Amusement Parks, Disney, food, Pop Culture

Disney Eats McDonald’s. PART II

Disney and Ray Kroc Part II
Ray Kroc & Walt Disney.

Original publish date:  January 23, 2020

Last week, In part I of this article, I discussed the relationship between two titans of Pop Culture whose brand has flourished worldwide to unprecedented levels: Walt Disney and Ray Kroc of McDonald’s. It is amazing to think that both men served in the same ambulance company at the tail end of World War I. Even more amazing to think that authors Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos were products of that same ambulance service. The similarities between the four men end with the close of the Great War, but Disney and Kroc would remain linked for nearly a century.
While Walt Disney was flying around the country in one of his three private airplanes searching for Disney World, meeting with executives for the 1964 New York Worlds Fair, planning movies or sporting events aboard Mickey Mouse One, he’d sometimes get a little hungry. Whenever “Uncle Walt” got that Winnie the Pooh “rumbly in the tumbly” feeling, Disney would reportedly ask, usually from the co-pilot seat: “Where are we?” The pilot would invariably reply,”We’re over Tulsa, Walt.” Or Indianapolis. Or Cleveland. Or wherever. To which Disney would cryptically reply. “Do you think there’s one down there?”

FOOD HISTORY HISTORICAL FAST FOOD BURGER HAMBURGER RESTURANT CHAIN
Ray Kroc’s First McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois. 1955

On cue, the pilot would hand his boss a booklet listing the location of every single McDonald’s in the continental United States. If there was a McDonald’s down below in whatever city the Disney corporate plane was flying over, Walt would order the pilot to land. Once safely on the ground, Disney would call for a cab and the entire party would pile in and head out for the nearest McDonald’s to get a bite to eat. This is made all the more ironic when you consider that, as detailed in part I of this article, Ray Kroc’s pitch to place his first McDonald’s restaurant inside Walt Disney’s Disneyland was rejected in 1955. Whether Ray Kroc knew that his old war-buddy was hooked on his hamburgers is unknown, but I’d bet he’d have gotten a kick out of it were it so.

z mcds flyer
McDonald’s menu in the 1960s.

Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966. That same year, McDonald’s stock split for the very first time: 3 for 2. The year after Walt’s death, Disney stock split 2 to 1. Disney studios’ success continued that year with the groundbreaking of the Disney World theme park and addition of the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. The next few years continued the Disney shine with the Love Bug, debut of the Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion and grand opening of Disney World in Orlando. McDonald’s over that same period flourished with the introduction of the Big Mac, Quarter Pounder and television ad campaigns that boosted their brand like never before.
Fast forward to the early 1980s, McDonald’s was winning the fast food wars, having driven away most of the competition. Meanwhile, Walt Disney Productions was reeling from low theme park attendance and a string of box office flops (remember Popeye, Condorman and Return to Oz?). Suddenly Disney found itself under attack by corporate raiders like Ivan Boesky and Saul Steinberg and then nearly sold out to Coca-Cola in 1982. Disney was scrambling for someone who could come to the Magic Kingdom’s rescue. So who did Disney’s senior management approach? Uncle Walt’s old ambulance corps buddy, Ray Kroc and the McDonald’s Corporation.
z 27-Ray-Kroc-Quotes-On-Success-Wealth-AchievementBy this time, Ray Kroc was relegated to the sidelines serving in a largely ceremonial role as McDonald’s “senior chairman”. Kroc had given up day-to-day operations of McDonald’s in 1974. Ironically, the same year he bought the San Diego Padres baseball team. The Padres were scheduled to move to Washington, D.C., after the 1973 season. Legend claims that the idea to buy the team formulated in Kroc’s mind while he was reading a newspaper on his private jet. Kroc, a life-long baseball fan who was once foiled in an attempt to buy his hometown Chicago Cubs, turned to his wife Joan and said: “I think I want to buy the San Diego Padres.” Her response: “Why would you want to buy a monastery?” Five years later, frustrated with the team’s performance and league restrictions, Kroc turned the team over to his son-in-law, Ballard Smith. “There’s more future in hamburgers than baseball,” Kroc said. Ray Kroc died on January 14, 1984 and the San Diego Padres won the N.L. pennant that same year (They lost in the World Series to the Detroit Tiger 4 games to 1).
z kroc padresBy the 1980s, Disney was a corporation that seemed to be creatively exhausted. The entertainment giant was seriously out of touch with what consumers wanted to buy, what moviegoers wanted to see. McDonald’s had introduced their wildly popular “Happy Meal” nationwide in 1979. Disney saw an opportunity for revival by proposing the idea of adding Disney toys and merchandising to Happy Meals. In 1987, the first Disney Happy Meal debuted, offering toys and prizes from familiar characters like Cinderella, The Sword In The Stone, Mickey Mouse, Aladdin, Simba, Finding Nemo, Jungle Book, 101 Dalmatians, The Lion King and other classics. For a time, changing food habits, mismanagement and failure to recognize trends, placed the Disney corporation in an exposed position. Rumors circulated that the Mouse was on the brink of being swallowed up by Mickey D’s.
The relationship came to a head when McDonald’s suggested that Disney offer discounted VHS copies of classic Disney films in their restaurants. Also, as time passed, Disney wanted to emphasize healthier eating and they became concerned about McDonald’s being tied so closely to childhood obesity. The McDonald’s-Disney agreement officially expired on January 1, 2007. Over that time, as the Disney company grew into the corporate giant it is today, McDonald’s realized their mistake. For the next several years, McDonald’s tried to reestablish the relationship, with limited success.
For awhile, McDonald’s found a presence in the food and beverage locations at the Disney theme parks. One was the McDonald’s Fry Cart that opened in Magic Kingdom’s Frontierland in 1999. Since it IS Disney after all, the imagneers fitted the location with a back story. It went like this: “With the rush of prospectors passing through Frontierland in search of gold, lots of folks in town started looking for ways to cash in on all the excitement. Back in 1853, ol’ McDonald (who had a farm, ei-ei-o), a potato farmer, decided to set up his cook wagon on the hill under the big oak tree, just off the main trail.”

