This is for you.
You know who you are.
Fanatics. For Disney.
You know it all.
You think there’s nothing new anyone can tell you about the Walt Disney World Resort? Because you are fans.
But did you know it played a small part in the break-up of the world’s most famous band, the Beatles?
Or that a now disgraced US President played one of his last major roles out right here?
So here are some things that may surprise you that you may not have known.
We say surprise you because you may know some of them…
About the Beatles. You’ve heard of them.
Maybe you know about their long-running squabbles.
They began to be as famous for that as for songs like “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Their arguments did not involve what rides to share at theme parks.
But more serious stuff such as George Harrison courting Ringo’s wife.
And John Lennon wanting to perform with Yoko Ono.
But the end was really over financial matters.
And when it came, it was in Orlando at Disney where John Lennon put the rumors to rest.
He was with his family, staying with them at the Polynesian Resort when, on Dec. 29, 1974, he announced it was all over.
The Beatles would go their separate ways.
He is in the “Hall of Presidents,” of course.
Way back when he was Vice President under Dwight Eisenhower during the 1950s, so-called “Tricky Dick,” his wife, Pat, and their children often visited Disneyland in California.
But it was in Orlando where Nixon made his famous speech during a convention of the US’s Managing Newspaper Editors.
He spoke to 400 of them at the Ballroom of the Americas at the Contemporary Hotel. At that time, he was plagued by rumors of his involvement in the Watergate domestic spying scandal.
"People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook," he told the media. The headline the next day:
‘I am not a crook’
More than one newspaper writer covering the event later lost his or her job by failing to observe that this highly unusual and dramatic declaration was the major news of the day.
At one point during the discussion, Nixon gave a morbid response to an unrelated question about why he chose not to fly with back-up to Air Force One when traveling. That was the usual security protocol for presidential flights.
He told the crowd that by taking just one aircraft he was saving energy, money and possibly time spent in the impeachment process: “if this one [plane] goes down,” he said, “they don’t have to impeach [me].”
Nixon was trying to be funny, but in fact the scandal was taking a toll on his physical and mental health.
In Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s book All the President’s Men, Nixon is described at this time as being “a prisoner in his own house—secretive, distrustful… combative, sleepless.”
Nixon’s protestations of innocence with regard to the Watergate cover-up were eventually eroded by a federal investigation.
Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974.
He was not seen at Disney since.
This is history, of course.
But perhaps there are other surprising things you didn’t know about Disney.
Who are those names in the shop windows at Main Street?
Answer: Imagineers (Aha. you certainly knew that already).
Here’s another one you probably know:
EPCOT stands for Experimental Prototype of Tomorrow. Not the case, but Walt envisioned it as just that. His death detoured the plan. But Disney in recent years has been building a lot of its own housing. Whether that is the stuff of the future has yet to be determined.
Why the names Rose and Crown for pubs at EPCOT?
Those are the two most common found in pub names in Great Britain?
While we’re are it, the massive castle structure behind the German pavilion at EPCOT was meant to house a boat ride that simulated a trip down a famous river, the Rhine River
Why does Disney have those famous underground tunnels?
The best story is that Walt was walking through Disneyland when he saw a Frontierland cowboy walking through Tomorrowland. Not good for illusions. Creating the wrong mood. The tunnels were built so that these situations could be avoided. Characters could change in the tunnels and emerge from them at their own particular lands. Cast members would move through the park out of sight from guests. This maintained guest illusions
One reason is that they are so inconspicuous about it. Trees that need cutting down are often switched during the night with fully grown ones as replacements. Garbage cans are never more than 30 feet apart. Disney lore has is that Walt himself ordered that after noting that visitors to parks would not walk any farther to dump their trash.
You know the Cinderella myth that is virtually symbolic of the entire park and her glass slipper. But what is that based on?
The version of Cinderella that we all know and love is based on a story called Cendrillon written by someone named Charles Perrault in the 1600s sometime. It was later retold by the Brothers Grimm. That story was retitled Ashenputtel. A grimmer and more gruesome version.
A footnote to that: the particular movie scene where the Fairy Godmother transforms Cinderella’s torn dress into a ball gown is said to be Walt Disney’s favorite sequence of animation. That was also said to be his personal favorite film.
What park was proposed that never happened?
Walt was always fascinated with history. He proved it with Main Street. At one point, after his death, his successors came up with another famous park, devoted entirely to Americana. It would be called Disney’s America.
It would have included a recreation of Philadelphia’s famous Independence Hall. Then President Michael Eisner and Imagineers were looking for a less expensive park after the opening of Euro Disney. Colonial Williamsburg was the model. A prime location 20 miles from downtown Washington, DC was the site.
