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Close-Up: 50 Years of Disneyland
Question and Answer with Disneyland’s Tim O'Day
by Scott Holleran
January 31, 2006

Disneyland spokesman Tim O'Day, hired as a parade performer in 1976 and knowledgeable about virtually every Disneyland detail, is practically the grand marshal of the theme park's rich history, including its integration to motion pictures. The co-author of Disneyland: Then, Now and Forever talked with Box Office Mojo about the Happiest Place on Earth.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland
Photo Credit: Sean Saulsbury
Box Office Mojo: Which principle defines Disneyland?

Tim O'Day: Having fun in the company of family and friends. Walt [Disney] wanted some kind of an amusement enterprise, a three-dimensional immersive experience where friends and family could share in the experience of fantasy, the promise of the future, nostalgia, our heritage—each of which are like movie genres.

Box Office Mojo: Is there anything about today's Disneyland that Walt Disney might lament?

O'Day: Walt had quite the vivid imagination and I think his great lament would be not having fulfilled every concept [for Disneyland]. He was always such a fan of technology, and I know he tried to stay ahead of tomorrow with the attractions in Tomorrowland.

Box Office Mojo: How was Sleeping Beauty's castle selected as the focal point of Disneyland? Why not Snow White's castle, which would have capitalized on Disney's hugely successful 1937 animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?

O'Day: In the original plans, it was known as Snow White's castle. But, in 1955, they were working on [the 1959 animated classic] Sleeping Beauty, so it was changed to promote the film in advance. The castle went through many different forms. It was Mad Ludwig's castle in Bavaria—very dramatic looking—which is the castle at the end of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It was designed for the park before it was designed for the picture. Walt was the kind of guy who was gung-ho about the current project. He just had this bottomless confidence in whatever he was working on and that it would click with the public. The castle was always the central focus of the park—Disneyland has its roots in the movies and television—it's what draws you down Main Street [after one enters]. Sleeping Beauty's castle also became the icon for the original TV show [ABC's Disneyland], and it has remained so. From a design standpoint, Disneyland is laid out very much like a film. It was designed by animators and live action designers so that one scene will unfold into another, so that form follows function. You see close-ups along the way and the castle is the long shot. You have the central hub from which these spokes lead out into the various lands.

Box Office Mojo: How else is Disneyland influenced by the movies?

O'Day: The Jungle Cruise, with its candy-striped top, is partially inspired by The African Queen. Set designs by Harper Goss, who had worked on The African Queen, were used. He was also responsible for the look of the Golden Horseshoe Saloon [in Frontierland], which was based on the saloon in Calamity Jane starring Howard Keel and Doris Day. When Frontierland opened, it was all about [American pioneer] Davy Crockett. Another major component was this Vaudeville show based on Pecos Bill which became one of the longest running stage shows in the world. With Tomorrowland, Walt Disney had produced some science-based shows that were so well done that President Eisenhower had them screened for top military advisers.

Box Office Mojo: Disneyland's early attractions, such as the Carousel of Progress, were sponsored by American businesses. How did Disneyland approach sponsors?

O'Day: Walt was very much a pioneer in the area of sponsorship. We have sponsors that go way back. He needed [financial] help in those early years, and he turned to Coca-Cola and Kodak, which are still there. He perfected that [approach] with the 1964 World's Fair. Ford Motor Company had Magic Skyways, which showcased the evolution of man, a tongue-in-cheek look at man and transportation. The sponsorship money was always a means to an end, so the sponsor idea was another avenue for Walt to let his juices flow.

Box Office Mojo: How do you respond to the charge that Walt Disney was merely a booster, a huckster—a slick salesman?

O'Day: It's a cheap shot. Can you imagine a world without Disneyland? It's hard to imagine. You come into the parks and immerse yourself. Walt saw the fun in making money—he used money to make his dreams come true, as a means to the end of having fun. He was very modest when it came to his own wealth—he was not flashy. The amazing thing—and it's in evidence in the films that he made—is that he was always pushing the boundaries of visual art. Look at Fantasia. That was very different from what people had seen.

Box Office Mojo: What was the central idea of Fantasyland?

O'Day: When they designed Fantasyland, they wanted to have this Renaissance Faire feeling. But a lot of the facades were flat, meaning they had this tent motif, so they weren't three-dimensional fronts. For example, you didn't have the house that you walk into with Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. It really wasn't the Fantasyland that Walt wanted. So, in the 1980s, most of Fantasyland was torn down by the Imagineers. They moved Dumbo's Flying Elephants and King Arthur's Carousel, which added Sword in the Stone paintings to the inside of the carousel, which originally included only Sleeping Beauty paintings. The carousel was moved to the center of the courtyard and Fantasyland was reopened in 1983. King Arthur's Carousel is still very popular.

