It is quite true, friends – it was 65 years ago today that the first episode of Walt Disney’s Disneyland premiered on ABC television and gave audiences it’s first glimpse at the dream of Disneyland itself as well as the start of welcoming Walt Disney into their homes every week. On that Wednesday night 65 years ago, the audience were treated to a promise of what the television series would feature – such as looks at upcoming films, classic Disney animated shorts, documentaries about wildlife and even possible futures. Each assigned to the four different areas of what could eventually be found in the Disneyland park itself – Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland, and of course Fantasyland – featuring the castle from Sleeping Beauty… only a mere six years before that film would be released. The very first episode ever to air was entitled The Disneyland Story and featured Walt Disney as host – a role he would fulfill for 310 episodes – presenting a behind the scenes look at the studios adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, progress on the building of Disneyland, in addition to a segment from Song of the South, and even a bit of Alice in Wonderland as well as 1928’s Plane Crazy. The Disneyland Story also is where Walt Disney reminded the viewers that all of the studios success and the possibility of Disneyland was thanks to Mickey Mouse.
“Our only hope is we never lose sight of one thing: that it was all started by a mouse. Now, that is why I want this part of the show to belong to Mickey, because the story of Mickey is truly the real beginning of Disneyland.” – Walt Disney
It turns out that Walt Disney had actually shopped the idea of the Walt Disney’s Disneyland television series to all three networks – it appears that only ABC had the foresight to see why such a show would be popular. Having said that though I do not believe anyone could have seen just how immensely popular the Davy Crockett episodes of Walt Disney’s Disneyland would become. The first episode of the series that detailed the highlights of the life of Crockett was entitled Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter and originally aired on December 15th of 1954. It was followed by Davy Crockett Goes to Congress on January 26th of ’55 and then Davy Crockett at the Alamo on the night of February 23rd of that same year. With the popularity of those episodes of the TV show – the studio was quick to release two more – since the outcome of the Alamo is pretty well known, these had to be adventures that took place earlier. Those last two episodes were Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race and Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, premiering on November 16th and December 14th of 1955. As I’ve said the studio wasn’t exactly ready for just how much the public would embrace Fess Parker’s portrayal of the legendary frontiersman and subject of folk tales – Disney however was quick to jump on the licensing band wagon with all manner of toys, books, and a cover of The Ballad of Davy Crockett song that can be heard in The Disneyland Story. In fact, thanks to this Archive of American Television interview with the late and great Fess Parker you can hear him talk about the merchandising and Bill Hayes cover of The Ballad of Davy Crockett!
The Story of Disneyland also provided a behind the scenes look at the animation studio at work – for example you get to see artists working on the character model designs for Sleeping Beauty and drop in on the Walt Disney Studios Music Department.
The TV series would undergo a name change to Walt Disney Presents in 1958 and then become Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in 1961 – after it jumped networks to NBC. Eight years later it would change once again to The Wonderful World of Disney – keeping the same title for ten years before briefly becoming Disney’s Wonderful World until it was cancelled in 1981. CBS bought the rights to the series and in that same year started broadcasting Walt Disney – which turned out pilots for possible Escape to Witch Mountain, Pollyanna, and The Apple Dumpling Gang – this last one was briefly picked up as the Gun Shy TV series. In 1986 The Disney Sunday Movie would debut on ABC and lasted until 1988 where it would once again jump to NBC and became The Magical World of Disney which ran for two year before the Walt Disney Studios decided to stop producing the series. I’m sure with Disney+ about to debut that we’ve not seen the last iteration of the weekly TV series that Walt Disney introduced 65 years ago with Walt Disney’s Disneyland – but for now let us enjoy The Disneyland Story!