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Disney-MGM Studio Backlot in Burbank – Part 4

Disney-MGM Studio Backlot in Burbank – Part 4

The Disney-MGM Studio Backlot in Burbank Part Four: Then Come The Real Problems! by Todd James Pierce The real problems for Disney emerged in the final months of 1987. Though the Disney-MGM Studio Backlot had originally been budgeted at $150 million to $300 million, in September Disney received new estimates from architecture, engineering, and construction firms that placed the price tag at $611 million. The price tag for some areas, such as the Hyperdrome, originally budgeted at $205 to $251 per square foot, had more than doubled. To add to the bad news, Disney’s original plan to lease out part of the Backlot to traditional retailers wasn’t working out so well, as many retailers were unwilling to invest in such an unusual new venture. Taken together, these two reports forced Disney to scale back its plans. In October, executives at MGM added to Disney’s troubles by demanding that the MGM name be removed from the California park. MGM-UA Chairman Lee Rich claimed that the agreement to partner with Disney for a park in Florida did not give Disney the right to build a second MGM park in California. “We were very upset about it,” Rich told the press. “We’re going to do anything we can to get them not to use it.” For Disney the only good news came from the courts. On Jan 20, 1988, a judge dismissed one of the MCA lawsuits. Because Disney was only developing preliminary plans, the judge concluded, no environmental impact report was yet required. After the ruling, Burbank Mayor Michael Hastings said to a group of reporters: “We were challenged with a... read more
Disney-MGM Studio Backlot in Burbank – Part 3

Disney-MGM Studio Backlot in Burbank – Part 3

The Disney-MGM Studio Backlot in Burbank Part Three: Behold, The Studio Backlot! by Todd James Pierce Despite the two MCA lawsuits, Disney continued to develop plans for the Disney-MGM Studio Backlot in Burbank. For the Texposition mall in Dallas, Disney had used the term “festival marketplace” to categorize the project. But as the Burbank project grew, they understood that the term “marketplace” no longer described their plans. It was far more of an amusement park than a mall, though the Rouse team was still charged with bringing in high quality retail shops and restaurants, most of which would be arranged in an upscale mall quadrant now called Provedencia. Disney didn’t want to use the terms “park” or “theme park” to describe the project, in part because the project was largely indoors and in part so families wouldn’t consider this an alternative to a full Disneyland vacation. Instead they decided on the term “Entertainment Center,” though to the casual observer the project looked largely like a small theme park. At the creative helm were two relatively-young Imagineers: Joe Rohde and Rick Rothschild. Their mission was to seamlessly integrate Disney-style entertainment into a downtown urban environment. To accomplish this, Rohde and Rothschild spent hours on the top floors of nearby buildings to get a birds eye view of the proposed Disney parcel. At that time, much of the land was little more than a weedy lot, bordered by the Golden State Freeway and the Burbank Civic Center. Specifically the two Imagineers wanted to observe how traffic and pedestrians moved around the 40-acre parcel. The proposed center would station most of the... read more
Old Movies Move Up To Blu-Ray

Old Movies Move Up To Blu-Ray

Early Disney Films on Blu-Ray Just a quick note: Though the Walt Disney Company has released most of its early animated films on blu-ray, the company hasn’t put many of their early live action features into this format.  Some of these films can be downloaded in HD from Amazon and iTunes.  But maybe you’re like me: I like owning the physical disc.  I saw today that some of the early live action films are available on Blu-Ray through the Disney Movie Club.  I usually associate the DMC with family purchases.  But tucked away inside the site are a number of 1950s and 1960s films on blu-ray, films on which Walt worked. Presently I believe the list includes: The Absent-Minded Professor, the Davy Crockett films (looks to be theatrical cuts), Swiss Family Robinson, Old Yeller and Treasure Island. Click HERE to for more information.  I believe that you can use any of these blu ray titles to join the club. Direct link to site:... read more
DHI Podcast: The Jack Lindquist Story

