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From the JHM Archives — M – I – C in NYC : Disney at the 1964 New York World’s Fair

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There has long been this legend about the importance the
1964 New York World's Fair played
in the history of the Walt Disney Company. How the Fair was supposed to be this
vital stepping-stone in the creation of Walt Disney World. How Walt had to see
if his theme park rides and attractions would meet with the approval of those
East Coast sophisticates before he'd agree to buy all that land around Orlando.

It's a nice story. Not true, mind you. But it's a nice story
nonetheless.

Truth be told, Disney operatives had already been scoping
out property around Florida for
at least three years prior to the Fair's opening in April of 1964. Indeed,
Disney's chief purchasing agent — a lawyer named Bob Foster — made a big
point of being seen publicly in New York
for the opening festivities for the '64 World's Fair just before he slipped off
to Orlando to pick up the options
on 12,400 acres of property.


Robert Foster. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Why for? Just in case someone in Florida
had recognized Bob and later asked him whether he'd been in Central
Florida doing the Mouse's bidding. Foster would then be able to
deny the accusation by saying "Wasn't me, pal. I wasn't in Florida
that week. I was in Flushing attending the Fair. I've
got witnesses."

So if the New York
World's Fair wasn't really the birthplace of Walt Disney World, then why do
Disneyana fans and theme park historians place so much emphasis and/or apply
such significance to the Fair?

The answer is simple, really. So much of the technology that
Disney developed to create the company's break-through theme park attractions
of the 1960s — "Pirates of the Caribbean," "The Haunted
Mansion," etc. — were a direct result of Walt Disney Productions'
involvement in the Fair.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Walt, having already created a few small exhibits for
earlier versions of the World's Fair (the 1939 New York World's Fair even
featured a special Mickey Mouse cartoon — "Mickey's Surprise Party"
— that Walt personally put into production promoting the product line of the
National Biscuit Company, AKA Nabisco), was already well aware of the
opportunities that an exhibition like this would offer to a company like
Disney.

Don't believe me? Then take a gander at this transcript from
a March 1960 meeting at WED Enterprises, where Walt tells his Imagineers about
the opportunities that he sees in the recent announcement that there's another
World's Fair held in New York in 1964:

"There's
going to be a big fair in New York.
All of the big corporations in the country are going to spend a hell of a lot
of money building exhibits there. They don't know what thy want to do. They
don't even know why they're doing it, except that the other corporations are
doing it and they need to keep up with the Jones. Now they're all going to want
something that will make them stand out from the others, and that's the kind of
service we can offer them. We've proved we can do it with Disneyland.
This is a great opportunity for us to grow. We can use their financing to
develop a lot of technology that will help us in the future. And we'll be
getting new attractions for Disneyland, too. That will
appeal to them. We can say that they'll be getting shows that won't be seen for
two six month periods at the Fair. These shows can go on for five to ten years
at Disneyland."


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

You see? Walt saw the New York
World's Fair not so much as a chance to show off what his Imagineers were
capable of, but more as a tremendous business opportunity. A way to connect
with many of the corporate leaders of America
by helping them develop entertaining attractions that would properly showcase
their products at the Fair. Disney also saw the Fair as a means to an end, a
way to move some of his company's highly expensive dreams off the drawing board.

Take – for example – Disneyland's
"Enchanted Tiki Room" attraction. Now keep in mind that this was back
in the early 1960s, a time when the Walt Disney Productions was just beginning
to experiment with audio animatronics. Walt desperately wanted to put this
feathered floorshow into his Anaheim
theme park.

But the guy who actually held the company's purse strings –
Walt's brother, Roy – was reluctant to free up the millions that would be
necessary to build a full-sized version of this then-cutting edge robotic show
for Disneyland.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

That's when Walt had a brainstorm. He'd agree to build the
Tiki attraction for some poor company that was desperate to find a show to
present inside their pavilion at the 1964 New York
World's Fair. Disney would then make sure that his company's lawyers worked the
terms of the contract with this other corporation so that A) the pavilion's
sponsor would fully underwrite construction of the Tiki attraction and B) once
the fair was over, the Enchanted Tiki Room would automatically be shipped back
to Anaheim and begin presenting performances there. That way, Disneyland
would get a brand new high tech attraction without the Walt Disney Company
having to layout big bucks to build the thing.

