Dispatch From Disneyland
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This is the second in a series celebrating the 100th year of Walt Disneys birth. Through these columns the author intends to explore the thoughts and actions that might have gone into creating some of that Disney magic we all know and love.
Come with me to the sea .
The folklore has always been that Walt got the idea for Disneyland while watching his little girls ride a merry-go-round at the local park. Sunday was daddy's day. That meant Walt would sit on a nearby bench devouring popcorn while his girls had fun going round in circles.
It is said that while resting on that bench he wondered why there wasn't a place where parents could share the fun of rides with their children. Through that desire was born Disneyland. What this leaves out is the implication that there weren't already such places. In fact there were.
Knotts Berry Farm was growing. The little restaurant and fruit stand that could had just imported a ghost town and was adding other attractions to entertain its customers. Very close to that famous merry-go-round, were movie studios that invited audiences in for tours to see how the movies were made; which is how Universal Studios Hollywood got its start.
Up and down the coast of California were dozens of seaside amusement parks. Places that started as dance halls, or collections of shops and rides, and grew into huge boardwalk amusement zones that overflowed with visitors. And then there were the distant East Coast older siblings of these amusement parks, like Coney Island, that Walt was known to have visited.
In fact, Walt grew up during the prime of these amusement centers. He knew them when they were shiny and new, and later, when they were old and decrepit, awaiting the fire that ended the life of so many wonderful creations.
Imagine if you will what one such visit to a seaside amusement park might have been like for Walt and his family.
It is 1943. Wartime. In the distance waves are crashing against the shore, hundreds of Los Angeles residents are sunning themselves on the sandy beaches, while above them tower bulky buildings perched on splintery wooden piers.
It was a rare moment when Walt got away from the studios on a weekday. But since he was considering giving a seaside amusement park a central role in his next short, he considered his work habit satisfied. Additionally, he would get a chance to take the family out, something hed been meaning to do for a long time.
Walt was sporting a new suit bought from the Sears catalog and tailored by one of Lillians friends. Despite the successes and failures of the last few years, he was happy to note he could walk through public places without drawing too many stares or worse, requests for autographs. He felt like a common man and he liked to be seen as one.
The girls wore similar skirts and sweaters in that mauve color that was fashionable right then. Walt noted Lillian was wearing her comfortable walking shoes and a polka-dot dress she liked to wear when they went out dancing. If they were lucky, he and Lillian would get in a dance or two at the end of the night. Then maybe she wouldnt ask to do that again for a few more months.