Recently, I got to spend some time with Jack Lindquist, Disneyland’s first advertising manager and later, Disneyland’s first president. To get to chat with someone who was there at the beginning, who knew Walt Disney, who not only watched Disneyland grow from “Walt’s Folly” into the park it is today, but who also was one of the people making Disneyland into the park we all love and know today ... for someone like me who has a nearly life-long love of Disneyland, it was a rare treat, indeed.
Jack Lindquist is a warm and welcoming guy and it was pure pleasure getting to chat with him. He’s the kind of person who from the get-go, you know you’d like to be able to call “friend.” And working for the Disney Company for 38 years, well, I’m sure you can imagine ... the things Jack has seen and done, the places he has been, the stories he has to tell!
Though you may not get the chance to sit down and talk face to face as I did, the stories are now at your touch. Jack has written a memoir entitled, "In Service To The Mouse." I’ve now been lucky enough to read it and again I’m telling you, Dear Readers, you will love this book which is available now.
We’ll get to the book information in a bit, but let’s sit down for the second (and concluding) part of our chat so I can pass on a few more stories Jack Lindquist told me. [Those of you who missed the first part of this interview can find it at this link.]
During Jack Lindquist’s long career with Disney he came up with a lot of advertising schemes. Some worked (Gift Giver Extraordinare — drew in a record 12.5 million people to Disneyland in 1985), some didn’t (the Disney Classic — a terrific idea that encompassed more than just football in the college bowl games), and some never even got off the ground. But one thing’s for sure, Jack was never afraid to try something different and he was always inventive. As he said to me, “You gotta be willing to stick out your neck.”
One of his more inventive publicity plans involved Mickey Mouse, corn, and airplanes.
It was 1988 and Jack was looking for some way to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday. What he came up with turned out to be pure genius. On a flight home from Orlando, Jack looked out the window of the plane, down onto the patches of green, and got the spark for an idea to plant a cornfield in the shape Mickey’s head. He thought it was a great idea that would get a lot of publicity if from 30,000 feet up you’d look out the window of your plane and instead of seeing squares of green, you’d see Mickey Mouse.
Jack with the Mouse he was in service to.
But how to go about achieving this, that was the problem. After figuring out the flight paths that got the most traffic, it was decided Iowa was the place for a corny Mickey. Jack headed out to the Iowa State University School of Agriculture to hopefully get their help with Cornfield Mickey and to find out if his plan was even feasible. In what Jack describes as “good old Disney luck” it just so happened that the University was about to celebrate their 100th anniversary and they were more than glad to help Disney find a way to plant the Mickey-shaped cornfield.
The University found a town with a farmer who was willing to plant his crops in the Mickey shape. The corn was sown and then they waited. Six and a half million corn plants, 300 acres of oats, all in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head and at the mercy of the weather, which at first, looked like it wasn’t going to come through, a drought had hit Iowa. But then, as it so often has a way of doing, that good old Disney Magic took over. The rain fell and the crops started to grow. Cornfield Mickey made his appearance in the world.
Then, in what Jack describes as a kind of “if you build it they will come” moment, people started arriving from all over to get a look at Cornfield Mickey. Local biplanes began offering sightseeing flights, Mickey was shown on Good Morning America and The Today Show. CNN talked about it. Cornfield Mickey was such a hit that even commercial airline pilots flying overhead announced to their passengers to look out the window for a look-see at Cornfield Mickey. Jack estimates that what he calls “just a fun idea” easily garnered $10 million dollars in publicity for the Disney Company.
See what I mean about inventive? I can’t imagine someone coming up with an idea like that today.
Toward the end of his Disney career, Michael Eisner named Jack as the first-ever President of Disneyland, and I was interested to hear how it was to work with him. Jack had a good relationship with Eisner and remembers him as someone who helped the Disney Company grow its movie division at a time in which it was floundering. Jack described Eisner as someone who was also curious to learn because he knew motion pictures but not theme parks, “When Eisner and (Frank) Wells came in, they could have fired everyone. But they didn’t. Instead they spent a year learning the business.”
At the time he came on board, Eisner really had no idea how much revenue the theme parks brought to the company. When he quizzed Jack on the value of the parks, Eisner had in mind a single digit revenue figure. But Jack quickly clued him in that the parks took in a number many times higher. Lindquist also gives Eisner credit for understanding the value inherent in a day at the park, and how he astutely raised prices to bring them more in line with other entertainment options – such as an evening at a Broadway type of show or a professional sporting event.
