While any good Disney fan knows that EPCOT Center opened in October of 1982, it’s easy to forget just how busy that first month was. While the opening date of October 1st is well-known, the park itself wasn’t dedicated until the 24th. Throughout the rest of the month, on different days, each individual pavilion and showcase had its own grand opening ceremony. On October 18th, it was EPCOT Computer Central’s turn.
EPCOT Computer Central, sponsored by Sperry Univac, was an attraction that could only have existed at EPCOT in its prime. It was, essentially, the computerized nerve center of the entire park. Guests could look down upon the mainframes from above, while a brief show (using the same Pepper’s Ghost effect as the Haunted Mansion’s ballroom) explained how the operation worked. “Earlie the Pearlie,” played by Broadway actor Ken Jennings, was the Cockney song-and-dance man who hosted the show and performed the Sherman Brothers’ cult classic, The Computer Song.
The Astuter Computer Revue, though, was less than a hit. In fact, it was more like EPCOT’s version of California Adventure’s Superstar Limousine; its short life ended in January of 1984. In a weird twist that is hard to conceive of today, the show was retooled to make it less silly and more informative. It re-opened as Backstage Magic, which remained open until 1993.
I found this video on YouTube quite by accident, and was immediately mes-mo-rized. It is such pure early 80s futurism – jumpsuits, bland colors but the occasional use of sequins, and barely-contained man batch. And interpretive dance. I love those standard-bearers holding the Communicore logo; what’s really funny is that at the EPCOT 25th anniversary presentation they used pretty much the same idea. This is hard-core vintage 1980s at its finest:
The Sperry Univac executive continues in part two, but despite the fact that I doubt he or Card Walker ever set the Toastmasters on fire, I encourage you to watch because what happens after the speeches are finished is simply… indescribable. Oh wait, it’s totally describable – it’s sparkly.
Love it. I especially love all the people in suits watching intently. Oh, 1982.
Despite the obvious camp value and the rather stodgy speeches, there’s a nugget of brilliance here. Those speeches do invoke what EPCOT is meant to embody, and which has unfortunately been forgotten. While they’re not delivered with much zing, they do get across what EPCOT was trying to celebrate – the latest and greatest innovations in technology, and the excitement about the potential they held for improving our lives. Almost thirty years later, it’s still forward looking; I’ll also remind you that all this pomp and circumstance was celebrating the opening of what was essentially a giant bank of computers. No ride, or interactivity, or “thrill” – the cool tech was the draw. While EPCOT Computer Central was never an E-ticket, obviously, it was unique and something that could only be seen at EPCOT. That’s a goal as worthy today as it was then.
I’ll pass on the glittery yellow derby hat, though.
One last thing – out there, somewhere, is a better quality video of this ceremony. There’s also lots of other video from those early days of EPCOT. I want to see that video. You hear me world??