It's an ingenious sounding scheme, isn't it? And here's the
intriguing part: It almost worked. Walt Disney Productions and Coca-Cola spent
most of 1962 going back and forth about whether the cola giant would underwrite
the cost of creating an Enchanted Tiki Room attraction that would be presented
as the centerpiece attraction at the company's pavilion at the 1964 New
York World's Fair. In the end, the folks back in Atlanta
decided that the price that Walt was asking was just too high. Which is why
Coke opted to take a pass on Disney's feathered friends.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

Walt then supposedly tried to interest both the Gas Industry
and GM in including the Tiki Birds as part of the entertainment offered at
their World's Fair Pavilion. When these two companies also passed on the
project, Walt decided to bite the bullet and have Walt Disney Productions pick
up most of the cost of creating Disneyland's Enchanted
Tiki Room. With a slight financial assist from Stouffers Foods, the
Adventureland attraction opened in June of 1963 to great acclaim.

Speaking of GM, the real reason that the auto making giant
opted not to go with Walt's Enchanted Tiki Room (or any other attraction ideas
that the Mouse has put forward) is that — while the corporation had been
negotiating with Disney — it had also been forming its own in-house World's
Fair exhibit committee. So in the end, the carmaker felt that they didn't
really need Mickey's help to make a big splash at the 1964 World's Fair.

But — as they closed out negotiations with Disney in late
1960 — GM officials reportedly jokingly remarked: "You know who you
should really be talking to, Walt? The folks over at Ford. We hear that they
don't know what the hell they're going to do when it comes to the Fair."


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

This — as it turns out — was indeed the case. Which was
why Ford jumped at the chance of having Disney create an exhibit for their
company to display at the 1964 World's Fair. By July 1961, the Imagineers were
already on site in Dearborn, Michigan
looking for ideas that they could possibly use in Ford's Fair attraction.

Oddly enough, Disney didn't discover any concepts for
possible Fair attractions out of this particular trip to Michigan.
But what they did get was an idea for a new theme park ride system. Observing
how Ford started out with a half ton of molten metal, then moved that super hot
pile of steel along a half mile long assembly line, only to have a finished car
burped out at the other end of the factory, Veteran Imagineer John Hench
wondered … could this same technology be used to move people?

That trip to Dearborn
lead to the creation of Disney's Omnimover system — the very system that the
Mouse uses today to move millions of people each year through their "Haunted
Mansion" attractions as well
as along its PeopleMover system.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

Anyway … the first idea that Disney pitched to Ford was a
"Symphony of America" ride, which would have taken Fair visitors on a
simulated tour of the United States.
Guests would have sat in Ford vehicles as they rolled past elaborate
recreations of the Grand Canyon, the Everglades,
the Sequoias, etc. Ford rejected this idea outright. Why? Because — back in
those days — you didn't tour America
in a Ford. You saw "the U.S.A.
in your Chevrolet." So Ford didn't want to do anything that might
inadvertently helped its competition.

That's where the Dinosaur ride idea came from. Veteran
Imagineers Claude Coats, Marc Davis and Blaine Gibson were put in charge of the
Ford project and then told to get as far away from the "Symphony of
America" idea as possible. Which is why they decided to set the revamped
Ford attraction in the distant past.

The end result; The Ford Wonder Rotunda featuring the Magic
Skyway, which was a huge hit at the Fair. It was also a massive undertaking. At
275,000 square feet, Ford's show building was easily the largest structure
erected on Flushing Meadow. The 127 audio animatronic figures that lined the
Magic Skyway's ride track also made Ford's show one of the more technologically
complex shows presented at the Fair.


Walt Disney and Henry Ford II
inspect model of the Ford Wonder Rotunda.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Indeed, Ford's Wonder Rotunda — with its ambitious size and
scale — could be considered the mother of such Disney mega-attractions as
"Pirates" and many of Epcot's original attractions like "World
of Motion" and "Horizons." And the dinosaurs featured in Epcot's
"Universe of Energy" should look very familiar to '64 World's Fair
fans. They are the exact same figures — down to the creatures' poses and
actions — that terrorized visitors to Flushing back in
'64 and '65. Minus a few minor cosmetic changes, of course.

This brings us to another Fair favorite: General Electric's
Carousel of Progress. Which, as it turns out, wasn't originally developed for
the Fair at all. The Carousel was actually envisioned as the centerpiece
attraction of a late 1950s expansion of Disneyland's Main
Street U.S.A.
area: Edison Square, a
whole new land that would have celebrated the era when America
was shifting over from gas street lamps to the electric light bulb for its
primary source of illumination.

