Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Nixon Family & Disneyland, Pt. 6

It’s still June 14, 1959 at Daveland, and the Nixon family just opened the Matterhorn (Julie’s 2nd favorite attraction, but #1 with her children): “It was fabulous—and so scary!” It was the attention to the little things that really impressed her. “The details...the cold air blowing out onto you—amazing!” The Nixons were also the first ones to ride on the Submarine Voyage (her 3rd favorite attraction). In fact, it was Nixon who persuaded a senior U.S. Navy official, Rear Admiral Charles C. Kirkpatrick, to take part in the festivities. Julie remembers the Sub Voyage: “It was a futuristic ride. At the time, we were in a new Space Age; subs were something that you had only read about in World War II books; they were still top secret. And here we were, actually riding a submarine at Disneyland—just spectacular!”
The biggest thrill of the day was cutting the ribbon for the Monorail. “I was a little scared—the Monorail was a different sensation. Up in the glass dome—looking over the was quite a thrill for me at the time.” In preparing for the ceremony, Nixon had asked Walt how he wanted to be described in his introduction; Walt replied “as an Imagineer, which means an engineer with imagination.” Pictures #1 & #2 are posed after-the-fact shots; in shot #1, the ribbon is already gone, and in shot #2, Walt is holding it up for the cameras.

There are many oft-told stories about the Monorail christening, especially about how the ribbon did not cooperate with the ceremonial scissors. Julie remembers that they were made of wood, and more ornamental than functional. Try as they might, the Nixon girls (Julie & her sister Tricia) could not cut through the ribbon. Some writers love to poke fun at this little goof and tell how Walt cursed out his staff for not checking the scissors. However, Julie was there: “I don’t remember it as being anything horrendous; actually, Walt saved the day. We were in front of hundreds, thousands of people that day, and Walt just tore the ribbon—he saved the day with his quick thinking. I don’t remember him being upset over the ribbon.”

Disneyland fans also often read about the Secret Service being left at the Monorail station while the Nixon family rode the Monorail not once but twice around the track. Walt and the Nixons were aboard, but the Secret Service had accidentally been left behind at the station. The Secret Service nervously paced up and down the length of the station, trying to figure out if they should jump on the Monorail or not. When the Monorail returned to the Tomorrowland station, it slowed down for a bit and then zipped on through because Tricia & Julie had asked for a second lap. Bob Gurr, the Imagineer who’d designed the Monorail and was driving it for this ceremonial trip was a little afraid of repercussions from the Secret Service agents. When Vice President Nixon stepped off the train, he laughed at the head of his security detail saying “You should have seen your expressions...” Bob Gurr was just happy that the Monorail was working, as he apparently told Walt that he knew the Monorail could pull out of the station for the cameras, but wasn’t sure if it would make it around the track without catching on fire. Julie remembers, “Back then, with the Secret Service, it was much more casual. Today, we probably never would have been on a ride that hadn’t been tested and tested and tested.”

When watching the film clips today of the live telecast, you can see Lillian Disney darting into the frame. Here she is posing with everyone, most likely after the first ceremonial laps.

Note: in these two photos, the Nixons are wearing different outfits for the ribbon cutting; when asked if possibly they had a practice photo session, Julie responded: “I do not recall a trial run or photo opportunity. We must have spent two days at the park. We never would have changed clothes twice in one day!” Anybody know about this second group of cutting photos in different outfits?

Here’s a color night shot from the big day:

After a very full day at Disneyland, the Nixons had a family reunion over at Knott’s Berry Farm. “Knotts was wonderful, but Disneyland was the highlight,” remembers Julie.

Many thanks to Don Ballard for sending this newspaper photograph of Pat & the girls, posing with Jon Provost, the child actor who played Timmy in the popular TV series “Lassie.”

As well as this shot of Nixon with Disneyland Hotel owners Jack & Bonita Granville Wrather:

Next up: 1968. See more Nixon family photos at my website.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Nixon Family & Disneyland, Pt. 5

The grand opening festivities for Disneyland ’59 continue today with more images from the grandstand.

Vice President Nixon leans over the aisle to talk to Walt, while wife Pat smiles attentively. Daughter Julie is enjoying the entertainment in front of her. I believe the girl above Walt sucking her thumb is one of his granddaughters; possibly Tammy or Joanna Miller.

