Samland Grab Bag – Disneylanders, Retlaw, Dart and More

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Disney History, Features, Samland

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Published on January 10, 2013 at 4:02 am with 8 Comments

Sam returns with a wonderful grab bag of Disney delights. Some fun and perhaps even surprising facts about Disneyland are shared below.

DISNEYLANDERS

In 1958, the Disneyland public relations department produced an annual report describing the benefits of Disneyland to the community. By this time, the Park was establishing itself as a big hit. At least in the summer months. Attendance had topped 4 million guests a year in 1957 and it was projected to rise to 4.4 million in 1958.

To keep up with the growth, the number of attractions had doubled to 44. The Park also added a number of nighttime entertainment facilities to prolong the business day. By this time, the average guest was spending 5 1/2 hours in the park.

The earliest employees were known as Disneylanders not Cast Members. That came later in the early 1960s. Here is a little bit about the 3,450 Disneylanders. Most were married (91.4%), had 2.4 children, were a church member (84.8%), owned their home (66.4%), and were active in the community. (What do you think those numbers would look like today?)

RETLAW

Recently, I took The Magic Behind Our Steam Tour, which I enjoyed very much. However, I learned the official script referenced a strange little company called Retlaw, own by Walt’s family. Here is the real story. Retlaw—Walter spelled backward—was incorporated on April 6, 1953. The company would provide Walt a way to fund the development of Disneyland. He owned one-third of the company, and his daughters owned the other two-thirds. He negotiated a deal: in return for licensing his name to Walt Disney Productions, he would receive either a five-percent royalty from every merchandising transaction, or he would take a share of up to fifteen percent in every Disney project. Considering that the Disney name appeared on virtually everything, the agreement was especially lucrative to Walt and his family.[1]

Walt felt he had ample justification for the agreement. “I borrowed on the insurance I’d been paying on for 30 years, and sold my house in Palm Springs to get Disneyland to a point where I could show people what it would be,” he said. “My wife complained that if anything happened to me, I would have spent all the family money.” He did find one early investor, the Bank of America. One day, Roy Disney was in his office when he got a call from a banker friend who said, “Walt was in my office today.” “Oh?” replied Roy. “It’s about the Park. We went over the plans he showed me. You know, Roy, that Park is a wonderful idea,” the banker said. Roy asked, “Did Walt try to borrow from you?” and the banker replied, “Yes, he did. And you know what? I loaned it to him.” Walt even had Hazel George, the Studio nurse and Walt’s confidante, to canvas the studio for additional investors. They called that group of early believers the Disneyland Backers and Boosters. Roy was impressed.

Eventually, Retlaw would own the old-fashioned scale-model steam railroad that would circle Disneyland and, in time, the futuristic Monorail that would circle Tomorrowland. The railroad paid twenty percent of its gross revenues to Walt Disney Productions for the right-of-way.  Employees of Retlaw did not work for the Studio or Disneyland. They worked directly for Walt. Retlaw was also there to protect the Walt Disney family financially in case things did not go as well as planned.

Walt’s starting the new firm was a major sore spot between the Disney brothers. Walt wanted more control over his activities that were not directly related to the Studio. He suggested the arrangement was in the best interest of Walt Disney Productions as well as himself since the Studio could now count on the use of his name after he dies. Roy felt betrayed. The fact that Roy’s family did not benefit was the cause of the friction. Walt Disney Productions was a partnership between the brothers, and Roy did not appreciate the fact that only Walt’s daughters and wife would benefit from the deal. He would still work with his genius younger brother but it was not the same. Retlaw was ultimately purchased by Walt Disney Productions on July 8, 1981, for $46.2 million worth of stock.

DART

In 1963, the success of Disneyland sparked all sorts of moneymaking schemes from ambitious promoters. One such proposal was a four to six mile elevated train “of completely novel design” between Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. To bring this project to reality, the Duorail Aerospace Rapid Transit Corp. (DART) needed to get the Anaheim City Council to sponsor the project. With that sponsorship, DART could seek $21 million in Federal  funding from the Federal Housing and Home Finance Agency. Anaheim City Administrator Keith Murdoch described the project as “a truly experimental system, a research and development venture quite properly within the jurisdiction of the federal government.” When asked at the time, Disneyland management was not aware of the project nor was Walter Knott who said, “The first time I heard about it was when I read the Papers.” When City officials started checking into DART they could not obtain any information and the project faded into history.

THE BEGINNING OF THE BATTLE

A war was starting to take place between two giant entertainment companies.

In 1981, MCA, owners at the time of Universal Studios, bought land in Florida for a movie studio and theme park. Michael Eisner decided he wanted Disney to beat them to the market. The Walt Disney Company announced in 1985 that it would build a $300-million studio tour in Orlando and it would open one year before Universal. In March, MCA decided to up the ante by announcing a major $75 million expansion at Universal City that would boost attendance by 50% to 6 million per year.  The expansion would include an E.T. ride, a Back to the Future ride, an attraction called Earthquake – San Francisco, and a stunt show based on the television show Miami Vice.