z mcwdw_gold2007ww
McDonald’s French Fry Cart at Disneyland.

The story continues, “Business was booming for a couple of good years, right up until the great flood of 1855. Legend has it that men disturbed the spirits of the mountain by removing gold from Big Thunder, causing all sorts of havoc from earthquakes and avalanches to storms and floods. In fact, the nearby river rose so much, the water reached right up to McDonald’s wagon on the hill. The wagon survived, but when the water receded, the wagon started to go with it. It slid down the hill, crashed through a fence (and sharp-eyed guests could see the poorly repaired fence near the cart), and got lodged in the mud down below. This didn’t stop ol’ man McDonald, though. He just laid down some planks so folks wouldn’t get their boots muddy, and he has kept right on selling his delicious French fried potatoes to this day.”
McDonald even came up with a catch phrase and posted it on the front of the wagon: “There’s gold in them thar fries!” There was also a sign placed nearby that pictured the familiar Golden Arches and proclaimed, “Same location since ’53.” The “53” was scratched out and painted over with a “55.” The McDonald’s Frontierland Fry Cart closed in late 2008. There were McDonald’s restaurants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom as well. The Boneyard, Restaurantosaurus and the “Petrifries” french fries stand which came with it’s own backstory as well. That backstory is not as interesting though as it involves a former fishing lodge where the first dinosaur fossil was found in 1947 by an unnamed amateur fossil hunter and it was hard to decipher. The Dino Institute featured a small lab, a clubhouse for student volunteers and a commissary to round out the McDonald’s connection. Although the McDonald’s french fries served there were popular with visitors, at least the few who could find it, the venue also closed.
z disney-mcdonalds-2018-03Additionally, there once was a McDonald’s at downtown Disney (before it became Disney Springs). At the Magic Kingdom, visitors could munch on french fries at the Village Fire Shoppe. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, McDonald’s sponsored Fairfax Fries at the Sunset Ranch March. Fairfax is a reference to the street where the famous Los Angeles Farmers Market (the inspiration for the Sunset Ranch Market) is located. At Epcot, on the World Showcase promenade, is the Refreshment Port where sometimes international cast members from Canada would bring Canadian Smarties (similar to M&Ms) for the food and beverage location to make a Smarties McFlurry. The exclusive contract with Disney did not allow McDonald’s to tie in with blockbuster movies such as the Star Wars franchise even though movie studios would have preferred the tie in since McDonald’s had a higher profile and market share.
There are many Disney fans and park visitors who have fond memories of eating McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets or an Egg McMuffin during a fun day at a Disney theme park. After all, could it get any better than to receive a Disney prize in your Disney Happy Meal while on Disney property? Today, the only McDonald’s presence on Disney property is the restaurant at Disney’s All-Star sport complex hotel. Although it was briefly closed on Halloween of 2019 for renovation, it is scheduled to reopen in March of 2020. However, it is unlikely that we’ll ever see another “Hotdog-osaurus” or a “Dino-Sized Double Cheeseburger” any time soon.

