Disney introduces Disneyland, as construction on the theme park begins
How Walt Disney's Theme Park Impacted the Independent Film Movement
Excerpt from Hollywood Renegades by J. A. Aberdeen
As the Disney studio struggled to get back on its feet after World War II,
Disneyland became Walt Disney's great postwar venture. Spending years trying to
find backing for the park, Disney perceived that television could provide the
financing and exposure necessary to get such a massive undertaking off the
In 1952 Walt Disney formed a company originally called Walt Disney,
Incorporated, which was renamed WED when Roy Disney convinced his brother to
adopt a more low-profile name that would not cause confusion with the studio
itself. WED set up shop on the Disney lot in Burbank in 1953, ostensibly to
specialize in television production. At the time, the creation of WED was in
harmony with other Hollywood production companies like Columbia and Republic
which created subsidiaries, Screen Gems and Hollywood Television Service,
respectively, to specialize in television while protecting the distinctiveness
of their feature film trademarks. In actuality, WED was designed as Walt
Disney's command-post for the Disneyland theme park since Walt Disney
Productions' support for the unconventional project appeared questionable. Quite
suitably for the maverick producer, he had to jump-start his dream by going
independent from his own studio.
In September 1953, Roy Disney, took the WED concept sketches and six-page
prospectus to New York to meet with television industry leaders. The two main
networks CBS and NBC both expressed interest in a Disney-produced TV show but
were unable to commit to the theme park as extra baggage in the deal.
Running out of options, Roy Disney returned to his Waldorf Astoria suite, and
phoned Leonard Goldenson who, after two years of courting the Disney studio, was
still enthusiastic about a deal between them and ABC. Desperately trying to
become a major broadcaster, ABC was also willing to take a risk on the unusual
Disney project. Goldenson immediately came to the hotel to discuss the proposal.
trade headline for January 11, 1954. Roy Disney had announced to
stockholders, in a controversial move, that a Disney television show
would be "designed not only to produce revenue but also to
publicize all of the company's product."
Also see Paramount Television and the
Formation of ABC
In exchange for Walt Disney's commitment to produce a weekly television
series, ABC-Paramount would contribute $500,000 to the park, guarantee $4.5
million in loans, and become a 34 percent owner in Disneyland, Inc. (the company
Walt Disney organized in 1951). Walt Disney Productions also invested in a
one-third interest; and the remaining stock was split between Walt Disney
himself and a publishing company that worked closely with Disney.
press photo used by Disney to announce the 1954 deal with ABC TV.
The ABC-Paramount board approved the Disney deal on March 29, 1954—one week
after a memorable Academy Award ceremony where Disney came away from the night
with an unmatched feat as the personal recipient of four Oscars. But in the Walt
Disney Production board, last minute opposition within the company nearly killed
the Disneyland deal. Eventually the contract with ABC was signed on April 2, and
Walt Disney planned to begin his show for the fall season.
The ABC-Paramount deal put the independent producer Walt Disney in an
interesting situation. His new commitments to ABC now made him the associate of
the Paramount theaters whose ruthless tactics over the years had been the bane
of the independents. Goldenson's active role in the Detroit monopoly made the
dilemma even more awkward, as did Earl Hudson's position as head of ABC west
coast operations. Not only was Hudson still a defendant in SIMPP
v. United Detroit, but Walt Disney Productions sought millions of
dollars in damages from the United Paramount theaters. The Disney company
decided it was no longer prudent to be in a position of suing its television
Guide, October 1954.
Walt Disney pressed for a settlement in the Detroit case in which
SIMPP had invested several years trying to reclaim damages from the Michigan
theater chain that had been owned by Paramount Pictures. SIMPP designed the case
as the opening gun of their fight against the old Hollywood theater chains.
Instead, the independent producers walked away without the pomp and balyhoo that
accompanied the most public of SIMPP's activities. Though the case had had a
number of difficulties, the undesirable conclusion disappointed some of the
producers—in particular Sam Goldwyn, who would leave SIMPP the following year.
Disneyland provided an economic and creative turning point for Walt Disney
Productions which had struggled for many years as an independent production
company in Hollywood. But as Walt Disney moved into the theme park business,
several other Disney activities were reevaluated.
Duck cola from the Disney food division in the 1950s.
The Disney food division was one example. During the early 1950s Walt Disney
had originated an extensive line of food products from bread to soft drinks. In
addition to bringing further exposure to his name and company, Disney also
considered this kind of diversification financially sound. Unfortunately when
entering television, he was forced to curtail his food and beverage operation to
avoid competition with potential advertisers. Only one significant remnant of
the food line remained—Donald Duck orange juice.
Disneyland showed the film industry that Walt Disney was expanding beyond his
film roots, and moving into areas that were foreign to even the studios
themselves. Part of the price for this expansion was a redirection of the
independent movement embodied by SIMPP. Walt Disney became the leading figure in
SIMPP even while Walt Disney Productions less-and-less resembled the typical
independent company. As the independent producers no longer shared common goals,
it would only be a short time before these differences would divide the Society
of Independent Motion Picture Producers, and to bring about its demise.
Disneyland and WED: Thomas, Building a Company, pp.
178-185; Schickel, The Disney Version, p. 313-314, Thomas, Walt Disney,
pp. 248-249 and Mosely, Disney's World, p. 233.
Disney deal with ABC-Paramount: Thomas M. Prior, "Disney
to Enter TV Field in Fall," NYT, March 30, 1954, p. 24; Thomas M.
Prior, "Disney Pact Delayed," NYT, March 31, 1954, p. 38;
Thomas M. Prior, "Disney and A.B.C. Sign TV Contract," NYT,
April 3, 1954, p. 19.