There’s going to be a grand and glorious celebration on July Seventeenth of this year. The celebration itself I am told will go on for eighteen months with more pomp and circumstance than a king’s coronation. The place: Disneyland, the “Happiest Place On Earth”. The pure essence of grand imagination and childhood wonder are in constant abundance here.
And this writer was the lucky kid who won the grand prize: a chance meeting or bumping into, quite literally the great dreamer, himself, Walt Disney. But more of that in a bit.
I was picked on as a kid and not always happy because of it. But even if you were like me and not very happy in ordinary life, you certainly will be once you pass through Disneyland's gates and castle doors. I was. I passed through the gates three days after the notorious “Black Sunday” – opening day, July 17, 1955. The crowds were unbelievable even back then.
Just imagine, this incredible place wasn’t designed by an award winning architect or a giant corporation, but rather a simple farm boy from Chicago, and later Marceline, Missouri: Walt Disney.
Walter Elias Disney gambled everything on this venture and the gamble not only paid off, but became the financial threshold of the entire Disney organization as it exists today. Without the multitude of theme parks that the original Disneyland made possible the Walt Disney Company as we know it would most certainly have passed away shortly after Walt did on December 15, 1966.
So flash back to July 20th, 1955-- my aunt’s birthday. My dad, my mother, my three sisters and of course my aunt and uncle and my notorious cousin packed a picnic lunch and headed to the Magic Kingdom called Disneyland.
It was incredible. I even tried out my newly rehearsed “Mickey Mouse” voice imitation – much like Walt had always done it. It was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.
The day was perfect until that very same notorious and very spoiled cousin decided he wanted my newly obtained Neapolitan ice cream cone from the Carnation Palace. When I would not comply, I received a black eye and a split lip from this nine year old holly terror.
I screamed and starting running down Main Street. My father couldn’t catch me. My mother couldn’t catch me. Nobody could. I wanted out of there—pronto. I was crying like crazy. Hey, that black eye hurt!
As I rounded past the Swift Market House like a bolt of lightning, I ran into a tall mustached man very hard. It was then I heard the words “What’s the matter, what’s the matter? Nobody cries at Disneyland” Huh, thought I – this guy obviously didn’t ever have a black eye or a split lip.
I looked up to protest and recognized him immediately. I had only seen every Wednesday night for a year hosting the Disneyland television show. Yes, there was a time that Wednesday was the magic day of the week--not Sunday! At any rate, I knew who he was. I was simply spellbound that he was actually looking and speaking to me! Stiffling tears and amazement, I uttered aloud to this amazing man “How do you do, Mr. Disney?” I was hurting, but I was always polite when I addressed adults. But then again, this was no ordinary adult! This was Walter Elias Disney!
That world famous eyebrow of this incredible man shot up at that moment and the great man said “Well, I’m not sure about, Mister Disney, but Walt’s fine”
I stopped crying and told him what had happened. He listened with great sympathy saying “Boy, what a shiner you’ve got!
My father caught up to us by then just as Walt reached into his pocket and presented me with FIVE magic key coupons—good for anything in the park that day. He looked at my dad and said “The next ice cream is on me!”
“Even Neapolitan” I exclaimed. Walt quipped “Even Neapolitan”. My dad followed and Walt Disney, the great American genius, the guy who hawked his life insurance to help make his dreams come true and the guy who knew instinctively what people needed to make them happy bought seven year old me a Neapolitan triple Decker ice cream cone from the carnation Ice Cream pallace-- a favorite even today!
He became my hero and remains in my heart even to this day. I must confess: I cry still at Snow White. I cry even more when I watch the great man’s story on film and Neapolitan remains my all time favorite flavor of ice cream. He never was afraid of persuing his dream. He allowed his heart to overule his head, but never forgot simple practical wisdom from any experience! He knew instinctivly how and why and whether something would work. Oh sure, like every one of us, he had a few blunders alonmg the way-- and he had a temper. But being human is simply that. Absolute perfection is not even valid from heavenly angels!
I only hope that the man who now heads Walt’s great company will begin to appreciate that even though you don’t go around saying “Gee, what would Walt do?”, you should embrace the great man’s philosophies.
Be willing to take a chance—the public (as Walt said so many times) will reward you. And guess what? With a little more imagination, you might just not have to offer the public two theme parks for the price of one.
Open the castle doors and let your boldest imagination build what’s inside. The public will reward you! And so will your life! Thanks, walt for always being my inspiration and the courage to persue what i dream of as well!
Written April 25th, 2005