DSC05673.JPG
McDonald’s at Disney’s All-Star Sports Complex.

While Disney netted more than $100 million dollars during the partnership, McDonald’s netted more than $1 billion dollars even while promoting Disney’s box office bombs. It was not unusual for a McDonald’s promotion for a film to exceed Disney’s budget for advertising the very same film. Disney got the royalties and increased advertising exposure and McDonald’s sold the food. Seems like a match made in heaven. Yeah, well, Burt Reynolds & Lonnie Anderson / Brad Pitt & Jennifer Aniston / Lee Majors & Farrah Fawcett didn’t work out either.
Both Disneyland and McDonald’s have become worldwide icons of America. Walt Disney and Ray Kroc are ranked # 9 and 10 on Baylor Univeristy’s list of Greatest American Entrepreneurs and/or Businesspeople behind Henry Ford (1), Bill Gates (2), John D. Rockefeller (3), Andrew Carnegie (4), Thomas Edison (5), Sam Walton (6), J.P. Morgan (7), G.M.’s Alfred Sloan (8). McDonald’s now operates more than 35,000 restaurants in 118 countries, serving 68 million people every day. A new branch opens every 14.5 hours, more than 75 hamburgers are sold every second and 68 million people eat something from McDonald’s each day-that’s 1% of the world’s population. McDonald’s’ estimates that one in eight American workers has been employed by the company at one stage of their careers. McDonald’s is the world’s largest distributor of toys, with the Happy Meal included in 20% of all sales.
Conversely, there are 12 Disney theme parks worldwide, welcoming 157 million visitors annually and serving a half-million guests every day. Disney has 201,000 employees, 100,000 of whom work at the two resorts in the USA. Every year, Disney World alone serves 10 million hamburgers, 6 million hot dogs, 9 million pounds of French fries, 300,000 pounds of popcorn, and 1.6 million turkey drumsticks along with 13 million bottles of water and 75 million Coca-Colas to wash them down. According to one study, Walt Disney’s logo is the fifth most recognizable logo in the world behind Starbucks (4), McDonald’s (3), Coca-Cola (2) and Nike (1).
z disney awardsDuring his lifetime, Walt Disney received 59 Academy Award nominations, including 22 awards: both totals are records. Walt Disney’s net worth was equal to roughly $1 billion at the time of his death in 1966 (after adjusting for inflation). At the time of his death, Disney’s various assets were worth $100-$150 million in 1966 dollars which is the same as $750 million-$1.1 billion today. By the time of Kroc’s death in 1984, his net worth was $600 million. That’s the same as $1.4 billion after adjusting for inflation. One can only imagine how the pop culture landscape might have changed back in 1955 if those two former ambulance corps buddies had formed a partnership. But wait, would that make it Mickey D’s Mouse?

Amusement Parks, Disney, food, Pop Culture, Travel

Disney Eats McDonald’s. PART I

Disney and Ray Kroc Part I
Ray Kroc & Walt Disney-World War I Ambulance Corps.

Original publish date:  January 16, 2020

There has been a lot of hubbub going around lately about the latest Star Wars movie “The Rise of Skywalker” from Walt Disney studios and the new Star Wars themed lands in Disneyland and Disneyworld’s Hollywood Studios known as “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.” Disney purchased Star Wars parent company, Lucasfilms, for $4.05 billion in cash and stock on Oct. 30, 2012 and recouped their investment in just a few short years. The four Disney Star Wars movies alone grossed more than $4.8 billion at the box office. That figure doesn’t even count any monies generated by the franchise in merchandising or at the theme parks, which opened in 2019.
What would you think if I were to tell you that the Disney / Star Wars merger was not the first “big idea” to land on the house of the mouse doorstep? There was another big idea that was nearly floated out of Anaheim over fifty years ago. And this one came from “Uncle Walt” himself. Well, to paraphrase Winnie the Pooh, Walt Disney’s rumbly tummy anyway. Believe it or not, there was a time when Disneyland and McDonald’s nearly partnered up.

z star_wars_weekend
Disney Star Wars.

