ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Making use of to be one of many first staff at Walt Disney World, highschool graduate George Kalogridis made a split-second resolution that set the course for his life: he picked a room the place potential resort staff have been being employed.
Chuck Milam obtained a tip a couple of job opening from a transplanted Disney govt whose new home he was landscaping. Earliene Anderson jumped on the probability to take a job on the new Disney theme park in Florida, having fallen in love with the great thing about Disneyland in California throughout a visit two years earlier.
On the time, the three have been among the many 6,000 staff who opened the Magic Kingdom at Disney World to the general public for the primary time on Oct. 1, 1971. Now, they’re amongst two dozen from that first day nonetheless employed on the theme park resort because it celebrates its fiftieth anniversary on Friday.
Over these a long time, Disney World added three extra theme parks, two dozen further motels and grew to have a workforce of 77,000 staff because it helped Orlando change into essentially the most visited place within the U.S. earlier than the pandemic.
What by no means modified was the unique staff’ devotion to the pixie mud, the dream machine created by Walt Disney and his Imagineers.
“Disney has been my love, and it still is,” Anderson mentioned not too long ago earlier than beginning her shift in merchandising at a Magic Kingdom resort. “I love Disney.”
The staff who make up the 50-year membership say the theme park resort has allowed them to develop their careers and take a look at on new hats. Kalogridis labored his method as much as be president of Walt Disney World and Disneyland in California. Milam went from a warehouse employee to a purchaser of spare elements for rides and exhibits.
Forrest Bahruth joined the workforce at Disney World in January 1971 as a present director, chargeable for staging and choreographing parades and exhibits. He was additionally given the chance to assist open different Disney theme parks world wide over the previous 5 a long time.
“There are people all over the world who get up to go work. They’re unhappy about it. They don’t really like their jobs,” Bahruth mentioned. “As you can tell from us, there’s an enthusiasm. We are privileged to be at a place where we love what we do.”
There was no assure that Disney World was going to be a hit 50 years in the past. Walt Disney, the pioneering animator and entrepreneur whose identify graces the Florida resort, had died in 1966, only a yr after saying plans for “the East Coast Disneyland.” The corporate had quietly acquired 27,000 acres (11,000 hectares) of scrub land outdoors Orlando for round $5 million by way of secret land purchases utilizing faux names and shell firms.
The job of shepherding the venture to Opening Day fell to his brother, Roy Disney, who with different firm officers satisfied the Florida Legislature to create a quasi-governmental company that might enable Disney to self-govern when it got here to issues of infrastructure and planning. Roy died virtually three months after Disney World opened.
Simply weeks earlier than opening, building on the Magic Kingdom was managed chaos, and it appeared inconceivable that it might all come collectively in time.
“It was like an army of ants. Everything was under construction. Interiors were still being put in. Roofing was still being put on top,” Bahruth mentioned. “There was painting, landscaping. Things were arriving by the moment. It was like trucks going everywhere.”
Bahruth rehearsed performers by way of parade choreography down Foremost Road, which reduce by way of the middle of the Magic Kingdom and resembled a turn-of-the-century small city from Walt Disney’s childhood. Regardless that he was a busser, Kalogridis was drafted into laying down sod outdoors the resort he was working in, hours earlier than Disney World’s grand opening.
Two issues have caught within the reminiscences of the longtime staff from that opening day. The primary was the picture. It was a picture of hundreds of Disney World staff standing in entrance of the long-lasting Cinderella Fortress with Mickey Mouse and different costumed characters holding fingers in entrance. Two weeks later, it was featured on the quilt of Life journal.
“They brought all the characters up, staged them first, and then they tried to keep all the different workers together based on the color of their costumes,” Milam mentioned. “If you were from Fantasyland and in yellow, you would go over there.”
The second was the parade. It featured a 1,076-member marching band carried out by Meredith Willson, the composer of the Broadway present, “The Music Man.” There have been 4,000 Disney entertainers marching by way of the theme park, a mass choir and trumpeters from the US Military Band. A whole bunch of white doves have been launched into the air, and fewer environmentally pleasant, so have been hundreds of multi-colored balloons.
“It was the biggest thing I had ever seen,” Bahruth mentioned.
Solely round 10,000 guests confirmed up on that first day — which at right this moment’s a lot bigger Walt Disney World would signify about 90 minutes’ price of holiday makers getting into. It wouldn’t be till Thanksgiving 1971, virtually three months later, when Disney executives had a solution about whether or not their new resort could be a hit; that’s when automobiles attempting to get into the Magic Kingdom stretched for miles down the interstate.
“It was very clear after that first Thanksgiving, that the public definitely liked what we were doing,” Kalogridis mentioned. “That first Thanksgiving, that was the moment.”