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Texan with Big Dreams + Big Apple = Big Trouble

Learn how Six Flags theme park legend Angus Wynne Jr. bet big and lost big at the 1964 / 1965 NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR. Jim Hill explores the myths and legends that surround the story of the ill-fated Texas Pavilions.

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Legend has it that they do everything big in Texas.

Well, if that’s really the case, then Angus G. Wynne Jr. must have lived a true Texas life. For Wynne was a guy who really did dream big. Amusement park fans remember Angus as the visionary who created America’s first truly successful regional theme park: SIX FLAGS OVER TEXAS.

The folks around Arlington, Texas. – SIX FLAGS’ hometown – remain grateful to Angus for several reasons. One is that world-class theme park that he built right at their doorstep for the townspeople to play in. The other is the Great Southwest Industrial District, the 8,200-acre industrial park that Wynne built nearby. That park is home to over 3,000 companies, providing thousands upon thousands of jobs for the local community for over 40 years now.

But WORLD’S FAIR enthusiasts … Well, they have a somewhat different take on this Texan. They associate Wynne’s name with the legendary Texas Pavilions at the 1964 / 1965 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR – an exhibit that’s considered somewhat infamous and mysterious these days because so few FAIR-goers ever got to see the thing.

According to press accounts of the day, it really must have been something to see. A multi-million dollar showplace featuring what many have called the greatest stage show ever produced. Yet the Texas Pavilions – which had originally been slated to be up and running for both years of the FAIR – barely managed to limp through one season. The stage show? It didn’t even last that long. It shuttered after less than 100 performances.

What exactly went wrong here? For nearly 40 years now, stories have been circulating about why the Lone Star State’s exhibition fared so poorly at the FAIR. Some blame the Texas Pavilions’ remote location for the low attendance levels. Still others suggest that anti-Texas sentiment may have played an important part in the exhibit’s tepid turnout.

A few folks hold Wynne personally responsible for the Texas state pavilion debacle. But many more suggest that FAIR President Robert Moses should shoulder most of the blame. After all, Moses was the man who kept promising that his FAIR would be different. That this international exhibition would have record levels of attendance – which prompted businessmen like Wynne to mount elaborate and expensive exhibits for crowds that never came.

These are the sorts of questions that continue to bedevil 1964 / 1965 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR fans even today: What were the Texas Pavilions really like? Just how good was this legendary stage show? And why really did the exhibit shut down after just one season?

These are questions that have gone unanswered. Until now.

Through interviews with folks who actually worked on the Texas Pavilions as well as conversations with Wynne family members, a more accurate picture of that long closed ’64 WORLD’S FAIR exhibit is now emerging. Of course, to fully understand what went on (and – more importantly – what went wrong) with the Texas Pavilions, you need to know something about the man who built them: Angus G. Wynne Jr.

A man who learned the hard way that life’s not fair. Particularly when you’re producing a show for the FAIR.

These days, most stories written about Wynne tend to dwell on the important role he played in the creation and construction of the first three theme parks in the SIX FLAGS chain. Sure, SIX FLAGS OVER TEXAS (which opened in 1961), SIX FLAGS OVER GEORGIA (1967) and SIX FLAGS OVER MID-AMERICA (1971) are all pretty impressive enterprises, but they really pale in comparison to everything else Angus accomplished in his lifetime.

Putting it simply, Wynne was a visionary. In the late 1950s, he looked out at that large patch of dirt that separated Dallas and Ft. Worth and saw the future. A time when these two Texas towns would quit their squabbling and grow together to form a vast metroplex. Since this spot in the middle of nowhere was roughly where the two municipalities would eventually collide, that’s where Angus and his partners in the Great Southwest Corporation decided to kick start the area’s economy by building a large industrial park.

It was tough going those first few years. The GSC team threw up a few buildings on spec and then tried to get area businesses to move into them. But Dallas organizations turned their noses up at the development, claiming that it was too close to Ft. Worth. Ft. Worth folks thumbed their noses at the industrial park too, thinking that it was far too close to Dallas.