This was not a proposal made by a couple of opportunistic bandwagon jumpers, there was history behind this love affair. Walt Disney and Ray Kroc first met in a Connecticut Army camp in 1918 while both were teenaged dreamers known only to their families. Both men were born near Chicago, Illinois less than a year apart. Walter Elias Disney in Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood on December 5, 1901 and Ray Albert Kroc in Oak Park, Illinois, on October 5, 1902.
In mid-1918, Walt Disney dropped out of high school at 16 and attempted to join the United States Army to fight against the Huns, but he was rejected because he was too young. Undeterred, Disney forged the date on his birth certificate and joined the Red Cross in September 1918 as an ambulance driver. Ironically, Walt began his ambulance corps training at a burned down amusement park near the University of Chicago where he was taught by mechanics from the Yellow Cab Company how to repair motors and drive cars over rough terrain.
Likewise, Ray Kroc dropped out of school, lied about his age and joined the Red Cross as an ambulance driver at the age of 15. Disney was shipped to France, arriving in November, after the armistice. The only action Disney participated in was drawing cartoons on the side of ambulances. As for Kroc, the war ended shortly after he enlisted. In his 1977 autobiography “Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s”, Ray Kroc said this about his old war buddy, “In my company, which assembled in Connecticut for training, was another fellow who had lied about his age to get in. He was regarded as a strange duck, because whenever we had time off and went out on the town to chase girls, he stayed in camp drawing pictures. His name was Walt Disney.”

Z kroc
Ray Kroc: Soldier.

While training to be a driver in Ambulance Company A, Disney and Kroc became friends. Ironically, at the same time, a couple of young idealistic writers, also from Chicago, were serving in the ambulance corps; Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos. These four men shared not only an occupation but a desire to revolutionize American writing, entertainment and pop culture. However, this article ain’t that deep and talking about Hemingway and Dos Passos is above my pay grade. This article is about pop culture at it’s finest.
After Ray and Walt returned to the US, independently, they both headed out to Southern California seeking fame and fortune. Disney as an animator, even though the cartoon industry was headquartered in New York City, and Kroc as a businessman, even though California was still a relative unknown in the business world. Disney struggled for a time but finally caught on in 1928 with a cartoon about a mouse called “Steamboat Willie”—the first cartoon with synchronized sound. For Kroc, it would take a little bit longer for his ship to come in: 26 years to be specific.

Z disney
Walt Disney: Soldier.

Disney’s story is well known, but Kroc’s story might be worth a revisit. Kroc was working as a traveling salesman for the Mixmaster Corporation when he met two brothers who were tearing it up in San Bernardino. Richard and Maurice “Mac” McDonald, who curiously shared the same middle name (James), developed a restaurant using what they called the “Speedee Service System.” The new restaurant proved a rousing success, especially with teenagers, and the brothers were soon making $40,000 a year, big money back then.

z mcdonald-brothers
The McDonald’s Brothers.

By 1953, the brothers had set their sights on franchising with a goal of making $1 million before they turned 50. Their first step was to buy eight shiny new milkshakes machines. Curious why one business would need eight machines, Ray visited the McDonalds’, took one glance at the brothers’ method of cooking hamburgers “assembly-line-style” to get the food out to the customers more quickly and he immediately saw dollar signs. In 1954, the McDonald brothers partnered with Ray Kroc. Around this same time (April 1954) Walt Disney unveiled his plans for a bold new concept in family fun parks he planned to call Disneyland.

z mickey walt
Walt Disney & Mickey Mouse-Opening Day at Disneyland July 17, 1955.

