About the Column

Disney Legend Charlie Ridgway's window on Main Street proclaims: "No Event Too Small". From his start in 1963 at Disneyland, through his retirement over 30 years later as Disney's Director of Press and Publicity, Charlie organized many press events, both big and small, not to mention quite a few celebrations, spectacles, and galas. Here on Disney Dispatch, Charlie will share some of his memories of Walt Disney and the original Imagineers, of movie stars and politicians, and of his day-to-day life as the man in charge of Disney's public image. Bona fide Disney history? You bet. And Charlie's style makes that history crackle and sing.

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FROM: No Event Too Small Published Wednesdays

Disneyland, Day 1: Crowds, Crashes, Chaos

With something the size and scope of Disneyland, you expect a few snags, a few glitches, on opening day. But when unexpected mobs appear at the gate, and when a window crashes down on the head of a state senator, well, it's a problem.

For months leading up to the grand opening of Disneyland on July 18, 1955, people were talking about it. Everyone wanted to be the first ones inside.

Disney scheduled a Press Preview on July 17, with the park open by invitation to journalists, celebrities, and many, many other people who were asked to come for one reason or another.

That's how the problems started.

Due to errors in the invitations, three times as many people than Disney expected were at the gates that morning. With all those people allowed into the park, it's no wonder that the food ran out within a few hours, some of the rides stopped working, and the reports in the papers the next day were mostly negative.

A good example is the construction workers.

Disney employed two or three thousand construction workers, but even with that much manpower, they worried that the park wouldn't be completed on time. So they offered the workers a bonus: if the park was ready by opening day, each worker would be able to bring his family to the Press Preview and enjoy the park ahead of everyone else.

That alone brought an extra 5000 people into the park.

No one has ever confirmed my long-held belief that the Press Preview fiasco was caused, in part, by Disney mishandling ticket distribution.

Disney sent invitations by mail for the Press Preview. To accept, all the recipient had to do was send back a reply card with the number of family members who wanted to attend, and Disney would provide an equal number of tickets.

Of course, quite a few people requested more tickets than they had family members. They gave the extra tickets to their friends. They might even have sold them! Disney simply couldn't handle the volume. And to make it worse, the day was very hot, the traffic was heavy, and much of what might have went wrong did go wrong.

An example of one of the things that went wrong - and luckily didn't go wrong in a bigger way - happened aboard the Mark Twain steamboat.

Milt Albright, who worked for Disney then and became a friend of mine later, had been assigned to a state senator who was in the park that day. The two of them were standing on the deck of the steamboat when one of the glass windows came loose from its frame and crashed down on the senator's head.

He wasn't cut too badly, but he also didn't leave the park with a particularly good impression of Disneyland.

It's amazing how quickly Walt overcame that initial fiasco and got the park running smoothly for the paying guests.

Don't want to wait another week to read more from Charlie Ridgway? Don't blame you! I can help: first, read my review of Charlie's book, Spinning Disney's World, and then... buy it! The book brims with Charlie's well-told stories, and it spans the length of his Disney career, from Disneyland to Disney World and beyond.


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