Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Disneyland - Summer 1980 - Yank My Heart Out - "The Bench"

I was digging through "the box" of old Disney stuff that I keep and came across my 1980 Souvenir Guide. Glancing through its somewhat faded pages at the photographs and lists of attractions, restaurants and shops resurrected for me the Park of my young adulthood. I figured there are more than a few of you who tossed away your Souvenir Guide after touring the Park back in 1980, so I present a few of its pages here to help you recapture those memories.

Even the cover---perhaps slightly hokey by "today's" standards---evokes a sense of real joy and fun. The folks pictured are not professional models. Their smiles are genuine. The Polaroid ad on the back page takes us back to a day when cameras did not store digital images. The Polaroid Pronto Sonar automatically took and then printed out a "beautiful SX-70 picture instantly." You could watch the magic happen as the picture slowly developed its image in front of you. Amazing. I remember the old Lilly Belle photo prop there on the east side of Main Street, next to what is now Disney Clothiers.

Stepping into the 1980 Guidebook to its center foldout display page really yanked at my heart because it contains great photographs of the Park as it once was---clean, new and full of bright colors. The quotes on these pages are from Walt. The photos show how truly colorful Disneyland was---from Cast Member costumes to the shiny white of Space Mountain and the red awnings of the Emporium. I feel that old ache---the ache to somehow go back, to be there then, as it was. We all get that ache in life at one time or another. We all have some place and some time that was special to us, where we return in pensive moments. For me, the Park will always be such a place full of memories, just as Walt and his team had intended. The 1980 Guide also included a map of the Park---before Splash Mountain and Winnie the Pooh turned Bear Country into "Critter Country," before the Skyway was yanked from the sky, before Fantasyland was remodeled, before Tarzan rudely kicked out the Swiss Family, before Buzz Lightyear and Emperor Zurg evicted Circlevision and America the Beautiful, before America Sings was "Innovented," before the People Mover became the Rocket Rods and then...um...bare track, before the Rocket Jets were rudely torn from their high perch and stubbed onto ground level at Tomorrowland's entrance, before anyone ever did anything to mess with the original (perfectly-fine-and-no-need-for-fixin') Pirates of the Caribbean, before the parking lot became DCA, before...well...before a lot of stuff happened and changed.

I know. Most of you four Jungle is 101 readers (hi, Mom) have heard the rant before. Still, each glance at the evidence of how things once were refreshes the sting of the many thoughtless changes that were made to the landscape of Disneyland. Not that everything "new" is bad. You've got your Indiana Jones and even Splash Moutain, for example. But the hurt still lingers and always will for some things that are forever gone or changed.

I will close out today's post with a little nugget of Disneydom that only your true believers can appreciate. As a Cast Member and a guest, I have had many occasions to "connect" with the old Disneyland while walking through the "new" version. Some things are obvious---they never moved the Matterhorn, for example, or the entrance to Frontierland. Other things you might not really think about as you encounter them. One of the latter things is the metal bench you will encounter in the Fantasyland castle courtyard---on the Fantasyland side of Sleeping Beauty's Castle. You can see the bench to the right side of the blow-up of the iconographic photo of Walt below.

When I worked there, I met quite a few old timers, many of whom worked with Walt. One of these fine fellows related a simple story to me.

One day in the early 1960s, he was working in Custodial and was doing his morning walk-through of Fantasyland. He entered from the West entrance---along the path that led from Carnation Plaza Gardens into Fantasyland (near the Tinker Bell Toy Shop). It was before the park opened and still early. He rounded the corner and there was Walt. Sitting on the bench. The bench in the photograph below.
"Uh, good morning, Mr. Disney," stammered the then-young custodial host. Walt stood up, said good morning and thanked the young man for his work, gently reminding him "It's Walt." Walt then turned and walked back through the castle entrance toward Main Street. It was the last time the cast member ever saw Mr. Disney and the first time he'd ever had a chance to speak with him. He never forgot it.

Anyhow, next time you're in Fantasyland and you happen to see a metal bench there in the courtyard behind the castle, take a moment and take a seat. Walt was there once. In many ways, throughout the Park, he is still there now.

We are all pretty fortunate that Walt dared to make his vision of Disneyland a reality. Let us hope that those charged with keeping Walt's legacy will remember his desire to have things at Disneyland "get more beautiful each year." "Growing and adding new things" probably did not mean tearing out the soul of an attraction (America Sings comes to mind) or painting the Small World facade in nauseating pastels (let us all take a moment of thanksgiving that the simple, white paint scheme has since returned). Walt and modern corporate Disney management probably would not get along. It is a simple truth that listening to "bean counters" would have prevented little things like Snow White, Pinocchio, and Disneyland itself, from ever, ever becoming realities. At its best, Disneyland is art, living art.