Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Story Behind the Florida Press Confrence

By Keith Mahne

The year was 1964, Walt, through a variety of dummy corporations, secretly began buying large areas of land, sparking speculation about the identity of the mystery buyer. At the time, the average price for an acre of land was roughly $185. Howard Hughes, General Motors, General Electric, U.S. Steel, Boeing, and just about every other major corporation was under suspicion as the mystery buyer. There was even a group who believed it was the Mafia buying land in order to hide bodies in the swampland or to build a casino. While this mystery continued to escalate, Disney had to respond fast and so a major press conference was scheduled. Continue after the page break for the story behind the Florida Press Conference...

Charlie Ridgway

Disneyland's 10th anniversary was approaching in 1965, and it was decided to make it Disney's first year-long celebration. Disneyland publicist Charlie Ridgway coordinated the event and helped coin the term "Tencennial," which was used on the logo and merchandising. Ridgway brought in groups of about a dozen reporters from various regions that were flown to Disneyland for the event over the 12-month-long celebration. Starting with the media in New York, reporters were wined and dined, got a tour of the park, and spent some time with Walt. Eventually, Disney got around to the Florida-Georgia-Alabama region. When several of the larger papers couldn't make the trip, someone suggested including Orlando, a city that Ridgway didn't know. Ridgway discovered that a local Orlando paper The Sentinel-Star had a respectable circulation, and so they were invited.

Emily Bavar with Walt Disney

They sent their editor of the newspaper's Sunday Florida Magazine, Emily Bavar. Ms. Bavar arrived in Anaheim with instructions to find out if the rumors were true that Walt and his company were buying land in Florida. Her first question to Ridgway when she got off the plane was "What's this we hear about Disney buying a lot of land in Florida?" Ridgway was completely unaware of the Florida Project, as a very select few Disney executives were, and so he honestly answered, "Beats me. You'll have to ask Walt tomorrow at lunch." Walt wasn't anticipating there being any representatives from the Orlando area and was not ready for the questions. There were other Florida reporters on the trip that just ignored the subject as mere speculation and wrote nothing for their papers. But Emily Bavar knew something was up and quickly wrote the famous article that let the "mouse" out of the bag. On Sunday, October 24, The Sentinel-Star expanded Bavar's story even more and ran the headline "We Say: 'Mystery' Industry is Disney" and revealed details of the coming project including the fact that Disney was planning on creating two cities. The two cities were to be called "Yesterday" and "Tomorrow."

Here is the article in full:

Is Our "Mystery" Industry Disney?
Girl Reporter Convinced by Walt Disney
By Emily Bavar Thursday October 21,1965

Orange County's 30,000 acre mystery industry site may turn out to be an aircraft testing ground, an electronics research center or even a washing machine factory.
But I predict nothing so mundane for the mystery site.
I predict it will be an extension of Walt Disney's magic empire of fiction, fantasy and enormous wealth.

In sticking out my neck with such indifference to caution, I'll go even farther and say the ultimate plan for the spread of acreage is something that could be hatched only in the fertile Disney imagination; that it will be worth watching and waiting for.
Before elaborating, let's make it clear I have talked to no one connected with the sale of the property.

I have talked only to Walt Disney who, as I reported Sunday from California, did not say he had bought the property.

But neither did he say he had not bought it.

In his plush, studio offices in Burbank, Walt Disney did not confirm nor deny purchase of the Central Florida land and he adroitly hedged direct questions concerning it.
Whoever bought the land will announce it in time, he observed.
Did Disney know who had bought the land?

Well, you hear a lot of rumors. As a matter of fact, he had heard that he himself had bought it.

When he had had enough of the questioning he courteously explained that announcements of such magnitude must follow established corporate procedure and come from a board of directors.

Disney would not be free to confirm the purchase, he said, even if it were a fact.
And I firmly believe it is a fact.

Land purchases recently recorded in Osceola County reveal that property adjoining and enlarging the Orange County mystery site has been bought by Anaheim, California money.

Anaheim is the site of Disneyland.

Original rumors of the purchase included Disney and then spread to other businesses.
But as Nov. 15 date of announcement of the purchase draws near—when Gov. Burns and officials involved with the sale will be in Orlando to make the joint announcement—I am more and more inclined to return to the early guess that Orange and Osceola Counties are slated to have some kind of a second Disneyland.

I repeat: I have talked to no one involved in the sale.

