Monday, November 15, 2010

A Great Role in the Wonderful World of Color

Among Disney historians and enthusiasts, November 15, 1965 is perhaps best remembered for the numerous news photos that were snapped of Florida Governor Haydon Burns seated between Walt Disney and Roy Disney with a nearby sign proclaiming Florida Welcomes Walt Disney.  The setting was the Egyptian Room of the Cherry Plaza Hotel in Orlando.  While this particular press conference was the first official joint announcement from Burns and Disney about the "Florida Project," the Disney cat had been let out of the Florida bag some three weeks earlier when Burns confirmed speculation (primarily from Orlando Sentinel reporter Emily Bavar) that Disney was indeed coming to central Florida.

Disney historian Jeff Kurtti notes in his Disney World history tome Since the World Began 
that the November 15 press conference, ". . .  was a cavalcade of vagaries and generalizations."  Most news accounts characterized the information presented as being almost entirely devoid of details.  Walt himself stated that specific plans were at least 12-18 months from revelation.  According to an Associated Press report from November 16, 1965: 

Disney said only that he envisioned two corporate municipalities--one a City of Yesterday and the other a City of Tomorrow in which use of automobiles would be restricted. He said the cities, built mainly to serve an expected 4,000 employees, who would be required to operate the Disney attractions and a Florida branch of Disney productions, would be in addition to "whatever Disney does in Florida."

The City of Tomorrow is an easy enough reference to decipher as that concept evolved into Walt's grand vision of EPCOT.  But the City of Yesterday is a bit more enigmatic.  It is described as one of two corporate municipalities and held separate by Walt from "Disney attractions" and whatever else "Disney does in Florida."

A UPI report stated that Walt, " . . . declined to be too specific about the type and scope of the attraction, but said it will be principally entertainment with some educational value. He added the area undoubtedly will include a number of major industrial plants."

Tom Cope, a reporter who attended the press conference made these observations in an article published on November 17, 1965:

One got the feeling, somehow, that this conference was premature — and one wondered just why it had happened so.  But then perhaps it wasn't: perhaps it was just a case of imagineering to nth degree. Item: the $100 million is yet to be raised. Item: Mr. Disney may build two cities, one of Yesterday and one of Tomorrow . . . and then again he may not. (He did make one sensitive point: science is advancing so fast that a City of Tomorrow might be obsolete before it was completed.) Item: it may be necessary to change some laws to accommodate Mr. Disney's plans, even to calling a special session of the legislature . . . maybe. Item: Mr. Disney may be able to tell "about the first of the year" what some of his Florida plans may be ... or he may not. And one very important item: work on the project "may start" in 18 months or perhaps not before 1968.

While Cope did puzzle over the "vagaries and generalizations" that Jeff Kurtti would allude to decades later, he did provide this wonderfully prophetic footnote:

In Florida, the land of make-believe, it was easy to believe that — not tomorrow, not next year, perhaps — but sooner than later, as surely as God made little red oranges, this great state will be called upon to play a great role in the Wonderful World of Color.