As 1960 rolled around, the Great Southwest Corp. was vacillating about what to do next with this piece of property. Some members of the board were pushing for construction of another set of spec buildings, hoping that the company would eventually be able to rent these out and get some sort of return on their investment.

Wynne had another plan in mind. Noting the immense amount of money that Walt Disney was making off of DISNEYLAND in Southern California, Wynne proposed building a theme park out on that slab of land that GSC owned between Dallas and Ft. Worth. To Angus’ way of thinking, here finally was an idea that was guaranteed to generate some cash flow for the company.

This was not a popular proposition with a lot of the other members of the Great Southwest board. Wynne had to twist but a few heads and arms before he finally got their approval to go ahead with his amusement park project.

Construction began in October of 1960. It continued at a whirlwind pace for the next 10 months, as construction crews worked ’round the clock to turn a scrub covered, rattlesnake infested hillside into a spectacular family fun center.

Finally in August of 1961, the Lone Star State’s first theme park – SIX FLAGS OVER TEXAS – threw open its doors. Those first few weeks, though, only a small number of folks trickled in to sample the various rides, shows and attractions that Wynne’s team had set up on the outskirts of Arlington, Texas.

This last bit of news sort of concerned Wynne. You see, in order to secure the financing necessary to expand his $3.5 million theme park, SIX FLAGS had to get at least 400,000 paid admissions during its first year of operation. But the park’s first year of operation wasn’t even really a year. It was just a couple of weeks; August through Labor Day.

Happily, those first few folks who visited SIX FLAGS OVER TEXAS during those early weeks operation must have really talked up the joint. For word of mouth built, and – by the end of the park’s first season – 500,000 people had pushed their way through the turnstiles.

Those 500,000 paid admissions gave Wynne the freedom he needed to grow his little Arlington, Texas park into a world-class operation. Over the next two years, Wynne added tons of new shows and attractions to SIX FLAGS OVER TEXAS. This – in turn – inspired record numbers of people to come out and see the park. Which resulted in huge profits for the Great Southwest Corporation.

Of course, all this success quickly brought Wynne to the attention of the Texas elite. Particularly then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson and Texas Governor John Connally, who were then casting about for someone to take charge of the state’s efforts to develop an exhibit for the 1964 / 1965 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR.

Being as full of Texas pride as they were, Johnson and Connally wanted the Lone Star State’s exhibit at the FAIR to be the biggest and best of the bunch. That’s why they eventually decided to try and recruit Angus.

After all, here was this innovative real estate developer who had taken a scrub-covered hillside in Arlington and turned into the Texas version of DISNEYLAND. Surely Wynne was the guy who could take a corner in Queens and turn it something that would make all Texans proud.

Wynne was – of course – flattered when Johnson and Connally personally sought him out and offered this opportunity. After a little hemming and hawing, Wynne finally agreed to step up to the plate and personally supervise the Texas state pavilion project. After taking a temporary leave of absence from Great South Corp., Angus then made a call to his old buddy, Randall Duell.

And who exactly was Randall Duell? Randall was a former MGM art director (Did you ever see that studio’s 1952 release, “Singin’ in the Rain”? Thought that the sets for that film looked snazzy, didn’t you? Well, Duell designed those – along with the sets for dozens of other classic MGM productions of the 1940s and 1950s) who had done most of the design work for the shows and attractions at SIX FLAGS OVER TEXAS.

Given the many sophisticated films Randall had worked on during his stint at MGM, Wynne felt certain that Duell was the guy who could come up with a show that would make all Texans proud as well as appeal to those snooty New Yorkers. The big question was: Just how do you go about whittling the great state of Texas down so that all of its rich history and culture could fit inside of some itty-bitty building?

The obvious answer here is: You can’t. Which is why Randall sold Wynne on a really wild idea: Texas’ exhibit wouldn’t be housed inside of a single building, but – rather – Wynne would stage a fitting tribute to the Lone Star State by building seven different Texas-themed pavilions that would be spread out over a three acre site.