During his tenure as Disneyland’s first president (1988-1993), Jack saw many changes come to the park — ticket books were abandoned in favor of a one-price admission, Fantasmic debuted, ideas for a second gate were tossed around, and Mickey’s Toontown opened.
When they threw a retirement party for Jack, Toontown was exactly where it was held. Jack says that a better retirement party has never been had by anyone. Everyone was there to celebrate with him, and though Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Frank Wells weren’t able to be there in person, they filmed a little farewell video for Jack in which Michael and Jeffrey hit Frank in the face with a cream-filled pie. Frank, with his pie-smeared face looked directly into the camera and said, “Only for you, Jack. Only for you.”
When it came time for presents, Disney had planned a splashy way to present the retirement gift to Jack. With a great deal of fuss, via crane, they raised a boat high over Toontown. It was quite a sight. Then, as can happen, things went badly awry and the boat came crashing down. Only, this being Disney, it came crashing down with a pyrotechnic finish. Of course this was all a very elaborate gag, much to the relief of everyone who wasn’t in on it. Jack though ... he was too smart to fall for that stunt. He says he knew it was a gag all along because the Disney people are simply too good at what they do to mess up and drop a boat like that.
Jack still has that boat today and he still enjoys sailing around in it on the occasional weekend outing. And next time you head to Disneyland, take walk back to Toontown, you just might catch Jack watching over the park. Saunter over to Goofy’s house and take a look at the veggies growing in his garden. You see that pumpkin sporting the trademark glasses? Looks a whole lot like Jack Lindquist... and that’s intentional, as it’s a fun tribute to a much-loved past President of Disneyland.
I asked Jack what it felt like to have a tribute like that and he told me it was pretty terrific, but the honor he values most is his window on Main Street. It sits above City Hall and reads “J.B. Lindquist, Honorary Mayor of Disneyland, Jack of All Trades, Master of Fun." (A photo of which we included in part one of this piece.) Jack also has a window in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World (shown below), and was made a Disney Legend in 1994.
You’d think with the life he’s led, the people he’s known, and things he’s seen and done, and all those accolades, that Jack Lindquist would be a bit full of himself. But that’s not who he is. You often hear the phrase “an ordinary person who does extraordinary things.” This pretty much describes Jack Lindquist. In person, he seems like a regular, no-baloney kind of guy, someone who could live down the street from you and will tell you exactly what he thinks. But this regular guy has done some very extraordinary things and the tale he has to tell is fascinating. Which leads me to Jack’s new book, out 12/15, In Service To The Mouse, of which his publisher provided complimentary advance copies to us.
Jack's window at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World
In Service To The Mouse is what I would describe as a compendium of anecdotes of Jack’s years with Disney. And my, what great ones they are! (A more serious chapter on how Walt Disney’s passing was dealt with by the company and park was included complete in the first part of this piece.)
All of the stories are interesting, and some of them are downright riveting, but the thing I enjoyed most about In Service To The Mouse is that everything is told in Jack’s no-nonsense voice. He doesn’t mince words and he tells it as he saw it. As we noted before, you won’t find any photos in the book though because that would have meant having to get Disney’s approval. And that may have meant the loss of Jack’s voice (and possibly some of the best stories), which would have been a shame.
Fortunately that didn’t happen, and what you end up with is an unvarnished look at how the Disney parks grew up and became the places they are today. Ultimately, what In Service To The Mouse provides is a real look at real people inventing things as they went along and having a darn good time living life.
Cover design by Charles Boyer
Intrigued? Well then, you need to read Jack’s book, and if you live in the Southern California area, you have an extra treat in store. You can actually meet him — as he has a few book signings and appearances scheduled:
|12/18/2010 at 2pm
||1/20/11 at 7pm
||2/10/2011 at 7pm
Barnes & Noble, Orange, CA
Orange Town & Country
791 South Main Street #100
Orange, CA 92868
|Anaheim Public Library
Canyon Hills Branch
400 Scout Trail
Anaheim Hills, CA 92807
695 E. Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91101
The website for Jack's book is www.inservicetothemouse.com - it will also post the latest updates on where he will be making appearances and doing book signings.