As soon as Ray Kroc heard the news about this new mega-fun park, he knew that hungry teenagers would flock to it by the carload. Kroc knew that he’d finally found the perfect place to build his first McDonald’s franchise. In late 1954, Ray sent a letter to his old ambulance corps buddy, it read, in part, “Dear Walt…I look over the Company A picture we had taken in Sound Beach, Conn. many times and recall a lot of pleasant memories.” Then Kroc cut to the chase, “I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disneyland Development.”
Walt responded cordially to the former Red Cross ambulance driver’s note by saying that he would be handing the proposal over to the Disneyland executive in charge of concessions. Walt explained that he was “currently confining his activities to the creative side” while the Disney Company “raced to complete the theme park on time.” The Disney Archives has a copy of Kroc’s letter and Walt’s response. Kroc claimed he never received a response from the vice president in charge of concessions.
z AuntJemimasPancakeHouse2From there, well, nobody knows. For the answer, you need look no further than the fact that there are no McDonald’s at Disney. It should be noted that there were SOME franchise restaurants in Disneyland during those first first years. They included the Aunt Jemima pancake and waffle house in Frontierland and the Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship in Fantasyland.
z chickenoftheseaTo his dying day, Ray Kroc insisted that the reason the “world’s first McDonald’s” was not featured inside Disneyland at the park’s July 17, 1955 grand opening was because the head of concessions had tried to force Ray to raise the price of his french fries by a nickle (from 10 cents to 15 cents) for the Disneyland crowd. Kroc, the man in charge of McDonald’s franchising, believed that he was being charged a franchise fee by virtue of Walt Disney Productions tacking on a concessionaire’s fee. Kroc, the consummate businessman, said he wasn’t about to give away 1/3 of his profits while gouging his customers. Great story, but by the time Disneyland debuted, Kroc had only opened one McDonald’s franchise (in Des Plaines, Illinois on April 15, 1955). So he had no loyal customers to offend…yet. Well, no customers within 2,000 miles anyway.
z McD des plainesIt is more likely to say that while the executives in charge of Disneyland’s concessions were undoubtedly intrigued by Ray’s “fast food” proposal, “war buddy” or not, Kroc just didn’t have enough experience in the restaurant business to take that gamble. So, despite how Kroc spun the tale to reporters from the 1950s forward, while there was some discussion of putting a McDonald’s inside the theme park, the project never really made it past the talking stage. But Ray Kroc would never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.
Ray Kroc eventually bought the brothers out in 1961, a year after Walt Disney received TWO stars on the Hollywood walk of fame: one for movies, the other for television. All business partnership questions aside, the parallels between the two men continued. Both men were vehement conservative Republicans. Disney famously wore a Barry Goldwater for President pin to the White House in 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the Presidential medal of Freedom to the animator. Kroc donated $255,000 to Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign in 1972, and was accused by some, including N.J. Senator Harrison Williams, of trying to influence Nixon to veto a minimum wage bill making its way through Congress (which was a $ 1.60 per hour by the way).
Both men were brilliant businessmen. Both were always looking to the future. Both would be categorized as “control freaks” today. And both men were among the first to market their product specifically to children. But there was one major difference. While Kroc had a legendary temper and was famous for holding a grudge, Disney retained a childlike innocence and truly enjoyed people. While it is true that the Golden Arches never made it onto Main Street USA, they still found a place in Walt Disney’s heart. Or maybe it is more accurate to say, his stomach.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Walt Disney , the ultimate imagineer, was one of the first businessmen in America to utilize a personal airplane for business and travel. Actually, he had three. Although Walt never got a pilot’s license, he frequently sat in the co-pilot’s seat. Lillian Disney disapproved strongly of her husband’s desire to fly. Once, after Walt announced from the cockpit: “This is your captain speaking”, Lillian jumped from her seat and stormed towards the cabin. Walt quickly backed off by saying: “No, not the captain. This is the commander in chief of the whole damned outfit!”
Walt’s first plane was an eight­ passenger Beechcraft Queen Air Model 80, which Walt bought in February of 1963 and used until 1965. The twin engine turboprop, nicknamed “The Queen” by Disney, had a top speed of 247 mph, a list price of $135,000 and a large circular logo of the “Mickey Mouse Club” near the nose. Legend states that it was this plane that Walt used to fly over central Florida to pick the spot for his Disney World complex nine months after purchase.

z N732G Side View Large
Walt’s Grumman Gulfstream G-159 Tail Number N732G.

In March of 1964, the small cabin of the Queen Air necessitated an upgrade to a used Grumman Gulfstream G-159 one, tail number N732G. This new tan and brown plane was a significant upgrade with a cruising speed of 350 mph at 30,000 feet. It was a smooth ride to the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, while Walt was busy working on his “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” and “It’s a Small World” projects. At one time it was the most highly utilized Gulfstream I in the country.
In July of 1965, Walt purchased a Beechcraft King Air Model 90, which he used from 1965­ to 1967. The Beechcraft could carry 10 passengers, including a flight crew of two. It was powered by a pair of Pratt and Whitney PT-6 Turboprop engines, capable of cruising at 270 mph at 23,000 feet. Fully equipped, its list price was $320,000. Perhaps most importantly, this new plane carried the tail number N234MM. The King Air was fast and quiet, but the Gulfstream could get in and out of smaller airports much easier. So by 1967, the Gulfstream eventually ended up with the N234MM tail number and the forever designation as “Walt’s Plane”.

z N234MM Queen Air 1
Walt’s Beechcraft King Air Model 90-Tail number N234MM.

