The Birth of Disneyland
On Daddy Sundays, Walt Disney would take his girls to Griffith Park, sit on a bench and eat peanuts while he watched Diane and Sharon ride the merry-go-round. He thought there had to be something better. There had to be a place where parents and children could enjoy doing things together. There had to be a place where adults could play with the kids.
The idea for Disneyland was born! Sort of.
Walt would get letters from children who wanted to meet Mickey Mouse. They would ask if they could come to the studio, and he thought that a studio tour would be a bit boring for children. So he dreamed up an amusement park across the road from the studio where kids could go and meet Mickey Mouse. Soon his plan for the acreage across the road was too large, he was going to need more land.
The idea for Disneyland was born! At least it was closer.
Walt needed to get money for his new theme park, something that had never been built before. His wife, Lilly asked him why he would want to own a dirty amusement park; he said that was the point, his wouldn’t be. She wasn’t the only one who had reservations about the park. His brother Roy was going to help Walt’s dream come true and had a meeting with some bankers. Roy told Walt that he needed something to show the bankers because they wouldn’t get what Walt was trying to do just from description. It was Friday. Roy was meeting with the bankers on Monday.
The Lost Weekend
Walt called in Herb Ryman and told him about Disneyland. Ryman asked Walt to see the plans, and Walt told Ryman that Ryman was going to draw them. Ryman blanched and would only do it on the condition that Walt stayed with him the entire weekend. The deal was struck; Ryman had the drawing ready for Roy before the meeting with the bankers.
And the idea for Disneyland was born! Finally… Mostly.
The problem with choosing an exact date for the idea of Disneyland is that there is no exact date. Walt Disney was a man who let ideas ruminate, he collected experiences and things that fascinated, he looked at problems and tried to find solutions, and he never really let time stand in his way. He had deadlines that he had to meet, but he also knew he had to do everything the best way possible. He would scrap entire storylines until the creative people could get it right. He would scrap thousands dollars worth of animation to make a scene better. He would sit on ideas until he had the right solution to make what he wanted happen.
Even with the Herb Ryman drawing, Walt’s idea wasn’t complete. In fact, Disneyland was the answer to several of Walt’s problems. The one that concerns this is the idea that once a movie was made, it was done. Disneyland will never be done as long as there is imagination left in the world. We can point to July 17, 1955 as the date that the park was officially open, but even this date is a little artificial since guests enjoyed Walt and Lilly’s anniversary on the Mark Twain in the park before the public was let in.
As the park continues to evolve with the opening of Star Wars Land, the question of when an idea is truly born may be a moot point. After all, any idea that is made into something will have to evolve with time or it will cease to exist. Fortunately, Walt knew that and he planned for Disneyland to continue changing.