It’s the anniversary of the 1964-65 New York Worlds Fair so let’s talk more about the events that took place at the Walt Disney Studio as the Old Maestro prepared for this impressive world showcase. Not surprisingly, Walt Disney wanted to be the talk of the fair by providing stellar attractions that would blow people away. Never one to fall back on what had worked in the past, the innovative leader was determined to come up with ground breaking, new attractions. As expected, Walt would be pushing the envelope in his quest for something original while his critics stood on the sidelines mocking his impressive plans.
One of the ideas Walt Disney came up with was a show entitled, “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” It would be an impressive show that would chronicle the life of the 16th President of the United States. The show would begin with beautiful paintings by Imagineering artist, Sam McKim and once that segment was complete, the music would suddenly surge as stunning lighting effects reveal a seated figure on stage. However, the show was only beginning. As the curtains parted, the figure would rise to his feet and deliver an impassioned speech to the audience. It would not be an actor playing a role, rather an “audio-animatronic” figure with life like features and movements that could only be described as human.
This was a pretty tall order for the Disney Imagineers. Keep in mind this was the early sixties and no one had the technology we all use today. This was all analog, boys and girls. Think clunky retro-technology of compression tubes, gears and switches. Saddled with these limitations, the Disney Imagineers had to work magic and it sure wasn’t easy. A group of us animators gathered in the machine shop on the Disney studio back lot to get a first look at Abraham Lincoln. At least, an automatic version of the 16th President. Suddenly, the device was switched on, and the figure sprang to life. However, it wasn’t a pretty version of life. The Audio-Animatronic device suddenly lurched forward, it’s movements twitchy and uncoordinated. I have to confess it was more Frankenstein monster than the President of the United States. The old animators headed back to their offices in the Animation Building laughing their heads off. It would appear that the Old Maestro had finally bitten off more than he could chew. This robotic device was hardly inspiring. It was darn right scary. I returned to my desk and quickly whipped out this cartoon sketch that I’ve reproduced here. The animators got a chuckle out of “Abraham Lincoln” going after the boss.
As you all know, Walt Disney had the last laugh. The attraction at the New York Worlds Fair proved to be a hit with the public and once the fair had completed its run, the amazing attraction became a fixture at the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim. If you’ve seen “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” you know what I mean. The show is stunning. It’s a celebration of everything great about America. Walt Disney, more than anyone else knew how to tell the story of a great man and do it in a manner that can only be called, “Disney.” This kid remembers seeing the completed show back in the early sixties and I’ll tell you it was jaw dropping. Once again, the Old Maestro proved you can never dream too big. And, once again, he demonstrated that to all of us.