OUR STORY SO FAR: In 1969, Master Imagineer Marc Davis convinced Roy Disney and WED head Richard Irvine to take on the most ambitious theme park attraction Walt Disney Productions would ever attempt to produce. "Western River Expedition" - a comical journey through the old West - would have made use of every trick Imagineering had in its book. The ride would feature dozens of audio animatronic figures as well as eye-popping special effects. To top it all off, "WRE" would be housed in the largest show building WED had ever constructed.
"WRE" certainly was an ambitious project. Perhaps too ambitious. Due to the size and scale of this proposed Walt Disney World attraction, Roy and Richard decided to hold off on construction of the ride 'til after the first wave of WDW shows and attractions were up and running. That way - once Florida's Magic Kingdom was completed in October 1971 - WED would turn its full action toward turning Marc's dream into a reality.
Initially, this plan made sense to Davis. But - in December 20, 1971 - Roy Disney died. Then - for months after this - nothing that happened at Walt Disney Productions made much sense to Marc.
The Guest Relations staff at WDW's City Hall had answers for all sorts of questions:
"What is Donald Duck's middle name?" (Fauntleroy)
"Is the Swiss Family Treehouse tree real?" (Nope. It's made of steel, concrete and plastic.)
"When's the 3 o'clock parade?" ( Well ... duh.)
But one question they kept hearing from Disney World visitors, Guest Relations just didn't have an answer for.
To be specific: "Where's that 'Pirates of the Caribbean' ride?"
Initially, Guest Relations told WDW guests that "Pirates of the Caribbean" was an attraction that was exclusive to the company's Anaheim park and there were no plans to add the ride to Florida's Magic Kingdom. But that answer just seemed to make people angry.
These folks would stand there in the lobby of City Hall, stammering. "But you've got a castle, just like Disneyland," they'd say. " And a Haunted Mansion. And a Skyway. And a Dumbo ride. And a Jungle Cruise. Just like in Disneyland. So how come you don't have a 'Pirates of the Caribbean' ?"
These guests would then just stand there, expecting an answer. Then it was the Guest Relations person's turn to stammer.
Of all the mistakes the Imagineers made while making Walt Disney World (And there were some doozies. EX: "The Mickey Mouse Revue" in WDW's Fantasyland was presented in a theater that sat 500. So how come its pre-show area only had room for 300 guests?), the biggest mistake they made seemed to be *NOT* building a "Pirates of the Caribbean" attraction in WDW's Magic Kingdom.
At the time, it seemed to make sense that - in a state like Florida, which had had more than its share of rascally old rogues over the years - a ride featuring fake pirates just wouldn't have much appeal to the public. Well, someone sure forgot to tell that to the folks visiting WDW's Magic Kingdom.
When these people found out that there was no "Pirates of the Caribbean" to be found anywhere on Walt Disney World property, they'd raise holy hell. These guests filled out complaint forms and sent angry letters to Disney Corporate Headquarters. Some even made long distance phone calls to Burbank, asking to put through to "the idiot who decided not to put a 'Pirates' ride in Florida."
The Imagineers were flabbergasted by this response. I mean, they knew that Disneyland's "Pirates" was a great ride. But to have people angry - really, really angry - just because the attraction had *NOT* made the trip to Florida struck a lot of folks at WED as funny.
Well, one man at Walt Disney Productions wasn't laughing. And that was the company's new President, E. Cardon "Card" Walker. Walker - who'd picked up the reins Roy Disney's death - didn't find anything funny about people complaining about the company's theme parks.
Card had spent 33 years of his life working for Walt Disney Productions. Starting as a mail delivery boy on the lot back in 1938, Walker had steadily worked his way up the ladder 'til he became one of Walt's most trusted lieutenants. Whenever Walt had a nearly impossible task that needed to be accomplished, he always turned to Card. And damned if Walker didn't usually find a way to pull the job off.
After Walt died, Roy also came to count on Walker. Particularly in the darkest days of the Florida project, when it seemed like Walt Disney World would never be able make its announced October 1971 opening date. But Card - through charm, threats and force of personality - did manage to get the resort open on time. Though he stepped on a lot of toes to do so.
