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So which Hollywood legend was actually responsible for the creation of "it's a small world"? Would you believe Mommy Dearest?

So which Hollywood legend was actually responsible for the creation of "it's a small world"? Would you believe Mommy Dearest?

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I realize that everyone out there in Online-land is already getting ready for the long Fourth of July Weekend. But before you plunge into three straight days of backyard barbeques & fireworks, I wanted to direct your attention to something cool that the Disney History Institute just posted: Project Fair Winds.

Jeremy Marx spent the past 8 months putting together a CG version of the Tower of the Four Winds. Which recreates all 52 of the mobiles which decorated that 120 foot-tall, 100 ton structure which basically served as the "weenie" for "it's a small world" at the 1964 - 1965 New York World's Fair.

And speaking of this classic Disney-designed attraction, did you ever wonder which Hollywood legend was actually responsible for the creation of "The Happiest Cruise That Ever Sailed" ? And no, it wasn't Walt.

Okay. It's early 1963. And the Pepsi-Cola Company -- which, two years previous, had committed to building a pavilion for the Fair that would serve as a 'salute to UNICEF and the world's children' -- had just rejected a third possible design for this structure which had been prepared by an outside firm. And with less than 16 months 'til the 1964 - 1965 New York World's Fair was tp open to the public, this cola company was rapidly running out of options.

It was at this point that Joan Crawford (who had become a member of Pepsi-Cola's board of directors in 1959 following the death of her fourth husband, Alfred Steele. Who had spent the previous decade as Chairman & CEO of this cola company) suggested that they reach out to Walt Disney. Who -- according to what Joan had heard from friends in Hollywood -- had already developed some wonderful shows for the Fair for the Ford Motor Company, General Electric and the State of Illinois.


Joan Crawford & Walt Disney at an Academy Awards function
in the mide-1950s.

So at Crawford's behest, Pepsi-Cola executives flew out to California in February 1963 and then met with Admiral Joe Fowler, who was WED's senior vice president of construction & engineering. And while Fowler was known as "Can-Do Joe" around the Mouse Factory for the amazing job that he'd done with Disneyland Park in late 1954 / early 1955, Joe sadly had to tell those Pepsi executives that Disney "couldn't do it" in this case because there were now less than 14 months 'til the Fair officially opened. And there was just no way that WED could take on another project for the Fair at this point in time.

So following their meeting with Fowler, these Pepsi-Cola executives left LA and flew back to NYC to report to the Board of Directors. Mind you, Walt didn't find out about Joe's meeting with those Pepsi execs 'til the following Monday. Which was when -- during the "old business / new business" portion of a senior staff meeting at WED -- Fowler casually mentioned that he'd met with representatives from Pepsi and then politely refused to help that cola company with a pavilion for the 1964 - 1965 New York World's Fair.

As soon as Walt heard what Admiral Joe had done, he reportedly flew into a fury. Saying in essence that " ... I'm the guy in charge here. I'm the one who decided which outside projects we take on. You call Pepsi back right now and tell them that we'll design their damned UNICEF show."


Walt Disney shows off the "it's a small world" model to (L to R) Mrs. Guido
Pantaleoni, Jr., president of the U. S. Committee for UNICEF; Robert
Moses, President of the 1964 - 1965 New York World's Fair Corp.,
and Herbert L. Barnet, President of The Pepsi-Cola Company.

Now jump ahead four months and WED representatives are flown out from the West Coast to pitch "it's a small world" to Pepsi executives. And based on what I've been told, this Disney reps got a pretty icy reception from this cola company's Board of Directors. The way I hear it, the Pepsi execs were horrified by this proposed UNICEF's pavilion's $4 million price tag and were supposedly heard to whisper "Why are we wasting our time & money on this Mickey Mouse thing?"

Sensing that the other Board members were about to reject this project, Joan Crawford then reportedly stood and gave this impassioned speech which allegedly ended with " ... and we are going to do this, gentlemen." And the other members of Pepsi-Cola's Board of Directors (who were said to be intimidated by the Widow Steel) immediately bowed to Crawford's wishes.

So as you can see, if it hadn't been for Mommy Dearest, the world might never have realized that " ... there is just one moon and one golden sun, and a smile means friendship to everyone." Which means ... Well, honestly I don't know. Should we praise or condemn Ms. Crawford for helping to foist the "small world" song on the world?


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

FYI: If you liked today's JHM article, then you may want to check out the event that ETC is staging on August 16th. Basically what events-tailor-made-and-customized is doing is staging a live version of that "Disney Dish" podcast that I do with Len Testa.

So why I am bringing up this "Disney Dish to Go" show now? Because for this ETC event, Len & I are going to Flushing Meadow. Where -- in honor of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 - 1965 New York World's Fair -- we'll be holding court at the World's Fair Marina Restaurant with WDW Today's Mike Newell. And the three of us will be sharing stories about the Fair & then taking questions from the audience as we record our first live-in-front-of-an-audience version of the "Unofficial Guide's Disney Dish with Jim Hill" show.

It promises to be great fun. And Len, Mike & I would love to see you folks there. So if you're interested in joining us in Flushing Meadows for lots of great stories like today's " ... and we are going to do this, gentlemen" tale ... Well, head on over to the ETC Custom Events website and then sign up for the August 16th show.

And in the meantime, here's hoping that you & yours have a festive & safe Fourth of July Weekend.

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  • Just found a souvenir guide book to the '64 fair at an antique store for $10.  I've always longed to learn more, both since Disney was involved, and since I was a new-born- my older brothers and parents went while I was baby-sat by my grandparents- and I still hear occasional stories of that trip!

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