To be honest, this concept borrowed quite a bit from SIX FLAGS OVER TEXAS (the theme park was divided into six different ‘lands,’ each area themed around a nation whose flag had flown over Texas at one time or another). Which is probably why Wynne immediately warmed to the idea.

Duell’s plans called for seven separate pavilions, each celebrating a different aspect of Texas’ colorful culture and history. Among the areas that Randall wanted this exhibit to touch on was the great impact that Spanish explorers and Mexican settlers had had on the region, the territory’s Confederate heritage as well as the state’s rough-and-tumble phase – way back when Texas was just a republic.

The Lone Star State’s wild west days would be celebrated in the Texas Pavilions’ Frontier Palace restaurant complex. Guests would enter the eatery through an exterior façade that was made up to look like an elegant prairie home circa the 1880s. Inside, they’d find a 500-seat dinner theater was designed to look like an authentic frontier saloon.

Inside this rustic looking restaurant, chuck wagon steak was the big item on the menu while can-can girls would provide the entertainment. For those who were thirsty for a little gratuitous violence, occasionally two feuding waiters would settle their differences by pulling out their pistols and firing at each other. Right over of the heads of the Frontier Palace’s patrons! (Don’t worry, though, folks. Those waiters were only using cap pistols.)

Of course, the achievements of modern Texas would also have to play an important part in the exhibits that were being presented at the state’s ’64 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR pavilions. That’s why Duell wanted to celebrate the Houston/Gulf Coast area – and its important ties to the aerospace industry – by getting NASA to agree to display its latest creation: a full scale version of the two passenger Gemini space capsule.

Randall also wanted the state’s oil industry to put together a display that highlighted the cutting edge technology that 1960s era “wildcatters” used while drilling for crude oil. As for Texas’ cattle ranchers … Well, that’s kind of an interesting story.

You see, back in the mid-1950s, Prince 105TT – a prize-winning steer that the Wynne family had raised at its Four Winds ranch – was named “Best in Show” at the Texas State Fair. To commemorate this great event, the family decided that Prince 105TT should get the royal treatment.

Which is why the Wynnes treated this prize-winning steer – plus a heifer and a couple of calves – to a stay at the Menger Hotel in Tyler, Texas. The family rented out the Presidential Suite and – after setting down a few bales of hay – moved Prince 105TT and his entourage in.

This must have been a really remarkable sight, for Wynne family members still talk about it even today. Angus must have mentioned it to Randall once or twice, for the designer decided to pay tribute to this odd piece of family history by replicating Prince 105TT’s stay in the Presidential Suite as a display at the Texas Pavilions.

Sure, the official 1964 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR’s guidebook describes this particular exhibit – where an enormous Brahman bull was kept corralled inside an elegant French bedroom – as being symbolic of the pampered lives that modern livestock supposedly live. But Wynne family and friends knew better and they supposedly got a real kick out of seeing this odd little moment recreated in Queens.

And what of theme could be used to tie together all the extremely different elements that Randall wanted to include in his Texas Pavilions design? “Friendship at the Farm.” To re-enforce this concept, Duell proposed bringing 400 bright-and-smiling young Texans up north to work at the exhibit so that those native New Yorkers would be sure to get an authentic Texas greeting from an authentic Texan the next time they moseyed back into this neck of the woods.

Of course – with the hope that all this Texas style hospitality might inspire FAIR-goers to go visit the real thing – Randall made sure that a Texas Tourism pavilion figured prominently in the exhibit’s plans. This light, airy structure would direct potential tourists to the many wonders to be found in the Lone Star State (With a particularly large plug for Wynne’s other entertainment enterprise, SIX FLAGS OVER TEXAS).

But what about all those sophisticated New Yorkers? Those types of folks who were sure to look down their noses at waiters who played with cap pistols and/or bulls that were being displayed in bedrooms. What was there at the Texas pavilions to entertain the snooty set?

