Judging by many of the comments that have been posted on various Disneyland discussion boards around the Web, "Pirates of the Caribbean" fans are obviously looking forward to lining up along the red carpet on May 19th. Just so that they can then catch a glimpse of Johnny Depp & Co. as they stroll up Main Street U.S.A. to attend the world premiere of "At World's End."
Photo by Roger Colton
Of course, to hear people talk about what a cool concept this is, you'd think that it was the Mouse that had originally thought up the idea of holding the world premiere of a new movie inside of a theme park. When -- truth be told -- it was actually Walter Knott who first brought this Tinseltown tradition to Orange County.
This happened back on June 19, 1971. On a night when many of California's movers and shakers (Including then-governor Ronald Reagan) made a special trip out to Buena Park. Not just because these folk wanted to attend the world premiere of the Duke's latest horse opera, "Big Jake." But also because they could then be on hand for the official dedication of Knott's Berry Farm's new $5,000,000 addition, the John Wayne Theatre.
Copyright 2007 Knott's Berry Farm
And why did Walter & his wife, Cordelia, single the Duke out for this sort of honor? Well, it wasn't just because Wayne had been a regular customer at Mrs. Knotts Chicken Dinner Restaurant.
No, John & Walter were actually old friends. Which was why -- back in July of 1969, when the Knott family needed a little extra star power in order to persuade reporters to drive all the way out to Buena Park in order to attend the grand opening of Knott's Berry Farm's new $3,000,000 thrill ride -- Wayne and his son, Ethan made a special trip to the park that day.
Walter Knott, John & Ethan Wayne (L to R)Copyright 2007 Knott's Berry Farm
Just so they could be the first folks to zoom down the flume at the Timber Mountain Log Ride.
Ethan and John Wayne (L to R)Copyright 2007 Knott's Berry Farm
That picture of John & Ethan splashing down in that log was then grabbed by the wire services and printed in newspapers around the world. And as a direct result of all that free publicity (As well as the public's enthusiasm for the world's first log flume attraction), Knott's Berry Farm had a record summer, attendance-wise.
And Walter wasn't the sort to forget such a gracious gesture. Which is why, two years later, when Mr. Knotts rolled out the next expansion of his theme park (Which included a then-state-of-the-art indoor theatre to serve as the centerpiece of Knott's Berry Farm's new Gypsy Camp area) ...
Copyright 2007 Knott's Berry Farm
... he decided to repay his pal's generosity by naming this new $5,000,000 performance venue the John Wayne Theatre.
Again, with an eye toward gaining a little extra publicity for his theme park (As well as raise some money for some deserving Orange County charities), Walter offered to hold a world premiere fundraising gala for the Duke's latest motion picture, "Big Jake," at Knott's new theatre. John quickly sparked to this idea, and then went about persuading some of his old cohorts & co-stars -- like Glen Campbell from "True Grit" ...
John Wayne and Glen Campbell (L to R) Copyright 2007 Knott's Berry Farm
... as well as Richard Boone -- ...
John Wayne and Richard Boone (L to R)Copyright 2007 Knott's Berry Farm
... to come out to Knott's Berry Farm that night and take part in the festivities. Wayne even persuaded various studio heads to donate props & costumes from some of his older pictures to the park. Which were then used to create a special display area that was located just off of the theater's lobby.
Costume & prop display in the John Wayne RoomCopyright 2007 Knott's Berry Farm
And the night of June 19, 1971 ... It was really something special. Not just because it was Walter & Cordelia Knott's 60th wedding anniversary. But also because many Hollywood power players had made the trip out to Buena Park to pay tribute to the Duke. With one of the highlights of the evening being the telegram from then-President Richard Nixon that Reagan read aloud. Where "Dick" ( That's honestly how Nixon signed the telegram that he sent to Walter, Cordelia & John. "Dick") first praised the Knott family for all that they'd done for Orange County, and then went on salute Wayne on his 40th anniversary in show business.
Gov. Ronald Reagan, Walter & Cordelia Knotts and John WayneCopyright 2007 Knott's Berry Farm
Now, you'd think that -- given that Walter Knott had just spent all of this money to create the John Wayne Theatre, even commissioning a larger-than-life statue of the Duke to stand over the entrance to this auditorium ...
Copyright 2007 Knott's Berry Farm
... -- that this monument to his friend would then stand the test of time. But that wasn't actually the case.
You see, just 4 years later, the Knotts family completely re-themed this side of the theme park. And since the Duke really didn't fit into an area that now celebrated the Roaring 20s, the name of this facility was changed from the John Wayne to the Good Times Theatre.
