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An Electrifying Why For

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

An Electrifying Why For

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Manny the Uncanny writes in to say:

Dear Jim --

I was severely bummed to hear that Disneyland Security booted you out of the park last Sunday for daring to give your "The Disneyland That Never Was" tour. I was actually planning on signing up for the next round of tours that you were going to give in July. But now I guess I missed my chance.

Now I know you're supposedly putting together a CD version of your Disneyland tour. But -- being a longtime JHM reader -- I know that what Jim promises isn't necessarily what Jim delivers. Case in point: The JHM newsletter, which was originally supposed to have come out last spring.

I don't mean to bust your b*lls, Jim. But -- just in case this CD never actually appears -- can you at least give us a taste of some of the stories that you used to give on your Disneyland history tour?

Somewhat respectfully yours,

Manny the Uncanny

Dear Manny the Uncanny --

First of all, it's nice to see that there's at least one other Paul Rugg fan out there. By that I mean: For the longest time, I thought that Nancy & I were the only two grown-ups on the planet who actually enjoyed watching Rugg's antics as Manny the Uncanny on ABC's long defunct Saturday morning cartoon block, "One Saturday Morning." But your signature suggests that you too enjoyed Paul's goofy man-on-the-street schtick.

And as for busting my b*lls about not delivering long-promised projects on time, Manny ... It only hurts because it's true.

After all, I am running a year behind schedule on delivering the JHM newsletter. And -- as for my unauthorized Disneyland history, "Once Upon an Orange Grove" -- that was due at the publishers months ago. So I can obviously understand why you might be a wee bit skeptical about me actually being able to deliver on that promise to produce a CD version of the JHM Disneyland tour.

Well, all I can tell you, Manny is that tomorrow I'm driving down to Connecticut to meet with Jeff Lange. Jeff's serving as the defacto producer of the JHM Disneyland audio tour project. And tomorrow afternoon, he and I will be putting together a very detailed production schedule for this project. Setting specific deadlines for the delivery of the script, recording dates, etc. With our ultimate goal being that we have a finished product ready for ship by the middle of May. June 1st at the absolute latest.

(A special note to those of you who took part in JHM's donation drive last year: You'll be among the first to receive a copy of this Disneyland audio tour. And that CD will be sent out to you free of charge as a very belated "Thank You" gift for taking part in last spring's fund-raiser for the site.)

"So what happens if I don't actually deliver?," you ask, Manny ... Well, Jeff has said that he will actually bust my b*lls. He's supposedly already made a trip to Home Depot to pick out an appropriate ball peen hammer. Which will be used in the event that I miss even one of my deadlines.

So -- as you can see, Mr. Uncanny -- it's actually in my own best interests to deliver the audio version of the JHM Disneyland tour on time. Which is why I've already begun writing the script for the CD. I actually finished the first five pages of the thing on Tuesday as I was flying back from Honolulu.

Now -- as for giving you a taste of the stories that I do on my "Disneyland That Never Was" tour ... I guess that only seems fair. Soooo ... Since we talked about Liberty Street a few weeks back, why don't we now talk about another proposed addition to Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A., Edison Square?

Copyright 1958 WED Enterprises

According to a promotional booklet that WED created back in the mid-1950s (With the hope that this booklet could then be used to convince G.E. officials to put up the funds necessary to build this proposed addition to the Anaheim theme park), Edison Square was supposed to be located " ... just a few steps from Main Street and near the Plaza ... A paved brick street on which America will be seen passing from the 'old' of the 19th Century to the 'new' of the early 1900s. The electric light is seen taking the place of gas lamps; horse-drawn vehicles are giving way to electrical and gasoline-powered 'horseless carriages.' "

Edison Square architecturally was supposed to be a composite of a number of major American cities at the turn of the century. Among the distinct architectural styles that were to be represented in this proposed addition to Disneyland were:

  • The red brick buildings of Philadelphia
  • The brownstones of New York City
  • The graystones of Chicago
  • The ornate wooden structures found in St. Louis and San Francisco
  • As well as Boston's distinct colonial brick buildings

Copyright 1958 WED Enterprises

Guests entering this extension of Main Street U.S.A. would first have had to walk under the Edison Arch Marquee. As they did, they'd undoubtedly have noticed the new "land" 's central landmark. Which was a life-size statue of Thomas A. Edison.

