A Once In A Lifetime Lecture with Jack Lindquist
Recently I had the privilege of listening to a lecture by the man that helped guide Disneyland to great success: Jack Lindquist. Disneyland’s very first president came to speak to my Walt Disney and Charles Darwin: In Pursuit of Happiness and Knowledge course at Chapman University. I was blown away by what this man had to say.
Since we are not allowed to have any kind of recording device in this class, I jotted down some notes from the lecture. I thought I would share some of what I have written with you all. I apologize in advance if there is lack of structure.
Mr. Lindquist started off by telling his origins. He came to work for Walt after leaving an ad agency in LA. His very first job working directly for Walt was writing remarks for Walt to say with Shirley Temple at the castle walk-through opening. He recalled seeing Walt lift his eyebrow, as he always did while he was thinking, and question who wrote it. His first instinct was to deny it was his doing, but he stepped up and claimed the work as his. Walt didn’t give any remarks of disapproval; he had succeeded at his first assignment.
When it came time to start figuring out the plans for Disneyland, the Stanford Research Institute went to find the right spot for the park. The top two contenders had been in the San Fernando Valley and the border of Anaheim and Santa Ana down here in Orange County. The Anaheim location was chosen. One of Lindquist’s direct roles in Disneyland was helping bring Snow White to life as an attraction. There was a lot of work to be done if this park was going to be any sort of success.
“We were lucky that we were ignorant; because we were ignorant, we did things we couldn’t do.”
Disneyland finally opened on July 17, 1955. While we would like to think that the grand opening of the park was wonderful, it was anything but. The weather was sweltering hot, there were no drinking fountains, and the asphalt was still sticky. The live broadcast on ABC was disorganized and all over the place. Anything that could go wrong, went wrong that day. Journalists wrote that Disneyland was a failure. Lindquist recalled it took two years to get all opening day media to return to Disneyland after such a terrible opening day. They had a hard time believing this next trip would be any better than Black Sunday, as it came to be known.
Lindquist was also involved the first hard-ticketed event at Disneyland: New Year’s Eve, 1957. The park needed to market this party to young people that couldn’t go out and drink; there weren’t places for underage people to go for New Year’s that didn’t involve drinking. Tickets were sold at $3.95 each. The challenge was figuring out how to sell the tickets. At that time, tickets weren’t sold in advance for the parks, so they had to figure out how to market this event. Thousands and thousands of people weren’t going to buy their ticket the day of. So, they made deals with local businesses to sell the tickets. In the end, 12,000 tickets were sold and the event was a success. This sparked the idea of selling advanced tickets in the future.
“Disneyland was one adventure after another.”
Throughout the years, Lindquist was involved in all sorts of projects. Grad Nite started happening after Alhambra High School parents requested to have their graduating seniors have grad nite in the park, since they wanted a safe place for them to have fun on the night of graduation. The Disneyland execs thought it was great that they wanted to go to Disneyland, but there was a big problem: there were only a few hundred graduating seniors, not nearly enough to justify having the park open all hours of the night. That’s when other high schools in the area were brought in; there needed to be an attendance of at least 5,000 students. Anaheim Police Department thought the Grad Nite was a terrible idea — thousands of crazy teenagers would cause a ruckus in the park. But Lindquist and the others moved forward and made Grad Nite happen. Attendees were required to dress up nicely, be in the park by 11PM and not let out until 5AM the next morning. Students had to sign in and out, and there had to be one adult chaperon per 20 students. In the beginning, students were allowed to transport themselves, but later it was enforced that all students must arrive by bus. While Lindquist reminisced about helping Grad Nite come to be, he made a comment about the current state of Grad Nite and how he feels they may discontinue the event. (I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens with that.)
One story in particular that Lindquist (and the class) found hilarious was about a female student attending Grad Nite. She wore a one-shouldered dress and was dancing with guy after guy, who would rest his head on her shoulder. It seemed strange. Lindquist sent over a female security guard to escort the young lady backstage and ask what was going on. Turns out she had a flask of gin hidden in her dress, with a straw running up through her bra. She had been charging money for guys to drink.
Later, Lindquist went on to be involved with the other parks — Walt Disney World, Tokyo and Paris. He was also involved with Marty Sklar in the placement of the famous “Partners” statue in the hub. Lindquist also helped name Fantasmic! After 38 years of service, he retired. He now currently resides in Orange County, not far from the parks. He recalled the most pivotal point of his entire Disneyland career was the first Christmas in the park. He was walking down empty Main Street U.S.A. when he came across a family on their way out. They stopped to admire the window displays. The little girl looked up at her mother and said, “This was better than having Santa come.”
At the end of it all, he graciously signed my copy of his book In Service to the Mouse: My Unexpected Journey to Becoming Disneyland’s First President and shook my hand. I had taken a photo with him with my phone, but technology isn’t reliable 100% of the time. Getting the chance to exchange words with a man that worked directly with Walt and was so involved in something that has been such a huge part of my life was an amazing and overwhelming feeling. This was a once in a lifetime lecture. I’ll never forget it.
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