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Florida Welcomes Walt Disney!

Since yesterday’s post centered prominently on doughy rich old white guys, I thought we’d continue the theme today with some vintage Floridian titans of industry from 1965.

Walt Disney World, in many ways, came to be during the last great renaissance of the doughy rich old white guy. Flush with the spoils of the post-war boom, they had the power to do anything; at their whim they could send you to the moon, to southeast Asia, or into the offices of their enemies’ psychologists. Before Silicon Valley started making billionaires out of high school students, they ruled the roost with an endless stream of steaks, martinis, and TWA stewardesses. They didn’t have to look good on TV; they only had to have the speaking skills required to handle a Rotarian pancake supper. While doughy rich old white guys obviously persist to this day, they’ve taken a bit of a back seat to the younger generation, who are notably less doughy thanks to the discovery of cocaine and gym memberships.


Back in 1965, when the Disney World project was first announced, doughy rich old white guys were large and in charge – specifically, in charge of the Florida Development Commission. And when Walt and Roy Disney arrived in Orlando in November 1965 to unveil their new project, they were greeted by a phalanx of local notables and wanna-bes eager to hitch their wagon to the entertainment titans. Disney was bringing a level of investment to central Florida matched only by the previous arrival of the aerospace industry, and every local chamber of commerce wanted a piece of the pie.

And so, soon after the November 15, 1965 press conference revealing the project, the Florida Development Commission produced this film to herald the opportunities soon on the way to the Sunshine State. Hosted by the effervescent Florida governor and erstwhile Bela Lugosi impersonator Haydon Burns, it travels around the state to talk to notables about the impending impact of Disney’s arrival. We see Dick Pope, of Cypress Gardens, expressing his ironic delight about Disney World, apparently unaware that 45 years later his southern belles would be supplanted by LEGO counterparts. We even pay a visit to poor ol’ Leonard Hutchinson up on the “Miracle Strip”.

The reason for everyone’s excitement, of course, was the boom that sleepy little Anaheim had seen in the decade since Disneyland arrived. They even had baseball! Note the hilarity of the narrator enviously intoning about Anaheim’s success while we see images of hopelessly clogged highways; but hey, at least there’s a good shot of the old Disneyland billboard.

It’s also interesting to see how the film introduces Disney and Walt Disney Productions. First, the clips introducing Walt are just generally amazing. But it’s fascinating to see how the Disney studio presented itself in 1965 versus how it would, say, today.

Also interesting is how there’s an obvious tie between Disney’s success at the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair and the Disney World development. I love the footage of the Fair, of course, and it’s clear in retrospect just how much a trial balloon the Fair was.

And, lastly, it’s entertaining to see Walt at the press conference. I’m especially a sucker for his obvious affection for Roy. But as with so many things from this era, it just makes me think… what if he’d laid off the smoking… what if he’d stuck around… who knows?

Anyway, here’s the film. Pour a martini (or some Florida orange juice) and enjoy.

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4 comments to Florida Welcomes Walt Disney!

  • Dr. Nigel Channing

    Gosh, could Gov Burns act any more excited?! Sheesh…

  • Wow. The governor has such charisma! I’m with you on wondering what would have happened if Walt had lived even another few years. It would have had a huge impact on what we know as Disney World and EPCOT today, I expect. It’s intriguing (and sort of maddening) to think about, especially given some unfortunate parts of the future direction today.

    • Maddening is the truth, and the same goes for Roy O’s death a few years later. They were on the cusp of doing so many enormous things, and just a few extra years would have meant such a difference in the eventual course of events.

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