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Remembering James Garner at the Disneyland Resort

posted on July 21st, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


Over the weekend we learned of the passing of Oscar-nominated actor James Garner. In an award-winning career that spanned six decades, his work with Disney included The Castaway Cowboy and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Today we’re looking back at a special memory Mr. Garner made at the Disneyland Resort.

I had the honor and pleasure of meeting James Garner a few times during his run on the ABC comedy “8 Simple Rules.” He was friendly, funny and obviously very much a grandfather figure to his younger co-stars.

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In September 2004 he appeared with the cast of the show at an event at Disney California Adventure park called ABC Primetime Preview Weekend.

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During this event, I gave Mr. Garner a copy of a photo we have in our archives of him with his wife, Lois, celebrating their daughter Gigi’s birthday at Disneyland in 1965. We believe the photo was taken at the Tahitian Terrace.

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When I handed him this photo backstage before a media appearance, Mr. Garner said, “Oh my, it’s my Gigi! Oh, I can’t wait to show this to Lois!” He had never seen the photo before, and he thanked me warmly before excitedly gathering the cast around him to see the picture.

What he surely couldn’t have known that afternoon was that while he was recalling a fond Disney memory from long ago, he had just made a brand new one for me.

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A Look Back at July 20, 1969: Apollo 11 Moon Landing Watched Live at Disneyland Park

posted on July 18th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


On the afternoon of July 20, 1969, just steps away from an attraction called “Flight to the Moon,” thousands of Disneyland park guests gathered at the Tomorrowland Stage to watch a seminal event in human history unfold on live television.

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Just last week, while researching another project, I came across this rare color image in our archives that shows the Apollo 11 Moon Landing being watched live at Disneyland park.

In the years that followed this momentous event, we were fortunate to welcome two members of the remarkable Apollo 11 crew to Disneyland park.

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In February 1989, Buzz Aldrin joined us for the Challenger Spirit Salute, an event to honor the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.

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In July 2005, Neil Armstrong was on hand for the “re-launch” of Space Mountain. This photo was taken just above the exact spot where all those years earlier, Disneyland guests gathered in almost unimaginable anticipation to watch as he became the first man to step foot on the moon.

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John Rhys-Davies Returns to Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland Park

posted on June 26th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


You never know who you might encounter along the perilous pathways through the remote jungles of India’s lost delta while searching for the mysterious Temple of the Forbidden Eye. John Rhys-Davies, who of course portrayed Indy’s faithful friend, Sallah, in two Indiana Jones films, visited the Disneyland Resort recently, and together with his family and friends, we made our way to Indiana Jones Adventure.

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“Not to worry,” John said. “Sallah has the map!”

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During our expedition, John told me that despite his appearance inside the queue of our attraction for nearly 20 years, this would actually be the very first time he would ride it and that he was thrilled to be able to bring along his eight-year-old daughter, Maia (pictured here with a family friend) for her very first Disneyland visit. “The best way to see Disneyland, actually, is with children and through a child’s eyes,” John said. “It’s a joy to come here with my daughter, who’s come all the way from New Zealand.”

After riding the attraction – not once, but twice – John said, “It’s really wonderful, isn’t it? It’s a great rollicking adventure. It’s just the right side of scary.” Maia added, “It was absolutely petrifying! I quite liked the boulder where it drops down. Oh, and the snake!”

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As I mentioned, John appears as Sallah in the queue of Indiana Jones Adventure, so we set out on our own photo archive adventure. Our team of “top … men” was able to recover this rare artifact – a picture taken while filming the newsreel footage shown deep within the temple as guests prepare to board their transports.

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Jessica Alba Celebrates Her Daughter’s Birthday at the Disneyland Resort

posted on June 18th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


Jessica Alba and her family visited the Disneyland Resort recently to celebrate a special occasion: daughter Honor’s sixth birthday!

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Here, Jessica, her husband Cash Warren and younger daughter Haven join the birthday girl for a special photo with Walt and Mickey at Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure park.

