Walt Disney and the 1964 World’s Fair

I was a boy when the New York World’s Fair opened in 1964, and I will never forget it. Having never been to Disneyland, this was the next best thing, an elaborate exposition with foods and exhibits from foreign countries and, best of all, a handful of rides and programs created by Walt Disney! I visited it at least a dozen times during its two-year-run. This impressive four-CD set recaptures the magic of that experience.

Disc One is titled Progressland, and brings back memories of the General Electric pavilion and its centerpiece, Disney’s Carousel of Progress. Western star (and frequent Disney narrator) Rex Allen…

hosts the program, which features the Sherman Brothers’ enduringly optimistic theme “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.” You’ll hear early script readings, flubs, Walt Disney’s own introduction to the ride, a sideshow featuring a Toucan and Parrot (voiced by Paul Frees and Wally Boag) and the music that was recorded to keep people humming as they waited on line. A bonus disc features what the producers call an “alternate universe” version of the Carousel show, significantly different from the one so many of us recall so fondly. (I also remember revisiting the attraction at Walt Disney World in Orlando years later and being pleasantly surprised to hear radio veteran Jean Shepherd providing the voice of the narrator instead of Rex Allen.)

Disc Two features Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Again we get a chance to hear Walt Disney explain why he felt so strongly about this pioneering Audio-Animatronic exhibit, which was commissioned by the state of Illinois. Disney music veteran Buddy Baker provides medleys of traditional American songs of the 1800s as well as his own stirring score for the program. It’s fascinating to listen to actor Royal Dano’s recording session, during which another studio veteran, James Algar, coaches him in his reading of Abraham Lincoln’s words.

Disc Three is devoted to It’s a Small World, and if you think you’ve heard every possible variation on this infectious ditty, just wait till you go through this collection! Once more we’re treated to Walt Disney’s personal welcome, as well as the initial recording sessions that were mixed together to form the soundtrack for this Disney theme park perennial.

Disc Four, which concentrates on Ford Motor Company’s Magic Skyway, is notable because the journey through prehistoric time is narrated in its entirety by Walt. The pièce de resistance in the entire four-disc set is a collection of Walt’s false starts and breakdowns, which offer a rare glimpse of the Great Man at work—endearingly human and far from perfect, but by now a seasoned performer.

With an elaborate booklet, rare photos and illustrations, and all that wonderful material to absorb, this obvious labor of love is a treat for Disneyphiles everywhere, and a perfect way to rekindle warm memories—or provide some idea of what it was like to visit the Fair. The audio quality is astonishing, from start to finish: you’d swear you were in the room with the actors and musicians. Don’t let this go out of print; grab a copy now for your collection. (Walt Disney Records)

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July 2024