Walt famously once said “You can’t top pigs with pigs.” Which the world has since interpreted as Walt saying that “… I don’t like sequels.”
Which simply isn’t true. In Walt’s lifetime, his studio turned out at least two sets of sequels.
- “The Absent Minded Professor” — which was released to theaters in March of 1961
- and its sequel, “Son of Flubber” — which was released to theaters in January of 1963 (less than two years later)
- “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones” — which was released to theaters in March of 1964
- and its sequel, “The Monkey’s Uncle” — which was released to theaters in August of 1964 (just 17 months later).
Walt was obviously an innovator and a storyteller.
But by the early 1960s, he was also a practical businessman who was always on the lookout for additional revenue streams – which Disney could then funnel into expanding his family fun park in Anaheim, CA.
Likewise underwrite the cost of developing Project Sunshine in Florida (which eventually became The Walt Disney World Resort).
Walt Disney Movies About Dogs
Walt detected a pattern — a certain type of Disney-produced film that audiences then seemed to respond to — he’d then have this Studio lean into that pattern.
Case in point:
- “Old Yeller” came out in December of 1957 and did big business, Walt made note of that.
- Then when “The Shaggy Dog” came out in March of 1959 and did even bigger business at the box office
… Walt said “Okay. That’s officially a thing. People like Disney-produced movies about dogs.”
He then had his Studio’s literary acquisition team go out and snatch up the movie rights to a bunch of books about dogs.
And then over the next five years, Walt Disney Productions released:
- “Nikki: Wild Dog of the North” — in July of 1961
- “Greyfriars Bobby” — later that same month
- “Big Red” — in June of 1962
- “Savage Sam” in — June of 1963
- “The Incredible Journey” — in November of 1963
- “The Ugly Dachshund” — in February of 1966
That’s six dog-based movies in just five years time. And every one of these films turned a tidy profit for Walt Disney Studios. Likewise gave Walt a movie that he could eventually turn into a two part episode of his “Wonderful World of Color” anthology series (which aired on NBC on Sunday nights).
Disney Films Starring Fred McMurray
Okay. So this is Walt Disney, the guy with an eye out for a new trend at the box office. So as soon as “The Absent Minded Professor” comes and does big box office, Walt asks himself “Was that because people like movies with Fred McMurray in them or was that because people like movies with flying cars in them?”
Given that Fred had previously starred in “The Shaggy Dog” for Disney Studios (which had also been a huge hit for the Mouse House), Walt hedged his bet. He had his Studio produce a series of new movies that starred McMurray:
- “Bon Voyage!” — released in May of 1962
- “Son of Flubber,” the sequel to “Absent Minded Professor” — released in January of 1963
- “Follow Me, Boys!” — released to theaters in December of 1966
- and “The Happiest Millionaire” — released to theaters in November of 1967
And since all but one of those movies (i.e., “Son of Flubber”) seriously under-performed at the box office, it was clear that Fred McMurray wasn’t exactly the huge movie star that Walt had hoped he’d be.
Disney Movies About Cars & “Magical Things”
Remember that Walt was hedging his bet here. So — while he was ordering his studio to make a bunch of Fred McMurray movies — Walt was also telling Disney’s literary acquisitions team to “ … find me a bunch of books about cars that do weird & magical things.”
During this time, Disney Studios’ acquired the film rights to Upton Sinclair’s “The Gnomobile” (His 1936 novel which Disney would then release to theaters in July of 1967) as well as … Well, not a book. And not a script really. More of a treatment for a film which Gordon Buford had written called “Car, Boy, Girl.”
“Car, Boy, Girl” – Herbie, The Love Bug Origin Story
This story can out of Buford’s childhood growing up on a farm in Colorado. Where he watched his mother & father regularly fight with the family car. Which — seemingly on a whim — would sometimes run and transport the family into town and back. And sometimes not.
Buford described how “ … Neither my mother’s gentle persuasion nor my father’s cussing could persuade this automobile out of its quiet, stubborn rebellion.” Gordon added fun details like how his mother would always hold her breath as she went to press her foot down on the starter. As if that would somehow placate the car. Convince it to start for her.
Walt liked the potential he saw in “Car, Boy, Girl.” How a stubborn little car with a mind of its own could eventually bring a couple together. He thought that this sounded like just the sort of story that Walt Disney Productions should make. The sort of movie that his audience would eat right up. So Walt had Disney acquire the film rights to “Car, Boy, Girl.”
But then Walt died in December of 1966. And “Car, Boy, Girl” sat in a slush pile of scripts on Walt’s desk as the studio’s employees mourned and the Company tried to figure out how it would carry on without its founder.
“Car, Boy, Girl” Gets New Life
Luckily Walt has left behind a cadre of loyal creative lieutenant. People like Bill Walsh, the producer of previous Disney hits like “The Shaggy Dog,” “The Absent Minded Professor,” “Son of Flubber,” and — more importantly — Disney Studio’s biggest hit to date, “Mary Poppins.”
At that point, Bill was pretty sure that he had the formula for a successful Disney film down pat. As he said in a 1970 interview:
“I make movies for people between the ages of nine and fourteen. It’s a very intelligent and very honest audience. I don’t make movies to make personal statements. I make movies hoping they’ll make money so I’ll be able to make more movies.”Bill Walsh
So with this goal in mind, Bill got access to Walt’s office in the Summer of 1967 (The place had been locked up tight since his passing in December of 1966) and started going through that slush pile of scripts on Walt’s desk. With the goal of finding a film that would appeal to nine to 14 year-olds that would also make some money for the Mouse. And there — in the pile — was “Car, Boy, Girl.”