Disney pilots originally used “two-three-four-Metro-Metro” as their radio call sign but it soon morphed into “two-three-four-Mickey-Mouse” which was not a standard ICAO Aircraft call. Soon the FAA enroute controllers were also calling it “Mickey Mouse.” According to friends, Walt took delight in every aspect of flying. He loaded the luggage, served the drinks and supervised the galley. Even those with a passing knowledge of McDonald’s Ray Kroc’s personality realize it would find it hard to imagine the Golden Arches CEO doing any of that. z Gulfstream_WDA_BA_Altimeter
Walt’s “problem” was that he always liked to fly as low as possible, to study the landscape. Perhaps by decree of Lillian (or the insurance company) Walt ended up with his own personal seat in the back equipped with an altimeter and air speed indicator on the wall and a telephone direct to the pilot. During the 1960s, as Walt Disney was flying around the country overseeing World’s Fair attractions, selecting movie sets, participating in lawn bowling events (yes, he was a world class lawn-bowler) and planning more self-titled mega-theme parks, he would often land his plane to search for… a McDonald’s hamburger.

NEXT WEEK: Part II of Disney East McDonald’s

Creepy history, Ghosts, Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours, Pop Culture

The first Irvington Halloween Festival and the law.

25158488_10214115229728550_4515650915357792869_n
Original 1946 Irvington Halloween Festival Ticket.

Original publish date:  October 16 2011

Next week, once again, Irvington will celebrate “All Hallows Eve” better than anyplace else in the Hoosier state by hosting the 65th annual Halloween Festival. Trick-or-treating, window painting, house decorating, and a costume parade down the middle of Washington Street are all cherished traditions eagerly anticipated by the participants involved. But what about that first Halloween festival back in 1946? What was that like? And most importantly, were Irvingtonians breaking the law by hosting it?
Disney Trick or treatWe’ve all heard the stories, legends and rumors surrounding that now legendary first event. It was sponsored by the Walt Disney company featuring costumed characters with a Disney based theme. The Disney folks gave away potentially priceless hand painted film production cels right here on the streets of old Irvington town. Walt Disney himself was seen walking down Audubon with Mickey Mouse at his side. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction nowadays.
However, a good place to start would be the history books. What was going on in the world back in October of 1946? Mensa was founded in Great Britain and the United Nations held its first meeting on Long Island. World War II ended a year before, yet the Nuremberg War trials concluded with the execution of ten German war criminals just two weeks before the festival. Among the adolescent ghosts and goblins wandering the streets of Irvington 65 years ago was a spectral leftover from the second world war looming menacingly over the costumed treat seekers. The specter of Sugar rationing. Really? Sugar rationing on Halloween?
When the empire of Japan conquered the Philippine Islands in the early months of 1942 the United States lost a major source of it’s national sugar imports. Sugar shipments from Hawaii had already been curtailed by fifty percent when cargo vessels typically used for transporting sugar from the islands to the mainland were diverted for use by the military. Seemingly overnight, U.S. sugar supply fell by more than one-third. To ensure adequate supplies for manufacturers, the military, and civilians, sugar became the first food item to be rationed during the war. Manufacturers’ supplies were reduced to 80 percent of pre-war levels and that percentage was further reduced over time.
On April 27, 1942, Irvington families registered for ration books at the local elementary schools. One book was issued for each family member. To prove they were serious about wartime rationing, the US Government required that these books were to be surrendered upon death of the recipient. In a drastic move that harkens back to FDR’s closure of the banks and financial institutions during the Great Depression, the sale of sugar was halted for one week to prepare for the program. During that sugarless week, to discourage hoarding, each family was required to report how much sugar they had on hand and a corresponding number of stamps were removed from the ration book.
z WWII OPA Rationing BookletA week later on May 5, 1942, every United States citizen received their much anticipated “War Ration Book Number One”, good for a 56-week supply of sugar. Initially, each stamp was good for one pound of sugar and could be redeemed over a specified two-week period. Later on, as other items such as coffee and shoes were rationed, each stamp became good for two pounds of sugar over a four-week period. The ration book bore the recipient’s name and could only be used by household members. Stamps had to be torn off in the presence of the grocer. If the book was lost, stolen, or destroyed, an application had to be submitted to the Ration Board for a new copy. If the ration book holder entered the hospital for greater than a 10-day stay, the ration book had to be brought along with them. Talk about your red tape!

z dd566a67bf9310d62c9f6f998082922a
World War II War Sugar Ration Stamp.

