On May 14-15, D23, the Official Disney Fan Club celebrated Walt Disney World’s 40th anniversary at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. For two magical days in the Fantasia Ballroom, D23 members were treated to the most amazing collection of stories, history, unseen pictures and videos of the creation of Walt Disney World. There were Disney Legends on hand to help tell the story of Walt’s dream here in Florida… Marty Sklar, Dave Smith and Robert Sherman just to name a few. The stories and history told here was a Disney Fan’s nirvana. Whether you just had a casual interest, a history buff or Disney fanatic, this was the place to be.
There are not enough words of praise I can heap upon the folks at D23 for the amazing show put on this weekend. It was well presented, in fact so much information was available, and there is no way I could possible cover a tenth of what transpired in those two days. What I will do is to go over the major highlights (For me, everything was a highlight!) and hope you can appreciate this major event.
The program began with D23 head Steven Clark’s opening remarks and welcoming all members. What followed was just amazing. Even the most knowledgeable fans learned plenty during the two days. “Weird Walt Disney World” was first presented. Archives director Becky Cline and Disney Historian Paul Anderson showed fans some of the strangest and “weirdest” of what occurred at WDW. A floating “Outhouse”, singing fruits and vegetables were just some of the wacky things that happened here.
The next presentation was “The Way We Were”, my personal favorite. How many remember the Florida Orange Bird? Or the Fort Wilderness Railroad. Disney Archivist Dave Smith hosted this memorable feature with tons of never-seen-before pictures of Construction of Walt Disney World, past attractions and shops and restaurants no longer at the world. Remember the “Town Square Café” or the “Magic Shop” on Main St. These and much more were explored as only Dave Smith could do so.
And what is a Disney history lesson without the mention of Walt Disney’s pet project, EPCOT? At “Walt Disney’s Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” presentation fans were treated to the secrecy of EPCOT’s planning with pictures and rare movie clips of Walt describing his vision for tomorrows cities. On hand were Disney expert Paul Anderson and Archivist Steve Vagnini as they took a look at how WED Enterprises planned this monumental city.
Another treat for nostalgia fans was the “History of Walt Disney World on Television.” This was especially interesting, for it showed how TV exposure, by both Disney and news media coverage help show the country the Resorts and attractions that Walt Disney World would offer. We saw vintage film commercials and clips of the early years of the Disney Channel. Again, many unseen pictures peppered the presentation.
For the pure Disney history fan, the next segment covered the “Walt Disney World that Never Was” again with the showing of many vintage film clips and pictures, and let’s not forget conceptual artwork, how different Walt Disney World might have been had these plans come to fruition.
How many fans knew that an Italian style hotel, Asian hotel and Persian style hotels were planned for Walt Disney World? And the Pirates of the Caribbean was never planned to be in Florida. Because Disney believed Florida was so close to the Caribbean, they would not be interested in pirates. A whole western-style attraction was planned called the “Western River Expedition.” This would be a Marc Davis designed attraction would wind around “Thunder Mesa Mountain” and guest would be immersed in different scenes from the days of the Wild West, such as a bank robbery and shoot-outs. But guests wanted a pirate’s attraction, and Disney decided to build it on the East coast. Since the cost of building two major attractions was too much, Western River was never realized. There were of course many other plans that never made it out of the model room or the planning stages. This was an amazing presentation.
The ending presentation for Saturday night was “The Walt Disney World Resort on Film.” This gem showed tons of film clips and pictures of Walt Disney World’s construction beginnings. Amazing clips and pictures of attractions and Main St. being constructed, Bay Lake in the beginning, the property before any construction, even a shot of Interstate 4 before Disney. A wonderful way to end the first day!
On Sunday, “Walt Disney World in Detail” began. We all know how richly detailed Walt Disney Word is, and this delved deep into some amazing details. Here, ride vehicles and even Costumes were examined and references were all explored. Example, in from of Min and Bills at the Studios, you will see stacks of crates with addresses on them. On example is “Ship to Rick Blaine, Rick’s Café American, 112642Rue Renault, Casablanca, Morocco. This references the film “Casablanca” Rick Blaine of course is Humphrey Bogart and the numbers are the release date of the film. The street name refers to actor Claude Rains who played the role of Louis Renault. This and many other fascinating examples were presented.
Next, Imagineer Eric Jacobson took all on a journey of Walt Disney World from Yesterday to Tomorrowland. Eric shared storied and pictures of Disney years ago and a glimpse into some future Disney offerings.
Creating a “Whole New Disney World” showed through rare and many unseen film clips and pictures of How Walt acquired the land in Florida, the planning and secrecy surrounding everything in the beginning. Host Marty Sklar and legends Bob Foster, Bob Gurr, Debra Brown (WDW’s First Ambassador) Orlando Ferrante and Ron Logan all contributed.
The next panel of Disney Legends, Jack Lindquist, Tom Nabbe, Bob Matheison, Charlie Ridgeway and Bill Sullivan recall all the serious and sometimes comical aspects of running the resort, the opening of EPCOT and how it affected their lives while doing so. Charles Ridgeway recalls many press events and happenings as do the rest of the men. All events were recalled in a humorous atmosphere which made the presentation even more enjoyable. Hosted by Tim O’day.
The next event was one all waited for – a chance to get a signature from a Disney Legend! From 5- 6:30p.m., all were invited to bring a book, notepad or even your shirtsleeve and have a Disney Legend like Bob Gurr, Marty Sklar or Dave Smith put their signature on it.
After dinner, the last presentation was about to begin, and I believe it was the most anticipated and most emotional. This was the “Magical Journeys: A Flight of Fancy through 40 years of Walt Disney World Musical Memories.” What made this a super-special event? It featured none other than Richard Sherman, one of the “Boys” no musical team like the Sherman Brothers, Richard and Robert wrote more motion picture musical scores.
Starting working for Walt Disney in 1960, they are responsible for some of Disney’s biggest musical hits, Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and The Aristocats. Richard began playing all of those memorable songs as pictures of him and his brother Robert, flashed across the screen, highlighting all their accomplishments. The crowd cheered and applauded as Rich entertained as only he can.
Sadly, this was the last event of the weekend. What followed was a Micks N’ Mingle, a chance to meet new friends among the D23 members. I could not remember a more satisfying and enjoyable weekend. I am looking forward to the convention in Anaheim this August. D23 is all about Disney, and it serves its fans in the highest order!
Contributed by: Bill I. (NDH #35). Bill is our resident historian.