25 years ago tonight, Disneyland Park traded its "Happiest
Place on Earth" reputation for one that stressed security. Which is why - as
you approached the perimeter of this famed theme park on the evening of February 27, 1992
- you'd have then encountered guards armed with flashlights & German
shepherd dogs stationed at 50 foot intervals.
"Why the extra security?," you ask. Because this was the
night when all of Hollywood had driven down to Anaheim to help Elizabeth Taylor
celebrate her 60th birthday by attending a private party at
The commemorative button that party guests were givenwhen they arrived at Disneyland Park for ElizabethTaylor's 60th birthday celebration.
To be honest, one of the main reasons that this theme park
went over-the-top when it came to security for this after-hours affair was
because of what had happened four months earlier. Which was when Taylor had
married her seventh husband, construction worker Larry Fortensky, in a lavish
ceremony at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch on October 6, 1991.
No expense was spared at this $1.5 million affair (which
Michael - as his wedding present to Elizabeth & Larry - covered the entire
cost of). And while all sorts of A-listers (including former First Lady Nancy
Reagan) had driven on out to California's Santa Ynez Valley to witness this event,
in the end, what people talked about afterwards wasn't Taylor's $25,000 pale
yellow Valentino gown. But - rather - the 17 helicopters that had continually circled
over Jackson's 2,700-acre compound while this ceremony was going on. Each of
them carrying papparazzi who were determined to get shots of Elizabeth &
Larry's wedding. Which they then hoped to sell to the Tabs for upwards of
Jackson tried to get these copters to clear off by launching
several hot air balloons up into the skies over Neverland Ranch just as this
ceremony was getting underway. But that didn't deter one particularly
determined paparazzo. Who actually jumped out of a small airplane and then parasailed
into the ceremony.
One of the many shots taken by papparazzi as they circled highover Neverland Ranch and watched as Michael Jackson &Michael Wilding Jr. led Elizabeth Taylor down the aisleon October 6, 1991.
According to Donald Spoto's 1995 bestseller, "A Passion for
Life: The Biography of Elizabeth Taylor," this airborne interloper - one Scott
Kyle Harris -- just missed Gregory Peck's head before touching down a mere 20
feet away from the bride & groom. And though Taylor's Israeli-trained
private security team immediately pounced on this parachuting paparazzo and
then had Harris tossed out of Neverland Ranch, the damage was already done. As
"Those sons of bitches!" cried Elizabeth, before calming
down. "The hell with them. They can't touch us. This is our day."
Jackson felt terrible that the tabloid press had intruded on
Taylor & Fortensky's big day. Which is why - just a few weeks later - right
after Liz & Larry had returned from their honeymoon (which - to be blunt -
had been something of a dud. Largely because Taylor had had to spend much of
that same time on a promotional tour for her new fragrance, White Diamonds),
Michael proposed a make-good party. One that would celebrate Elizabeth's 60th
birthday at a venue that she was sure to enjoy: Disneyland Park.
Mickey Mouse poses with Elizabeth Taylor and her children prior to themdining at Club 33. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
And since Taylor had a long & happy history with The
Happiest Place on Earth (Elizabeth visited that theme park in January of 1959 with
Eddie Fisher and her two sons, Christopher & Michael Wilding. In 1967,
Taylor insisted on taking her then-new husband Richard Burton on a tour of her
happy place. And then - in the Summer of 1973 - Elizabeth treated her family to
a dinner at Disneyland's most-exclusive eatery, Club 33), she immediately
agreed to this idea.
Mind you, not everyone can reserve an entire theme park for
a private party (Back then, the cost of staging an after-hours event like this at
Disneyland Park started at $8,000. Since that time, this price has
skyrocketed). But what with being the star of "Captain EO" and all, Jackson did
have some pull with the Mouse House. More to the point, given that then-Disney
CEO Michael Eisner realized that making the Company's Anaheim theme park
available for Elizabeth Taylor's 60th birthday celebration would
generate millions of dollars of free publicity for the Disneyland Resort, he quickly
agreed to this proposal.
