Walt began working on the financing of his new park concept without Roy knowing about it. Roy found this out when one of their bankers mentioned that he thought it was a wonderful idea. Walt came up with a partnership with television to produce a series called Disneyland for a television network in return for their support of his park project. The new television show would help raise the needed funds to build the park. On December 27, 1954, Disneyland was on the air. The television show was shot in color, even though it was broadcast in black and white. Walt had the vision, once again, to see that technology was moving toward color television in the future.
Walt began looking for a place to build Disneyland. He found a 244 acre orange grove 25 miles south of Los Angeles in Anaheim. In 1954, he ordered the work on Disneyland to begin. Once again, people began to call this “Disney’s Folly”.
Many concepts came and went during the construction phase. Walt, as usual, strived for perfection. Main Street U.S.A. was an idealized version on Marceline, Missouri. Walt wanted the hub of the park where guest could enter any of the 4 themed areas because he felt that the problem with fairs is that people had to do too much walking and this would save guests from doing that. The railroad that surrounded the park were to be steam and 5/8 the normal size of an engine.
The evening before Disneyland was to open, Walt Disney took a final inspection tour of the park. He concluded this tour with a walk down Main Street and climbed the stairs to his apartment over the firehouse to go to bed.
Twenty-two thousand invitations were sent out for opening day on July 17, 1955. But thirty-three thousand showed up with invitations. It was discovered that false tickets were printed and sold all over Southern California. Outside companies were hired as guards and ushers. With the overcrowded park, the day turned into a disaster (which was later called “Black Sunday”) with a shortage of refreshments, long lines, melting asphalt, a shortage of water fountains and over flowing trash bins. Walt took the next two weeks and completely reorganized operations. People continued to pour into Disneyland despite the poor press it received. Attendance was 30% over what predictions were. Walt was not pleased to see people having to wait in lines and decided that he needed to add more attractions. But Roy said funding was not available. Walt said “...as long as there is imagination left in the world, Disneyland will continue to grow.”
ABC Television was after Walt to do a daily television series. The television network promised Walt $1.5M for the park if he created a show to compete with Howdy Doody. The twenty-four performers wearing cowboy hats on the opening day of Disneyland, became the Mousketeers and on October 3, 1955, The Mickey Mouse Club made it’s television debut. Walt protected his Mousketeers and encouraged them to call him Uncle Walt. The Mickey Mouse Club ran for 4 seasons.
Walt’s first grandson, Christopher was born at the end of 1954 to Diane and Ron Miller. They later had two more children. In March of 1959, Sharon Disney married an architect from Kansas City, Bob Brown.
The Disney Studios continued to make live action films, but by the 1960’s Walt was beginning to get tired to these films. He felt bound by the standards that had been expected of Disney films. The audiences expected the movies to be wholesome, have a clear-cut good guy and bad guy and the humor to be easygoing and unsophisticated. By breaking any of these rules, the Disney audiences screamed. Walt had created this image and was now locked into it.
After 40 years, and financial success, Walt and Roy were still arguing over Walt’s frivolous spending and Roy’s conservatism. But the disagreement ended when Walt sent Roy a toy peace pipe for his birthday and a note.
Because of a shortage of money in the 1950’s, the Disney brothers had not been able to buy more property around Disneyland. Garish and unsightly businesses sprang up around Disneyland. This bothered Walt. By the late 50’s, it was too late to do anything about the lack of space in Disneyland. Walt’s staff began looking for property on the East Coast for another park. The weather in Florida seemed ideal and the land was flat, and Walt began dreaming of an ideal community. But these plans were kept very quiet.
The New York World’s Fair in 1964 was a chance for Walt to experiment with someone else’s money and Walt agreed to create four major attractions: the Carousel of Progress, for General Electric; It’s a Small World, for Pepsi Cola; the Magic Skyway, for Ford Motors; and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, for the state of Illinois. He developed 3-dimensional robot-like figures, which he called Audio-Animatronics. The Worlds Fair gave Walt the opportunity to find out how to partner with major American corporations and learn ways to control crowds and move audiences.
In 1964, Walt Disney secretly started buying up thousands of acres of swampland in Florida. Property was purchased under false names and in separate parcels to keep the purchase secret. By the Fall of 1965, word began to leak out that Walt Disney was buying property in Florida. Prices skyrocketed from $200 an acre to around $1000. But by that time, Walt was done. He had purchased about 43 square miles of Florida for $5M, nearly 150 times larger than Disneyland.
On November 15, 1965, a press conference was held with Walt Disney and the governor of Florida, Haydon Burns to announce the plans of the Disney Company. The details were vague, but Walt conceded that the new p lace might just be called Disney World. A question asked by a reporter startled Walt: “Is it possible that it might be what we think of as a city of tomorrow...something we expect to live in thirty, forty years from now?” His answer was “I would like to be part of building...a city of tomorrow, as you might say...facilities for the community...community entertainments...I’d love to be part of building up a school of tomorrow.....”
Back at WED (Walter Elias Disney Enterprises), engineers and architects began the concept of Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. EPCOT was Walt’s vision of the perfect community in which to live and his hope for the development of the Florida property.
By the mid 1960s, Walt’s health was not good. His visits to the company nurse became a daily occurrence. He became a victim to constant colds and sinus attacks. Breathing became difficult. Walt worked with more of a furry than ever before.
Marty Sklar, one of Walt’s writers, approached Walt about writing biographies of people who worked for Walt. But Walt did not want individual people spotlighted. Walt said, “I don’t want to do this. I’ll tell you why. Walt Disney is a thing, an image that people have in their minds. And I spent my whole life building it. Walt Disney, the person, isn’t that image, necessarily. I drink and I smoke and there’s a whole lot of other things that I do that i don’t want to be part of that image. I am not Walt Disney anymore.”
On New Year’s Day in 1966, Walt Disney was the Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade.