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Never mind about Meryl & Emma. What about Julie & Audrey’s epic battle for Best Actress back in 1965?

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Okay. I know. You’re feeling kind of blue because members of the Academy didn’t show “Saving Mr. Banks” all that much love last week. There’s also a number of you out there who are really, really angry at Meryl Streep right now. Mostly because you believe that her ill-considered remarks at the National Board of Review awards gala is what wound up costing Emma Thompson a Best Actress nomination.

Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson at the 2014 Board of National Review Awards Gala

Well, look. As I already proved with last week’s “Wizard of Oz” article, I wasn’t all that thrilled with Meryl calling Walt “a hideous anti-Semite,” a “gender bigot” as well as a person who “didn’t trust women or cats.” But that said, I also don’t think that Streep’s comments at this awards dinner wound up costing Emma an Oscar nomination.

“And why is that?,” you ask. Because the dates don’t line up. To explain: Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences could start voting on their choices for Oscar nominees on Friday, December 27th. Meryl gave her ill-conceived speech on the night of Tuesday, January 7th. And then voting closed for this year’s Oscar nominees on Wednesday, January 8th at 5 p.m. PT.

You get what I’m saying here? Given that there were less than 20 hours between when Ms. Streep spoke at that awards gala and when voting for this year’s Oscar nominees officially closed, it’s doubtful that Meryl’s comments about Walt could have had all that big an impact on the vote. After all, the nearly 6000 members of the Academy had already had 12 days to cast their ballots prior to this point. So it stands to reason that most members had already made up their mind about “Saving Mr. Banks” prior to the social media firestorm that erupted in the wake of Streep’s speech. Or — for that matter — the second wave of online outrage that followed when Abigail Disney jumped on Facebook & then insisted that Meryl Streep was right about her grand uncle.

Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn backstage at the 1965 Academy Awards in front of the Hollywood press corps. Copyright AMPAS. All rights reserved

Still, all of this talk of one actress possibly costing another an Oscar nomination reminds me of what happened back in February 1965. When the Los Angeles Times actually ran a banner headline on its front page which read “”JULIE ANDREWS CHOSEN, AUDREY HEPBURN OMITTED” on the day when the Academy Award nominations for “Mary Poppins ” & “My Fair Lady ” were announced.

Nearly a half century later, few film fans can recall the outrage that ensued when Jack L. Warner announced that — rather than Julie Andrews — he had cast Audrey Hepburn to play Eliza Doolittle in his studio’s $12 million production of “My Fair Lady” (which — at that time — made this movie musical the most expensive motion picture ever produced).

Mind you, back in June of 1961 when Warner initially snatched the screen rights for this Tony Award-winning musical away from MGM for $5.5 million, Jack was still open to the idea of hiring Julie. In  “Audrey Hepburn” (Putnum Adult, October 1996) ” — Barry Paris talks about how Warner & Andrews initially spoke on the phone about this project.

Copyright Putnum Adult. All rights reserved

“I’d love to do it,” she reportedly told him. “When do we start?” Warner asked when she could come out for a screen test, to which Andrews replied, “Screen test? You’ve seen me do the part and you know I can do a good job.” He said, “Miss Andrews, you’re only known in London and New York. I have to be sure you photograph and project well. Film is a different medium.”

So sometime in 1962, Julie supposedly flew out to LA and screen-tested for the role of Eliza Doolittle. And according to Hollywood legend, this test did not go well. What exactly went wrong? Well, to be blunt, even back when she was playing this part on Broadway, Julie found portraying Eliza tremendously challenging. As Matthew Kennedy revealed in “Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s ” (Oxford University Press, January 2014), Ms. Andrews felt that …

“I never quite got that part under control.”

Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison in the original Broadway production of Lerner & Loewe’s “My Fair Lady”

Which is why Julie …

… was never costar Rex Harrison’s first choice on stage or screen. He found her wooden, and (“My Fair Lady” stage director) Moss Hart shouted insults to that effect in rehearsals.

