Disney fans may wonder what it was like on set when Walt Disney filmed his Disneyland and Wonderful World of Color television show introductions. Disney was initially a reluctant host but the ABC Television Network insisted that Walt introduce each show segment. It would appear the network was intent on making Walt Disney a television personality and in turn making the show more marketable. The Old Maestro eventually agreed to go on camera, but it was not an assignment he particularly relished. In spite of his already hectic schedule, Disney would now be spending valuable hours on a film stage because his participation was required. Eager to get through this chore, Walt usually arrived on stage somewhat grumpy. However, once into the filming, the boss loosened up and began to enjoy himself. For a guy who was hardly eager to appear on camera, Disney did a pretty good job as a TV host.
Viewers at home in their living rooms probably thought the cameras had casually wandered into Disney’s office and Walt simply began to chat about up coming projects. Of course, these casual moments with the Old Maestro were carefully scripted and Disney’s office was simply a set designed to give viewers the impression they were in the Animation Building on the studio lot. In truth, the sets were usually designed and constructed on stages 1 or 2 depending which sound stage was available for filming that week. After the familiar introduction, and now your host, Walt Disney. Walt would glance up and begin his chat with the audience. Of course, the “audience” was simply the crew on stage along with a young animation artist who should not have been there in the first place. Walt would glance at the script, but ultimately relied on the prompter out of the camera’s view. On occasion, Disney would stumble over a line or mispronounce a name or two. If the script gave Walt too much trouble, a scriptwriter was on hand to quickly make revisions. Walt would chuckle and say, “Who wrote this stuff?” The crew would guffaw loudly as the poor screenwriter became the butt of the joke. We’re all used to today’s amazing technology and cameras small enough to fit in your pocket. However, back in the fifties, cameras such as the Mitchell BNC was almost the size of a small refrigerator. In the photograph below you’ll see how large these beasts could be. You’ll probably notice something else in the picture that will make you aware of the date. Look at the crew and you’ll see a bunch of old guys because women and minorities had yet to breach the film unions or get a job in the motion picture business. It would be decades before such changes would be implemented and opportunities would become available for all. However, this was the nineteen fifties and a world a good deal different from today.
After an hour or two, the assistant director would finally announce, “That’s a wrap,” and Walt Disney, still in make up would head out the door. He still had a busy day ahead and was eager to get back to his office. Sometimes I headed back to the Animation Building as well. I was careful to maintain a fair distance from the boss less he turn toward me and say, “Why aren’t you at your desk, kid? What the hell am I paying you for?” Luckily, that encounter never happened so I continued to be a bad boy and pay my unofficial visits to the sound stage whenever Walt Disney was filming his TV introductions. And that, boys and girls, is why I’m able to tell you this story.