However, back in 1958, when this show was first pitched for
the Anaheim theme park, the
attraction's trademark theater-go-round technology didn't exist yet. Which is
why Disney's Imagineers envisioned audiences getting up and walking from
theater to theater to view this six-act show.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

By the way, this is the show that proves — beyond a shadow
of a doubt — that progress is always on the move. After closing in NYC back in
1965, this New York World's Fair
favorite moved to Anaheim where it
ran for several years. Then it was on to Orlando,
where Carousel has been entertaining visitors at Walt Disney World's Magic
Kingdom since the mid-1970s.

Speaking of shows that weren't originally created for the New
York World's Fair, let's now take a look at
"Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln." What's intriguing about this
attraction — particularly given that a significantly revamped version of
"Great Moments" just re-opened in Anaheim
to significant acclaim — is that this isn't the show that Walt really wanted
to do. "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" is a significantly stripped
down version of an attraction that Disney wanted to have debut at Disneyland:
"One Nation Under God."

This attraction was supposed to have been the centerpiece
attraction of yet another expansion of Disneyland's Main
Street U.S.A.
area: Liberty Street. This
proposed Anaheim addition was to
have celebrated America's
colonial period, featuring thirteen authentic period structures that were
supposed to represent the original thirteen American colonies.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

The "One Nation Under God" show? Well, if you ever
saw the original version of Walt Disney World's Hall of Presidents, you've seen
"One Nation Under God." However, due to the huge cost of mounting
this particular production, Walt couldn't afford to produce this show all on
his own. Which is why he spent years trying to line up a corporate sponsor for
this super-patriotic show. Unfortunately, none of the companies that Disney
approached in the late 1950s / early 1960s bit on the high cost project.

Determined to finally line up a corporation to help
underwrite this proposed Disneyland attraction, Walt has
his Imagineers work up a full scale version of one figure from the show:
Abraham Lincoln. Walt hoped that — once potential sponsors got to see one of
these robotic presidents in the flesh (so to speak) — they'd immediately jump
at the chance to be associated with this show. Ever the showman, Walt had his
Imagineers set up a manually controlled version of the Lincoln
robot that could stand up and shake the hand of any potential sponsor.

Finally, the right man got the chance to shake Abe Lincoln's
hand: Fair President Robert Moses. Moses was said to be ecstatic when he
finally got to "meet" Mr. Lincoln, allegedly declaring that "I
won't open the Fair without this exhibit."


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

The only problem was that — like Walt — Moses wanted the
big bells-and-whistles version of the show, "One Nation Under God."
So Robert personally began pursuing potential sponsors for the show. First off,
he went after the folks with the deepest pockets … the United States
Government. (The U.S. Government — after much hemming and hawing — had
finally agreed to put up $15 million toward the construction of a federal
exhibit for the 1964 New York World's Fair in early 1962.)

Moses appealed directly to the Department of Commerce, the
one office within the government with direct control over how the U.S.'s
money would be spent at the fair. He met personally with the undersecretary of
Commerce — Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt, Jr. — to try to get his office behind
"One Nation Under God" show. In the end, the U.S. Government —
though impressed with Disney's proposed presentation — felt that a show that
featured "talking doll" versions of our Commanders in Chief might be
viewed by some as being demeaning to the office of the President. So they opted
to pass on the project.

Now it's been suggested that FDR Jr. — who allegedly felt
that a robotic version of his dad would be extremely disrespectful —
personally put the kibosh on the Government picking up the tab for the
"One Nation Under God" show. Well, while I had heard this story from
literally dozens of former Disney Productions employees, no one's ever been
able to provide me with definitive proof on this matter. So — until that proof
turns up — I'm afraid that we're just going to have relegate the "FDR Jr.
killed 'Hall of Presidents' for the '64 World's Fair" story to the urban
legends pile.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

Moses refused to give up, though. He kept pursuing potential
sponsors for the "One Nation Under God" / "Hall of Presidents"
show until December 1962. Robert even appealed to Coca-Cola, which — after
passing on presenting Disney's "Enchanted Tiki Room" — was still in
search of an attraction for the Fair. Hoping to finally close the deal with
Coke, Disney supposedly had the delicate Lincoln
figure shipped all the way from Burbank
to NYC to give a demo to Coke's CEO.