Housewives learned to be creative, using saccharine, corn syrup, and even packets of Jell-O as sugar substitutes. Sugar beets became a staple of nearly every American dinner table. Women’s magazines featured recipes with reduced sugar or creative ingredient substitutes. “Victory Gardens” sprung up all over the cities and home canning was strongly encouraged during the war. However, canning requires sugar and to provide for this patriotic need, each person could apply for a one time only 25-pound allotment of lower grade canning sugar each year. Each local war ration board determined the quantity and season of availability based on the local harvest. A special canning sugar stamp was issued and included in the ration book. This special “spare canning sugar stamp 37” had to be attached to the government application. Problem was, that they looked exactly like the household sugar stamp and confusion reigned as many people mistakenly used the regular sugar stamp 37 in it’s place, invalidating it for normal household purchases. Did I mention the red tape?
z photo-1127-2013-conserve-sugar-posterTo make matters worse, just because you had a sugar stamp didn’t mean sugar was available for purchase. Shortages occurred often throughout the war, and in early 1945 sugar became nearly impossible to find in any quantity. As Europe was liberated from the grip of Nazi Germany, the United States took on the main responsibility for providing food to those war ravaged countries. On May 1, 1945, the sugar ration for American families was slashed to 15 pounds per year for household use and 15 pounds per year for canning – roughly eight ounces per week per household. Sugar supplies remained scarce and, just as sugar had the distinction of being the first product rationed at the start of the war, sugar was the last product to be rationed after the war. Sugar rationing continued until June of 1947, over six months after the first Irvington Halloween festival in October of 1946.
So, knowing this, can it be said that every sugary sweet handed out to euphoric trick-or-treaters in Irvington during that first festival was a violation of Federal law? Technically yes, but in reality, it might best be compared to ripping the tag off of your mattress today. Never fear, Irvington is not Australia and you are not descended from a colony of law breakers and felons. By the time of that first Irvington Halloween Festival, war time rationing was on the wane and most Americans were eager to celebrate after a long, hard fought war, too enraptured with the outcome, and their personal survival, to care much about wartime shortages. As evidence, one need look no further than the baby boomer generation, a direct bi-product of that euphoria.
z Halloween Festival (2)An argument can be made that it was events like the First Irvington Halloween Festival that kicked off the tradition of trick-or-treating as we know it today. Although the Halloween holiday was certainly well known in America before that first Irvington celebration, it was predominantly a holiday for adult costume parties and a chance to cut loose with friends playing party games while consuming hard cider. Early national attention to trick-or-treating in popular culture really began a year later in October of 1947. That’s when the custom of passing out the playful “candy bribes” began to appear in issues of children’s magazines like Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities, and in Halloween episodes of network radio programs like The Baby Snooks Show, The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Trick-or-treating was first depicted in a Peanuts comic strip in 1951, perhaps the image most identified with the children’s holiday in the hearts and minds of baby boomers today. The custom had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney debuted his Donald Duck movie “Trick or Treat”, and again when Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their popular television show. In 1953, less than a decade after that first festival in Irvington, the tradition of Halloween as a children’s holiday was fully accepted when UNICEF conducted it’s first national children’s charity fund raising campaign centered around trick-or-treaters.
z s-l640Most of this column’s readers are aware that part of my passion for history revolves around collecting, cataloging, displaying and observing antiques and collectibles. There exists in the collecting world a strong group of enthusiasts devoted to the pursuit and preservation of Halloween memorabilia of all types. Costumes, decorations, photographs, publications and postcards in particular. The origins of Halloween as we now know it might best be traced in the postcards issued to celebrate the tradition. The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show costumed children, but do not depict trick-or-treating. It is believed that the pranks associated with early Halloween were perpetrated by unattended children left to their own devices while their parents caroused and partied without them. Some have characterized Halloween trick-or-treating as an adult invention to curtail vandalism previously associated with the holiday. Halloween was not widely accepted and many adults, as reported in newspapers from the 1930s and 1940s, typically saw it as a form of extortion, with reactions ranging from bemused indulgence to anger. Sometimes, even the children protested. As late as Halloween of 1948, members of the Madison Square Boys Club in New York City carried a parade banner that read “American Boys Don’t Beg.” Times have certainly changed since that first Halloween festival 65 years ago.
z 58bdce96102ac.imageA 2005 study by the National Confectioners Association reported that 80 percent of American households gave out candy to trick-or-treaters, and that 93 percent of children, teenagers, and young adults planned to either venture out trick-or-treating or to participate in other Halloween associated activities. In 2008, Halloween candy, costumes and other related products accounted for $5.77 billion in revenue. An estimated $2 billion worth of candy will be passed out during this Halloween season and one study claims that “an average Jack-O-Lantern bucket carries about 250 pieces of candy amounting to about 9,000 calories and containing three pounds of sugar.” Yes, 65-years ago, Halloween looked quite different than it does today. Next week, doorbells all over Irvington will ring, doors will be opened and wide-eyed gaggles of eager children will unanimously cry out “Trick-or-Treat” from Oak Avenue to Pleasant Run Parkway.
z halloween festivalCostumed kids will be rewarded for their efforts with all sorts of tribute in the form of coins, nuts, popcorn balls, fruit, cookies, cakes, and toys. As a casual observer born long after that first Irvington Halloween Festival and an active participant in the festivities that will begin next week, I’m glad that our Irvington forefathers skirted government regulations all those years ago. In fact, as a fan of all things Irvington, I’d go so far as to say that this community has played a big part in the Halloween holiday as we know it today. Because, grammar notwithstanding, nobody does Halloween like Irvington do.