As a sop to the snobs, Duell proposed taking something that Wynne was already doing at his theme park – i.e. a Broadway-style musical production – and radically expanding on that idea. If Wynne really did want to win over those New York sophisticates, then why not recruit some theater professionals to produce the ultimate Broadway show – a lavish revue that celebrated the best shows that had been presented on the Great White Way over the last 100 years?

That’s just what Wynne did. Working through the offices of Compass Productions, Wynne recruited top talent to put together this proposed production. First of all, he landed veteran television and theatrical producer George Schaefer (best known as the man behind the original Broadway production of that Tony Award winner, “The Teahouse of the August Moon”) to ride herd on this Best-of-Broadway revue.

Schaefer – in turn – would turn around hire one of Broadway’s best, Morton Da Costa, to serve as director for the show that was being prepped for the Texas State pavilions. Though mostly unknown today, Da Costa was considered a major talent back in the 1950s & 1960s. These days, Morton’s probably best remembered as the man who directed both the original Broadway production as well as the movie version of Meredith Willson’s classic, “The Music Man.”

George then went about putting together a crack creative team to assemble this ambitious musical revue. That’s why he hired Tony & Pulitzer Prize winners Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (who would go on to even greater fame in September of 1964, when their next smash hit – “Fiddler on the Roof” – opened on Broadway) to create a book for the revue. The songwriting team also contributed several specialty numbers as well as came up with a suitable title for this ambitious extravaganza.

And what title did Bock and Harnick come up for this Texas-sized revue? Predictably enough, it was “To Broadway With Love.”

So what was the show like? Well, if you’re really interested, I suggest you chase down a copy of the “To Broadway With Live” original cast album. This vinyl LP — recorded by Columbia in early 1964 — presents an accurate aural picture of the elaborate extravaganza. Just as Duell had originally suggested, the revue quickly runs through 100 years of Broadway history by presenting many famous numbers from long-forgotten shows. There’s lots of George M. Cohan in here, a big chunk of Irving Berlin, even some Rodgers and Hammerstein tossed in good measure.

UPDATE: I’ve just learned that ABC Television supposedly taped a performance of the “To Broadway With Love” show, which eventually aired on the network as a TV special in late 1964 / early 1965. Those folks who are still interested in seeing what this elaborate stage extravaganza might have looked like should consider making a trip into New York City and/or Los Angeles to visit that city’s branch of the Museum of Radio & Television. It’s very likely that this institution – which has tapes of shows on hand that go back to the 1940s – might have a copy of that particular broadcast hidden away somewhere in its extensive archives. Anyway …

As for the cast of the show, Schaefer and Da Costa assembled a very talented troupe. Unfortunately, due to the fact that “To Broadway With Love” was supposed to be presented three times daily (3:00, 7:00 & 9:30 p.m.), George and Morton were unsuccessful in their efforts to recruit a big name entertainer to serve as the headliner for the Texas Pavilions’ stage extravaganza. So the pageant ultimately became a no name show. (Though there was one member of the chorus – a young dancer named Goldie Hawn – that would eventually go on to considerable fame and fortune in Hollywood. But only after Ms. Hawn gave up her dream of becoming a Broadway hoofer and headed west to find work in television.)

Of course, a show this ambitious needs a lavish setting. That’s why Wynne pulled out the stops while creating the centerpiece of his ’64 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR exhibit, the Texas State Pavilions’ Music Hall. Truthfully, no expense was spared on this project. This 2,400-seat facility was built with a stage that was over 70 feet wide. All of the lighting rigs and stage devices used in the show were state-of-the-art (circa 1964, of course).