But believe it or not, the proposed park became highly controversial. Just the title of the theme park stirred up controversy.
Some critics complained that calling the park “Disney’s America” implied a sense of ownership over the nation on the part of Disney. Because some of the academics who they hoped would support the project were insulted by the title, Disney started considering a name change to something “less presumptuous” such as Disney’s American Celebration.
But the unpredictable weather in the area was another issue (one avoided in sunny California and Florida). There were fears the park would have to be closed often because of bad weather.
Finally, there was opposition from powerful name-rich and long-standing families in the area who hired others to urge an end to the project.
Even historians objected, saying that Disney was not true to real historical events. They complained the park would bulldoze real historical Civil War battlegrounds such as Bull Run. There was little truth but the Disney forces backed down.
What’s the real size of Disney World…with all those acres of unused land?
The best answer is the size of San Francisco or Two Manhattans.
There’s a lot of hotels around Disney now but there was not when it opened. How come?
You would have to remember the oil crisis of those times. Original plans called for more hotels but they were cancelled.
Speaking of hotel rooms, which ones were built offsite?
The Polynesian and the Contemporary were built elsewhere, then slid into the building frames.
Why can’t you get a straw or cup lid at Animal Kingdom?
Disney doesn’t want the animals to get hurt. Humans might throw them where they can get them.
Some say there are dead people at Disney? True?
Sure. There is a tradition of guests bringing the cremated ashes of loved ones and scattering them at various places, including the Haunted Mansion. This is illegal, of course. There’s even a story that Disney has special vacuums to clean up the, shall we call it, debris? Only rumors of that, however.
The price of admission used to be cheap
What did it cost back when Disney opened?
Believe it or not, admission on opening day was $3.50.
Is Disney World really its own governing city?
Yes, basically. It straddles Orange and Osceola County. It has its own taxing district and governing autonomy.
Answer: Sure, several times, because of Floyd, Frances, Charley, etc. Those were threatening hurricanes. And on Sept. 11, 2001, during the 9-11 terror attack.
And did you think Disney was just for kids?
Adult only experiences include dining at very upscale Victoria and Albert’s restaurant, where meals can easily cost upwards of $200 a person, or drinking alcohol at Epcot’s World Showcase.
What was the last ride personally overseen by Walt?
Pirates of the Caribbean.
There are strange rules for Disney employees but did you know they are told never to point with one finger (can be considered rude in some cultures but also two fingers makes it easier for children to see).
Why is Walt’s brother, Roy sometimes referred to as the forgotten founder or even a hero in the creation of the Orlando park?
Roy was always a quiet, stoic type who handled finances for his more creative brother, Walt. You may recall that Walt announced the park but died well before it opened.
One week after Walt Disney died, Roy spoke to a group of Disney Company executives and creative staff in a projection room at the Disney Studio.
He was going to postpone his retirement.
“We are going to finish this park, and we’re going to do it just the way Walt wanted it,” Roy told them. “Don’t you ever forget it. I want every one of you to do just exactly what you were going to do when Walt was alive.”
One of his first decisions was that the Disneyworld project would be officially renamed “Walt Disney World.” Roy was insistent that people be reminded that this was Walt’s project.
Roy at that time was 78 years old. He wanted to retire and spend more time with his grandchildren.
Instead, Roy devoted his few months left to the difficult task of building the park, including raising the almost $400 million for the project (an unheard of sum at the time).
There were numerous problems with the marshy ground of the thousands of acres acquired in the near tropical tropical nature of Central Florida.
He got the job done
Roy was hardly charismatic, but he got the job done, partly by surrounding himself with capable and talented people (he was like Walt in being a good judge of talent).
Roy became somewhat known locally while he and his wife stayed at the Hilton Inn South near International Drive, where he was known for working long hours and frequenting local hardware stores.
Walt Disney World opened on October 1, 1971.
At the dedication, Roy was asked by reporters why a grandfather had felt the obligation to tackle this impossible project at this point in his life.
“I didn’t want to have to explain to Walt when I saw him again why the dream didn’t come true.”
Later, Roy spent time in a boat on the Seven Seas Lagoon in front of the Magic Kingdom and when asked why he wasn’t in the park to handle all the media attention, Roy quietly remarked, “I want them to remember my brother today.”
Roy returned to California and never came back to Florida.
Later that year, he fell into a coma and died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Room 421 at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank, California, the same hospital where Walt died five years earlier.
A newspaper writer said of Roy: “They say a little of Roy left when Walt died in 1966 of cancer. But not much could have left. He was the keeper of the flame and had to be the curator of the spirit that Walt Disney created.”
But sure, you probably already knew that. ###