Walsh read through Buford’s script treatment and thought “A stubborn little car that bring a couple together. I can do something with that.”
But the question now was: Which small car should be the star of Walsh’s next project for Disney Studios?
How Herbie Became a Volkswagen Beetle and the Love Bug
To get the answer to that, Bill did something unusual. Early one morning, he had a dozen or so small cars — a couple of Toyotas, a handful of Volvos, an MG and one pearl white Volkswagen Beetle — parked out in front of the studio commissary. Then Walsh got himself a cup of coffee, sat out on the commissary patio and then watched Disney employees arrived to work that day.
What they’d do when they saw all of these small cars parked out in front of the commissary.
What Bill noticed that morning proved to be significant. For while those Disney employees admired the Volvos & that MG & the Toyotas, the only car that they petted was the Volkswagen.
So that small car wound up being the star of … Well, this movie had a lot of names as it went into production in the Fall of 1967. At various times, it was called:
- “The Magic Volksy”
- and “The Runaway Wagen”
What made coming up with a title especially difficult was that Volkswagen wouldn’t allow Disney to use the real name of this car in their movie. This is why — when you watch the first Herbie movie — you’ll hear him called “the small car,” “the Douglas special,” and the “compact car.” But they never call him what he actually is. Which is a Volkswagen Bug.
Finally … Well, Walsh needed to call the title character of his new movie something. So — since they started shooting this movie’s racing scenes in the Fall of 1967 and that Summer had supposedly been “The Summer of Love” … Bill took those two ideas and mashed them together, winding up with the name “The Love Bug.”
Disney Releases of “The Love Bug”
By the Summer of 1968 (when Walsh finished shooting all of the scenes for “The Love Bug” with Dean Jones, Michele Lee, Buddy Hackett and David Tomlinson on the Disney Lot and they began roughly assembling that footage), it became apparent that “The Love Bug” was something special. The sort of film that — if promoted properly — could be a huge, huge hit for the Studio.
So Disney’s PR team assembled an elaborate release plan for “The Love Bug.” It would first be released in just 50 cities around the US in late March of 1969. They’d let word-of-mouth build for a few weeks. And then — just as drive-in movie season arrived — make hundreds of other prints of this family comedy available to screen.
But to help make sure that “The Love Bug” stayed front-of-mind in April, May & June, Disney Studios’ PR team staged an amazing stunt. They contacted thousands of Volkswagen owners in Southern California in February of 1969 and invited them to come to Disneyland Park to take part in a “Most Lovable Bug” contest.
Disneyland’s “Most Lovable Bug” Contest – The Love Bug Parade
The idea was that the owners of all of these Volkswagen Bugs would first decorate their cars and then drive them down to Anaheim. Then 1200 of these vehicles would be parked in the Disneyland parking lot on March 23, 1969. 300 entries would be allowed in four different categories:
- Best Personality
- Most Toy-Like
- Most Comical
- and Most Psychedelic (It was the 1960s after all)
25 finalists would then be selected in each of the four categories. And then those 100 cars would be paraded through Disneyland Park (rolling in from backstage right onto Main Street, U.S.A. Then driving up to the Hub, taking a right onto Matterhorn Way and motoring on through Fantasyland. Eventually exiting backstage to the left of “it’s a small world”).
At the end of the day, the four winners in each category would be parked in front of “it’s a small world.” With the owner / owners of the winning entry in Disneyland’s first-ever “most Lovable Bug” contest then being given the keys to a brand-new 1969 Volkswagen Beetle by Dean Jones himself (the star of “The Love Bug”).
March 23, 1969 started off as a cold grey day but eventually brightened up. That was honestly the only thing that went wrong of “Love Bug Day” at Disneyland. Over a thousand Volkswagen owners showed up to take part in that day’s “Most Lovable Bug” contest. They filled the “X” section in this theme park’s parking lot.
Major media outlets & publications from around the country turned out to cover the event. You can watch a 12 minute-long film taken on that day which shows a wide variety of the entrants as well as covering the actual Love Bug parade through Disneyland Park (footage take from the Skyway shows all of these decorated Volkswagens rolling around the Hub and then drive up Matterhorn Way). Closes up with footage of Dean Jones handing the keys to a new Volkswagen to Morton & Barbara Allen of Studio City, CA.
Hugely successful PR stunt. Did just what Disney hoped it would do. Photos from the event turned up in all sort of national magazines (“Time, “Life,” “Look”) plus footage take on that day aired on TV news shows around the country.
The Success of “The Love Bug” Franchise
The PR helped turn “The Love Bug” into Disney’s largest hit since … Well, “Mary Poppins.” Of all the movies that were released in 1969, only “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” sold more tickets / earned more money than “The Love Bug.”
Which is why the Company — of course — greenlit a sequel (the first of three, actually. Not to mention that “Love Bug” reboot starring Lindsay Lohan — “Herbie: Fully Loaded” — that Disney sent out into theaters in June of 2005). “Herbie Rides Again” arrived in theaters in June of 1974.
Another Disneyland Love Bug Contest
With the hope that lightning might strikes twice, Disneyland Park staged another “Love Bug” -related contest. This time, Southern California VW owners were invited to “Beautify their Bug.” And the cars were judged in three categories, rather than 4:
- Most Comical
- Most Nostalgic
- And Most Patriotic (We were just two years away from the start of American Bicentennial after all. And earlier that same month, “America on Parade” had just premiered at Disneyland Park & WDW’s Magic Kingdom
This contest was held on June 30, 1974. And — once again — almost a thousand VW owners turned up to participate. With the 25 finalists in each category then being allowed to parade through Disneyland.