Well, as they say, fame is fleeting. And as for the Good Times Theatre ... Over the past 30 years, it's undergone a number of name changes. Most recently, this Knott's Berry Farm performance venue has been known as the Charles M. Schulz Theatre. Which was named in honor of the creator of the "Peanuts" comic strip.
And as for the Duke ... Even though he's been gone since June of 1979, John Wayne's legend continues to grow ever larger every year. As around the globe, new generations of film fans are regularly rediscovering his impressive body of work.
And if you're a fan of the Duke ... Well, you may want to check out the 2007 Newport Beach Film Festival later this month. Which will be honoring the 100th anniversary of John Wayne's birth by presenting "Ten Decades of 'The Duke' : The Official John Wayne Centennial Celebration."
Produced in collaboration with the Wayne family as well as the Newport Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau, this seven day long event (Which will be held April 21 - 28) will be highlighted by special screenings of some of John's most memorable motion pictures. These films include "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "The Quiet Man," "Sands of Iwo Jima," "The Searchers," and "Stagecoach."
For further information on these "Ten Decades of 'The Duke' " (I.E. Times, dates, ticket prices, etc.), follow this link.
wow. I learned nufin. about disney atleast.
the knott's flume ride was the first flume in the world? didn't know that. I guess it joins star tours and the matterhorn as anaheim-based world originals. any other notables Jim?
add first corkscrew double loop coaster.
And if you discount, the coasters from the early 1900s (which injured people circular loops instead of ovals), also add the first true looping coaster.
The Knotts log ride was first in that it was themed. I do have photos of log rides that predate the Knotts attraction. Also there is a photo of Wayne and som during the plunge that clearly shows a very young Tony Baxter in the foreground.
This is wonderfully informative material there Jimbo.
The fans must be thrilled.
Great bit of theme park history. Too bad they didn't leave the theater alone and keep it Wayned
Knott's has a GREAT history, too bad Cedar Fair ruined Knotts.
And Paramount parks looked like they were going to have a GREAT future, but I'm sure that Cedar Fair will ruin that too.
John Wayne couldn't act his way out of a wet paper bag!
I just watched The Incredible Mr. Limpet with Don Knotts, and they premiered that film at Florida's Weeki Wachee, projecting the film in the underwater theater, with the Weeki Wachi mermaids introducing things. And that was back in 1963 or 1964. And I am sure that other films premiered at amusement parks or at theme parks before that. That would make for an interesting article. I enjoyed this Jim Hill's little addition to the history of theme parks and Hollywood though. The two have a long history of working together, really.
Keep up the good work, Jim! This site doesn't have to be all-Disney all-the-time, and this piece is one of those shining nuggets that stand out! I had no idea Knott's had that much history or even that much publicity/celebrity clout back in the day. Very cool
Regarding the Knotts Log ride See "The E Ticket Magazine." Number 35 Spring 2001. They have back issues on their web site. It includes interviews with the rides builder, Budd Hurlbutt and many photos, including the one with John Wayne and Son where you can clearly see a very young Tony Baxter now of WDI.
I think Knott's most recent movie preimere was "The Grudge 2". Also hence why they had "The Grudge 2" maze for Halloween Haunt. I'd like to see/know of any website that puts together all the Knott's Berry Farm history. There are plenty for Disney. I know of one really good Universal Studios Hollywood site that still continues to do updates. I'd like to see one dedicated to Knott's!!
I hadn't thought of the parallel until now, but it's an interesting one. Meanwhile, here are a few of my thoughts re the article and earlier comments...
1) Knott's Log Ride was not the first flume ride in the world. In fact, I believe Bud Hurlbut himself (designer of the Log Ride) created another flume ride for another park first. Can anyone verify or add more details to this?
2) GreatAndosky wrote, "I guess it [the Log Ride] joins star tours and the matterhorn as anaheim-based world originals..."
Actually, Knott's Berry Farm is in Buena Park.
As for original attractions in Anaheim, Disneyland is full of them. That johnny-come-lately-park in Orlando copied the majority of their attractions from "Walt's park."
3) Both Glen Campbell and Richard Boone were in the film "Big Jake," which explains why they were at the premiere.
4) Richard Nixon had been friends with the Knott's long before John Wayne was. He was on a first name basis with them, which explains him signing his letter as "Dick."
5) The statue of Wayne was by long-time KBF sculptor Claude Bell, who also created the characters sitting on benches in Ghost Town. Claude's retirement projects were those giant dinosaurs off the highway in Cabazon.
I was there June 19, 1971, for the opening of the JWayne Theatre. Even then it was truly amazing to see John Wayne, Glenn Campbell, Richard Boone and Maureen O'Hara!! Knott's has always been my favorite theme park. I remember seeing Mr and Mrs Knott as well, they could have been your own grandparents! KBF has always been my favorite park!