Which is why — when Walt Disney went backstage after a performance of “Camelot ” to offer Andrews the role of “Mary Poppins” — Leonard Mosley, in “Disney’s World ” (Scarborough House, October 1990) reported that …

Julie Andrews as Queen Guinevere in Lerner & Loewe’s “Camelot”

… Julie hesitated. Though (Walt) did not realize it at the time, she had lost her nerve, particularly about starring in the movies. After her triumph on the stage opposite Rex Harrison in “My Fair Lady,” she had done a test for Warner Brothers, who proposed to make a film version of the musical, and it had turned out badly. Someone told her that she was unphotogenic. As a result, there was a strong rumor around that Warner would give the Eliza Doolittle role to Audrey Hepburn instead, and a depressed Julie had become convinced that she was not the cinematic type.

Once Walt realized why she was holding back, he called in (“Mary Poppins” producer Bill) Walsh and (the film’s director Robert) Stevenson and told them to offer the part to Julie Andrews without giving her a test. “To hell with screen tests,” he said. “I just know she’ll be good. She bubbles away inside like a stockpot. She has just the presence we need for the role.”

And over the next six months, Walt, Bill & Robert were eventually able to convince her that she could in fact be a movie star. Even so, when Andrews did finally agree to play Poppins, she did have …

Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke shooting the “Jolly Holiday” sequence during the first week of production on Walt Disney’s “Mary Poppins.” Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

… one stipulation (in her contract). If Warner Brothers did change their minds and consent to star her in “My Fair Lady,” she would be allowed to drop out of “Mary Poppins.” Walt was so sure Audrey Hepburn has already been signed for the role that he agreed.

Now what Julie didn’t understand is that … Well, if Jack Warner had gotten his way, she wouldn’t have been the only member of the Broadway cast of “My Fair Lady” who had been replaced once the cameras finally began rolling on the big screen version of this acclaimed stage musical.

You see, the movie version of “My Fair Lady” was initially supposed to have been Jack Warner’s swan song to the studio that he & his brothers had formed back in 1910. Which is why — when it came to the big screen version of this acclaimed stage musical — Jack wanted to load this project up with as many movie stars as possible.

Copyright 1942 Warner Bros. All rights reserved

So for the role of Professor Henry Higgins, Warner’s first choice was Cary Grant. Likewise for Alfred P. Doolittle (i.e., Eliza’s father), Jack wanted to cast screen legend James Cagney. And as for the guttersnipe that Higgins transformed into a duchess … Well, Warner did want Audrey Hepburn. But if she wasn’t available, Jack was ready to move to his second choice. Which was Academy Award-winner Elizabeth Taylor.

There was only one problem with Jack Warner’s plan for a star-studded version of “My Fair Lady.” The stars that he wanted to cast kept saying “No.” Take — for instance — Cary Grant. As Nancy Nelson recounts in “Evenings with Cary Grant: Recollections in His Own Words and Those Who Knew Him Best ” (Citadel Press, December 2002) :

When Jack Warner asked Cary to do “My Fair Lady,” he said, “You don’t understand. My accent is cockney! I sound the way ‘Liza does at the beginning of the film. How could I play Henry Higgins?” Cary said, “Not only won’t I play Professor Higgins, but if Rex doesn’t, I won’t even see it.”

Cary Grant

To be fair here, in the latter part of his film career, Cary Grant turned an awful lot of great roles down. He was Jack Warner’s first choice to play Professor Harold Hill in Warner’s 1962 version of “The Music Man .” And United Artists offered Cary a million dollars to play Don Quixote in their 1972 big screen version of “Man of La Mancha .” Then in 1978, Warren Beatty did everything he come think of to try & persuade Grant to end his retirement from film-making so that he could then play Mr. Jordan in “Heaven Can Wait .” But Cary said “No” to Warren as well.

And here’s a neat bit of trivia for all you Disney fans out there: When The Walt Disney Company was getting ready to launch “The Disney Sunday Night Movie” on ABC in February of 1986, Michael Eisner felt that this TV show needed a host. So who did Disney ask? Well, as you probably guessed by now, Cary Grant was on their short list. And he — of course — said “No.” But Walter Cronkite, Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and even Roy E. Disney were also approached about this part. And they all said “No” as well.