By the way, the footage that was take at this “Herbie Rides Again” promotional event was then edited together and turned into a syndicated TV special, which then aired on over 80 TV stations around the country.
These “Love Bug” contests became so well known that … Well, if you watch that “Disneyland Showtime” episode of the “Wonderful World of Color” TV show (the one which originally aired on March 22, 1970. where Kurt Russell & the Osmond Brothers visit that theme park to commemorate the grand opening of the Haunted Mansion), E.J. Peaker shows up in that program with a VW Bug that she’s supposedly decorated herself. Only to then be told that Disneyland’s “Most Lovable Bug” contest was held the year previous.
Disney Parks Love Bug Attraction
By the way, it’s worth noting that “Herbie Rides Again” did so well at the box office in the Summer of 1974, that — in early 1975 — the Imagineers were tasked with coming up with a “Love Bug” attraction for the Disney Parks.
There are a few pieces of concept art for this proposed attraction that have popped up online. One shows this “Love Bug” ride recreating that moment from “Herbie Rides Again” where that VW rolls up the support cables of the Golden Gate ‘til he reaches the very top of that bridge. Whereas another piece of concept art shows the proposed finale for this attraction. Which echoes the ending of the original “Love Bug” movie, in that — just before the finish line of a race — this VW-shaped ride vehicle would then split in half. And the Guests seated in the back seat would suddenly find themselves competing with the people in the front seat to see who would get the checkered flag.
From what WDI insiders have told me, Disney Company managers thought that the Imagineers’ plans for a “Herbie” ride were cute, but not necessarily strong enough to warrant the construction of an actual attraction.
The Love Bug would eventually find his way into a Disney theme park, though. How many of you remember — as you were experiencing the Backstage Tram Tour at Disney-MGM Studios — how you’d encounter Herbie popping a wheelie and then revving his edge / blowing out clouds of exhaust as he sat in a driveway on Residential Street.
Really tricked out. Lights would flash. Horn would honk. Car doors & hood would open. Passengers on the tram would be squirted with water spraying from Herbie’s windshield wipers.
Herbie was there on display from May of 1989 (when the Tram Tour first opened) ‘til the early 2000s when this tricked-out vehicle suffered an electrical fire and basically burned up in front of hundreds of tourists. It was later replaced with a static prop car from “Herbie: Fully Loaded.” Backstage Tram Tour closed September of 2014.
If you’re at WDW these days and want to see “The Love Bug,” you need to go to the All-Star Movies Resort and seek out Buildings 6 & 7. Those two wings of this hotel are bisected by an oversized Herbie.
“Indiana Jones and the Search for Indiana Jones”
News came late last week that NBC was cancelling the “Magnum PI” remake. This series (which obviously took its inspiration from the Tom Selleck show that originally debuted on CBS back in December of 1980 and then went on run on that network for 8 seasons. With its final episode airing on May 8, 1988).
Anyway … Over 30 years later, CBS decided to remake “Magnum.” This version of the action drama debuted on September 24, 2018 and ran for four seasons before then being cancelled. NBC picked up the “Magnum” remake where it ran for one more season before word came down on June 23rd that this action drama was being cancelled yet again.
FYI: The second half of Season 5 of “Magnum” (10 episodes) has yet to air on NBC. It will be interesting to see when that final set of shows / the series finale gets scheduled.
This all comes to mind this week – out ahead of the theatrical release of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” because … Well, if CBS execs had been a bit more flexible back in 1980, the star of the original version of “Magnum PI” (Tom Selleck) would have played the lead in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Which was released to theaters back on June 12, 1981.
That’s the part of the Indiana Jones story that the folks at Lucasfilm often opt to skim over.
That Harrison Ford wasn’t George Lucas’ first choice to play Doctor Jones.
Auditions for Indiana Jones – Harrison’s Not on the List
Mind you, Steven Spielberg – right from the get-go – had pushed for Ford to play this part. The way I hear it, Lucas showed Spielberg a work-in-progress cut of “The Empire Strikes Back.” And Steven was so taken with Harrison’s performance as Han Solo in that Irwin Kershner film that he immediately began pushing for Ford to be cast as Doctor Jones.
Whereas Mr. Lucas … I mean, it wasn’t that George had anything against Harrison. What with Ford’s performances first in “American Grafitti” and then in “A New Hope,” these two already had a comfortable working relationship.
But that said, Lucas was genuinely leery of … Well, the sort of creative collaboration that Martin Scorcese and Robert DeNiro. Where one actor & one director repeatedly worked together. To George’s way of thinking, that was a risky path to follow. Hitching your wagon to a single star.
Which is why – when auditions got underway for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1979 — Mike Fenton basically brought in every big performer of that era to read for Dr. Jones except Harrison Ford. We’re talking:
- Steve Martin
- Chevy Chase
- Bill Murray
- Jack Nicholson
- Peter Coyote
- Nick Nolte
- Sam Elliot
- Tim Matheson
- and Harry Hamlin
Casting a Comedian for Indiana Jones
Please note that there are a lot of comedians on this list. That’s because – while “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was in development — Spielberg was directed his epic WWII comedy, “1941.” And for a while there, Steve & George were genuinely uncertain about whether the movie that they were about to make would be a sincere valentine to the movie serials of the 1930s & the 1940s or more of a spoof.