Note the hand-printed name tag on Nixon’s chair in this color shot:

A few shots from Life Magazine; in this first one, it would appear that Nixon didn’t catch whatever was being hurled into the audience. Pat, Tricia, and Julie are at right:

Art Linkletter is giving Hedda Hopper a run for the money in the hat department:

Last one for today shows some unique entertainment for the opening festivities; it appears to be some kind of African Dance.

Next up: the unveiling of the Monorail.

See more Nixon family photos at my website.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Nixon Family & Disneyland, Pt. 4

>Who could say “no” to an invitation like that?!?

One of the biggest occasions (and most documented) that the Nixons visited the park was for the June 14, 1959 Monorail/Submarine/Matterhorn dedication. Walt asked Vice President Nixon (see the letter pictured above) if he would be an honored guest for the 5th Anniversary inaugural celebration. Jack Wrather’s (owner of the Disneyland Hotel) personal suite was reserved for the Nixon family for this trip (“I was thrilled to be there!” remembers Julie). It is fantastic to see that Walt was not only interested in creating an amusement park for entertainment, but he was sincerely devoted to solving the problems of this country. Too bad he isn’t still around to help with the traffic problems of today; a Monorail would still be a great solution to our freeway congestion.

On Sunday while Nixon visited with his mother, Pat and the girls got to ride some of the attractions before all the hoopla began. “My father wanted to take his mother to church that morning. It was a special time for them. When he was growing up, the family often attended church three times on Sunday—church was a big part of a family’s social life.” For the big ceremonies, the Nixon family had lunch in Walt’s Apartment above the firehouse and then led the procession down Main Street.

Here’s a photo of the opening ceremonies that kicked off the opening of three major attractions; happily, all three still exist at Disneyland today: The Monorail, The Matterhorn, and The Submarine Voyage (albeit with a theme change). This photo was taken from the grandstand built in Central Plaza for VIP’s and the media, just for this celebration.

The Nixons have just entered the parade route in Town Square:

Here’s the Nixon family riding down Main Street; Julie, Pat, and Tricia in the backseat while Vice President Nixon waves enthusiasticaly to the crowd.

Famed Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, wearing one of her large trademark hats and carrying a parasol, surveys the scene with Nixon:

What follows are two never-before-seen color photos of the grandstand area, sent to me by a Daveland reader.

In this detailed closeup, you can clearly see Walt and Nixon; above them, Hedda’s frilly pink hat stands out like a sore thumb.

Color shot #2:

In this zoomed/cropped photo, you can also see Nixon’s lovely wife, Pat; they don’t come any classier than Patricia Ryan Nixon.

Tomorrow we will continue with this joyous June 14, 1959 celebration. See more Nixon family photos at my website.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Nixon Family & Disneyland, Pt. 3

Today the Nixon family explores Frontierland aboard the Mark Twain, August 11, 1955. I really like this first view of the family, standing on the banks of the Rivers of America. The girls, Tricia and Julie, are in their perfectly starched dresses, patiently anticipating their first voyage on the “floating wedding cake.” Julie remembers Walt fondly: “Walt was such a visionary—mother and father thought so much of him. The west is a land of opportunities. My father had a different view of the world because he was from the west; everything was a possibility. This helped him to open the doors to China and accomplish things that others might not have thought possible. Walt was the same—he was a futurist. He had big thinking, which was characteristic of those in the west during that time.”

Vice President Nixon takes a turn “steering” the Twain while a photographer cautiously navigates the small deck around the wheelhouse. 

Julie gets to sound the bell:

A beautiful shot of the Twain rounding the bend with the Nixon family aboard, passing the Chicken Plantation Restaurant.