But you want to know who else was asked about whether he’d be interested in playing the exact same role that Walt Disney did on “Disneyland,” “Walt Disney Presents” and “The Wonderful World of Color” ? Tom Hanks. Seriously. 26 years before he’d actually shoot a scene for “Saving Mr. Banks” where he’d then recreate a moment where Walt Disney was introducing an episode of his Sunday night television show, Hanks was actually asked to host the 1980s version of this very same anthology series. And why did Tom turn the part? At the time, Hanks thought that he was just too young to play this role.

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks.” Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Getting  back to the casting of Warner Brothers’ version of “My Fair Lady” now … James Cagney turned down the part of Alfred P Doolittle for a variety of reasons. Chief among these was that Cagney had said he was officially retiring from film-making after working on “One, Two, Three ” with Billy Wilder back in 1961. But the other reason is that — having worked at Warner Brothers for the bulk of his career — James had had one too many run-ins with Jack. So as tempting as it might have been for this Academy Award-winning hoofer to get the chance to perform such boffo Broadway numbers as “With A Little Bit of Luck” & “Get Me to the Church on Time,” Cagney till said “No.”

So almost by default, Warner found himself having to cast the Broadway versions of Professor Henry Higgins & Alfred P. Doolittle in his big screen version of “My Fair Lady.” Which then made it all the more galling to the fans of the original stage version of this musical (who — let’s remember — had purchased over 32 million copies of the original cast recording of “My Fair Lady.” More to the point, this very same recording sat at No. 1 for nineteen consecutive weeks and was the best-selling album for the year in 1958. So there were obviously a lot of people out there who were familiar with / fond of Julie Andrew’s work)  when Jack decided to cast Audrey as Eliza.

Mind you, Warner had four million rgood easons to cast Hepburn instead of Andrews. According to an survey of would-be “My Fair Lady” moviegoers that the studio had commissioned, having Julie play the part of Eliza would have bumped this production’s box office potential up by a million dollars. Whereas casting Audrey — an already established movie star in that exact same role — would have supposedly translated into a $5 million bump at the box office. So strictly working off of those box office projections, casting Hepburn instead of Andrews in “My Fair Lady” made more sense. At least as far as Jack Warner was concerned.

Copyright 1964 Warner Bros. All rights reserved

So — with considerable hoopla — Warner Brothers announced that it had cast Audrey Hepburn to play Eliza Doolittle in the movie version of “My Fair Lady.” What’s more, Audrey would be paid one million dollars to play this part, while Rex Harrison would receive just $250,000 to reprise his role as Professor Henry Higgins.

But before this 15 week shoot could get underway in August of 1963, there was the matter of Audrey Hepburn’s voice to deal with. Though she had a lovely low-toned singing voice, Hepburn simply didn’t have the range that Julie Andrews did. So — in order to do justice to Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe‘s songs — it was decided that Marni Nixon would be brought in to ghost a lot of Audrey’s numbers in this movie musical.

Now these days, most Disney fans probably know Ms. Nixon for the work she did on 1998’s “Mulan ” (where Marni provided the singing voice for Grandmother Fa, the fiesty character that animation legend June Foray then did the talking for). But back in the 1950s & 1960s, Nixon was the “Ghostess with the Mostest.” She sang for Deborah Kerr in 1956 while the film version of Rodgers & Hammerstein‘s “The King and I ” was in production. And in 1961, when Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins were shooting the movie version of “West Side Story ” all over New York City, it was Marni who got behind the mike and then did the warbling for both Natalie Wood & Rita Moreno.

“The King and I” star Deborah Kerr and her vocal ghost Marni Nixon

So as you can see, by the early 1960s, Nixon had kind of made a name for herself. She was the singer that you turned to if your star wasn’t quite up the challenge of performing all of the songs that were featured in your film. And the best part about Marni is that she was discreet. Nixob slipped in the recording studio, dubbed the necessary numbers and then stepped back into the shadows. Which guaranteed that your movie’s star would then get all sorts of accolades fore her beautiful singing voice when your film finally opened in theaters.