It’s worth noting here that three of the more ridiculous set pieces found in “Temple of Doom” …
- the shoot-out at Club Obi Wan in Shanghai
- Indy, Willie & Short Round surviving that plane crash by throwing an inflatable life raft out of the cargo hatch
- and that film’s mine cart chase (which was not only inspired by Disney theme park favorites the Matterhorn Bobsleds & Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but some of the sound effects that you hear in this portion of “Temple of Doom” were actually recorded after hours at Disneyland inside of these very same attractions)
… all originally supposed to be in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I’ve actually got a copy of the very first version of the screenplay that Lawrence Kasdan wrote for the first “Indy” movie where all three of these big action set pieces were supposed to be part of the story that “Raiders” told. And I have to tell you that this early iteration of the “Raiders” screenplay really does read more like a spoof of serials than a sincere, loving salute to this specific style of cinema.
Casting Indiana Jones – Jeff or Tom
Anyway … Back now to the casting of the male lead for “Raiders” … After seeing virtually every actor out in LA while looking for just the right performer to portray Indiana Jones, it all came down to two guys:
- Jeff Bridges
- and Tom Selleck
Jeff Bridges as Indiana Jones
Mike Fenton was heavily pushing for Jeff Bridges. Having already appeared with Clint Eastwood in 1974’s “Thunderbolt & Lightfoot” (Not to mention that “King Kong” remake from 1976), Bridges was a known quantity. But what Fenton liked especially liked about Bridges when it came to “Raiders” was … Well, at that time, Jeff was just coming off “Heaven’s Gate.”
Mind you, nowadays, because we’ve all now had the luxury of seeing the director’s cut of this Michael Cimino movie, we recognize “Heaven’s Gate” for the cinematic masterpiece that it is. But 40+ years ago, that honestly wasn’t the case. All audiences had to judge this movie by was the severely truncated version that United Artists sent out into theaters. Which – because “Heaven’s Gate” had cost $44 million to make and only sold $3.5 million of tickets – then became the textbook example of Hollywood excess.
Long story short: Given that being associated with “Heaven’s Gate” had somewhat dinged Bridges’ reputation for being a marketable star (i.e., a performer that people would pay good money to see up on the big screen), Jeff was now looking to appear in something highly commercial. And the idea of playing the lead in a film directed by Steven Spielberg (the “Jaws” & “Close Encounter” guy) and produced by George Lucas (Mr. “Star Wars”) was very, very appealing at that time. Bridges was even willing to sign a contract with Spielberg & Lucas that would have then roped him into not only playing Indiana Jones in “Raider of the Lost Ark” but also to appear as this very same character in two yet-to-be-written sequels.
Better yet, because “Heaven’s Gate” had temporarily dimmed Bridges’ star status, Jeff was also willing to sign on to do the first “Indy” film for well below his usual quote. With the understanding that – should “Raiders of the Lost Ark” succeed at the box office – Bridges would then be paid far more to appear in this film’s two sequels.
That seemed like a very solid plan for “Raiders.” Landing a known movie star to play the lead in this action-adventure at a bargain price.
Ah, but standing in Mike Fenton’s way was Marcia Lucas.
Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones
Marcia Lucas, who had seen Tom Selleck’s audition for “Raiders” (And you can see it as well. Just go to Google and type in “Tom Selleck” and “Indiana Jones.” And if you dig around for a bit, you’ll then see a feature that Lucas & Spielberg shot for “Entertainment Tonight” back in 2008 [This story was done in support of the theatrical release of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”]. And as part of this piece, George and Steve share Tom’s original audition for “Raiders.” And what’s genuinely fascinating about this footage is that Selleck’s scene partner is Sean Young. Who – at that time, anyway – was up for the role of Marion Ravenwood) and kept telling her husband, “You should cast this guy. He’s going to be a big star someday.”
And given that George was smart enough to regularly heed Marcia Lucas’ advice (She had made invaluable suggestions when it came to the editing of “American Graffiti” and the original “Star Wars.” Not to downplay George Lucas’ cinematic legacy, but Marcia Lucas was a world-class storyteller in and of her own right), Lucas then reached out to Spielberg and persuaded him that they should cast relative unknown Tom Selleck as Doctor Jones over the already well-known Jeff Bridges.
Now don’t feel too bad for Jeff Bridges. When he lost out on playing the lead in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Jeff then accepted a role in the very next, high profile, sure-to-be-commercial project that came along. Which turned out to be Disney’s very first “TRON” movie. Which was eventually released to theaters on July 9, 1982.
Back to Tom Selleck now … You have to remember that – back then – Selleck was the handsome guy who’d already shot pilots for six different shows that then hadn’t gone to series. Which was why Tom was stuck being the guest star on shows like “The Fall Guy” and “Taxi.” Whereas once word got out around town that Selleck was supposed to play the lead in a project that Spielberg was directed & Lucas was producing … Well, this is when CBS decided that they’d now take the most recent pilot that Tom had shot and then go to series with this show.
That program was – of course – the original “Magnum PI.” And it’s at this point where our story started to get complicated.
“Magnum PI” – Two Out of Three Say “Yes”
Okay. During the first season of a TV show, it’s traditionally the network – rather than the production company (which – in this case – was Glen A. Larson Productions. The company behind the original versions of “Battlestar Galactica” & “Knight Rider”) or the studio where this series is actually being shot (which – in this case – was Universal Television) that has all the power. And in this particular case, the network execs who were pulling all the strings behind-the-scenes worked for CBS.