Nixon waves heartily to the photographers and guests:

Those buckets can still be seen atop the Twain today:

Walt gave the Nixon girls Mickey Mouse hats which they used to put on plays at home; Karen was Julie’s favorite Mouseketeer. Tomorrow, the Nixons get invited to be honored guests at the June 14, 1959 new attraction festivities. See more Nixon family photos at my website.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Nixon Family & Disneyland, Pt. 2

Today we rejoin the Nixons on their first official visit to Disneyland, August 11, 1955, enjoying the attractions in Fantasyland. Shot #1 shows Nixon tenderly placing his daughter Julie into one of the Dumbo Flying Elephants; note that at this early stage of the game, the ears still have their “flappable” configuration. Fess Parker watches on the left, as Pat whispers something to daughter Tricia. In shot #2, the entire Nixon family is together in one teacup, and they seem to be having a blast:

Now come the dark ride photos; definitely my favorite from this batch. First up is Peter Pan. “My favorite ride was (and still is) the Peter Pan ride,” says daughter Julie. Nixon flies off with one of Julie’s cousins.

Next up are 4 fantastic shots of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride; Nixon is with daughter Tricia and one of the cousins; Pat is in the car behind with daughter Julie.

Exiting the attraction, all is well!

Last one for today is from the Snow White’s Scary Adventures. Julie is turning around to see her sister Tricia emitting a playful scream on the mine car behind her.

Come back tomorrow to see the Nixons exploring Frontierland! See more Nixon family photos at my website.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Nixon Family & Disneyland, Pt. 1

Because of former U.S. President Richard Nixon’s close proximity to Disneyland, he and his family were frequent visitors to the park during its early days. Nixon was proud that Walt Disney had chosen Orange County for Disneyland, especially since he had grown up only a few miles away in Yorba Linda. Nixon’s youngest daughter, Julie Eisenhower, was gracious enough to share with me some very fond memories that she has of her family, Walt Disney, and Disneyland. Many of the photos that will be posted here are from a book that Disney Executives gave to Julie as a tribute to her father. The photo of Julie & I shows us standing in front of her father’s piano.

It was always a thrill for Julie to visit Orange County and Disneyland, as it meant that she could play with her cousins on both sides of the family: The Ryans (her mother) and the Nixons (her father). “Disneyland was a part of our lives. The major happy feeling that I remember about Orange County was seeing my cousins, which was always tied to a trip to Disneyland.” Between 1961 and 1963, the Nixon family would visit the park at least once every 3-6 months.

The first few posts in this series will focus on the Nixon’s first official trip to Disneyland on August 11, 1955, less than one month after the park had opened (at this time, Julie’s father was Vice President). Julie has nothing but positive things to say about Walt. “He was so kind; really nice and very approachable. He was also a very nice looking man.” Here are the Nixons at the start of their day, mobbed by guests and photographers at City Hall in Town Square:

Her father was given the “Key to City Hall” by none other than Davy Crockett (Fess Parker). “I was in heaven, meeting Fess Parker!” From left to right: Fess Parker, Pat, Tricia (holding the Disneyland News), Julie, and Richard Nixon.

“It was a big deal to be there at Disneyland, especially because of the weekly broadcast that introduced the world to Disneyland with each episode. The characters, the castle...seeing it all in person was fantastic. It was such a joyful place!”

Here is the Nixon family posing in front of the castle; can you imagine your visit to Disneyland, wanting to ride all of the attractions as soon as possible, yet having to patiently pose for photographers each step of the way? From left to right: Julie, Pat, Tricia, and Richard Nixon.

See more Nixon family photos at my website.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Disneyland Main Street Construction, Pt. 2

Although I don’t have any statistical data to back this up, I would hazard a guess that the Main Street Train Station is the most photographed building at Disneyland next to the Castle. First-timers to the park cannot resist having their picture taken in front of the Mickey Floral display, and my collection is full of these gems. Here’s a shot of the iconic building while it was still under construction; no Timex clock yet...the Mickey floral is but a chalk mark...and even a few of the windows have yet to be installed. Here’s an October 1955 of the finished product:

And a recent shot from last fall for comparison:

See more Disneyland Railroad/Main Street Train Station photos at my website.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Disneyland Main Street Construction

From June 1955 comes this construction view of Main Street, just one month until opening. The “shirts” are taking a trial run down Main Street on the Horse-Drawn Streetcar; anybody able to identify them? NOTE: Jason from Disneyland Nomenclature has just identified the driver as Art Chapman.

Interestingly enough, the cinema marquee changed once the park was open; here’s a shot from August 1955, courtesy of CoxPilot:

Although they’ve definitely seen a few coats of paint and various decorations over the years, it would appear that the streetlamps are still original.

See more Disneyland Matterhorn photos at my website.