THE 1964 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR
Magic Skyway Press Preview & Opening Day
by Paul F. Anderson
|WED Imagineering Art featuring a cutaway of the Magic Skyway.|
|Robert Moses, Walt Disney, and Henry Ford II
at the April 12, 1964 Press Preview.
Opening day of the 1964 New York World’s Fair for the public was April 22,1964, but many attractions had invitational “special” openings. Disney and Ford scheduled a special National Press Premiere for the Ford Pavilion on April 12th, in the hopes of creating some publicity and excitement for the attraction. Walt Disney himself arrived in New York on April 10th, which provided him with enough time for a run through of the attraction. “We all rode through it with Walt—in one of the Lincoln Convertibles—he was still critiquing, particularly in the prehistoric area. But when we came to the unload area, he was mighty pleased with the results the fellows had accomplished. He told us that he thought it was going to be a really good show,” enthused Don Edgren, WED Project Engineer on Ford.
|Pre-Opening color image showcasing the Caveman area.|
It was to be one of the largest openings at the Fair, as over 2500 invited guests showed up for the press preview. Most of the jaded East Coast press were enthusiastic about the exhibit, which was apparent, not only by the numerous comments heard that day, but also from the scores of positive remarks that followed in newspapers and magazines.
|With lines featuring wait times up to four hours, WED and Walt
learned extensively about handling people or “queue technology.”
The day started with remarks by Walt, Henry Ford II, and Robert Moses, the head of the New York World’s Fair Corporation. Walt called the exhibit “a parable of man’s journey through time from his primordial beginnings to an unknown tomorrow lighted by the fires of science.” Referring to Audio-Animatronics, he continued “[the exhibit] marks the beginning of an entirely unique form of art and entertainment, which will eventually take its place beside the theatre, opera, and motion picture.” No doubt hoping to expand the realms of Audio-Animatronics, Walt also reflected on its educational opportunities: “This show ushers in a new medium of education as well. Through this system the door has been opened for a whole new concept in animated exhibits. This permits a different type of museum approach, quite unlike the static displays that have become so traditional.”
Henry Ford II made several nominal remarks regarding the exhibit being a token of his company’s idea that a better, friendlier tomorrow lies ahead for all mankind, and then took the opportunity to plug Ford’s annual car sales. Moreover, characteristically he offered a bit of a snipe at Disney when he proclaimed: “I won’t say we’ve done it [the Ford Pavilion] within our original budget, but they’ve got the job done.” There is no record of Walt’s response. Moses closed the proceedings on an up note by calling the exhibit “a magnificent pageant of man in terms of his environment, adaptability, and inventive genius. [The exhibit] is a flashback to Benjamin Franklin and Henry Ford, with more than a touch of the dramatic genius of Walt Disney.” (I’ve often wondered if Moses’ callback to the first Henry Ford was a slap in the face to Henry Ford II who by most accounts was not the brightest bulb in the box.)
|Walt Disney and Imagineer-Extraordinaire Herbert Ryman review Ford Concepts.|
With the remarks concluded, Henry sounded the horn of a 1964 Mercury Convertible which started the continuous procession of convertibles along the dual tracks. The first car carried Disney, Ford, and Moses. The second car had as its passengers: A. R. Miller, Ford president; Charles H. Patterson, executive vice president; and architect Welton Becket. The press and their families were then invited to experience Walt Disney’s Magic Skyway through the Ford Motor Company Wonder Rotunda (by far and away the most pretentious name at the Fair).
|WED Concept Art featuring an unrealized Walt Disney dream for the Disney Magic Skyway thru the
Ford Wonder Rotunda. To learn more about Walt’s idea and why it didn’t work, read about it as a
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|Roger Broggie, Sr., photograph of construction
work underway at the Walt Disney Magic Skyway.
Comments by the press, not only from the press preview but also from the entire run of the attraction, were primarily positive. “A Walt Disney Masterpiece—at the top of the list,” reported the Lake Shore News (Wolcott, NY). The Memphis Press Scimitar called it “the most thrilling 12 minutes of the Fair. This was worth the entire trip to the Fair.” The Mississippi Pilot offered a comparison between General Motors Futurama and Ford’s Disney attraction: “It’s difficult to choose between the two, but if I had it to do, I would choose Ford—because the handiwork of Walt Disney added to Ford’s exhibit that ever-necessary ingredient of humor.” Not all comparisons were favorable, however, with most detractors contending that the exhibit didn’t really produce the “threshold of the future” that it promised—whereas the Futurama exhibit, they claimed, showed them the unknown element of the future.
OPENING DAY~A NEW ERA
Not surprisingly, opening day was hectic (yet it didn’t suffer the same disastrous beginning as Disneyland). True to form of significant opening days in the 1960s, the day was beset with protests (primarily civil rights demonstrations objecting to racial policies of certain companies and states). A small, sit-down strike in front of the entrance ramps by a group of “hippies,” plagued Ford. However it didn’t last long nor did it have much of an effect on the day’s festivities.
Other than the protests, the day was filled with parades, opening ceremonies, and a visit by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The latter resulted in an unusual incident for Imagineer Bob Gurr: “We were still having a time with the spacing in the cars. I was standing by the console at a critical corner and putting baseball bats between the cars, and making sure that everything was going to work. Then all of a sudden the Secret Service showed up and surrounded me. I had been standing in front of a window with my hands in my pocket… down below was a parade with the President!” (I am guessing the stack of baseball bats next to Gurr were also on the radar of the Secret Service.)
Walt made only a brief appearance at the Ford Pavilion opening—he did, after all have three other shows that he was responsible for, including one (Lincoln) that was causing him a great deal of frustration. Fred MacMurray, who three years earlier had flown a Model T, also put in an appearance.
|WED Imagineering photograph showing the dinosaurs with a Model Santa Fe & Disneyland Train.
Used by Imagineers for comparison when bringing back the Dinosaur show to Disneyland.
Without pause, Walt and his Imagineers had brought this first of their Fair attractions headlong into a new age—an age of “bigger and better” attractions. What is striking is the attraction’s contrast to anything done by Disney up to this point. It was a radical departure from what they had already done at Disneyland—which in turn was a radical departure from anything done before it. Ford was the first; when we look at all of the themed rides and attractions of today, whether they be from Disney or another company, it all can be traced back to the beginning Walt and his Imagineers had created for Ford at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The Ford Pavilion wasn’t the only thing to open on April 22,1964—a new era also opened.