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A Look Back at June 14, 1959: Grand Opening of the Disneyland-Alweg Monorail System, Matterhorn Bobsleds and Submarine Voyage at Disneyland Park

posted on June 13th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


The first major expansion of Disneyland park included three brand-new attractions so special they helped usher in a brand-new era of something called an “E-Ticket.” As he had four years earlier, Walt Disney planned to share the celebration of this expansion with a national television audience during a television special hosted by Art Linkletter on ABC. Walt invited more than 2,000 members of the press, celebrities and dignitaries to attend, including Vice President Richard Nixon, his wife, Pat, and their daughters, Tricia and Julie, who sent us a special message you’ll read later in this post.

Walt Disney sent the following letters to the vice president in May of 1959 as he was finalizing his plans for the biggest event since he opened the park.

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With assistance from the Walt Disney Archives and the Nixon Presidential Library I was able to piece together details from this event as well as solve some lingering “mini-mysteries” from the festivities of Sunday, June 14, 1959, that might surprise you.

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Using the text of the actual itineraries, finalized just two days before this event, here’s how the day unfolded:

Itinerary for Sunday, June 14, 1959

  • 07:30am – ABC–TV personnel arrives to set up equipment and rehearse
  • 09:15am (approximate) – Vice President and family to meet with Walt Disney at the Monorail Station for press photographs on the dedication of the Monorail

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With this morning publicity photo shoot we have the answer to one of those “mini-mysteries” I mentioned. Fans may have noticed that the Nixon family is wearing different clothing in some of the Monorail dedication photos from this day. As it turns out, these early-morning pictures, which include Art Linkletter as the Monorail pilot, were taken to enable wire services and newspapers east of the Rockies to include the photography in their Monday morning editions. Press photographers and television cameras would capture the official dedication later in the afternoon.

  • 12:00pm – Parade starts forming. Lunch at Red Wagon Inn for celebrities
  • 12:15pm – On return from Church, the Vice President and family will be guests of Walt Disney at an informal luncheon at his apartment.
  • 01:15pm – Pre–parade steps off from gate by Fire Station. Vice President and party to parade in “horseless carriages” from City Hall to the official reviewing stand.

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The reviewing stand for this special parade was built at the central hub of the park with a clear view down Main Street, U.S.A. In this photo, Walt is seen talking with the vice president as Mrs. Nixon looks on. Seated behind the Nixon family you’ll also see Roy O. Disney, his wife, Edna, and Walt’s son-in-law, Ron Miller with two of Walt’s grandchildren on his lap.

  • 01:30pm – Parade steps-off from gate by Opera House

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This fun photo captures one of my favorite moments from this day. Look closely at this rare color picture and you’ll see Hayley Mills, Roy O. Disney and Diane Disney Miller in the background. The man pictured between Walt Disney and Vice President Nixon is Meredith Willson, composer of the smash hit musical, “The Music Man,” which was still in its first theatrical run on Broadway at the time. Mr. Willson was an invited guest of Walt’s who was seated behind the vice president. During the television taping of this special parade, host Art Linkletter says, “What do I see down there? Meredith Willson, would you come up here for a minute?” Mr. Willson then came to the front of the reviewing stand. Art continued, “I want to hear from an expert. You’re ‘Mr. Music Man,’ what do you see coming up the street?”

To Mr. Wilson’s apparent amazement, what he saw was an all-brass band including 76 trombones, marching down Main Street, U.S.A., playing his signature song from “The Music Man,” “Seventy Six Trombones!” Mr. Willson could be overheard saying, “I’ve been saying it all afternoon, but Walt Disney, when he does anything, he does it right, doesn’t he? Listen to that!”

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As this incredible band approached the reviewing stand, Art led Mr. Willson to a small platform in the middle of the street, telling him, “Come on up here Meredith!” The drum major handed his hat and baton to Mr. Willson who then conducted the band to the finale of the song as the crowd roared from one end of Main Street to the other.