DHI Podcast: The Jack Lindquist Story

>>The Jack Lindquist Story: Disneyland in the 1950s<< by Todd James Pierce   This past week, Disney Legend Jack Lindquist passed away at the age of 88. On the podcast, the story of how Jack Lindquist, as Disneyland’s first advertising manager in 1955, transformed the amusements industry forever.  [Episode 018]   Link to the DHI Podcast in iTunes: http://tinyurl.com/j34rl38 +++++ This article is part of the DHI reboot: From January through April, I’ll be posting up new articles and releasing new podcasts each week.  I’m between projects, and with THREE YEARS IN WONDERLAND coming out in March, I finally have more time to devote to the blog.  Most regular visitors here already know that THREE YEARS IN WONDERLAND is a detailed narrative history of the development of Disneyland (from 1953-1956), a moment by moment account of its creation and opening: the struggles, the challenges, the in-fighting and the success. I should also point out that this DHI multi-part article is a substantial expansion to the original Disney/Universal article on the Studio Backlot that I wrote for Jim Hill Media in 2008.  In the past eight years, I’ve discovered many more elements that contribute to this fascinating story.  The original article, clocking in at twenty pages, is now over forty. Lastly, even when things are slow on the blog, the DHI Facebook Group is always jumping.... read more
Disney-MGM Studio Backlot in Burbank – Part 2

Disney-MGM Studio Backlot in Burbank – Part 2

The Disney-MGM Studio Backlot in Burbank Part Two: Studio Execs Behaving Badly by Todd James Pierce In the early months of 1987, Burbank city officials worked toward an agreement with Disney to build a theme-park-slash-shopping-center in their downtown district, an agreement that would go through nine drafts. At issue was the money: Disney wanted to buy the land for next to nothing. Disney also wanted the city to pay for a parking structure large enough to hold 3,500 cars, which it would rent back from the city for roughly a million dollars a year. In February, when talking to the press, Disney CEO Michael Eisner hinted that a studio tour attraction might be built somewhere in Southern California: “We are pretty well committed in the Los Angeles area,” he told one reporter, “Orange County, the San Fernando Valley, Burbank and so forth—to creating a second attraction.” Though Eisner didn’t name the site under consideration, the reporter understood that any studio park in that area would put Disney into “head-to-head competition with MCA on both coasts.” This offhanded remark didn’t go unnoticed at MCA, where they perceived that the Burbank proposal was intended to intimidate them. In talking with the New York Times, Jay Stein, President of MCA’s recreation division, conveyed that he believed the Burbank Studio Tour was “a way of making Universal hesitate about going ahead with its Florida park.” But Stein was not one to be threatened easily: he flourished in competitive environments, even when the odds were stacked against him. “We’re not afraid of Disney,” he told one reporter. “We’re ready to take them on.” Jay... read more
Disney-MGM Studio Backlot in Burbank – Part 1

Disney-MGM Studio Backlot in Burbank – Part 1

The Disney-MGM Studio Backlot in Burbank PART ONE by Todd James Pierce   PROLOGUE Years before Disneyland, Walt briefly explored the idea of using trains to offer guests a brief tour of his animation studio in Burbank. Though the idea had likely been percolating for a while, the concept was brought into play in 1948. That spring he traveled up to see the privately-owned Wildcat Railroad in Los Gatos, California. The Wildcat was a one-third scale railroad run by Billy Jones, a northern Californian railroad man, who had set it up mainly for children. On select weekends, he operated the train free-of-charge, accepting only donations from families wishing to venture out on his ranch. Something in this set up intrigued Walt, a train with enough track to transform a simple ride into a small-scale scenic adventure. Walt was interested enough to ask if Jones might help him acquire a steam engine and rolling stock of his own. “Personally,” Walt added in a letter, “I envy you for having the courage to do what you want.” At the time, Jones had either just bought—or was in the process of buying—multiple one-third scale engines and cars from the estate of an eccentric rail fan, Louis Mac Dermot who had once managed the scenic train operation at the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition and subsequently at the Alameda County Zoo in Oakland. Jones promised to keep Walt in his thoughts. A few weeks later Walt received a wire that Billy Jones knew where Walt could buy a one-third scale engine for $2,500. Like the one Jones operated, it was an amusement train, once... read more
The Original Plans for the “Sailing Ship Columbia”

