Page 3 of 5
At first, there was talk of just slapping together a temporary facility to stage the attraction in. Maybe throwing MuppetVision 3D in the Videopolis Stage area for a year or so. Just until the Toon Town Opera House could be completed and MuppetVision 3D could be presented in its proper home.
Then someone at WDI -- no one now remembers who exactly who was that first floated this idea -- suggested the real Disneyland Opera House. You know, the one down on Main Street U.S.A.? After all, it wasn't like there were all these massive crowds that were fighting to get in to see "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln."
Poor robotic Abe. Just like Rodney Dangerfield, the Anaheim audio-animatronic version of Abraham Lincoln "can't get no respect." Even though this Main Street U.S.A. attraction has always been praised for its eerily life-like recreation of our 16th president, that still doesn't mean that "Mr. Lincoln" was ever really a big hit with Disneyland visitors.
Strange but true, kids. "Great Moments" may have one of the top five shows at the 1964 New York World's Fair, but -- almost from the moment Abe set up shop inside Disneyland's Opera House back in June 1965 -- this show had trouble attracting an audience in Anaheim. Even when management began including complimentary admission to "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" with every Disneyland ticket book, guests still steered clear of the show.
Just how bad did things get? I've seen internal documents from December 1967 -- a mere 18 months after the Anaheim version of the World's Fair show had opened up -- that clearly shows that Disneyland management was already debating whether or not they should close the "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" due to the attraction's pitiful attendance levels.
However, given that Orange County -- in addition to being home to Disneyland -- is a notorious right wing Republican stronghold, Disneyland management knew that any attempt to close the Lincoln show would be met with heated opposition from vocal locals. So it would take the Mouse six more years before it got up the nerve to finally unplug old Abe.
Of course, Disneyland's PR staff tried to put the best possible face on the situation, as "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" went dark in January 1973. They kept insisting that the Main Street Opera house would soon be home to a spectacular new attraction that celebrated the life of Walt Disney. And -- at the time -- the Mouse was actually giving some semi-serious thought to building a west coast version of WDW's "Hall of Presidents ...
(Here's a pointless bit of trivia for you Disneyana fans: As early as 1960, Walt had wanted to build a "Hall of Presidents" attraction at Disneyland. Disney envisioned this show -- then titled "One Nation Under God" -- as being presented inside a exact replica of Philadelphia's Independence Hall. This grand looking show building would have served as the centerpiece of a whole new land at the Anaheim park -- Liberty Street -- which would have been built in the backstage area located between Tomorrowland and Main Street U.S.A. Unfortunately, the technology that eventually became Audio Animatronics was still in its infancy at this point. So Liberty Street and its "One Nation Under God" show never made it off the drawing board. At least in Anaheim. Anyway ... )
... so any die-hard Lincoln fans could still get their fix. Someday. Provided -- of course -- that Disney actually went through with their plans to build the Anaheim version of this Liberty Square attraction.
But all those pretty words from Disneyland's PR staff didn't matter much to members of Orange County's Republican right. All that they knew was that "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" -- a show that celebrated the life and accomplishments of the GOP's shining symbol -- had been closed.
And that meant that these folks weren't happy.
So, for the next two years, Orange County residents bombarded Disneyland with letters -- demanding to know when "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" would be re-opened. An excerpt from one letter pretty much captures the tone and content of the thousands Disneyland management received: "How dare you remove Walt Disney's greatest achievement and gift to America?"
After two years of being hammered by the Republican right, the Mouse cried Uncle. In early 1975, Disneyland's Opera House closed for a complete overhaul. When the theater re-opened in June, the refurbished facility was now home to a weird hybrid of a show: "The Walt Disney Story featuring 'Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.' "