  • 02:10pm (approximate) – Matterhorn Show
  • 02:15pm (approximate) – Vice President and family will be escorted from the reviewing stand to the rear of the Carnation Ice Cream store on Main Street for special photographs. Following these photos, the family will return to Walt Disney’s apartment.
  • 03:00pm – Matterhorn Bobsleds, Autopia, and Motor Boats open to the press
  • 03:15pm – The Vice President and his family will be taken to Monorail Station in Tomorrowland for press photography of the Monorail dedication
  • 03:30pm (approximate) – Submarine Dedication ceremony

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Following an introduction by Admiral Charles C. Kirkpatrick, Mrs. Mildred Nelson, wife of the chief machinist on the the first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, christens sub D-301, appropriately also named “Nautilus.”

  • 04:00pm (approximate) – Monorail Dedication ceremony. The Vice President and family will participate in the actual television dedication of the Monorail. Following the dedication, they will be returned to the apartment and the Vice President will be free to conduct any meetings that will be necessary, utilizing the office located adjacent to the patio of Walt Disney’s apartment.

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In these photos taken during the afternoon press photocall and official dedication of the Monorail, you can see the large scissors that Tricia and Julie Nixon used during the ceremony. What isn’t clear from these photos is that the scissors weren’t exactly cooperating. The stubborn dedication ribbon required Walt Disney, himself, to step in and help the Nixon daughters — just a little.

  • 04:15pm – Submarine and Monorail open to press guests
  • 05:00pm – 08:00pm – Press party at Holidayland with buffet and special entertainment

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  • 06:15pm (approximate) – Fireworks display
  • 06:30pm (approximate) – Walt Disney will meet Vice President Nixon and family and escort them to the informal press buffet and party in Holidayland

Walt invited the Nixon family back two years later when the Monorail track was expanded to include the Disneyland Hotel. In this letter, Walt also mentions those pesky scissors from the 1959 event.

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As you can see from the handwritten assistant’s note at the bottom of this letter, the Nixon family was unable to attend due to the former vice president’s travel schedule, but they did visit Disneyland again later that summer and at least one more time, in the late 1960s.

On the occasion of the 55th anniversary of this landmark day in Disneyland Resort history, Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower sent the following message exclusively for Disney Parks Blog readers:

“We are pleased and excited to join Disney fans around the world in celebrating the 55th anniversary of the iconic Disneyland Monorail. When we cut the ribbon and took the very first Monorail ride on June 14, 1959, we could not have imagined what a popular icon it would become. For over five decades, it has provided countless families that special Disney experience – just as it did ours.

“Our family visited Disneyland as often as we could. It was then – as it is now – truly the ‘happiest place on earth,’ thanks to the visionary Walt Disney. Our parents cherished Walt’s years of friendship, not to mention his warmth, creativity and contagious sense of humor. He was, on that warm June day, charming as ever. His excitement for life has inspired millions across the globe.

“We send our best wishes on this special day of celebration. Congratulations to Disneyland, and may it continue to inspire joy and hope, as it has done for us for nearly 60 years.”

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Heidi Klum Meets Mickey Mouse at Disneyland Park

posted on June 4th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


Heidi Klum and her family visited the Disneyland Resort last week, just a few days before her birthday, and we met up with her in Adventureland over at the Jungle Cruise.
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Mickey Mouse stopped by to surprise her and we got this fun picture just before the expedition began. No shortage of fun skippers here!

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A Look Back at Celebrated Disneyland Resort Guests: Laurence Olivier – 1976

posted on May 22nd, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


Sir Laurence Olivier was born on this day in 1907. Widely regarded as the greatest actor of the 20th century, he was a prolific master of stage and screen who captivated audiences in both classical and modern works during his decades-long career.

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This photo with Mickey Mouse was taken inside Disneyland City Hall as Mr. Olivier signed our Guest book during his only known visit to Disneyland park in August 1976.