The Original Plans for the “Sailing Ship Columbia”

The Original Plans for the “Sailing Ship Columbia” by Todd James Pierce >> To design Disneyland, Walt hired art directors from other studios to create themed lands that would, in part, function has permanent movie sets.  The majority of these men–such as Dick Irvine, Sam McKim and Bill Martin–came from 20th Century Fox, as the financially-troubled Fox was then laying off some of its employees.  With these men came a knowledge of other Hollywood backlots which helped them create Disneyland.  The Golden Horseshoe Saloon was based in large part on the western-themed Golden Garter set at Warner Brothers.  The Mark Twain Steamboat was inspired in part by the Cotton Blossom riverboat on the MGM lot, a boat which had been featured in the 1951 MGM remake of the musical Showboat.  This connection to the movie image was so deep that when Disneyland opened in 1955 they hired Irene Dunne, the star of the 1936 version of Showboat, to christen the Mark Twain on TV.   But the backlot influence of other studios didn’t stop when the park was open: it continued for years.      In 1956, Walt considered adding a new River Town area next to the river (roughly where the Haunted Mansion now stands), a town that was likely inspired by the river town set on the  20th Century Fox backlot.  That same year–in fact during those same months that he was contemplating River Town–he was also considering adding a second large vessel to Rivers of America.  Many people don’t know that the Sailing Ship Columbia was not Walt’s first choice for a second historic ship to cruise the... read more
The Frontierland That Never Was

The Frontierland That Never Was

    The Frontierland That Never Was by Todd James Pierce As I scooted around the Internet this week, I found many sites bemoaning the loss of Walt Disney’s original Frontierland. To make way for the two large show buildings in Star Wars Land, the park is permanently closing some rarely used areas of the western outpost. These include Big Thunder Ranch, its barbecue restaurant, the petting zoo, and the jamboree area. But some well-used parts of Frontierland will also be lost. There are four iconic areas that will be changed or removed: (1) Rivers of America will likely be shortened, with some mechanical wildlife retired or relocated; (2) the train tracks will no longer extend to the north perimeter of the park, (3) the back portion of Tom Sawyer Island (beyond the old fort) will be removed to accommodate a shorter river footprint; and (4) the Native American village with its animatronic figures will either be partially removed or relocated to another spot on the bank. The northern bend will instead feature a tall barrier cliff made of rocks with cascade waterfalls spilling down into the river. The train will also be repositioned on elevated tracks running above the stony shoreline, shortening its previous route to make way for Skywalker and friends.But we here at DHI aren’t just bemoaning the loss of the current Frontierland, we’re bemoaning the loss of the Frontierland that never was. By that, I mean River Town, an area that Walt announced in 1956 but then decided not to build. When Disneyland opened in 1955, most of Frontierland was consolidated in three areas: the Frontier... read more
DHI Podcast 014 – Harriet Burns, First Female Imagineer

DHI Podcast 014 – Harriet Burns, First Female Imagineer

DHI Podcast 014 – Harriet Burns, First Female Imagineer by Todd James Pierce Up on the podcast is the story of Harriet Burns, the first woman to join Walt Disney’s team of artists and engineers who were developing Disneyland in the 1950s.  This podcast includes interviews with Disney legends Bob Gurr, Rolly Crump, Blaine Gibson, and Harriet herself.  Subscribe to the podcast here or download individual episodes. As always, it’s... read more
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