Mind you, if you listen close to the movie soundtrack of “My Fair Lady,” you can clearly hear some of Hepburn’s singing in this film. As André Previn (who adapted Lerner & Loewe’s score for the screen) told Barry Paris:

There’s a lot of Audrey Hepburn in “Just You Wait, ‘enry ‘Iggins,” Every time it was humanly feasible, I would cut her into the finished track. In “Loverly,” there are a couple of things, on and off in “Show Me,” we used as much as we could.

Copyright 1964 CBS. All rights reserved

And Hepburn — being the pro that she was — was very philosophical when it came to Nixon having to cover for her on “My Fair Lady.” Marni — again talking with Barry Paris — recalled working side-by-side with Audrey at that film’s recording sessions, where the actress wouldthen  turn to Nixon and say:

“I know this is not good enough, I want to keep trying myself,” but (Hepburn) had to accept that (her singing) wasn’t quite what it should be.

But given that Marni had been sworn to secrecy about all of her dubbing work on “My Fair Lady,” this shouldn’t have been an issue with moviegoers. Except that — in the weeks between “Mary Poppins” ‘s world premiere on August 1964 and “My Fair Lady” ‘s world premiere in late October of that same year — word did begin to circulate in show business circles about how little singing Audrey Hepburn actually wound up doing in this Warner Brothers production.

Audrey Hepburn and Jeremy Brett performing “Show Me” in the movie version of “My Fair Lady.” Copyright 1964 Warner Bros. All rights reserved

And once word got out about Marni’s dubbing, many columnists in Hollywood used this as an excuse to attack Audrey’s performance in “My Fair Lady.” As Barry Paris recounted in his Hepburn bio:

“With Marni Mixon doing the singing,” wrote Hedda Hopper. “Audrey Hepburn gives only a half performance.” Others criticized not so much the dubbing itself as the fact that Nixon received no screen credit for it and the implication that Warner Brothers was trying to hide the truth. “I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” Jack Warner replied. “We’ve been doing it for years. We even dubbed Rin-Tin Tin.”

Which brings us back to February of 1965 when that year’s Academy Award nominees were announced. And when Hepburn’s name was nowhere to be found among that year’s Best Actress nominees, “Variety” was very straightforward as to why Audrey hadn’t gotten a nod:

Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn and Wilfrid-Hyde White performing “The Rain in Spain” in the movie version of “My Fair Lady.” Copyright 1964 Warner Bros. All rights reserved

“Hepburn did the acting, Marni Nixon subbed for her in the singing department and that’s what undoubtedly led to her (not getting a nomination).”

As you might expect, when word broke about Hepburn’s omission, the folks at Warner Bros. were livid. As Barry Paris reported:

Warner called (Audrey not being nominated) “outrageous” and took (her omission) as a personal affront. In typically quirky fashion, he thought it was due to the quality of Nixon’s singing and released a statement saying, “The next time we have some star-dubbing to do, we’ll hire Maria Callas.” Julie (Andrews), when tracked down by the press, said “I think that Audrey should have been nominated. I’m very sorry that she wasn’t.” Rex Harrison said the same.

André Previn and Audrey Hepburn on the cover of his “My Fair Lady” -inspired jazz album. Copyright CBS. All rights reserved

Now comes the interesting question. Which is who exactly leaked the news that Marni Nixon had ghosted most of Audrey Hepburn’s singing in “My Fair Lady” ? For decades, Nixon was the one who got the blame for this leak. As André Previn told Barry Paris:

“Marni blabbed all over town that she was going to more or less ‘save’ the movie. George Cukor (i.e. the director of the film version of ‘My Fair Lady’), who along with all of us worshipped Audrey got very angry. He (reportedly told Nixon), ‘Listen, you’re getting a lot of money for this and you’re going to get a lot of money from the recording. Why don’t you shut up about it?’ “

But to this day, Marni Nixon insisted that she wasn’t the one who let the cat out of the bag. I mean, to hear her talk about “My Fair Lady,” you’d swear that she is still …

Copyright 2006 Billboard Books. All rights reserved

… upset that people thought Audrey didn’t nominated because I did the dubbing and [that] I was purposefully trying to push that knowledge out.

