Golden Horseshoe Saloon – July 1955
 Golden Horseshoe – Girlie Club Edition
by Todd James Pierce


In 1955, when Disneyland opened to the public, some park guests recognized the Golden Horseshoe Saloon as an exact copy of the Golden Garter Saloon in the 1953 Warner Brother’s movie Calamity Jane while other guests recognized it as an exact copy of the most famous girlie club in the world.  Now the strange part: neither were wrong.
Calamity Jane (1953)
Here’s the official story, more or less.  In the early 1950s Harper Goff, a set designer, created an elaborate saloon for the Warner Brother’s film, Calamity Jane.  In the film, the frontier saloon (located in Deadwood City) hosted traveling actors and actresses who performed light musical fare on stage.  The film was released in 1953 and was well received by the public—though not by all critics.  One year later, Walt Disney and Harper Goff discussed recreating the interior “Golden Garter” set in Disneyland as the Golden Horseshoe saloon.  The replication was so close that, years later, WDI historian, Bruce Gordon said that “The interior sets of [the Warner Brother’s] saloon were built from the same blueprints used for Disneyland! It’s an exact duplicate!”
Calamity Jane (1953)
Now that might be a slight overstatement.  It’s not an exact duplicate, but it’s extremely close.  The layout is certainly the same—both for the stage and the seating area.  And of course the two names are pretty close, as are the logos.  But the Disneyland version is better ornamented.  The woodwork to frame in the Disneyland stage is far more elaborate, as is the brass-and-glass work for the interior lights and the wall decorations.  But still, it’s a very close copy.
Each time I’ve heard this story, there’s been a suggestion that Walt had been impressed by the frontier flair of Calamity Jane and wanted to transfer some of that film’s style and energy into Frontierland.  The Golden Horseshoe Saloon looked a great deal like the Golden Garter saloon from Calamity Jane, and the Golden Horseshoe Revue, at times, looked a little—and only a little—like the vaudevillian musical fare performed in the film.  
Now comes the strange part—the part that I’ve never seen mentioned in any book on the history of Disneyland.  Shortly after Calamity Jane finished shooting, the Golden Garter set was reused at Warner Brother’s for another film—with the curtains swapped out and the interior lights changed.  The 3D horror film, Phantom of the Rue Morgue, turned the Golden Garter set into the most famous burlesque girlie club in the world, the Moulin Rouge.
Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954)
Set in the 1890s, Rue Morgue depicts the murder of many young women in Paris.  (Spoiler alert: a mad scientist trained a gorilla to kill them.  Commentary alert: Actual scientists in the 19ths century couldn’t keep captive gorillas alive for more than a few months, let alone long enough to train them.)  In this scheme, the gorilla’s first victim worked at the Moulin Rouge, which was essentially the girlie club that popularized the Can-Can dance.  Now, there’s all kinds of historical problems with the Rue Morgue film, including the dance performed in the film (set in 1890’s Paris) was the Americanized version of the Can-Can, not the French version that would’ve actually been performed there.  But let’s set all that aside for now.  The stage show presented (on the re-used Calamity Jane set) is very close to the stage show later performed at the Golden Horseshoe Revue at Disneyland—or at least this is true for the Can-Can sections of the show.  But this begs an interesting question: Would Walt actually watch a 3D horror film?
Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954)
There’s good reason to believe he did.  First of all, in early 1954, Walt was watching live-action films specifically to cast actors and actresses for his own live action films and TV shows.  Central to his concerns would’ve been the Disneyland TV show (later known as Walt Disney Presents) and Zorro.  Rue Morgue includes the actress Patricia Medina, who would take a recurring role in Zorro, and also Karl Malden, who would later join the cast of Pollyanna.
But that leads us back to a larger question: when Walt first imagined bringing the set design of the Golden Garter to Disneyland was he thinking of Calamity Jane or possibly Phantom of the Rue Morgue?  I don’t know the answer.  As both Walt and Harper Goff have passed, I’m not sure there’s an easy way to find out.  But in my opinion, it looks like both movies play into the concept of the Golden Horseshoe—the vaudevillian tones of Calamity and the Americanized Can-Can as presented in Rue Morgue.  
But regardless of all that, back in 1955, as guests first entered the Golden Horseshoe Saloon at Disneyland, there would’ve been film buffs who recognized it as a beautiful copy of the Golden Garter Saloon in Calamity Jane and another group who recognized it as a copy of the most famous girlie club in the world, the Moulin Rouge.
OK, that’s all I got for today.  If you have thoughts, post them up below.  And for an ongoing historical discussion of old theme parks and animation, head over to the DHI Facebook group

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