Now the life of that famous American inventor wasobviously to have played an important part in Edison Square. And indeed -- as you entered the pre-show area for this new "land" 's main attraction, the "Harnessing the Lightning" show -- you would have encountered five full-dimensional dioramas. Which -- by making use of specialized lighting and animated effects -- these dioramas were supposedly to "come to life," recreating various dramatic scenes from Edison's life.

The climax of this pre-show was supposed to have been "The 40 Hour Watch." A diorama that showed Thomas A. & his associates finally achieving their ultimate goal. Which was when they created the first incandescent lamp that burned for 40 consecutive hours back in 1879.

As the lights dimmed on that diorama, special Disney-created theme music, lighting effects and voice recordings were supposed to signal to the audience that it's time for Act I. So the 125 guests who were assembled in the "Harnessing the Lightning" lobby area would then shuffle into the first theater. Where the footlights would now come on, the curtains would pull back and the stage show would finally get underway.

Copyright 1958 WED Enterprises

Now most Disneyland history buffs will tell you that the "Harnessing the Lightning" show was actually the predecessor for the "Carousel of Progress." Only in the Edison Square version of this attraction, the audience didn't ride in a theater-go-round as they moved from scenes to scenes. But -- rather -- Disneyland guests stood throughout the entire presentation and were then expected to walk to the next theater as each scene of the attraction ended.

But me ... I have to tell you that I'm pretty intrigued by the differences between the proposed script for "Harnessing the Lightning" and the show that Walt eventually put on his theater-go-round building. The scenes set in the then-modern day of 1958 & the future of 19?8 are markedly different.

Don't believe me? Okay. Then here's a word-for-word transcript of what the show was supposed to have been  like from that booklet that WED personnel put together for those G.E. executives:

Act I: Circa 1898 -- 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration

Act I will present on stage a unique play in which the setting is an American home just prior to the turn of the Century, in 1898. This particular home has been selected as the model for the period, containing all the latest up to date furnishings and appliances

It is the days of pre-electricity. Our narrator, Mr. Wilbur K. Watt, is an incredible electro-mechanical man. As he rocks back and forth in his armchair, he describes the scene we see on the stage. It is almost as though Mr. Watt were alive, for his movements are synchronized and life-like as he describes the play.

As though the scene were a Broadway play coming to life, Mr. Watt takes us into this model American home of 1898, where we will meet all the wonderful characters who will demonstrate the "newest" home appliances which have made life easier for them.

Like Wilbur K. Watt, these characters are full-sized electro-mechanical figures. Walt Disney and his creative staff will bring them to life before our eyes. They will move, talk and go about their daily household activities, actually acting out their roles in the drama.

Each member of our cast of life-like figures is highly stylized, dressed in the mode of the day and anxious to demonstrate these "newest" appliances so that the scene on stage becomes a living, vital drama of their home life.

Various aspects of their everyday existence will be acted out as the spotlight features the Monday wash, the newest ice box, the new model in stoves and other "modern conveniences," some of which are detailed on the following pages. Mr. Watt will explain these "new gadgets" as the play progresses.

Assisting Mr. Watt in the presentation of this stage setting is the musical background, grinding out the theme songs of the day on a phonograph whose sound, though sometimes scratchy, is nevertheless "hi-fi" quality of its day.

Before we leave this family of 1898, Mr. Watt will make the optimistic prediction that some day, the very latest electrical appliances will help make these people to Live Better Electrically.

As Act I is completed, the music will increase in tempo, the house lights will go on, and the audience will progress into the second theatre for Act II.

Act II: Circa 1918 -- The Initials of a Friend

We have now moved into the second stage setting, the transition accompanied by theme music from the old phonograph. As the lights brighten in the theatre, we hear our narrator, Wilbur K. Watt, describing the scene on stage, a post-war family in the year 1918.

The play now depicts a model American home in the early days of electricity. Although it is electrically lighted, containing all the very latest General Electric lighting, refridgerators, toasters, water heaters and other fine appliances, this up-to-date home is also a veritable jungle of wires.

Our electro-mechanical cast of characters will again actually move, talk and demonstrate all the latest, up-to-date lighting and appliances, accompanied by sound effects from the vacuum, washing machines and other conveniences and energy-saving devices. Before our eyes, these appliances will be operated by our life-like cast, just as they were used in 1918.