And when it came to the first season of “Magnum PI,” CBS had a deal with Glen A. Larson Productions and Universal Television which stated that the talent which had been contracted to appear in this new action drama would then be available for the production of at least 13 episodes with an option to shoot an additional 9 episodes (This is known in the industry as the back nine. As in: the last nine holes of a golf course).
Anyway, if you take those initial 13 episodes and then tack on the back nine, you then get 22 episodes total. Which – back in the late 1970s / early 1980s, anyway – was what a full season of a network television show typically consisted of.
Anyway … The contract that Selleck had signed with Glen A. Larson Productions, Universal Television & CBS stated that he had to be available when production of Season One of “Magnum PI” began in March of 1980. More to the point, Tom also had to be available should CBS exercise its option to air 22 episodes of this new series on that television network over the course of “Magnum PI” ‘s first season.
Which then made things complicated for George Lucas & Steven Spielberg because … Well, in order for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to make its June 12, 1981 release date, that then meant that production of the first “Indy” movie would have to get underway no later than June 23, 1980.
But here’s the thing: Production of Season One of “Magnum PI” was scheduled to run through the first week of July of that same year (1980). So in order for Tom Selleck to play Indiana Jones in “Raiders,” he was going to need to be wrapped on production of “Magnum PI” by June 22, 1980 at the absolute latest.
So Spielberg & Lucas went to Glen A. Larsons Productions and asked if Selleck could please be sprung from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligations by June 22nd. And they said “Yes.” Then Steven & George went to Universal Television and asked executives there for their help in clearing Tom’s schedule so that he’d then be available to start work on “Raiders.” And they say “Yes” as well.
Spielberg & Lucas now go to CBS. But instead of the quick “Yeses” that they got from officials at Glen A. Larson Productions and Universal Television, it takes those suits at the Tiffany Network weeks before they then decided to say “No, they couldn’t release Tom Selleck early to go work on ‘Raiders’ “ because …
I’ve never really been able to get a straight answer here as to why CBS execs dug in their heels here. Why they flat-out refused to release Selleck early from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligation and allow him to go shoot “Raiders.”
Payback from “The Star Wars Holiday Special” Trash Talk
That said, it is worth noting that “The Star Wars Holiday Special” aired on CBS back in November of 1978. And given that – in the years that followed — Lucas wasn’t exactly shy when it came to saying how much he hated that two hour-long presentation (Or – for that matter – how George really regretted caving into the requests of CBS execs. Who had insisted that television stars long associated with the Tiffany Network – people like Art Carney, Harvey Korman & Bea Arthur – be given prominent guest starring roles in “The Star Wars Holiday Special”). And I’ve heard whispers over the years that CBS executives preventing Tom Selleck from appearing in “Raiders” could be interpreted as the Tiffany Network getting some payback for what George had said publicly about the “Star Wars Holiday Special.”
Harrison Ford Comes to Rescue “Indiana Jones”
Anyway … It’s now literally just weeks before production of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is supposed to begin and Spielberg & Lucas have just learned that that they’ve lost their film’s star. CBS is flat-out refusing to release Tom Selleck early from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligation. So Steven & George now have to find someone else to play Indy … and fast.
The real irony here is … The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists would go on strike in the Summer of 1980. Which then shut prematurely shut down production of the first season of “Magnum PI.” (As a direct result, the first full season of this action drama to air on CBS only had 18 episodes, rather than the usual 22). And because this job action lasted ‘til October 23rd of that same year … Well, this meant that Tom Selleck would have actually been free to start shooting “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on June 23, 1980 because production of Season One of “Magnum PI” was already shut down by then due to that AFTRA strike.
But no one knew – in May of 1980, anyway – that this job action was going to happen in just a few weeks. All that Steven Spielberg & George Lucas knew was that they now needed a new lead actor for “Raiders.” And circling back on Jeff Bridges was no longer an option. As I mentioned earlier, Jeff had agreed to do “TRON” for Disney. And – in the interim – Bridges gone off to shoot “Cutter’s Way” for MGM / UA.
So this is where Harrison Ford enters the equation. As he recalls:
In May of 1980, I get a call from George Lucas. Who says ‘I’m messaging a script over to you this morning. As soon as it gets there, I need you to immediately read this script. Then – as soon as you’re done – I need you to call.
So the script arrives and it’s for ‘Raiders.’ I read it and it’s good. So I call George back and say ‘It’s good.’ And he then says ‘Would you be interested in playing Indy?’ I say that it looks like it would be a fun part to play.
George then says ‘ That’s great to hear. Because we start shooting in four weeks. Now I need you to meet with Steven Spielberg today and convince him that you’re the right guy to play Indy.’
Of course, given that Spielberg had been pushing for Ford to pay Indy ever since he had first seen that work-in-progress version of “The Empire Strikes Back” … Well, Harrison’s meeting with Steven was very, very short. And just a few weeks later, Spielberg, Lucas & Ford were all at the Port de la Pallice in La Rochelle. Where – on the very first day of shooting on “Raiders” (which – again – was June 23, 1980)– the scene that was shot was the one where that Nazi sub (the one that Indy had lashed himself to its periscope by using his bullwhip as a rope) was arriving at its secret base.
And all of this happened because Harrison immediately agreed to do “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when the part of Indy was first offered to him in mid-May of 1980.
