Star-studded celebration of Disneyland’s 55th year 

Old-timers and industry insiders reminisced and told stories at The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio last weekend to celebrate Disneyland’s 55th anniversary.

Among the esteemed guests at Friday night’s gathering were Walt Disney’s daughter and museum co-founder Diane Disney Miller — who, when asked if she’ll be penning a book on her famous father, said, “This museum is my book.”

Miller, however, wasn’t at the park opening on July 17, 1955. On Friday, she said, “A lot of people find that strange, but dad had said, ‘It’s going to be a mess, and I don’t want to worry about you too.’”

Miller was joined by Buzz Price, a former Stanford Research Institute economist who was instrumental in selecting the site for the park, noting that weather, traffic patterns, population, smog and land availability were factors considered in determining Harbor Boulevard in Anaheim as the best spot.

Price’s anecdote from Disneyland’s opening day: “An awful lot of things didn’t go right. At the approach to the castle, I heard a stream of profanities. I looked down and it was Frankie Sinatra.”

Disney biographers Katherine and Richard Greene mentioned that Walt’s plans to build a park, at least informally, went back a long way. During world travels, he would take mental notes of attractions that interested him.

“He started thinking about the park in the ’40s; he never forgot anything,” the Greenes said.

Richard Benefield, director of the museum, hosted the weekend’s programs, including an event Saturday moderated by Marty Sklar, former vice chairman of Imagineering, who sat on a panel with Matt Oiumet, former president of Disneyland Resort, Tony Baxter, senior vice president of creative development for Disneyland, and Jack Lindquist, former president of Disneyland and its first advertising manager.

Summing up the early years, Lindquist said, “We didn’t know we couldn’t do something, so we went ahead and did it.”

Variations on the theme were repeated, as the VIPs reiterated how Disneyland’s success was due to Walt’s insistence on combining novelty and nostalgia.

Quoting Walt, Baxter said, “Disneyland never will be completed as long as there’s imagination” and “It’s fun to do the impossible.”

Sklar, who worked at Disneyland for 54 years, called It’s a Small World the attraction that best represents “what Disneyland is all about.”

Lindquist agreed: “You can’t be unhappy; you may hate the song, but you’ll be happy.”

The Walt Disney Family Museum, which opened in October 2009, is packed with more memories presented in 10 galleries on two floors.

Featuring awards, artwork, recorded interviews and models, among many other items, it’s an attraction in and of itself — and highly recommended for those who want an in-depth look at the man who forever changed the world’s landscape of entertainment.

If you go
The Walt Disney Family Museum

Where: 104 Montgomery St., Presidio, S.F.
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays-Mondays; closed Tuesdays
Tickets: $20 general, $15 seniors and students, $12.50 children 6 to 17, free for children under 6
Contact: (415) 345-6800,

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Leslie Katz

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