Box Office Mojo: When communist dictator Nikita Khrushchev, head of the Soviet Union, came to Los Angeles, he threw a tantrum at being told by officials he could not visit Disneyland. Is it true that Walt Disney refused Khrushchev admission?

O'Day: Actually, Walt was very excited to have Nikita Khrushchev at Disneyland and his wife, Lillian, was most excited to meet Khrushchev. It was September of 1959, and it was the first time a Soviet premier had ever visited the United States of America. It was a big, big deal. Khrushchev inquired about what his family was doing while he was supposed to be visiting a housing project, and, when he was told they were visiting Disneyland, he said he wanted to go, too. The State Department said no after the Orange County sheriff refused to guarantee his safety and, to placate him, they took him to the 20th Century Fox studio lot, where they put on this wonderful luncheon. Bob Hope was there and they did the "Can-Can" [with Shirley MacLaine and Juliet Prowse, who were shooting the movie of the same name], which Khrushchev thought was disgraceful, and he got up and said "I still want to go to Disneyland!" Walt was most proud of the fact that he wanted to point to Disneyland's submarine fleet but he never got to do that.

Box Office Mojo: Describe your first visit to Disneyland.

O'Day: It had to be the mid-1960s, and I distinctly remember being here for the traditional [Christmas] candlelight procession and seeing Buddy Ebsen [who played in Disney's popular TV show, Davy Crockett] and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. I've had more people say to me Disneyland sparked their interest in history. Some months ago, I saw this little kid looking at one of the hitching posts [for horses in Frontierland]. He was six or seven and he was playing with the hook on the hitching post, and his father started to explain its purpose to him. My favorite attraction is Pirates of the Caribbean. It's very much like a film—there's an overture, there's a main title sequence, and it just unfolds.

Box Office Mojo: Do you find people want it to stay the same?

O'Day: Sure. But Disneyland is not a museum. It's in a constant state of change. Pirates works because it's a great adventure story. This summer, we're adding an online component to the Buzz Lightyear ride.

Thunder Mountain at Disneyland
Photo Credit: Sean Saulsbury
Box Office Mojo: Is that real mining equipment over on Thunder Mountain?

O'Day: It is. As you're going through the queue [to ride on the Thunder Mountain rollercoaster], that's the façade of the old Mine Train.

Box Office Mojo: Is it true Disneyland once allowed fishing?

O'Day: Yes. They stocked catfish off the docks of Tom Sawyer Island but they had to stop because, really, what do you do with the fish once you catch it? It was short-lived.

Box Office Mojo: Speaking of Tom Sawyer Island, are there any plans to put the guns back in the turrets at Fort Wilderness and allow guests back into the fort?

O'Day: You never know. The island was upgraded about two years ago and Fort Wilderness [formerly open but now closed to guests] is used as a staging ground for [Disneyland's fireworks display] Fantasmic. Tom Sawyer Island and Frontierland are designed to reflect the whole importance of [American] history. I don't know how much kids get of that today. When Disneyland opened, the Western was the most important genre on TV, and kids were predisposed to understand the American West. Today, who knows if kids understand that. I think kids get the idea of the Old West to a point, but kids in the 1950s and 1960s were more acclimated. That doesn't mean Frontierland is out of date, but we always try to keep it relevant. Where else can kids see a gigantic steamboat [the Mark Twain]? And the Columbia is a replica of the first American ship to sail around the world. We have the Davy Crockett canoes, too.

Box Office Mojo: How about returning the Skyway to Disneyland?

O'Day: We never say never. But the whole idea of what Walt wanted was what he called continuously 'plussing' Disneyland [adding not subtracting attractions]. He wanted a new experience every time. When he was preparing Pirates, Walt said to the Imagineers, 'go all the way,' and he said it should be like a party and you go on it over and over. One of the charming things about Disneyland is its intimacy and the little things you stumble upon, like Snow White's Wishing Well, which was not a part of the original park. These large crates were delivered to Disney in Burbank in the early 1960s and, when they opened the crates up, these beautiful marble sculptures—eight in total—had been delivered. Turns out the sculptor was licensed by Disney in Italy to sculpt the molds for Snow White soaps and he had used the molds to create these marble sculptures [and had sent them as a gift]. It's one of those quaint little areas that you stumble upon—the sculptures are like little discoveries. Everyone takes Disneyland as their own—it's the idea of Disneyland as a national treasure—and each person has their own idea of what Disneyland is and what it represents to them—it reaches people on an emotional level. Disneyland's something that feels like your own.

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