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A Look Back at Celebrated Disneyland Resort Guests: Don Rickles – 1974

posted on May 8th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


Today is Don Rickles’ birthday and to celebrate this comedic legend’s special day I’m sharing some rarely seen photos of “Mr. Warmth” enjoying some Disney Parks magic.

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This 1974 picture features Don Rickles and his longtime pal, Bob Newhart, posing with Mickey Mouse in Tomorrowland. I can only imagine what Mickey overheard standing between these two funnymen.

Years later, of course, Mr. Rickles would become known to Disney fans as the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the Disney•PixarToy Story” films.

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This next photo was taken at Walt Disney Imagineering as the creative forces behind Toy Story Midway Mania! unveiled the Mr. Potato Head Audio-Animatronics figure to the man who gave him his distinctive voice. Mr. Rickles said they did a “magnificent job” bringing the character to life and he was especially happy to have his young grandchildren there to see it with him. It was on this day in February 2008 that I first met Mr. Rickles, quickly finding myself on the receiving end of his rapid-fire wit. I was thrilled, to say the least, and I still wear his playful insults as a badge of honor!

Happy Birthday, Don!

Mr. Potato Head is a registered trademark of Hasbro Toys.

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A Look Back: Grand Opening of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure Park

posted on May 5th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


“Tonight’s story on ‘The Twilight Zone’ is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction … ”

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Ten years ago today, Disney California Adventure park guests were invited to fall into the fifth dimension aboard one of the only remaining working elevators in the Hollywood Tower Hotel – a onetime “star in its own right, and a beacon for the show business elite.”

Inspired by the genius of Rod Serling and the creators of the iconic anthology series “The Twilight Zone,” The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror recalls the disappearance of five unlucky souls on a gloomy Halloween night in 1939 Hollywood “amid the glitz and glamour of a bustling young movie town at the height of its golden age.”

The night before the attraction’s official opening, we hosted a red carpet premiere in Hollywood Land to celebrate.

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Several Hollywood Tower Hotel bellhops were on-hand to escort celebrity guests down the red carpet.

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Actress and filmmaker Nia Vardalos was one of the celebrities who “dropped in” for some fun that night.

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Of course, Mickey and Minnie were also there to help celebrate the opening.

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The opening ceremony was hosted by the Hollywood Tower Hotel bellhop (nicknamed “Buddy”) you may remember from many of the television commercials created for the attraction in 2004. He was joined during the ceremony by Rod Serling’s wife, Carol Serling, who told the audience how thrilled her late husband would be with the attraction. She then invited everyone to “step into a ‘lost episode’ of ‘The Twilight Zone.’”

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Looking back, “the time is (still) now, on an evening very much like the one we’ve just witnessed. We invite you, if you dare, to step aboard. This elevator travels directly to … ”

The Twilight Zone® is a registered trademark of CBS, Inc. and used with permission pursuant to a license with CBS, Inc.

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Remembering Mickey Rooney at the Disneyland Resort

posted on April 7th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


Iconic Hollywood star Mickey Rooney passed away yesterday at the age of 93.

In an astonishing show business career that spans 10 decades, Mickey’s work with Disney includes his roles as Lampie in “Pete’s Dragon,” the voice of grown-up Tod in “The Fox and the Hound,” and most recently, his cameo appearance in “The Muppets.”
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This photo of Mickey was taken during the red carpet arrivals for the grand opening of Disney California Adventure park on February 7, 2001. I had the pleasure of meeting Mickey that night, and I knew then that I was in the presence of a legend. The optimistic personality that defined his early film career and propelled him to superstardom in the 1930s and 1940s was still very much a part of who he was.

In thinking about Mickey’s film work, I was reminded of a small role he had in the Disney Channel Original Movie, “Phantom of the Megaplex.” Mickey’s character, Movie Mason, delivers a monologue about the power of the silver screen in which he says, in part, “When we arrive in this world, magic is all around us … yet as years pass, simple pleasures aren’t quite so simple to find … true wonder is hard to come by, but, there’s always magic at the movies.”

No one made more of that magic than you, Mickey.

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