Sometimes it is hard to tell the kids from their parents, because the older folks get as starry-eyed as their young while traveling through Nature's Wonderland aboard a mine train or pack mule, or with an Indian guide, paddling in the thirty-five foot war canoe to the Indian Villages scattered along the Rivers of America. Guests ride horse-drawn surreys, turn the old hand crank movies, and whoop off down Main Street, having 'answered the alarm' in a 1900 model firehouse-red wagon or hook and ladder.

Everyone, no matter what age is caught up in the three-dimensional worlds of wonder. It is easy to remember how your scalp prickled with fright when the genius of Mark Twain trapped you vicariously in *** Joe's Cave. When you cross Disneyland's mainland to 'Tom Sawyer Island' on the log rafts; when you explore Teetering Rock and view the Bottomless Pit in *** Joe's Cave, you quake with the same dread-but it is fear without danger.

Moods change like quicksilver in Disneyland. It is only a bounce and sway across the suspension bridge (rod and reel supplied if you want to fish for real fish) to fabulous Fantasyland. Here are the 'scary' rides, the children's favorites-on Peter Pan's flight you are off in a pirate galleon over moonlit London town above the chiming of Big Ben and past Captain Hook's Hideaway. Alice in Wonderland comes alive when you-and your children-visit Upside Down Room, Tulgey Wood and the Mad Tea Party hosted by the Mad Hatter himself.

Outside Fantasyland your kids will patiently wait while you buy them one of Walt's decorative hats. What they want more than anything, though, is another ride with the wild Mr. Toad.

Each youngster likes a different ride or a different attraction, and each for a different reason. On my 'House Party' show, I frequently ask the kids if they've been to Disneyland and if so, what they like best. One youngster said recently: 'I like the scary rides, like the Matterhorn Bobsled run; but daddy always takes me on the submarine-he likes the mermaids.'

My own youngest, Dianne, now thirteen, likes the adventure and action rides. She could spend a week in the speed boat on the whitewater rapids, or on the jungle cruise through alligator-infested waters where stampeding elephants and cannibals threaten each boatload of explorers.

Robert, my sixteen year old son, looking forward to the time when he can drive his own car, loves anything with wheels. I have a hard time getting him off Tomorrowland's Super Autopia. Walt has 150 one-cylinder, air-cooled, gasoline-powered midgets. Robert has driven every one, and he can explain the special characteristics of each. If he's not riding the four-wheelers he's on the full-size Monorail system racing along Disneyland's concrete highway in the sky. This practical transit system has been the subject of inspection and study by many transit committees of major urban areas.

Sharon, our fifteen year old daughter, has a teenager's curiosity about everything. She likes the Submarine Voyage, which visits the 'world's longest (and saddest) sea serpent', the Graveyard of Sunken Ships, and the Lost Continent of Atlantis with its fiery volcano in action.

Topside, Sharon is crazy about the animals. There are 195 horses and mules. And now that Nature's Wonderland has opened with its cast of 200 'performing' animals and birds, Sharon has made me promise to take her to the park again.

My own favorite ride happens to be the Jungle River Cruise. The overworked expression, 'You are there' describes your sensation in the jungle river boat. When the guide pulls his pistol to fire at an approaching hippo, you jump back for fear of losing a leg. Through all of this Cook's Tour of the jungle, the guide keeps up a constant spiel that is full of comedy and homespun humor. Together, the action and the dialogue are equal to an $8.80 seat at any of Broadway's comedy reviews.

Of course, all sorts of famous people, celebrities from far and near, have explored Disneyland-kings, queens, princes, prime ministers, actors and actresses. Disneyland does something to, and for, all of us. But for some special reason and in some special way it's the kids who come up with the strange comments-sometimes funny, sometimes touching.

"For example, in Tomorrowland, there's the 'Man from Mars'. The park employee inhabiting the Martian costume was a baseball fan. He had installed his tiny transistor radio in his helmet. The noises emanating from the communications head-piece as he listened to the game sounded a little as if Venus were calling the Earth. But one kid recognized the sounds and said excitedly to his father: 'Gee, Dad, the Martians like the Dodgers, too!'

While on the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad, which covers 160 acres of the park, one youngster said to his mother: 'Mom, is brother Charlie going with us on the Matterhorn ride?' 'Yes,' she answered, "Why?' 'Well,--he got off at the last station.'

And here's one I like especially. It took place on the Submarine Ride, as the captain chanted to his crew: 'Polar Cap ahead-take her down deep....ladies and gentlemen, we are now under the North Pole'. Whereupon a five year old piped up with: 'Daddy, can we get out and visit Santa Claus?'

How real, how wonderful, how enchanting is this child's garden of fantasy!"

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