Before “Star Wars” was “Star Wars”
So why such a quick yes? Well, you have to remember that “Empire Strikes Back” wouldn’t be released to theaters ‘til May 21, 1980. And no one knew at that time whether this sequel to the original “Star Wars” would do as well at the box office as “A New Hope” had back in 1977 (FYI: “Empire” would eventually sell over $500 million worth of tickets worldwide. Which is roughly two thirds of what the original “Star Wars” earned three years earlier).
More to the point, the four films that Harrison had shot right after “A New Hope” / prior to “Empire Strikes Back” (i.e., “Heroes” AND “Force 10 from Navarone” AND “Hanover Street” AND “The Frisco Kid”) had all under-performed at the box office. So to Ford’s way of thinking, taking on a role that Tom Selleck was no longer available to play – one that had the potential of spawning two sequels – seemed like a very smart thing to do. Especially after three years of cinematic stumbles.
By the way, whenever this topic ever comes up, Harrison Ford is very gracious. He always makes a point of saying that he’s grateful to have gotten this career opportunity. More to the point, that he still feels kind of bad that Tom Selleck never got the chance to play this part.
Tom Selleck After “Indiana Jones”
That said, we shouldn’t feel too bad for Tom Selleck. After all, the original “Magnum PI” proved to be a long running hit for CBS. And in an effort to smooth over any residual bad feelings that may have resulted from Tom being forced to give up “Raiders” back in May of 1980, Selleck was eventually allowed to create his own production company (i.e., T.W.S. Productions, Inc. As in Thomas William Selleck Productions). Which – after the fact – was then cut in on some of those “Magnum PI” -related revenue streams.
More to the point, while “Magnum PI” was on hiatus following its second year in production, Selleck flew off to Yugoslavia. Where he then shot his own Indiana Jones-esque film for theatrical release. Which was called “High Road to China” in the States, but – overseas – was promoted as “Raiders of the End of the World.”
FYI: Warner Bros. released “High Road to China” stateside 40 years ago this year. On March 18, 1983, to be exact. It didn’t do all that great at the box office. $28 million in ticket sales versus $15 million in production costs.
And over the years, there’s even been some talk of finding a way to maybe set things right here. By that I mean: Finally finding a way to officially fold Tom Selleck into the world of Indiana Jones.
Could Tom Selleck Work with Indiana Jones?
The way I hear it, between the time when “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was theatrically released in May of 1989 and when “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” debuted in May of 2008, there were a number of ideas for Indiana Jones sequels tossed around. And from what I’ve been told, there was at least one treatment for a fourth Indiana Jones film written that proposed pairing up Harrison Ford & Tom Selleck. With the idea here being that Selleck was supposed to have played Ford’s brother.
Obviously that film was never made. And – no – I don’t know what state Indiana Jones’ brother was supposed to be named after.
Will “Metro” – that “Cars” Spin-Off Which Disney Developed – Ever Get Made?
First came “Cars” in June of 2006.
This Pixar Animation Studios production did so well (Of all the high grossing films released that year, “Cars” was No. 2 at the box office. Only “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” sold more tickets in 2006) that Disney execs asked John Lasseter to develop a sequel.
“Cars 2” came out in June of 2011 and also did quite well at the box office (It took the No. 7 slot in the Top-Ten-for-ticket-sales that year). Which is why Disney then asked Pixar to prep a follow-up film.
“Cars 3” would eventually arrive in theaters in June of 2017. But in the meantime, Disney & Pixar began exploring the idea of expanding this film franchise. Largely because the amount of money that the Mouse was making off of the sales of “Cars” -related merchandise was … To be blunt here, mind boggling.
Don’t believe me? Well, then consider this: In just the first five years that the “Cars” film franchise existed, global retail sales of merchandise related to these Pixar movies approached $10 billion. That’s billion with a “B.”
So is it any wonder that – while Pixar was still trying to get a handle on what “Cars 3” would actually be about – the Mouse (through its DisneyToon Studios arm. Which produced home premieres like those “TinkerBell” movies) began actively looking into ways to expand this lucrative franchise?
“Planes” – The First “Cars” Spin-Off
The first “Cars” spin-off to arrive in the marketplace was “Planes.” This Klay Hall film (which was set in “The World Above Cars”) was released theatrically in August of 2013, with the Blu-ray & DVD version of “Planes” hitting store shelves in November of that same year.
“Planes: Fire and Rescue” followed in the Summer of 2014. And while a “Planes 3” was definitely put in development (At the Disney Animation panel at the 2017 D23 Expo, John Lasseter not only shared a clip from this film. But he also revealed that this project – which, at that time, was entitled “Space” – was slated to be released theatrically in April of 2019) … This animated feature was abruptly cancelled when DisneyToon Studios was shuttered in June of 2018.
But wait. There’s more … In addition to the aborted “Planes 3,” Disney had other “Cars” spin-offs in the works. One was supposed to be built around boats. While yet another was supposed to have shined a spotlight on trucks.
“Metro” – The World Below Cars
And then there was “Metro.” Which was supposed to have been set in the inner city and focused on what went on in “The World Below Cars.” As in: Down in the subway system.
Just in the past week or so, a few pieces of concept art for “Metro” have surfaced online. Giving us all an intriguing look at what might have been. These preproduction paintings suggest that this “Cars” spin-off would be far grittier than … Say … the sort of adventures that Lightning McQueen & Mater would typically have out in Radiator Springs.