Unfortunately, the Chairman of Coca-Cola — while riding
into the city to see the Lincoln
demonstration — was supposedly insulted by a bunch of African-American
teenagers who were riding in an open car next to his limo. This supposedly put
the CEO in a foul mood that morning. Which — according to Robert Moses'
autobiography, "Public Works: A Dangerous Tale" — is the reason that
Coke ultimately decided to pass on sponsoring this project.

Things were looking pretty bleak for the electronic Honest
Abe until the state of Illinois
entered the picture. Illinois —
which didn't even get around to putting together the funding necessary sponsor
an attraction at the 1964 New York
World's Fair until early 1963 — was desperate to find some sort of show to
present at the Fair. Disney and Moses were desperate to find someone to sponsor
their "One Nation Under God" show. In one of those great "You've
got Peanut Butter in my Chocolate" moments, these three came together and
— Presto Change-o — Lincoln
finally had a sponsor.


The Illinois "Land
of Lincoln" pavilion as seen
from above

Unfortunately, given the limited amount of prep time left
until the Fair opened, Abe would NOT be appearing alongside the other Chief
Executives. Why for? Because Disney just didn't have time to build AA versions
of all of the other Commanders in Chief. Which is why Lincoln
ended up doing a solo act — his "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln"
show.

Of course, give that Disney got a late start on the
"Great Moments" show, it just makes sense that the robotic version of
our 16th president didn't debut with the rest of the Fair on April 20th. Due to
all the hassles associated with the rushed production, Lincoln
didn't officially open to the public until two weeks later, May 2, 1964.

As you probably already know, the finished version of
"Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" was a complete smash. Walt was
proud, but not prouder than Moses — who had worked like a champ for nearly two
years to find Disney's remarkable Lincoln
figure a home at his Fair. How proud was Robert of this particular exhibit?
Years after the 1964 New York
World's Fair closed, Moses was often heard to say "My two greatest
accomplishments at the Fair were Michaelangelo's Pieta and Disney's Lincoln."


New York World's Fair visitors viewing the Pieta from the
Vatican Pavilion's moving walkway

But — at least from Walt's point of view — Walt Disney
Productions' greatest accomplishment at the Fair had to be its high-speed
creation of the "It's a Small World" ride. After all, this was a show
that no one thought would happen, let alone work.

You see, Pepsi-Cola was working with UNICEF — the United
Nation's Agency for Children's Welfare — to come up with an attraction for the
Fair that would salute UNICEF as well as pay tribute to all the children of the
world. After months of floundering, the creative staff at the cola giant
finally had to admit to management that they were stumped. They just couldn't
come up with a workable concept for a Unicef show for the Fair.

It was at this point that somebody finally said, "Let's
call Walt Disney." After all, given Walt Disney Productions' reputation
for turning out fine family entertainment, it just made sense to the folks at
Pepsi to approach Disney. After all, Walt and his staff were sure to be able to
find a way to make this UNICEF tribute show work.


Admiral Joe Fowler. Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc.
All rights reserved

The only problem is that Pepsi didn't approach Disney about
helping out with this project until April of 1963. Given the limited amount of
time until the Fair opened, head Imagineer Joe Fowler politely turned the cola
people away, explaining that there was just no way that Walt Disney Productions
could get a full-scale attraction for the Fair designed and built in the amount
of time that was left.

Which, as it turns out, was a mistake. When Walt got wind of
what Joe had done, he was furious. Disney called Fowler into his office and
basically read the man the riot act. "I'm the one who makes the decisions
around here," Walt allegedly roared. "So you call the Pepsi people
back now and tell them that we'll do their damned UNICEF pavilion."

Kind of ironic, isn't it? That the only reason that
"the Happiest Little Cruise That Ever Sailed " (or so says Disney's
own press releases) actually exists is that someone made the mistake of
upsetting Walt Disney.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

Anywho … what's truly fascinating about the story of the
creation of Disney's "It's A Small World" is how much of what this
now beloved attraction is today was determined by how quickly the project was
slapped together. How so? Well, a lot of the layout and design of the finished
version of "Small World" was due to the fact that the Pepsi-Cola ride
building for this attraction was actually under construction before anyone knew
for sure what was going to go into the structure. That's why the folks at the
Fair just threw up a simple L shaped building with 32,000 square feet of space
inside. Those who actually worked on the attraction called it "the ugliest
building you ever saw in your life."