The Music Hall also featured an Executive Bar and Lounge area (which was allegedly supposed to serve as American Airlines Admirals Club during the run of the FAIR, giving all those tired frequent flyers a cushy place to rest their feet after spending a day exploring all the wonders to be found on Flushing Meadow). And – for those folks who desired a more elegant way to view a performance of “To Broadway With Love” – the theater had its Champagne Circle, a series of private boxes that were located on the Music Hall’s second and third levels. Inside of these elegantly appointed enclosures (the boxes’ décor was designed by noted Dallas interior decorator, William P. McFadden), patrons were free to sip cocktails while they enjoyed the show.

Unable to control his enthusiasm for the project, Wynne poured millions from his own fortune into the construction of the Texas State Pavilions. Sure, there was some risk involved. But – given the millions of people who were expected to attend the NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR during its two year run – Wynne thought it was safe to assume that this particular investment would pay off in a big way.

After all, wasn’t FAIR President Robert Moses predicting that over 70 million people would come to Queens just to attend the 1964 / 1965 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR? If even a fifth of these folks made their way back to the Texas Pavilions and took in a show, Angus would be rolling in dough.

Best of all, Wynne had built the Texas Pavilions at the urging of Lyndon Johnson and John Connally. That meant that the Vice President of the United States and the Governor of Texas now each owed Angus a favor. Those made for some pretty impressive markers for the former Texas businessman to cash in later in life.

So – in spite of his initial misgivings – Wynne went full speed ahead on this project. Ground was broken for the Texas Pavilions complex in early 1963, with Governor Connally himself showing up to help Wynne’s turn that first symbolic spade of earth.

To help publicize his state’s participation in the FAIR, Connally declared Bobo – a 2,000-pound Brahman bull – an official Texas goodwill ambassador to the ’64 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR. Cowboy Jerry Cotten then climbed on Bobo’s back and rode the Brahman all the way from the Lone Star State to the Texas Pavilions site at Flushing Meadows. Reporters regularly filed stories on the unusual pair, wondering if Jerry and Bobo would be able to survive the 2,000-mile trek and/or the bull and his rider would arrive in time to enjoy the FAIR’s opening day festivities in April of 1964.

Unfortunately, Bobo wasn’t the only bull that Wynne had to deal with during the construction phase of the Texas Pavilions. Moses – ever fearful that New York’s construction unions would intentionally delay the opening of his FAIR if they didn’t get their piece of the pie – let them get away with charging ridiculous rates for all work that was done on the international exhibition’s pavilions. As a result, union carpenters who worked on building the musical were paid $23 an hour.

And that’s not the overtime rate, folks. That’s actually the flat base pay rate paid for on-site construction done at Flushing Meadow. (Minus – of course – the 50% kickback you were expected to hand over to your shop steward, the guy who actually landed you this cushy gig.)

This – plus the demands of the steelworkers union (which insisted that New York state regulations prevented them from doing any on-site steel bending while working in Queens) – resulted in tremendous cost over-runs on the Texas Pavilions. When news of this got back to Angus, he was understandably concerned about the spiraling costs of the project.

But then – after he attended a dress rehearsal for “To Broadway With Love” – Wynne became convinced that his ’64 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR entry was going to be a winner. He felt certain that the Texas Pavilions’ elaborate stage revue would win over the city’s toughest audience (New York City’s theater critics), that would lead to rave reviews. Which would lead to large crowds deliberately seeking out the entertainment to be found at the Lone Star State’s exhibition. This would translate into huge food and beverage sales at the Texas Pavilions’ concession stands. Which meant that Angus’ seemingly risky NYC investment would eventually pay off in a big way.

Well, the first part of Wynne’s plan came true. The New York theater critics really did love “To Broadway With Love,” calling the Music Hall’s live stage presentation one of the very things to be seen at the FAIR.

A “Don’t Miss” attraction. Thrilled with the pageant’s critical reception, Wynne stood back and waited for the crowds to come rushing in …

But the crowds never came.

To be honest, attendance was a problem at the 1964 / 1965 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR almost from Day One. Moses had told the press and FAIR participants that he expected his international exhibition to have many “quarter million days.” Meaning that Robert thought that – during the course of the FAIR – there would be numerous days where at least 250,000 people would push through the turnstiles at Flushing Meadow.