That said, it’s worth noting here that – just in the past year or so – we’ve seen Disney & Pixar attempt to expand the turf that these two characters could comfortably cover. Take – for example — “Cars on the Road,” that nine-part series which debuted on Disney+ back in September of last year. This collection of animated shorts literally sent Lightning McQueen & Mater off on a road trip.
So who knows?
Given that Bob Iger (at Disney’s quarterly earnings call held earlier this week) revealed that the Company now has sequels in the works for “Frozen,” “Toy Story,” and “Zootopia” … Well, is it really all that far-fetched to think that – at some point further on down the road – Disney & Pixar will put yet another sequel to “Cars” in the works?
One that might send Lightning McQueen & Mater off to explore the gritty inner-city world that we glimpsed in all that concept art for “Metro,” that never-produced “Cars” spin-off.
Time will tell.
Park’s Closed: “Vacation ’58” Inspired by Seasonal Closing at Disneyland
This year is the 30th anniversary of the release of National Lampoon’s “Vacation.” Warner Bros. released this Harold Ramis movie to theaters back in July of 1983.
John Hughes adapted his own short story (i.e., “Vacation ’58,” which had run in “National Lampoon” magazine less than four years earlier. The September 1979 issue, to be exact) to the screen.
Key difference between “Vacation ‘58” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation” is that the movie follows the Griswold family on their epic journey to Walley World. Whereas the short story that Hughes wrote (i.e., “Vacation ‘58”) follows an unnamed family to a different theme park. The actual Disneyland in Anaheim.
Let me remove any doubt here. Here’s the actual opening line to John Hughes’ “Vacation ’58.”
What’s kind of intriguing about the plot complication that sets Act 3 of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” in motion (i.e., that – just as the Grisworld arrive at Walley World [after a harrowing cross-country journey] – they discover that “America’s favorite family fun park” is closed for two weeks for cleaning and to make repairs) is that … Well, it’s based on something that Hughes learned about the real Disneyland. That – from 1958 through 1985 [a total of 27 years] the Happiest Place on Earth used to close two days a week during the slower times of year. To be specific, Mondays & Tuesday in the Fall & early Winter as well as in the late Winter / early Spring.
Want to stress here: Two days a week versus the two weeks each year in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
When Did Disneyland Start Opening 7-Days a Week?
It wasn’t ‘til February 6, 1985 that Disneyland Park formally switched to being a seven-day-a-week operation. This was just four months after Michael Eisner had become Disney’s new CEO. And part of his effort to get as much profit as possible out of Disney’s theme parks.
Which is a trifle ironic. Given that – back in December of 1958 – Disneyland deliberately switched over to an open-five-days-a-week-during-the-off-season schedule in an effort to get Anaheim’s operating costs under control. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Early Disneyland Operations – Ticket Books and Ticket Booths
So let’s start with the obvious: When Disneyland Park first opened in July of 1955, there had never been one of these before. So the Happiest Place on Earth was a learn-as-you-go operation.
So things that are now closely associated with a visit to Disneyland back in the day (EX: Having to purchase a book of tickets before you entered that theme park. Which then pushed Guests to go seek out various A, B, C & D Ticket attractions around the grounds) … Well, that form of admission media didn’t come online ‘til October 11, 1955. Some three months after Disneyland Park first open.
Prior to this, if you wanted to go on a ride at Disneyland, you had to first get on line at one of the Park’s omni-present ticket booth. Once you got to the front of that line, you then had to open your wallet and purchase enough tickets for your entire family to enjoy that attraction. Only then could you go over to the actual attraction and get in line for that experience. Where – just before boarding that ride – you then surrendered that ticket.
Disney Parks Getting Too Expensive
Interesting side note: It’s now an established part of the on-going Disney theme park narrative that “Going to the Parks has just gotten to be too expensive and/or complicated,” what with the institution of Lightning Lane and then forcing people to use virtual queues if they want to experience newer attractions at the Parks like “Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind” at Epcot or “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway” out in Anaheim.
Walt Fixes “Expensive” Impression
What fascinates me about the parallels here is that … When Walt began to see the same thing bubble up in press coverage for his new family fun park (i.e., All of those Summer-of-1955 stories in newspapers & magazines about how expensive it was to visit Disneyland. How – whenever a Guest visited this place – they were constantly being forced to repeatedly open their wallet), his immediate reaction was “We need to fix this now. I don’t want people coming away from their visit to Disneyland with this impression.” And by October 11, 1955 (less than 3 months after Disneyland Park first opened), they had a fix in place.
Lightning Lane – Raising Prices
Counter this with Lightning Lane. Which was first introduced at Walt Disney World in October of 2021. Which has gotten miserable press since Day One (and is a large part of people’s growing perception that it’s just gotten too expensive to take their family on vacation to WDW). Disney Corporate knows about this (hence the number of times questions about this perception has bubbled up in recent surveys that Resort has sent out).
And what does the Company do with this info? During the 2022 holiday season, Disney Parks actually raised the prices on individual Lightning Lanes for popular attractions like “Rise of the Resistance” to $22 a person.
Conclusion: Disney knows about all the bad press the Resort is getting lately but doesn’t care. They like all of the short-term money that Lightning Lane is pulling in right now and are deliberately overlooking all of the long-term implications of the narrative getting out there that going to WDW is getting too expensive.
“Spend Dollars to Get People Back” – Disney Cutting Corners on Projects
Which reminds me of something Walt once said when an Imagineer suggested that the Company could save a few bucks by cutting corners on a particular project: “If people ever stop coming to the Park because they think we cut corners on a project, the few cents we saved ultimately aren’t going to matter. We’re then going to have to spend dollars to get those people back.”