That said, Eisner wanted to make sure that this private party
wouldn't have a repeat of what had just happened at Neverland Ranch. Which is
why he had Company officials petition the FAA to declare that the airspace over
Disneyland was restricted during Elizabeth Taylor's 60th birthday celebration.
And Federal Aviation officials in Southern California actually complied with
this request. Which is why - on the night of February 27, 1992 - the only thing
that was allowed to repeatedly fly over Disneyland Park was the Goodyear Blimp.
And that was only because this lighter-than-air vehicle continually ran a
ticker message which wished Mrs. Fortensky a very happy birthday.
The official invitation to Elizabeth Taylor's 60thbirthday celebration at Disneyland Park.
Speaking of February 27, 1992 ... To make sure that the
thousand people who had been invited to this oh-so-exclusive bash would have
Main Street, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Videopolis all to themselves,
Disneyland Park closed to the public at 6 p.m. that day. The park's crack security
team then swept the entire place looking for would-be party crashers. They even
went so far as turn on the sprinkler system that keeps the forests that border
Adventureland & Frontierland so lush & green. Which - according to what
I've been told by several Disneyland veterans - then flushed out a handful of would-be
papparazzi who were already dressed in tuxedos.
As I said at the very start of today's story, security
outside of Disneyland Park was ridiculously tight that night. As Elizabeth's
invited guests began arriving in Anaheim at 8 p.m., no one was allowed to enter
that theme park unless they could first produce a copy of the exclusive
invitation that had been created for this after-hour event. And since each of
these invitations featured a special security code, there was just no way that
a forged party invite was going to pass muster.
Partygoers (which included the late Carrie Fisher, old friends
from Taylor's MGM days like Esther Williams, not to mention musical superstars
like Joni Mitchell, David Bowie and Elton John) were transported up Main
Street, U.S.A. aboard antique cars. And once they arrived at Sleeping Beauty
Castle and entered Fantasyland, they then encountered a medieval-themed affair
that featured jugglers & strolling musicians as well as loads & loads of
Mickey Mouse greets Elizabeth Taylor, Larry Fortensky & Michael Eisner as they alightfrom their horse-drawn carriage. Copyright Disney Enterprises, inc. All rights reserved
At 9:30 p.m., the birthday girl finally made a fashionably
late appearance. Arriving in a white horse-drawn carriage with her new husband
and Michael Eisner by her side, Elizabeth first cut the cake and was then
serenaded by Barry Manilow.
"Why Barry Manilow instead of Michael Jackson?," you query.
Well, the man who made this party possible was a no-show. Largely because
Michael had a bit of a PR problem at this time (The month previous, Jackson had
visited Africa and had received a lot of negative press. It seemed that -
because the King of Pop constantly held his nose as he toured this huge
continent - African officials were insulted. They believed that what Michael
was inferring was that Africa smelled. But what these officials didn't realize
was that Jackson had recently had rhinoplasty. And the reason that he constantly
held his nose while touring Africa was because Michael was concerned that this
recently-rearranged piece of cartilage might collapse), he opted out of this
event and maintained a low profile for the next month or so.
But even though Jackson hadn't been on hand, Taylor still had
a terrific time at her 60th birthday celebration. Elizabeth &
Larry stood with the rest of her party guests and watched as a special
fireworks display exploded over the park. And then at midnight - after everyone
else had been sent home with a swag bag (Among the goodies that had been
stuffed in this bag were a commemorative bottle of Taylor's White Diamonds
perfume as well as a sweatshirt emblazoned with the portrait that Andy Warhol
had done of Elizabeth) - Taylor asked a favor of Eisner.
The commemorative bottle of White Diamondsperfume that every guest was given as theyexited Elizabeth Taylor's 60thbirthday celebration.
"After everyone went home, I asked [Michael] if they could
keep it open [for an hour] for Larry and me," Elizabeth revealed in a March
1992 interview with Oprah Winfrey. "They did, and we went on every ride [in
Fantasyland] and had a ball."
Which - assuming that no one parachuted in on them while
these two were experiencing "Peter Pan's Flight" - must have been a nice change
from what Taylor & Fortensky went through during their wedding at Neverland
This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, February 27, 2017