That's why Roy decided that Card should be his successor at Walt Disney Productions. When he was gone, Roy wanted to make sure that the company was run by someone who wasn't afraid of hard work, someone who was loyal to the Disney name. That described Card Walker to a "T."
So now Card was running the show at the Mouseworks. And Walker took his job seriously. VERY seriously. So when he heard that people were complaining about the "Pirates" ride not being part of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Card said " We're just going to have to build that attraction in Florida."
When the folks at WED heard about this, they tried to explain to Walker that they already had a "Pirates"-like attraction in the works for WDW. A big ambitious attractions with cowboys and indians that was going to be just as good - maybe even better - than Disneyland's "Pirates of the Caribbean." attraction.
Walker explained that the subject wasn't open for discussion. "Pirates" would be built in Florida - pronto.
And that's exactly what happened. A site for the new attraction was chosen next to the "Jungle Cruise" in WDW's Adventureland in the Spring of 1972 ( Mind you, this is less than six months after the Magic Kingdom opened). By that fall, the land had been cleared and footings for the massive show building was already being poured. Meanwhile - over at Guest Relations - the cast members were all wearing buttons that read "The Pirates are Coming! Christmas 1973!"
Meanwhile, back at WED, the Imagineers weren't exactly enthusiastic about the Florida "Pirates" project. Part of the reason was due to the quick turn-around time on the project. Since Walker insisted that the ride be up and running for the 1973 holiday season, there just wasn't time to try and improve on the existing attraction. So most scenes were just being copied verbatim from Disneyland's "Pirates of the Caribbean."
And when I say most - I mean "most." Sometimes referred to as the "Cliff Notes version of the attraction," WDW's "Pirates" is only 2/3rds as long as the Disneyland original. The quick construction schedule (in addition to the smallish budget) Walker had approved for the WDW "Pirates" project left the Imagineers no choice but to abbreviate some scenes in the attraction as well as eliminate other sequences from the ride entirely.
This last development angered a lot of people at WED. But no one more than Marc Davis. Here Marc had proposed building "Western River Expedition" because he wanted the Imagineers to push theme park design to the limit. But now Walker was making them churn out cheaper and smaller versions of attractions they'd already made years earlier.
What particularly galled Davis was that WED spent more time working on the entrance and exit areas of WDW's "Pirates" than on the attraction itself. Marc begged for the opportunity to try and make some improvements to the ride. After all, the Disneyland "Pirates" had been programmed 'way back in 1966. Wasn't it obvious that the Imagineers could improve on that ride's five year old programming?
WED Chief executive Richard Irvine initially rejected Davis' requests, out of concern that any changes to the plans to WDW's "Pirates" ride might drive up the cost of adding the attraction to Florida's Magic Kingdom. If that were to happen, Card Walker was sure to get angry. But - after weeks of his complaining and campaigning - Irvine agreed to let Marc make a few minor tweaks to WDW's "Pirates" ride.
Working with a miniscule budget, Davis tried to create a dynamic new finale for Florida's "Pirates of the Caribbean. " But - given how flat the final product turned out - it's obvious that Marc's heart wasn't really in his work while he was designing the "Looting the Treasury" sequence for WDW's "Pirates."
It was a grim, dark time for Davis at WED. But what else could Marc do? He *HAD TO* help the Imagineers get a version of Disneyland's "Pirates of the Caribbean" open in Florida as quickly as possible. Otherwise Card Walker could be unhappy.
And an unhappy Card Walker was capable of doing almost anything. Like pulling the plug on "Western River Expedition, " a project that Marc had devoted five years of his life to, a ride that seemed to be just months away from moving off WED's drawing boards into WDW reality.
So Marc gritted his teeth and did the best work that he could under the circumstances. Whenever things got too rough, Davis kept reminding himself: "They're going to build "Western River." They *HAVE TO* build "Western River." After all, they've already cleared the land over at the construction site. And they put a picture of the ride in the Disney World preview book. So that means it's going to happen. It *HAS TO* happen. Right?"
Who knew that trouble in the Middle East would end up derailing a show set in the Old West?