Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Disneyland, Revisited

There are times when nostalgia gets the better of me. One such moment occurred when I read side-by-side obits for singer Betty Taylor and comedian Wally Boag. Taylor and Boag were mainstays at Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe Café, an old-time saloon that is still a Frontierland attraction. For thirty years, she (gussied up as Sluefoot Sue) sang “Bill Bailey,” while he (dressed as a traveling salesman) made balloon animals and generally acted goofy. I can’t begin to guess how often I saw the two of them strut their stuff.

As a Southern California child, I couldn’t wait for the Magic Kingdom to open its gates. Every kid I knew was mesmerized by the promos Uncle Walt managed to incorporate into his popular TV show. There was even a TV “special” (remember those?) showing celebrities enjoying the park before we ordinary mortals were allowed in. We all knew there’d be flying pirate ships in Fantasyland, and in Tomorrowland a genuine (well, almost) rocket to the moon. The only question was: whose parents would be the first to spring for a Disneyland visit?

Lucky me—my best friend’s dad liked to try new things. Early in that first Disneyland year we got up at dawn for the trek to the wilds of Orange County, where Walt’s wonderland had arisen out of a grove of citrus trees. There was so much to see and do. Marching bands on Main Street! A Wild West shoot-out! An automobile an eight-year-old could drive on a simulated freeway! Sleeping Beauty’s castle in all its splendor! Many of the now-classic thrill rides (The Matterhorn, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain) didn’t exist yet. For early visitors, the height of excitement was riding a miniature mine car into the darkness to follow the adventures of Snow White and the wicked Queen who envied her beauty. The marquee attraction was the Jungle River Boat Cruise, full of lunging animatronic beasties who today are starting to look, well, a little tired.

Disneyland has meant a lot to me over the years. I’ve been there on family excursions, on a wild and wacky trip with my high school senior class, and on date-nights. I’ve been accompanied by foreign visitors, and years later by my very young son, who celebrated his second birthday surrounded by giant Disney characters and doting grandparents. On a very special day last January, my 92-year-old mom was our guest of honor, and I learned how graciously the Disneyland personnel treat those who can’t get around on their own two feet.

On that same January trip, I stopped in at the Golden Horseshoe. It just wasn’t the same. Back in the day, family visits to Disneyland were built around the Golden Horseshoe Revue. Because it barely changed from year to year, we knew all the songs, and we hotly debated which of the costumes we’d like to hang in our own closets. Above all, we adored the loose-limbed, hilarious Wally Boag. My sister and I knew exactly where to sit to ensure being called up on stage for one of his balloon creations. Though we saw his sight-gags many times over, we always laughed.

We were hardly Boag’s only fans. Steve Martin, an Orange County boy who once worked at Disneyland, counts Boag as his comic inspiration. Upon learning of Boag’s death, Martin described him as “my hero, the first comedian I ever saw live, my influence, a man to whom I aspired.” It’s nice knowing who was the original wild and crazy guy. Too bad he’s taken his last pratfall. May he rest in peace.


  1. Wow - what wonderful stories of Disneyland! I was recently reading about the secret family apartment that Walt stayed in a lot during the park's construction - and I guess it was used by some VIP guests after that too. Disney's parks are truly magical places. I got to visit Disneyworld in 1980 - the same trip I mentioned in a comment when President Reagan was shot and the space shuttle was sitting on the launch pad. Mission to Mars might have been my favorite attraction - with the Hall of Presidents a close second.

    I enjoyed hearing about your great experiences at the Golden Horseshoe - I'm sorry to hear of the loss of the entertainers who brought you so much joy - may they both rest in peace.

  2. A true Disneyland aficionado will tell you that the "Magic Kingdom" section of Disney World, though bigger and fancier than Disneyland, just doesn't measure up to the original. Ah, the memories!