(Perhaps recognizing that the Pepsi-Cola building wasn't
what you'd call attractive, Walt Disney asked veteran Imagineer Rolly Crump to
come up with something to jazz up the front of the "small world"
structure. Distract people from seeing how boring the building really was. That's
when Rolly came up with the Tower of the Four Winds, a colorful but complex
array of mobiles that stood over the entrance to "Small World."
Which, in the end, proved to be a brilliant plan. Crump's mobile is now
remembered by many as one of the more charming things they saw while touring
the Fair. But almost no one remembers how boring the exterior of the Pepsi-Cola
building was. Anyway…)

It was until after the foundation had been poured and steel
was flying up that Walt decided that he wanted some sort of boat ride to run
through the Pepsi-Cola building. So — working with the L shaped boundaries of
the building — the Imagineers quickly roughed out a floor plan for a ride that
would pay tribute to all the children of the world. Only — in the original
version of the attraction — the children were all supposed to be singing the
national anthem of each of their individual countries.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

An early test on the Disney lot proved that this idea was a
complete disaster. All of the national anthems sung simultaneously meant that
the songs drowned each other out or — worse than that — bled together, making
this unholy noise. That's when Walt got the idea of grabbing the Sherman
Brothers — Bob and Dick — and asking them to do a song for the show.

Best known today as the Oscar winning composers of the score
for "Mary Poppins," the Sherman Brothers had already contributed
several songs for other Disney shows at the Fair. Remember "It's a Great
Big Beautiful Tomorrow" for G.E.'s Carousel of Progress? That was theirs.

Anyway, working off of Walt's instructions, Bob and Dick
quickly knocked out a roundelay, a song that could be sung as a round by the
robotic kids with an occasional counterpoint. Sticking a temporary title on the
tune of "It's a Small World After All," they dropped their first
draft of the song on Disney's desk — apologizing for the song being so silly
and simple. They promised their boss that they'd come back with something more
musically complex sometime later. Walt wouldn't hear of it. So the
thrown-together tune that the Sherman Brothers delivered to Walt Disney that
afternoon in late 1963 is the very same song that we can't get out of our heads
— no matter how hard we try — 50 years later.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

Luckily, all of this hard work by Walt's Imagineers paid
off. All four of Disney's shows for the Fair received enormous acclaim. Indeed,
in some surveys that were taken to gauge the popularity of various shows and
attractions at the 1964 New York
World's Fair, Walt's shows often took four of the top five slots.
Attendance-wise, "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," "It's A Small
World," "Carousel of Progress" and "The Magic Skyway"
always made it into the top 15.

Of course, it's not like Disney didn't have a few
difficulties with its attractions during their days at the Fair. For example,
Mr. Lincoln had to have his glass eyes and false teeth repaired repeatedly. Why
for? Because some guests at the Fair became convinced that there was just no
way that this lifelike figure could be a robot. So — in an effort to prove
that Disney's Lincoln figure was
really just a guy in a suit — these folks used to whip the free ball bearings
that they'd pick up the SKF exhibit at the Honest Abe AA figure. Hence the
cracked eyeballs and the chipped false teeth.

The "Small World" attraction also had to deal with
periodic damage caused by pranksters. Not-so-nice New Yorkers were forever
stealing fish out of the Koi pond at the Japanese pavilion and slipping the
colorful creatures into the immense water-filled trough that ran through the
Pepsi-Cola show building. That is, of course, when they weren't emptying entire
bottles of Mr. Bubble into the water … which would result in the boats having
to push through 4-foot high walls of foam.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

Disney also wanted to have some of the company's rubberheads
– you know, those full-sized costume characters that regularly meet-n-greet
tourists at Disneyland and Walt Disney World – make
daily appearances in front of the Pepsi-Cola Building.
However, after Snow White had a switchblade pulled on her and Practical Pig had
his arm of his costume torn off, Disney's rubberheads suddenly began greeting
guests at the Fair from above – waving down at the people standing in line at
"It's A Small World" from a platform that was fixed to the
bottom-most portion of the Tower of the Four Winds.

True to his word, Walt tried to get all four of the exhibits
that Walt Disney Productions produced for the Fair brought back to Disneyland.
To that end, Disney was about 75% successful.

He got "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" and the
"Carousel of Progress" brought back to Anaheim
virtually unchanged. "It's A Small World?" Well, the ride made it
back to Disneyland … but not the Tower of the Four
Winds. As charming as this immense mobile might have been, Walt balked when he
learned about the projected cost of dismantling the tower and having it shipped
back to California.


