You know, it's kind of fitting that Harrison "Buzz" Price's book, "Walt's Revolution: By the Numbers" (Ripley Entertainment, May 2004) came out within months of the late John Hench's great volume on theme park design, "Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show" (Disney Press, October 2003).
For -- in these two books -- you have it all. The Yin and Yang of the entire theme park industry. Hench explained how the placement of attractions, how the use of color can make guests enjoy their stay at the parks even more. Whereas Price ... well, Buzz is a numbers guys from 'way back.
How far back? Price used to work for the Stanford Research Institute, the outfit that Walt Disney hired when he was looking for a suitable location for his Disneyland project. Working with his associate at SRI -- the legendary C. V. Wood -- Buzz found the right spot at the right price. An orange grove near the intersection of the Santa Ana Freeway and Harbor Boulevard.
Price was so dead on with his predictions for this project that Walt made Buzz his "go-to" guy when it came to numbers. So -- whenever Disney wanted to know if a project was fiscally feasible (be it an indoor theme park in St. Louis, a ski area in Northern California or an enormous resort in Florida) -- Price was the guy he turned to.
So Buzz was there when so much of Disney history was made in the 1950s and 1960s. And he shares all of those great stories in "Walt's Revolution." But -- more importantly -- he shares the hard facts and formulas that lead to why certain projects failed and certain projects flew.
Take -- for example -- that infamous indoor theme park that Disney supposedly toyed with building in St. Louis in the early 1960s. Now urban legend will tell you that the reason that "Disney's Riverboat Square" never set sail was because Augustus Busch insulted Walt at a reception (supposedly telling the movie mogul that "... anyone who'd build an attraction in St. Louis that doesn't sell beer is a fool").
Well, Buzz dismisses that story. He insists that the real reason that "Disney's Riverboat Square" never got built was because the project's profit margins were too small. Through stories like these, Price makes you aware that Walt Disney wasn't just a creative genius. He was also a hard nosed, clear eyed businessman.
"Walt's Revolution" also walks you through all the struggles that the Disney organization went through to find just the right location for "Project Summer" (AKA the East Coast Disneyland). Buzz brings you the behind-the-scenes stories about all the near misses: How Walt Disney World was almost built on 12,000 acres just to the north of Palm Beach as a joint project between Walt Disney Productions, RCA, NBC and billionaire insurance man John McArthur. Among other locations.
Plus -- given that Price has worked for virtually every other theme park company in the industry -- you get to hear all of these great "tales out of school" about the folks who ran Knotts Berry Farm, Universal Studios, Six Flags as well as the Sea World parks. With each of these chapters offering unique insights into why particular projects succeeded or failed.
Seriously, folks: If you're giving any thought to working in the theme park industry someday, then Harrison "Buzz" Price's "Walt's Revolution: By the Numbers" is a book you have to pick up and read to cover to cover. Don't be swayed by all the great behind-the-scenes anecdotes and gossip. (Though -- that said -- I really enjoyed Buzz's description of his times with C.V. Wood. Given that the Walt Disney Company has gone out of its way -- over the years -- to deliberately erase virtually all mention of "The Master Builder of Disneyland," it's great to finally have a volume that gives readers some hard information as well as some real insight into this mysterious figure from Disneyland's past.) The hard numbers and formulas offer some truly great insights into how theme parks work. This book -- along with John Hench's "Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show" should be studied by every individual who's thinking seriously about working in the theme park field.
Pick up your own copy of "Walt's Revolution: By the Numbers" today. You won't be sorry.
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