The trouble is that – at least during the FAIR’s crucial first few weeks of operation — those “quarter million days” never came. During the months of April and May, there were times that only 40,000 – 50,000 folks made the trip out to Queens. This meant that the FAIR wasn’t even coming close to meeting Moses’ attendance projections.

This was bad news for most FAIR participants. But truly disastrous news for Angus Wynne Jr. He kept hoping that his Texas Pavilions experience would be a duplicate of the early days of SIX FLAGS OVER TEXAS. Where – for those first few weeks – only a handful of people came. Once word of mouth spread, the crowds would eventually come rushing in.

But that never happened. For most of the Spring of 1964, the crowds never really came out for the 1964 / 1965 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR.

Even when a moderate sized crowd of 100,000 – 150,000 entered the Fairgrounds at Flushing, very few of these folks ever seemed to make their way back to the Texas State Pavilions complex. Why for? Well, some people have theorized that Lone Star State’s lack-of-traffic problems simply boiled down to the No. 1 rule of real estate: Location, location, location.

Putting it bluntly, Wynne’s Texas Pavilions seem to have been built in the most remote location to be found at FAIR. A Guest arriving at the ’64 NYWF main entrance who wanted to catch a performance of “To Broadway With Love” would first have to hike down New York Avenue. He’d then have to cross the Court of States, go around the Unisphere, down the Court of Nations before he reached Harry Truman Promenade. Then the poor slob had to find the pedestrian footbridge that would allow him to cross over the Long Island Expressway, which would eventually lead him into the Lake Amusement Area. That’s where – in the uppermost corner of this far-off region that bordered on Meadow Lake – the exhausted visitor would finally find Angus’ Texas Pavilions.

Of course, in order for your typical tourist to follow this path (the most direct route to the Lake Amusement Area as well as the Texas Pavilions), they would have to walk by dozens upon dozens of other tempting attractions. Other enormous pavilions whose sponsors weren’t asking Guests to fork over $2 – $4.80 (the going rate of a seat to most performances of “To Broadway With Love”) to see their presentations. These give-it-away-for-free shows really made life rough for the FAIR’s pay-to-view attractions like Wynne’s Music Hall show.

It’s also been suggested that other unfortunate, unforeseen circumstances (beyond the Texas Pavilions’ seemingly remote location) may have played a large part in the lack of attendance seen at the Lone Star State’s exhibits. After all, just six months prior to the opening of the FAIR, President John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas.

Could the small number of folks who turned out to see Wynne’s assortment of attractions seriously be interpreted as some sort of anti-Texas backlash? Personally, I find this idea kind of far fetched. But Luther Clark – a longtime Wynne associate who actually rode herd on the construction of the ’64 NYWF Texas Pavilions – insists that anti-Texas sentiment really did play a huge part in the failure of Angus’ NYC attractions.

“Back then, the people of New York just hated Texas because we were the guy who’d killed the President,” Clark explained. “Those folks wanted nothing to do with Texas. Which was why all of our attractions for the Fair only ran for one year.”

Mind you, some of the Texas Pavilions’ shows and exhibits didn’t even last that long. In spite of its great reviews and ample publicity (The 1964 Emmy Awards even managed to work in a sizable plug for Wynne’s theatrical revue. Though the majority of that year’s ceremony was being broadcast from the Hollywood Palladium, a good portion of that night’s program was presented – via live remote feed – right from the stage of the Texas Pavilions’ Music Hall), “To Broadway With Love” shuttered after only 97 performances.

Everyone who actually saw the show back in the Spring of ’64 thought that “To Broadway With Love” was a wonderful piece of entertainment, something well worth going out of your way to see. But since so few FAIR-goers seemed willing to make the trek out to the Texas Pavilions (during a typical performance of “To Broadway With Love,” Wynne considered himself fortunate if he was able to fill even a tenth of the cavernous Music Hall’s 2400 seats), Wynne really had no choice but to shut the show down.