I have talked only to Mr. Disney. And I sure have talked to him: at a late morning interview in his office, at lunch where I sat at his right and monopolized as much of the conversation as I could: and after lunch in the brilliant California sunshine when Mr. Disney wanted to know how his blue sky compared to ours.

Walt Disney, 63-year-old artistic genius of the Disney empire, may not be an officer of Walt Disney Productions, parent company which produces motion pictures, for theatrical and television distribution and operates Disneyland Park. But he's the brains and the talent behind it even though the business is run by his brother, Roy, president and chairman of the board.

In talking to Disney, it became immediately apparent he had watched the Eastern United States with interest and speculation.

Though he underestimated the population of Florida by several million, Disney was familiar with Florida tourist figures, the activity around Cape Kennedy and the scenic Central Florida area centered by Orlando.

He mentioned Crystal River and expressed a sentimental interest in Daytona Beach where his parents lived early in their marriage.

He offered climate and population reasons why Florida would be unacceptable as a site for an amusement park and then showed how these same reasons could be overcome.
Yet, Walt Disney's plans for expanding his empire would not necessarily stop at another Disneyland.

He indicated as much when I asked him if the New York Fair shows were moving to Disneyland, California.

"Of course," was his quick reply, "There is only one Disneyland." Then almost but not quite as an afterthought he added, "as such."

Walt Disney likes to needle reporters, particularly Florida reporters, with reasons why their state is too hot, too wet, too unpopulous, too remote and otherwise unsatisfactory for a major attraction.

But it is my personal belief that Walt Disney has met and conquered these reasons.
I believe the imagination of the canny artist who rode to fame and fortune on an animated mouse named Mickey is capable of building anything from a park to an entire city in a Central Florida pasture.

Mr. Disney's brand of talent and promotion is not necessarily limited to another Disneyland.

Or, as he put it himself, "as such."

General William Potter with Walt & Roy Disney

General William Potter, who after his work on the New York's World Fair took over the job of handling the Disney Florida project, was staying at the Robert Meyer Motor Inn. When he went down to breakfast Sunday morning, he saw the paper's headline and story. He immediately phoned California. Robert Price Foster  who was the lawyer in charge of purchasing Florida property under pseudonyms happened to be in Orlando at that time. When he saw the article, he immediately called Walt, fearing he would be blamed for the leak. Walt reassured him that he himself was to blame and took full responsibility. Bavar's story was so enthusiastic and convincing that Walt knew they had to take some immediate action to control the story.

Governor Haydon Burns & Walt at the press conference

Walt immediately phoned Governor Haydon Burns who was in bed with a case of pleurisy at the time and decided it was time to let the cat out of the bag. Walt chose the following Monday, October 25, in Miami because Burns was scheduled to speak to the Florida League of Municipalities Convention to make it official that Walt Disney Productions "will build the greatest attraction yet known in the history of Florida." Burns announced: "Walt Disney has extended to your governor the privilege of making the official announcement that Disney Productions is the mystery industry." The announcement was followed by "wild applause."

Walt greeted by fans as he arrives for press conference

The official confirmation to the press came as planned on November 15, 1965 at 2:00 p.m. in the Egyptian Room of the Cherry Plaza Hotel in Orlando, Florida, with Walt Disney, his brother Roy, and Governor Burns. In later years, Emily Bavar remembered that when she questioned Walt Disney in his office about whether his company was buying the land. "He looked like I had thrown a bucket of water in his face. I have never seen anyone look so stunned. He was too surprised, but then he recovered and said 'No.' He was not a good liar."

The Florida Press Conference (the first 1:40 showing the arrival of Walt has no sound. Please be sure to pause the Disney Avenue Music Player at the top left-hand corner of this page before you start the video if you are on a desktop computer.):

This 1965 film was produced by the Florida Development Commission to trumpet the potential economic benefits of the then-recently-announced Disney World project. Hosted by Governor Haydon Burns, the film includes footage of the November 15, 1965, press conference announcing Disney World:

Source: Jim Korkis, Emily Bavar Spills the Beans


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. 

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

Keith Mahne and Bob Gurr

Keith created Disney Avenue as a "happy place" where one can come to learn, enjoy, and escape each and every day. As our slogan goes, we hope you "Enjoy your stroll down Disney Avenue; it's not Main Street, but it's close to it!"

You can find all of Keith's articles here.

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