That’s what worries me about Disney’s current situation. What’s the Company ultimately going to have to do convince those people who now think that a trip to WDW has just gotten too expensive for the family to come back.
Disneyland Parking Closing on Mondays & Tuesdays
Back to Disneyland Park closing on Mondays & Tuesdays during the off-season … When did this practice start? Let me share something that I just found in the 1958 edition of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. This document (which was published on December 23, 1958) states that:
So – reading between the lines here – in Disneyland’s second year of operation (July 1956 – June 1957), the folks down in Anaheim experimented with keeping Walt’s family fun park open six days a week during the slower times of the year. Which – I’m told – resulted in all sort of angry people at the entrance of Disneyland’s parking lot. Who had to drive down to Anaheim for the day to experience the Happiest Place on Earth only to find said place closed.
Okay. So for Disneyland’s third year of operation (July 1957 – June 1958) on Walt’s orders, Disneyland is then kept open seven days a week all year long. Which proves to be a problem on the off-season, given that there are days in the late Fall / early Spring when there are more Cast Members working in the Park than there are Guests coming through the turnstiles.
Which explains this line in the 1958 version of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. Which – again – I remind you was published on December 23rd of that year:
So did this change in the way that Disneyland Park ultimately operated off-season ultimately work out? Let’s jump ahead to the 1959 version of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. In that document (which was also published on December 23rd of that year) states that:
Making it Right for the Disneyland Hotel
Okay. So this change in the way that Disneyland Park operated during the off-season made things easier for Walt and Disney’s book-keepers back in Burbank. But what about Jack Wrather, the guy that Walt went to back in the Late Winter / Early Spring of 1955 and begged & pleaded for Wrather to build a hotel right next to Disneyland Park?
What happened to the Disneyland Hotel in late 1958 / early 1959 when – in the off-season – Disneyland Park goes to just a five-day-a-week operating schedule? At this point, the Disneyland Hotel is the largest hotel in all of Orange County with over 300 rooms.
It’s at this point that Walt personally reaches out to Jack and says “I know, I know. This operational change at the Park is going to affect your bottom line at the Hotel. Don’t fret. I’m definitely going to make this worth your while.”
Extending the Monorail to the Disneyland Hotel
And Walt followed through on that promise. In June of 1961, he extended Disneyland’s monorail system by a full 2 & a half miles so that this futuristic transportation system rolled right up to the Disneyland Hotel’s front door. Which was a perk that no other hotel in Orange County had.
And just in case you’re wondering: The cost of extending Disneyland’s monorail system over to the Disneyland Hotel was $1.9 million (That’s $19 million in 2023 money).
Magic Kingdom Golf Course at Disneyland Hotel
That very same year, Walt had some of his staff artists design a miniature golf course that could then be built on the grounds of the Disneyland Hotel. This kid-friendly area (called the Magic Kingdom Golf Course) featured elaborately themed holes with recreations of attractions that could be found right next door at Disneyland Park.
- Hole No. Three was Sleeping Beauty Castle
- Hole No. Five was Matterhorn Mountain
Other holes featured recreations of popular Disneyland attractions of the 1960s. Among them the TWA Moonliner, the Submarine Voyage, the Painted Desert from Frontierland (this is the area Guests traveled through when they experienced Disneyland”s “Mine Train thru Nature’s Wonderland” attraction), Tom Sawyer Island, the Fort in Frontierland, not to mention Skull Rock as well as Monstro the Whale from Disneyland’s Fantasyland.
This area was specially illuminated for night-time play. Which meant that the Magic Kingdom Golf Course at the Disneyland Hotel could operate from 10 a.m. in the morning ‘til 10 p.m. a night seven days a week.
Additional Disneyland Hotel Expansion and Offerings
It’s worth noting here that – from the moment the monorail was connected to The Disneyland Hotel – that hotel achieved 100% occupancy. Which is why – even after Disneyland Park switched to a 5-day-a-week operating schedule during the off-season – Disneyland Hotel launched into an aggressive expansion plan. With its 11 story-tall Sierra Tower breaking ground in 1961 (it opened the following year in September of 1962). Not to mention adding all sort of restaurants & shops to the area surrounding that hotel’s Olympic-sized pool.
All of which came in handy during those Mondays & Tuesdays during the Winter Months when people were staying at the Disneyland Hotel and had nowhere to go on those days when the Happiest Place on Earth was closed.
It’s worth noting here that the Disneyland Hotel (with Walt’s permission, by the way) on those days when Disneyland was closed would offer its Guests the opportunity to visit Knott’s Berry Farm as well as Universal Studios Hollywood. A Gray Line Bus would pull up in front of that hotel several times a day offering round-trip transportation to both of those Southern California attractions.
Likewise the Japanese Village and Deer Park over Buena Park. It was a different time. Back when Disney prided itself in being a good neighbor. Back when the Mouse didn’t have to have ALL of the money when it came to the Southern California tourism market. When there was plenty to go around for everyone.
Walley World Shooting Locations
And back to “National Lampoon’s Vacation”… The Walley World stuff was all shot at two Southern California attractions.
The scenes set in the parking lot at Walley World as well as at the entrance of that fictious theme park were shot in the parking lot & entrance of Santa Anita Race Track (Horse Track).
Any scene that’s supposed to be inside of the actual Walley World theme park was shot at Six Flags Magic Mountain.
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