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.


Thufer said...

i am really enjoying this. just an amazing slice of DL history and american history as well. no matter what the future held, this was a wonderful example of what was good in this country. again, another example of how at ease walt was with himself.
good stuff and i am so thankful in that you are sharing this.

Daveland said...

I really appreciate all the nice comments you've left, especially for this series!

Katella Gate said...

Yes Dave, thanks very much for this very informative and interesting article on the Nixon visit. You only see one, maybe two isolated photos in a book, but never a backstory, and certainly never with family comments.

Regarding the last photo, who's the man at the 1 o'clock position?

Magical Hotel said...

The man in the picture is Mr. Dick Richards (and wife) who were huge Republican supporters along with the Wrathers.

Major Pepperidge said...

More great stuff! Imagine being among the first to ride some of those iconic attractions. And the color photo towards the end is spectacular!

Chris Jepsen said...

Thank you, Dave.

passatdoc said...

The photo with the Nixons seating in the front cab of the train, with Disney standing on the platform and leaning on the train, must have been a publicity shot that was not taken during the actual dedication. For one thing, Art Linkletter is sitting in the engineer's cab!! Second, if you watch the archival video:

you'll note that Disney entered the monorail with the Nixons and rode with them on the inaugural run. The clothing is the same as in the ribbon cutting, so most likely the photo with Linkletter in the cab was taken the same day, but not as part of the actual inauguration.