Copyright 1958 WED Enterprises

The theme music, sometimes drowned out by the deafening noise of an elevated train passing by the window, now emanates from the brassy radio, playing the popular tunes of the day.

As the radio music increases in volume, Mr. Watt makes the prediction that radio is becoming so real you can almost imagine sound becoming sight.

The audience then progresses into the third stage setting for the presentation of Act III.

Act III: Circa 1958 -- Live Better Electrically

The theme music tells us that we have now reached the present day in our evolving electrical drama, and are viewing, on stage, another American family in its model contemporary home of the year 1958.

Mr. Watt's prediction of 50 years ago has come true. We are indeed seeing an American family Living Better Electrically, with the aid of all the very newest interior lighting and automatic home equipment.

This American family of 1958 is enjoying the comforts of its combination family room and patio. Outside, it is snowing, but they never even notice: their radiant heat and climate control shield them completely from the weather while they swim, watch television or bask in the General Electric "sunshine."

Copyright 1958 WED Enterprises

Our electro-mechanical cast of characters acts out the drama. Mom is keeping tabs on the kids through the scanner which allows her to see any other room in the house. She has already set the automatic equipment for Dad's dinner, which is cooking by itself while she relaxes.

Before the lighting and musical effects signal the end of Act III and we move to the final theatre, Mr. Watt, ever the optimist, can't help taking leave of 1958 without the prediction that some day, these same people will be traveling into outer space.

Act IV: Circa 19?8 -- More Power to America

Ever moving toward the future, we have reached the ultimate of present predictions in Act IV, the year 19?8.

The scene is a penthouse overlooking New York City of the Future. There are stars above us and stars below us in this "island in the sky."

The audience itself is on stage in this scene. We walk in and make ourselves at home among the space scanners, the ultra-modern furnishings, and the automatic, time-savings devices.

Mom is programming her dinners for the entire week in her automation-controlled kitchen. She presses a button, and her "cooking" for the week is completed, with the proper diet and calorie content included for every member of the family. She takes a look into an electronically controlled scanner, presses another button, and the bedroom is cleaned automatically.

Through the skyview, spaceships are seen racing across the nighttime sky toward their destination: anywhere in the universe.

Now -- at this point -- you may be asking: Where's the show's host gone? What has become of the ever-present Wilbur K. Watt.

Well, this is when Mom turns our attention to a wall screen. On it, a telecast shows the first space ship from Earth to successfully land on Venus. And who's among this ship's very important passengers? You guessed it. Wilbur K. Watt.

Copyright 1958 WED Enterprises

As he get ready to disembark, Wilbur notices that his space ship's nuclear reactor are emblazoned with "the Initials of a Friend." As in: The ship's power plant was supposedly built by G.E. Who -- even in the far-off future -- is still supposedly putting out  great products.

Adjusting the oxygen dial on his space helmet, Wibur strides confidently out onto the surface of Venus ... As the curtains to Act IV automatically close and the audience moves into "Harnessing the Lightning" 's post-show area.

This part of the proposed Edison Square attraction was euphamistically called the "institutional-product area." Translation: This was the G.E. product showroom. Here, various product displays would have demonstrated General Electrical's clear superiority in the home appliance field by talking up the corporation's continuing commitment to research & development, advances in manufacturing technique as well as the company's speedy product delivery system.

As they left this area, Disneyland visitors were supposed to be left with the impression that G.E. was tops when it came to Living -- and working -- Better Electrically on land, sea or air.

So -- as I was saying -- obviously those last two scenes in "Harnessing the Lightning" were significantly different from what Disney eventually did with the last two sequences of "Carousel of Progress." So why did Walt ultimately decide to make those changes?

Copyright 1958 WED Enterprises

Well, that part of the story ... I think I'll hold back for the audio version of my Disneyland tour ...

If you'd like to be on the official notification list for this CD (I.E. If you'd like me to send you a note letting you know when it actually becomes available), please send an e-mail to my [email protected] address. And I'll make sure that your name gets put on the appropriate list.

Anywho ... That's it for this week, folks. I hope to see you all again here next Monday morning. Til then, you take care, okay?

Best Regards,


           Special thanks to Uncle Skippy for provided me with all that great Edison Square research material.

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