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Wednesdays with Wade: That First Day at Disneyland

Wednesdays with Wade: That First Day at Disneyland

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The story of Dave MacPherson purchasing the first ticket for Disneyland that was sold to the general public is much more elaborate than Jim Hill recorded. MacPherson has been forgotten over the years but he was listed as the first ticket purchaser in the press material that Disneyland sent out during its 25th birthday celebration.

"Well, I had thought that perhaps someone might try to get ahead of me at the last moment. So I had prepared a sheet to the effect that I was first, and had last-minute workers and security people sign it. Sure enough, about five minutes before the gates opened a woman and two little kids tried to get in front of me. So I pulled out the sheet (like a miniature Declaration of Independence!) and showed it to her. It was like Dracula seeing the light shining on the cross and she slunk back!

After I bought the first ticket, the management gave me a special pass to all rides, etc. Since the line behind was very long and since it was hot, I thought that someone way back might want to buy my ticket that I had paid a dollar for. As I recall, I foolishly sold it for a dollar to a young man. I wish I had kept it. I can't remember buying anything or seeing a parade, but as I recall the attractions had very long lines that first day! It was hot and humid that first day, and I heard that folks standing in the long line to get in were passing out from the heat. I have no real sharp memories of the various parts of the park. I was very tired from being up all night, so I went briefly to see at a glance, so to speak, the entire layout."

It is too bad that MacPherson can't remember that day clearly because there were things that existed at Disneyland only briefly during those first few months including the infamous Mickey Mouse Circus.

One of my favorite locations to watch a Disneyland parade on Main Street was in front of a storefront that had a small, slightly elevated porch and a bench. It was perfect for my folks who could sit and even see above the heads of the people standing on the street to see the parade.

For decades I had no idea that it was originally the home of "Intimate Apparel," a shop run by Hollywood Maxwell. In the early days of Disneyland, participants (or "lessees" as they were then known) on Main Street were names that might be familiar around the turn of the century like Wurlitizer, Upjohn, Coca-Cola, etc. and the shops they sponsored help tell the story of their business as well as lend an atmosphere of authenticity to the area.

And at the turn of the century, women needed foundation garments and in 1955 Hollywood Maxwell was quite well-known especially for their padded undergarments known as "who-can-tells." Hollywood Maxwell had reportedly even supplied these falsies to top Hollywood actresses to enhance their famous silhouettes.

The Intimate Apparel storefront sold many of Hollywood Maxwell's most popular models. It also hosted a small display about corsets and other constraining garments of yesteryear. A magic mirror on the wall gave those early Disneyland guests who weren't too embarrassed to go into the shop a glimpse of the changes in fashion from 1900 to 1950 as a series of pictures were accompanied by the following narration:

"Look in the mirror and see the story of fashion. Like all stories it has two sides, but since fashion is a lady, the world can only know half of it. The truth is that even in Granny's day, being a doll required a lot of pull. Those nineties were supposed to be gay, but it took a lot of work to be stylish, and most of it was undercover as this makes clear. Needless to say, granny's secrets were well hidden. Why she'd turn green with envy if she could see the lift today's girl gets from our new line. It's designed for wear under a casual sweater or deep-throated shirt. Then for a change of mood, there's the new and intoxicating pink champagne, that lends its own sweet shape to you. You see modern girls have so many fashions to choose from, it takes a wizard to keep them in shape. That's why Hollywood Maxwell designs a bra for every fashion. To see them all just ask at your favorite store for Hollywood Maxwell, The Wizard of Bras."

Hollywood Maxwell ended its Disneyland contract in December 1956 for a variety of reasons including labor disputes and the desire of the company to shift its marketing focus to an East Coast audience. Munsingwear, Inc. acquired the company in 1958.

MacPherson wouldn't have seen anything in City Hall since it was being used as Administrative offices for Disneyland (and those offices weren't air-conditioned because Walt wanted his executives out in the park, not hiding in a cool office) nor would he have seen anything in the Opera House since it still housed the Disneyland Lumber Mill. It would be another five years or so before an exhibit popped up in the Opera House.

If MacPherson were still at least half awake, he might have gotten a snack at the Puffin Bakery Shop on Main Street or gotten a complimentary bottle of six vitamins from the Upjohn Pharmacy. (The live leeches in the huge bell jar in that shop were purely for display of how they did things around the turn of the century.) Surely, the Wurlitzer Music Hall on Main Street might have helped wake him up. (And, yes, that was a Wurlitzer organ that was operating on King Arthur's Carousel in Fantasyland.) And who comes to Disneyland to buy an organ?

The opening program at the Main Street Cinema didn't feature Mickey Mouse cartoons but consisted of seven-minute clips from early silent movies including "Dealing with Daisy," starring William S. Hart; "A Dash Through the Clouds," starring Mabel Normand; "Shifting Sands," starring Gloria Swanson; "A Noise of Bombs," starting Charlie Murray, Edgar Kennedy and the Keystone Kops; Winsor McCay's "Gertie the Dinosaur" and many glorious hand-tinted slides.

MacPherson wouldn't have wanted to waste his time riding the Canal Boats of the World because Walt didn't have the money to make the miniatures of landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben to decorate the banks so guest quickly dubbed the attraction the "Mud Bank Ride" while cast members piloting the boats tried to entertain by talking about what Walt had planned for the future.

After all, Ed Ettinger, head of public relations, hadn't yet come up with the concept of "A Day at Disneyland": $2.50 adult ticket book for eight rides and admission. That wouldn't happen until October of 1955. So MacPherson would have constantly had to reach into his pocket for money for the A, B, and C ticket rides.

And if MacPherson was hungry, thank heavens he never stumbled backstage to the cast cafeteria. The original cast cafeteria was "Harley's Tent." Harley was in charge of the "roach coaches" that had fed the construction crews building Disneyland and got permission to set up a permanent tent backstage during that first year to serve the Disneyland employees.

Although MacPherson may have gotten a chance to meet the first official resident of Disneyland: Owen Pope, who was in charge of all the horses and mules.

Hindsight, of course, is 20/20 but what missed opportunities to experience something as amazing as the almost barren Disneyland for the first time and to record those memories for those of us who weren't around during that historical period.

So Jim Hill better get finished writing "Once Upon an Orange Grove" so the rest of us can enjoy some of those stories.

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  • Just a correction on the William S. Hart film that played in the Main Street Cinema.  While an edited version of 1914's Mr. Silent Haskins  (alternate title:: Dealing For Daisy) was released in 1953, my Disney contacts insist that the movie played on Main Street was an edited version of Hart's last movie, Tumbleweeds.

  • Your first day at Disneyland is very interesting.

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