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Iran So Far Away…

The Empress of Iran in the Magic Kingdom, 1978Last weekend, Bob Allen and Carl Bongirno hosted Her Imperial Majesty Shahbanou Farah Pahlavi and her official party for a briefing and update on World Showcase. The Empress of Iran and her party visited the Magic Kingdom early Saturday evening before departing for a formal dinner on the Empress Lilly where she was joined by Governor and Mrs. Askew. (Disney)

It’s January of 1978 and Disney is desperately trying to sign up governments to sponsor pavilions for World Showcase, which was still in the conceptual phase. EPCOT’s groundbreaking was still almost two years away, its development slowed by uncertain management and the inability to line up sponsorship deals. Later, Disney would give up on recruiting governmental participants entirely and go directly to individual corporations in desired nations for funding. But in 1978 Disney executives continued to wine and dine diplomats and envoys from around the world.

And so here’s the Empress of Iran in the Magic Kingdom, the mere fact of which is almost as entertaining as Minnie’s little hat. Why’d she lose the hat? I think it works. Anyway, what the happy Empress doesn’t know is that in about a year she and her husband would be fleeing their country in the wake of Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

Implied by this picture is the fact, seemingly bizarre today, that Iran was a prime target for participation in World Showcase. Imagineers spent quite a lot of time designing a pavilion for Iran while shuttling back and forth to Tehran to seek the support of the Shah. At EPCOT’s 25th anniversary celebration in 2007, Imagineer Marty Sklar told the amusing story of how he and another designer had traveled to Iran to try and secure an official agreement for participation in World Showcase. They spent several days (maybe longer, I don’t recall) in an opulent palace waiting for an audience with the Shah. They kept getting delayed, and delayed, and delayed by various royal underlings. Eventually they did get to do their presentation, and it went very well. Iran seemed a lock for EPCOT’s lineup.

The Imagineers came back to Glendale, happy with their success. But then came the aforementioned Islamic Revolution, the regime in Tehran crumbled, and for some reason the Ayatollahs were less willing to sponsor a theme park attraction.

The renderings that Sklar showed at his EPCOT presentation were impressive; the pavilion had a very modern look with classical touches. It appeared to have a sleek glass exterior with an interior courtyard and temple, its entrance flanked by Assyrian winged bulls.

So it goes…

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