The end came pretty quickly after that. Once “To Broadway With Love” closed, the Texas Pavilions lost the attraction that had served as the primary focus of the exhibit’s ad campaign. So – without that show to serve as the carrot that tempted people to take that long walk all the way out the Lake Amusement Area – those small crowds got even smaller.

Partially as a face-saving gesture (but mostly as a courtesy to the 400 young Texans who had relocated to the Big Apple to help operate his attractions), Angus tried to keep the other pieces of the Texas Pavilions up and running throughout the rest of the FAIR’s 1964 season. However, in order to do this, Wynne had to accept loans from the FAIR Corporation itself.

The trouble is, there was just no way that Wynne was ever going to be able to repay the FAIR Corp. Wynne had blown through much of his own personal fortune during the initial construction phase of the Texas Pavilions. So the Fair Corp. finally came calling, looking to get its loans repaid, Angus had no money to give them. In the end, Wynne was forced to declare bankruptcy. Which was why – when the FAIR’s books were finally audited in December 1965 (by then NYC comptroller and eventual NYC mayor Abe Beame) – Angus Wynne, Jr. still owed the FAIR Corp. $1,348.276.57.

When the FAIR ended its first season in October 1964, the few remaining exhibits at the Texas Pavilions closed for good. The following year, FAIR officials tried to boost attendance by setting up some carnival rides on the 3-acre lot that used to play host the Lone Star State’s exhibits. But this meager assortment of new attractions still wasn’t enough to get people to hike all the way back to the Lake Amusement area.

Wynne’s return home to Texas after the FAIR left the man with a lot of mixed emotions. Wynne was obviously embarrassed at having had to declare bankruptcy (though his friends – in an effort to soften the blow – threw him a bankruptcy party where they all came dressed as bums). Wynne was also extremely angry with Robert Moses, and would remain so for the rest of his life. He felt that the way that the FAIR President had oversold the event – projecting record attendance levels that the ’64 NYWF never even came close to achieving – had played a huge part in the failure of his Texas Pavilions.

But – mostly – Wynne was anxious to get back to work; to take up the reins of the Great Southwest Corporation again. Under Wynne’s command, GSC grew to be of the nation’s biggest real estate development companies. During the late 1960s, Angus’ company built hundreds of apartment buildings, dozens of industrial parks and – of course – two great new theme parks: SIX FLAGS OVER GEORGIA (1967) and SIX FLAGS OVER MID-AMERICA (1971).

Though the Great Southwest Corp. would eventually sell off all of its theme park holdings in 1972, the folks at SIX FLAGS never forgot Wynne’s contribution to their company. Which is why – in the Confederate section of SIX FLAGS OVER GEORGIA – there’s a memorial plaque that reads “Dedicated to the memory of Angus G. Wynne, Jr. Innovator and friend. Founder of SIX FLAGS OVER GEORGIA. We dedicate ourselves to providing the wholesome blend of family entertainment which was Angus G. Wynne, Jr.’s dream come true.”

Memorial Plaque?! Yep. Did I forget to mention that Wynne died back in 1979? This much respected businessman may have passed on, but the cities of Grand Prairie and Arlington, Texas still think fondly of old Angus and all the fun and prosperity he provided for the Lone Star State. Which is why – a few years back – family friends and local officials, working with the Texas Department of Transportation, decided to honor Wynne’s memory by renaming busy Texas Highway 360 the Angus Wynne Jr. Freeway.

It is – rather fittingly – the major highway that you have to ride on if you’re taking a trip out to SIX FLAGS OVER TEXAS. More pointedly, there isn’t a single exit ramp off of the Wynne that will take you anywhere near New York City.

Which is just the way Angus would like it, I’m betting.

Special thanks to Luther Clark, Mike Pender, David Wynne and Bill Young for their generous contributions during the research phase of this article, (and to AmusementPark.com for giving us back this article. Go there and buy theme park tickets – Michelle.)

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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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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

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

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

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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