The Day Walt’s Dream Became A Reality: Celebrating 60 Years of Disneyland

By Keith Mahne

60 years ago today, Walt Disney’s dream that started “from a daddy with two daughters wondering where he could take them where he could have a little fun with them, too” became a reality. Disneyland is a place like no other. Walt once said, “Disneyland would be a world of past and present, seen through the eyes of my imagination – a place of warmth and nostalgia, of illusion and color and delight.” As we all know, anything created from Walt’s “imagination” is, without a doubt, going to be very special. And so, as we celebrate 60 years of magic, join me as we take a look at the creation and opening of Disneyland and the man who made it all possible…

In 1954, construction starts in Anaheim, which often continues 24 hours a day to get the park ready in time. Hollywood studios and amusement park owners couldn’t understand Walt’s concept of a “theme park,” and figured it would fail within months of opening. Burbank was the desired location, but the city rejected the project fearing the “carnie” type atmosphere and increased crime that was associated with amusement parks of the day.

Disneyland, in fact, was based much less on the traditional amusement park and much more on the world’s fair, Denmark’s Tivoli Gardens, Greenfield Village and the “garden city” concept, which also became the model for most of America’s suburbs developed during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s (most of Disneyland’s patrons came from those suburbs, and it’s a small wonder they found it so appealing). ABC, the smallest of the three networks, begins airing the Disneyland television show, which eventually becomes the Wonderful World of Disney. The show is the first time a major Hollywood movie studio has partnered with television, and puts ABC at the top of the rankings. The hour-long show’s programming is divided into four guiding themes,  Fantasyland (Disney animated shorts),  Frontierland (the amazingly successful Davy Crocket),  Adventureland (True-Life Adventures series – the first such films to capture animals in the wild) and  Tomorrowland (original programming such as Man In Space).

(Please pause the Disney Avenue Music Player above prior to watching the videos below if you are on a desktop computer.)

Not only was the show a great way to remind audiences of Disney favorites of the past, but it also was the first time future movies were promoted using television, a practice that is now commonplace. In addition, Walt used the show to show the public plans for his theme park concept and becomes the first publicly recognizable studio head in Hollywood history.

It took a lot of work to create the happiest place on earth. See for yourself…

Join legendary Imagineer Tony Baxter on the creation of Disneyland in this wonderful video below…

Walt wanted his Park to be perfect. He wouldn’t stand for anything less and was involved in every little detail, a true testament to what Disneyland meant to him personally. This amazing video below gives you a good idea of what I mean…

Disneyland finally opens to the world on Sunday, July 17, 1955 with 18 attractions, at a cost of $17.5 million. A special ‘International Press Preview’ event was held, which was only open to invited guests. Six thousand invitations to the Grand Opening had been mailed to studio workers, construction workers, the press and officials of company sponsors.



The five original lands are Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Main Street, USA. Opening day ceremonies are overseen by Ronald Reagan, Art Linkletter and Robert Cummings. All three will return for Disneyland’s 35th in 1990, and Art Linkletter will be present for Disneyland’s 50th in 2005. Park crowds swell to 30,000 as more than double the invited number of guests enter as people climb fences and walls around the park to get in. Most attractions break down within the first few hours and many women lose the heels of their shoes as the asphalt paving on Main Street, USA had just been poured hours earlier and was still soft. Disneyland is deemed a disaster in Anaheim, although the televised grand opening attracted the largest TV audience in history to that date – over 90 million viewers, which in 1955, was almost everyone that had the ability to view a television.

There is a great story by Wally Boag, who played the Pecos Bill/Traveling Salesman character in the Golden Horseshoe Revue, about the live, opening day broadcast…

As one of Disneyland’s Opening Day attractions, the show was to be part of the Dateline: Disneyland television program, the live broadcast seen by ninety million viewers—but in one of the many glitches that plagued the televised proceedings, Wally Boag wrote in his 2009 memoir, “our Horseshoe show didn’t get on. They were supposed to switch to the Horseshoe just as the dancers were beginning the can-can number, and they were going to shoot the reflection in the mirror that hung behind the bar.  But they were late in switching to the Horseshoe, so they only got a few seconds of the show’s closing and us taking bows.  But that was all right, because the next day, we opened up to the public and began what would eventually become the longest-running live stage show in the history of show business.”

Have a look at these absolutely breathtaking, color photos of Disneyland on opening day…

Imagine for a second the amount of stress and pressure a normal person would have if they were to create something as extravagant as Disneyland. Walt put up everything he owned to make it happen! His home, his life insurance policy, anything he owned to draw up enough funds to have Disneyland be created properly. On top of that, nearly everyone thought it would fail. What if it did? What would have happened to Walt and his dreams? What about the studio or even his family? We will never have to answer those questions because we know what happened. History was made. A dream came true. Magic became a real thing. Although I can’t help but to assume all of this was in the back of Walt’s mind, I honestly don’t believe he ever felt it would fail. And that my friends is exactly why it didn’t! He had so much faith in what he was doing that it couldn’t fail. That is what was so special about Walt.
Take for instance when Walt welcomed the very first children to enter Disneyland. Does this look like a worried man…

…not at all. Walt’s gift was knowing what people wanted and how to give it to them. Wouldn’t you have loved to be one of these lucky kids?!

One of my favorite Walt stories about him around the opening of Disneyland took place during a special pre-opening presentation of the Golden Horseshoe Revue’s first official performance. The show was staged in honor of Walt and Lillian Disney’s 30th wedding anniversary on Wednesday, July 13, 1955, four days before Disneyland would open it’s doors to the world. An invitation went out to 300 people for this “Tempus Fugit Celebration.” Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller explains…

“It began,” recalled Diane, “on the Mark Twain Riverboat with mint juleps and then moved over to the Golden Horseshoe Saloon for dinner and the ‘revue.’ Suddenly Dad appeared in one of the balcony boxes on the side of the stage.  At this point in the show, Wally Boag, as Pecos Bill, was firing blanks—Dad returned fire with his thumb and forefinger, then began to climb down to the stage.  I think that everyone got a bit worried—I know I did.  When he got to the stage he stood there beaming at everyone.  He was so happy.”

When Lillian Disney reluctantly joined her husband on the Golden Horseshoe stage, Walt started dancing with his bride of 30 years. Lillian didn’t know it, but Walt had taken some dancing lessons, because he knew how happy it would make her and soon everyone was dancing. Look at the photo above from that night. Walt’s Park was about to open to the entire world and, as Diane Disney mentioned, he truly was beaming.

As we celebrate 60 years of Disneyland, we celebrate not just a park, but a man with a passion. A man who was never afraid to dream. A man who loved people, knew how to make them happy, and did so no matter the cost. Disneyland is so special to so many people because it was special to Walt. He didn’t create it to make money, he created it to make people happy. He didn’t create it just to please children, nor did he do so for adults. He did so for EVERYONE! He kept the admission prices low so that every class of people could experience the magic together. And, most importantly, he did it out of love, out of a dream, out of his heart. That is why we are here celebrating 60 years, because of you Walt. We thank you for bringing so much joy to this weary world, for creating a place we can all escape to and leave our worries behind, a place…where a daddy… with two daughters… wondering where he could take them… where he could have a little fun with them, too. Thank you Walt and we sure do miss you! Here’s to 60 more magical years of your dream coming true…

Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four.

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.


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