Tomorrow-Land by Joseph Tirella

Book: Tomorrow-Land by Joseph Tirella Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joseph Tirella
Fair. It was his own brand of robotic technology: life-size and lifelike automated mannequins that could move, speak, stand, or sing, thanks to an internal recording device. He called his creations “Audio-Animatronics,” a phrase he had trademarked. It was a concept that Disney had been mulling over since the early 1950s, and for the global audience of the World’s Fair he resurrected the idea.
    The Ford Motor Company hired Disney to design its Magic Skyway ride, a twelve-minute journey back in time. In a stroke of marketing genius, the company chose the Fair to introduce its latest model, the Ford Mustang, which would go on to become one of the best-selling automobiles in American history. Millions of adult Fairgoers—each a prospective customer—would get a free ride in a Mustang convertible as they were propelled by a conveyor belt–like device, gliding past scenes ofAudio-Animatronic brontosauruses, tyrannosaurs, woolly mammoths, and cavemen. Audiences were dazzled by these special effects—far superior to most Hollywood special effects at the time.
    The Magic Skyway even had a Neanderthal hero—“the inventor of the wheel,” according to the ride’s narrator, Disney himself, who informed his captive audiences, “The wheel gave man a new freedom. Now he could leave the caves behind and travel on to seek his fortune in the wide, wide world.” The suggestion that such a journey should be undertaken in a Ford automobile went without saying.
    For General Electric’s World’s Fair pavilion, Disney designed a $10 million Carousel of Progress, which featured an Audio-Animatronic family—complete with a cute dog—inspired by Thornton Wilder’s Our Town . Fairgoers would watch various decades of American history play out: the 1880s, the 1920s, the 1940s, and up to the present-day 1960s. The auditorium itself shifted—like a carousel—and with each passing decade, the family’s life was made progressively easier thanks to ever-improving household products (like the ones GE made). It was typical Disney: a nostalgic look back at a simpler time, brought to you via state-of-the-art technology and all while hawking his corporate clients’ products as you were being entertained. “There was more of Walt in ‘the Carousel of Progress’ than anything else,” said one WED Imagineer.
    But when Disney informed the GE vice president in charge of the pavilion about his concept, the VP suggested that the company would come up with a different approach. After all, he told Disney, what would a company like GE that sold technological gadgets want with a show that was based on nostalgia for simpler times? Disney flew into a rage. “I spent my whole life telling stories with nostalgia,” he shouted, “and this is the way you communicate with people!” He even called his legal department and told them to see if there was any way to terminate the contract.
    Although things were quickly sorted out, GE executives would fly to Anaheim occasionally to check in on Disney’s progress—and like Moses, he didn’t appreciate the oversight. At one meeting, he stood at the head of a conference table and delivered a blunt message. “All right,gentleman, what I want you to do is go down to the Coral Room and have a good lunch. Then I want you to go back to Burbank Airport and get in your Grumman Gulfstream and fly back east where you came from and stay there until I’ve got something I want you to see. Then, I’ll call you . Thank you, gentlemen.” He then turned around and walked out of the room. Moses couldn’t have done it better himself.
    It was Moses, in fact, who made it his personal mission to find a place at the World’s Fair for one of Disney’s pet projects, the Hall of the Presidents. On a trip to New York, Disney had shown Moses a slide presentation of his idea—an exhibit of

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