Posted by: Christine Donovan | May 6, 2009

Everything I’ve Learned about Excellence I Learned from Disney, Part 2

Working on the Matterhorn

(Photo: I spent my college years working part time on Disneyland attractions; those were some of the best years of my life.  That’s me facing the camera…  circa mid-1970s.)

I was fortunate during my tenure as a Disney copywriter, one of many roles I would hold during my years with the company, to have written a coffee table book sold at Disneyland entitled, “Disneyland: the First Quarter Century,” now a collector’s item.

 The book highlighted notable moments in Disneyland history, including visits from celebrities from Frank Sinatra to Richard Nixon. One memorable international incident occurred in the 50s, when then Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was not allowed to visit the theme park due to security concerns. Yes, it really became an international incident.

Peering through the looking glass of today’s themed “worlds”: theme parks, shopping malls, restaurants, casinos, resorts, etc, it’s hard to imagine what the world was like before and when Disneyland opened in July of 1955. Disney Imagineers coined the term “theme park” because Walt Disney was so adamant against anything reminiscent of the old amusement park image — usually dirty, sleazy, unsafe places.

Disneyland changed all that. And in fact, an article in Landscape Architecture circa 1956, hailed the concept of Disneyland as the “ultimate example of urban design for the future.”  By and large, much of the architectural theming and urban planning we see today was begun at Disneyland.

Before the Disney concept of “visual story,” the world was a visually conflicted place.  Buildings competed, signs fought for attention, sounds, smells, and other diverse, negative sensory elements of urban life didn’t provide a pleasant experience for most people. But at Disneyland, all of those elements were brought together in a symphony of the senses, conceived by the greatest theatrical and film “illusionists” on the planet.  The world took notice… and today we have Mall of America; themed hotels such as the Venetian, Circus Circus, Paris, Treasure Island, New York New York, Planet Hollywood, and Colmar Tropicale; themed restaurants like Jekyll & Hyde Club, Hard Rock; Rainforest Café and Johnny Rockets; and on and on.

So, Disney’s influence has made its mark upon us in ways in which we are probably unaware.

As I’ve thought about my experiences there, that place that I entered at such a young age and which has molded so much of my life view, I’ve become aware of what it taught me… about people, tenacity, creativity, and excellence.

In subsequent posts, I’ll share some of my insights and experiences over the decades with the Disney Company that certainly influenced my perceptions of “excellence.”

Until next time…

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