Truth be told, if there was anyone who leaked that Marni was doing most of Audrey’s singing in “My Fair Lady,” it was probably one or more of Julie Andrews’ show business buddies.  As Bob Paris pointed out in “Audrey Hepburn” :

No one particularly cared when Nixon (had) dubbed Deborah Kerr or Natalie Wood; but they cared when she dubbed Hepburn, considering it insult to injury of depriving Andrews of her rightful role. In any case, the beneficiary of the dubbing fracas was Julie Andrews (herself), now the highly favored Oscar nominee for her performance in … Mary Poppins.

Copyright 1990 Scarborough House. All rights reserved

And Julie … Well, she clearly enjoyed pulling Jack Warner’s chain when it came to him not casting her as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.” Take — for example — this story that Leonard Mosley shares in “Disney’s World” :

At a celebratory dinner (following the world premiere of “Mary Poppins,” producer) Bill Walsh introduced a happy Julie Andrews to Jack Warner. “Dear Mr. Warner!” Julie gushed. “Did you know I had a clause in my Disney contract allowing me to drop out of Mary Poppins if you chose me for Eliza Doolittle? How thoughtful of you not to allow to do it and picking dear Audrey instead! I’ll never forget you for giving me this chance!”

Andrews even made a point of bringing this casting issue up again at the 1965 Academy Award ceremony. Where backstage after she’d won that year’s Best Actress Oscar, as she was chatting with reporters, Julie supposedly held the statue aloft and — with tongue firmly in cheek — was alleged to have said: “My thanks to Mr. Jack L. Warner, who made this all possible.”

(L to R) Richard M Sherman, Julie Andrews and Robert B Sherman with the Oscars that they won at the 1965 Academy Awards. Copyright AMPAS. All rights reserved

Looking back on this pivotal moment in her career nearly three decades later, Andrews had to admit that:

“I’ll never know to this day whether it was sentiment (over Audrey being cast as Eliza instead of me) that won (that Oscar) for me or whether the performance in ‘Poppins’ really did,” she said in 1993, adding with a smile, “I think it was sentiment, myself.”

It’s worth noting here that — when Rex Harrison won for his performance in “My Fair Lady” that same night — he was diplomatic as he could possibly be. First by saying that ” … I feel, in a way, that I should split (this statue) in half” so that he then could then share this professional recognition with Audrey Hepburn. But that said, recognizing that he had to do something to acknowledge Julie’s win as Best Actress, Rex closed out his remarks by admitting he had “… deep love for two fair ladies.” With the TV camera then cutting away to Julie Andrews in the audience, beaming & applauding as Harrison exited the stage.

Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison backstage at the 1965 Academy Awards with their Oscars. Copyright AMPAS. All rights reserved

Now where this gets interesting is — in the wake of all this brouhaha which erupted when Julie Andrews wasn’t cast to play Eliza Doolittle alongside Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins — Hollywood then went into overdrive looking for projects that these performers could then co-star in. Take — for example — MGM’s musical remake of their 1939 Academy Award-winner, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.” This production was originally envisioned as the film that would finally bring Andrews & Harrison together onscreen.

But when preproduction problems delayed the development of this MGM musical … Well, as Mark Harris revealed in his “Pictures at the Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood ” (Penguin Press, February 2008)

Julie Andrews … had been (producer) Arthur Jacobs‘s first choice for (“Doctor) Dolittle ” ‘s female lead

Copyright 1967 20th Century Fox. All rights reserved

Now where this gets even stranger is when Andrews became unavailable to do “Dolittle,” Jacobs then turned to another veteran Disney Studios performer, the then-19 years-old Hayley Mills, and offered her the part of Harrison’s love interest. Thankfully, it was eventually decided that the nearly 40 year age difference between Hayley & Rex would be just a little hard for audiences to swallow. So Mills was replaced by the then-28 year-old Samantha Eggar. Who went on play the role of Emma Fairfax in “Doctor Dolittle.”