Walt Disney & Rolly Crump
with the Tower of the Four Winds in
Glendale,
before it was disassembled & sent to Flushing
Meadows. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Which is why — after the Fair closed — the Tower of the
Four Winds was unceremoniously pulled down. The all-metal structure was chopped
into itty, bitty pieces using acetylene torches, then tossed into the Flushing
Rive The Tower's final resting place? I keep hearing that most of it ended just
offshore of the Fair's Lakeside Amusement area / Transportation Zone. Anyone up
for mounting an underwater salvage operation?

Ford's Magic Skyway? Well, given the size of the thing,
there was just no way that the entire attraction was going to make it back to Anaheim.
Walt settled for just the dinosaur AA figures, which he then tacked on the
park's "Grand Canyon" diorama as a trip
through the "Primeval World." This sequence has been serving as the
grand finale for the grand circle tour of Disneyland
aboard the park's steam locomotives for almost 35 years now.

Of course, these are the sorts of stories that any dedicated
Disneyana fan could already tell you about the company's involvement in the New
York World's Fair. But one of the more intriguing but
least well know aspects of Disney's tenure at the Fair was — after the 1964
season closed and the billion dollar extravaganza hadn't even come close to
meeting its attendance projections — Moses supposedly met with Walt and asked
for his help in driving up attendance for the 1965 season. Robert allegedly
proposed a new Disney-designed amusement area, which would have been built on a
large vacant piece of land next to the gas pavilion. Moses reportedly
envisioned a miniature Disneyland, complete with castle
and dark rides. Walt politely refused Robert's request.


(L to R) Robert Moses, Walt
Disney & Henry Ford II at the grand opening of the Magic
Skyway at the Ford
Wonder Rotunda. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Why for? Well, maybe it was because Disney knew that Moses
was skating on thin ice at that point. As 1965 and the Fair continued to fall
behind its financial projections, a movement was started to oust Moses as head
of the Fair. And whose name was on the short list to take over Robert's
position as President of the Fair. You guessed it, folks: Walt Disney.

When approached about the position, Walt again supposedly
politely refused. Why? Probably because his top secret Florida
project was already well underway. So why waste time trying to find ways to
improve attendance at Flushing Meadows when there was a whole new world to be
carved out of the swamps of Florida?

Of course, even though Walt turned down the job as President
of the Fair, that didn't necessary mean that he wasn't above raiding the Fair's
staff to help run his own organization. That's why Walt hired away Robert
Moses' right hand man, General William E. (Joe) Potter (USA,
ret.) as the Fair was winding down.


William E. "General
Joe" Potter points to the Magic Kingdom
construction site.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Who's General Joe Potter? Well, prior to his time spent
working with Moses, Potter spent many years working with the Army Corps of
Engineers. Joe was a man who accustomed to taking on big jobs and getting them
done. At one point, Potter had actually been governor of the Panama
Canal Zone.

After watching Potter masterfully ride herds on the
construction of the dozens of different pavilions that were rising up out of
Flushing Meadow, Walt knew that Joe was exactly the guy he needed to help turn
all those cypress swamps in Florida
into a vacation paradise. Which is why — as the Fair was drawing to a close in
late 1965 — Disney offered Potter a position with the Disney organization.

In the end, Potter was the man responsible for turning the
28,000 acres of Florida swampland
that Disney had purchased outside of Orlando
into a workable construction site. Starting in July 1967, Joe and his staff dug
44 miles of canals. Potter's crew also drained the 450-acre Bay Lake,
scraped the bottom clean, refilled the lake, then move 9 million cubic yards of
earth to create a nearby lagoon. This monumental effort led to the creation of
the scenic centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom Resort area: Seven Seas Lagoon.


The Seven Seas Lagoon worksite
as seen from above. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So who knows if Walt Disney World would have become the
enormous success it is today if Gen. Joe Potter hadn't been available to help
carve this vacation paradise out of the Florida
wilderness. Of course, Walt probably wouldn't have even met Joe if the Disney
organization hadn't done all those shows for Robert Moses and his 1964 New
York World's Fair.

So — in the end — I guess maybe the Fair WAS actually the
vital stepping stone in the creation of Walt Disney World. But just not in the
way you might have thought that it was.

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse‘s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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