Disney fired back with the announcement of an agreement with the city of Burbank to purchase 40-acres for $1 million to build a $611 Million Disney-MGM Backlot entertainment complex not far from Universal Studios Hollywood. The mixed-use development would feature Disney-style attractions like a ride through famous movie scenes and a “Hollywood Fantasy Hotel.” There would be shops, restaurants, theaters, and clubs. The studio’s animation department would be moved into the complex as well as the Disney Channel studios.

Michael Eisner had allegedly proposed to Jay Stein, a vice president at MCA that Disney would drop the plans to build the Burbank if MCA would drop plans to build theme parks in Florida. Stein complained that Disney was using “blackmail tactics” to get their way and the company sued Burbank claiming it had made a secret deal with his competitor. Southern California had become a skirmish in a much bigger war between entertainment giants.

STORYBOOK CIRCUS

They say that good ideas never die at Imagineering, just put in a draw to come out when the time is right. This recently happened in Walt Disney World. The new Storybook Circus section can trace it’s roots back many years ago at Disneyland. Dumbo’s Circusland would be a five-acre area both inside and outside of the berm adjacent to it’s a small world. Circus-themed spaces go all the way back to some of the earliest ideas for Fantasyland, as penned by artist Bruce Bushman. Animator Ward Kimball also contributed to the planning.

Concept art of the current Storybook Circus which opened in late 2012.

The centerpiece would have been Mickey’s Madhouse, a proposed thrill ride geared toward children. This ride would have been a wild mouse roller coaster in the dark. Guests would have entered the world of black and white cartoons of the 1930s and travel through an environment where they would be unable to see what is in front of them.  The Casey Jr. train would have been extended and given a second stop within Dumbo’s Circusland. A dark ride called Circus Disney featuring Audio-Animatronics Disney characters and a new Pinocchio ride would be squeezed in as well. At the center of the land would be a playful fountain with the fireman clowns from the animated film.

EARLY CELEBRATIONS 1956 to 1960

Disneyland was always trying new shows. During the holiday season of 1956, dozens of local youth groups were invited to perform at the “Christmas Bowl.” In 1957, the focus was on keeping guests in the park after dark and from mid-June to mid-September guests could count on “Fantasy in the Sky” fireworks every night. The “Date Nite” program also started that summer. For the holidays, a new event was created, the “Christmas Festival” with 115 youth choruses coming together to perform. All of this lead up to the first New Year’s Eve party with 7,500 people in the park celebrating the start of 1958. In 1959, the holiday event was changed to the “Christmas in Many Lands” parade. This was also the first year that the Rose Bowl teams visiting the Park prior to the game. Over 11,000 people came to the New Year’s Eve Party.

In 1960, for the first time somebody rented out the entire park. On May 13, the Knights of Columbus took over and October 22, United California Bank held a private party. This was also the inaugural year of the “Dixieland at Disneyland” show, which attracted 9,000 people who saw six bands performing throughout the Park. The Christmas parade grew with “The Parade of Toys” segment followed by 800 candlelight carrying singers. The New Year’s Eve party continued to grow with 14,000 guests.

Well folks, we’ve pulled more than a few interesting facts from the grab bag today. Did you find anything new or surprising?

About Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. Sam is a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County. Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City which you can find on Amazon.

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8 Comments

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  1. What a shame all these years later the Circus concept is finally built for another Park and is a scaled back version of what was originally proposed for Disneyland.

    • I read somewhere that Dumbo’s Circusland was intended not to be a standalone addition, but an extension of Discovery Bay, which was to have been themed to “The Island At the Top of the World”. But when the film flopped at the box office, it killed off the Discovery Bay concept, taking Dumbo’s Circusland with it. They would try to revive it in the late 1970s, only to finally scrap it for good in favor of the Fantasyland overhaul of 1983.

      • I think you’re right about that. I have stacked away somewhere Disney Annual Reports from that time and I remember very well those models being shown in the report (don’t remember exactly which year it was). I should did those our of storage and take a look. I believe this was one of Tony Baxter’s first major project that didn’t happen.

      • The two additions were adjacent to each other and, I think, had some elements to tie them together somehow. I have a couple of pictures of the models when they were on display in the park in the 1980′s. I just read a good article somewhere about Dumbo’s Circus, but don’t remember where I saw it.

  2. That was a fun article!! Thank you Samland.

  3. Wow! Lots of info I didn’t know. Thanks.

  4. Always an excellent read, thanks for posting this great article!

  5. Thanks for the information on Retlaw. I know that must have been a source of tension between the bothers and in the whole family. I am not sure if creating your own company was the best solution. Certainly for Walt Disney Productions, the coming of Disneyland was perfect timing. It broadened the appeal to Disney products to adults as well as kids. It made the movie industry change away from cartoons much easier for the company. While, Roy certainly was late to the party when it came to theme parks, it has to be said that without Roy’s persistence, Walt Disney World would not have been built. So Roy finally did get what Walt saw in Disneyland.