Which isn’t to say that Julie Andrews never had anything to do with “Doctor Dolittle.” How many of you recall the stage version of this Leslie Bricusse musical which ran in London’s West End for a year back in 1998? Jim Henson’s Creature Shop created all sorts of animatronic animals for Phillip Schofield (who played the Doctor in the stage adaptation of that 20th Century Fox film) to interact with. And who precorded dialogue for Polynesia the Parrot (i.e. that wise old bird who taught Doctor Dolittle to talk to the animals)? You guessed it. Julie Andrews.

That pretty much wraps up the “Mary Poppins” / “My Fair Lady” movie story. Except for this interesting bit of video from the debut of “The Julie Andrews Hour,” a short lived variety show that began its run on ABC back on September 13, 1972. In this footage, you actually get to see Julie Andrews AND Eliza Doolittle AND Mary Poppins all together in the exact same scene. And let me blunt here: Mary & Eliza don’t exactly get along.

[View:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5usVahlDjv0]

Anyway … Compared to what Audrey Hepburn & Julie Andrews went through back in the late Winter / early Spring of 1965, what Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson are dealing with right now is pretty much a walk in the park.

That said, I have to admit that I find it kind of intriguing that — while Thompson didn’t get a Best Actress nomination for “Saving Mr. Banks” — both Meryl Streep & Judi Dench did.

“And what’s so intriguing about that?,” you ask. Well, back in February of 2012, when The Walt Disney Company first acquired Kelly Marcel‘s screenplay for “Saving Mr. Banks,” who were the three actresses on Disney Studio’s short list for P L Travers? Emma Thompson, Meryl Streep and Judi Dench.

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in “Philomena.” Copyright 2013 The Weinstein Company. All rights reserved

Mind you, Dame Judi (because she already physically resembled Pamela) was initially thought to have the inside track. But then someone at the Studio supposedly pointed out that Dench was only 5 foot 1 whereas Tom Hanks was 6 foot even. And given these performers’ differences in height … Well, if Walt were towering over Pamela, it might then seem as though the Company’s founder was using his physical advantage over this troublesome author to bully her into signing away the screen rights to “Mary Poppins.” Which is why Walt Disney Pictures supposedly opted to go with Emma Thompson. Who — given that she’s 5 foot 7 — would then be a better physical match for Mr. Hanks.

Anyway, that’s the story as I was told by studio insiders earlier this year.

Your thoughts?

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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Film & Movies

“Indiana Jones and the Search for Indiana Jones”

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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.

Credit: Indiewire.com

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.

Credit: EW

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.

This article is based on research for Looking at Lucasfilm “Episode 80”, published on June 29, 2023. Looking at Lucasfilm is part of the Jim Hill Media Podcast Network.

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Will “Metro” – that “Cars” Spin-Off Which Disney Developed – Ever Get Made?

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Will Metro 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.

Metro - Cars Spin-Off Movie Poster
Credit: Disney
Metro - Cars Spin-Off Concept Art
Credit: Disney
Metro - Cars Spin-Off Concept Art
Credit: Disney
Metro - Cars Spin-Off Concept Art
Credit: Disney

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.

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Park’s Closed: “Vacation ’58” Inspired by Seasonal Closing at Disneyland

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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.”

If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever.

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.”

Sorry folks. Park’s closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya.

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:

While the gross income of Disneyland was greater this year than in any prior year, the operating expenses for this family fun park were likewise up substantially primarily to two factors.
(1) Operating a seven-day week throughout the 1957 – 1958 week against a six-day week the year before.

(2) Increased costs due to rising salaries and the
inauguration of a 40-hour week. This resulted in lower net profits compared to the prior year.

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:

This current year, we are operating the park during the winter months on a five-day schedule with resulting savings in operating costs and in the hope that a full week’s business can be compressed within the five days.

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:

Again this year, as in each year since Disneyland Park first opened in 1955, new records were set for total attendance and per capita spending of park visitors.
The change to a five-day operating week during the 1958 – 1959 winter season from the seven-day schedule in effect the previous year has worked out very well. Reduced operating hours helped to control operating costs in the face of increased wage rates and other rising costs.

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).

Credit: Ultraswank.net

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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