Saturday, July 17, 2010

July 17: Where Were You?

As many Disney fans know, Disneyland (Walt's very first theme park) debuted in Anaheim, California on this day in 1955. We've all read about the chaos that ensued on that hot July day when the park premiered to over 28,000 guests and many more on live television.

Here's a bit of a run-down of where certain famous names (and certain not-so-famous names) in Disney history were on that "Black Sunday" in Anaheim:

An 18-year-old Cast Member named Bob Penfield operated the King Arthur Carousel on opening day. He was to operate Peter Pan's Flight ... but it kept breaking down! Penfield went on to become the longest working Cast Member in Disneyland history.
"I remember the first day, seeing Walt Disney walking down Main Street. I'm an 18-year-old Iowa farm boy, and I'm watching Walt Disney walk down the street." -Bob Penfield

Reporter Charlie Ridgway was covering the opening for the Los Angeles-Mirror News. He later went on to work for Disney as a publicist before relocating to Florida to run Disney World's public-relations department (for 30 years)! Retired since 1994, Ridgway's career can be traced in his book Spinning Disney's World. He was named a Disney Legend in 1999.
"I arrived with my wife at 9:00 a.m. and I don't think they were happy to see me show up that early. I picked up the press credentials and wandered round and had a wonderful time." -Charlie Ridgway

Cast Member Ron Dominguez was working as a ticket taker at the park's main gate on July 17. He would spend his entire career at Disney, eventually becoming vice president of Walt Disney Attractions (through 1994). Interestingly he grew up on one of the Anaheim orange groves that became Disneyland! The Dominguez family home originally sat just about where Pirates of the Caribbean is today. Dominguez was inducted a Disney Legend in 2000.
"We were actually the last people to leave the property. Our new house wasn't quite ready, so we didn't move until August of 1954." -Ron Dominguez

A nine-year-old named Bonnie Williams was one of the lucky youngsters to be in the park on opening day. A member of a church youth group who had been invited to Disneyland, Williams was among the first children to cross the drawbridge into Fantasyland!
"I remember seeing Walt. He looked like a giant. I told him - I saw you on TV! The whole day was magical." -Bonnie Williams

Also among the first children to run through Sleeping Beauty Castle ... a young boy named Robb Fischle. Today he is a park security officer!
"On opening day they had the ceremony in front of the castle ... Walt dedicated Fantasyland. They dropped the drawbridge for the first time. Fortunately I was one of the kids that got to run across the drawbridge into Fantasyland." -Robb Fischle

A rusty-haired 12-year-old named Tom Nabbe stood outside the park's entrance on July 17 with his mom seeking autographs from visiting Hollywood stars. After striking up a conversation with entertainer Danny Thomas ... they were actually given two extra admission tickets that Thomas didn't need! Two days later young Nabbe landed a job as a "newsie" hawking Disneyland News on Main Street. In 1956 he became the park's first Tom Sawyer ... and in 1971 became Disney World's monorail manager! Forty-eight years later in June 2003, 60-year-old Nabbe retired. He was the last working member of Club 55 (a group of original Disneyland Cast members). Nabbe was named a Disney Legend in 2005.
"I used to approach Walt everytime I saw him around the park." -Tom Nabbe

Disney consultant Harrison "Buzz" Price attended opening day too. A few years earlier he had chosen the then sleepy-agricultural town of Anaheim as the location for Disneyland.
"I was on the bridge that led to Sleeping Beauty Castle, and it was full of people. We couldn't move. I looked down and saw Frank Sinatra, and he was cursing." -Buzz Price

Future Disneyland President Jack Lindquist was at the park ... but as a guest! He was working for an ad agency and one of his clients Kelvinator (an appliance company) invited him. Originally a child actor, Lindquist began working for Disney in late-1955 and stayed with the company until his retirement in 1993. A year later he was named a Disney Legend.
"It was so crowded, and I think it was 105. I don't know, but it was very hot." -Jack Lindquist

A Long Beach College student named Dave MacPherson watched the Disneyland grand opening on ABC-TV. During the broadcast, he hatched a plan ...
"I decided I wanted to be the first in line. The first person to go into the park who wasn't a relative of Walt's or some celebrity. The first regular guy to go in through the front door." -Dave MacPherson
So around midnight MacPherson got on his motorbike and made the 10-mile trek from Long Beach to Anaheim. When he reached Disneyland, he walked over to the nearest ticket booth and started a line. On the morning of July 18 he purchased the first ticket to be sold to the general public - thus becoming the very first person to enter Disneyland on its very first regular day in business!

Of course we all know Walt Disney himself was there on July 17, keeping extremely busy along with actor (and future U.S. President) Ronald Reagan, radio/TV host Art Linkletter (who celebrated his 43rd birthday on July 17), actor Fess Parker (dressed as Davy Crockett) and nearly 30,000 guests!

Happy 55th Anniversary Disneyland.

Click HERE for much more July 17 Disney history.

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