As I look back over my 68 years on this earth, I think of three experiences that profoundly and forever changed my reality of entertainment.
The first was in 1964 when I was eight years old. We were visiting my Aunt Susie in Alexandria, Virginia and I came down sick. I remember the doctor coming over with his black bag and giving me a penicillin shot in the rump. As recompense for this trauma, I was allowed to lay on the living room couch and watch television on Aunt Susie’s new full-color television. Aunt Susie’s color television was a full console, exactly like the one in the old Carousel of Progress, with the big speakers built-in on either side of the screen.
When you’ve grown up on black and white, that’s all you know. But this… this was… this was… a brand new world. Color! They found a kid’s show — the story of Puff, the Magic Dragon. And it was in color! On NBC. “This program is brought to you in living color on NBC” it was announced to the breathtaking beauty of the NBC peacock.
From that night forward, television was never the same. No wonder Disney changed his television program to “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color,” opening with the kaleidoscope of color and fireworks. Suddenly, black and white television was obsolete. Television was forever changed.
Then in 1977, there was “Star Wars” on the (sold out) 70 mm giant screen with surround sound. Going to the movies had always been fun and entertaining, of course. But up to this point, it was something to watch. But this… this was… this was… a brand new world. This was unlike anything any of us had ever known. This was an EXPERIENCE! You could FEEL this story! It was utterly and completely immersive.
No mere “movie” had ever before done what “Star Wars” did. Like taking the red pill of “The Matrix”, your reality had a whole new and different framework. Going to the movies was forever changed.
My third paradigm-changing experience was sandwiched between the other two. In 1968, my parents drove down from Montana to the Bay Area on a work-related trip in San Jose. My brother and I were brought along. We drove from San Jose down the 101 freeway through the 1960s-level eye-burning smog of Los Angeles to a motel for the night on the edge of Orange County. For the next morning, we were going to Disneyland!
I’m not sure it is possible to fully convey the thrill of that morning because there really is no current equivalent for comparison. Today theme parks are commonplace all over the world. Back then, Disneyland stood alone. There was simply no experience in anyone’s lifetime to fully prepare you for the thrill of seeing the Matterhorn from the distance on the freeway (back before hotels and trees blocked the view).
“There it is!!!” All these years later, I can still feel the awe and wonder of that moment. “Excitement” doesn’t capture the feeling. This was…this truly was… a whole new world, unlike anything any of us had ever known. “Magic” is an overused word today, more associated with marketing hyperbole. But this… this was a magic kingdom. There was nothing — anywhere, anytime — to compare.
Of all the familiar visages of Disneyland — Main Street Station, the futuristic streaming Monorail, the iconic Cinderella Castle — for me, the most evocative is that simple engraved invitation that greeted me back those 55 years ago on that first experience entering Disneyland as it still does to park visitors today.
It was never, ever more true. And having left the today of that time, your world was never the same.