 

Disney, Politics

Walt Disney Meets LBJ.

WaltAndLBJOriginal publish date:                October 29, 2014

Mid-term elections are over, so I figure it is once again safe to write about politics. Well, sort of anyway. One of my favorite political stories involves a pair of baby-boomer heroes on the eve of the seminal 1964 Presidential election. On September 14, 1964, Walt Disney received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, from Lyndon B. Johnson. The award recognizes those individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”
There can be little doubt that Walt Disney deserved the honor, but controversy revolves around what Mr. Disney was wearing when he received the medal from President Johnson that day. Controversy from the man who brought us the happiest place on earth. What could that possibly be? Well, when Walt met Lyndon, he was wearing a Barry Goldwater for President button on his lapel. The lapel opposite the one that LBJ would pin the distinguished medal to.
The White House announced on July 3, 1964, that Walt would be a recipient of the Medal of Freedom. It was during the Goldwater campaign, and Walt Disney and his entire family were all united in their enthusiastic support of the Conservative Arizona Senator. Walt felt that it was all a ploy to surround the incumbent Democrat LBJ with people judged to be outstanding Americans for a powerful photo op during the campaign. The invitation came at a time when Walt Disney had bigger things on his mind: the New York World’s fair opening, the first death at Disneyland (Mark Maples on the Matterhorn) and the United States Lawn Bowling Championships. Wait, what? Lawn Bowling?
Betcha didn’t know that Walt Disney was one mean lawn bowler did ya? The White House ceremony was scheduled the Monday after the U.S. Lawn Bowling Championships at Buck Hill Falls, in the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania near Scranton. The White House ceremony came at the end of a cross country journey Walt had arranged to take his Beverly Hills lawn bowling team back east to play in a few tournaments. Disney was passionate about lawn bowling at this time in his life. Walt bowled in the championships at Buck Hill Falls surrounded by, and competing against, just plain folk less than a week before he would meet the President of the United States.
At some point during his bowling sojourn, Walt decided he wanted to wear a Goldwater button to the White House. He asked an aid to get him a Goldwater pin. They got him two; a large 3″ pin with the slogan “Go-Go Goldwater” and a small tie-tac sized metallic gold metal lapel pin that combined the letter “G” and the numerals “64” as shorthand for “Goldwater in ’64”. Walt wore the big button on the plane going to Washington and joked to friends that he was going to wear it to the White House, although no-one really thought that he would.
Here’s where the story gets a little confusing. Some say that Walt wore the small “G ’64” pin in full view on the front of his lapel while others say he wore it pinned upside down under his lapel. Some of Walt’s friends say that he left the larger pin in his pocket while still others claim that he wore it pinned under his lapel. The very lapel that LBJ would pin the medal onto.
When Walt went to the podium to receive the medal from the President, he in some way tried to let Johnson know that he was wearing the Goldwater button. One account has LBJ discovering the pin while pinning the medal on. At the point of feeling the obstruction under the lapel, Walt flipped the lapel up to show the President the pin. Another states that LBJ saw the smaller tie-tac pin while initially pinning the medal onto the opposite lapel. Still another account claims that while Walt was on the podium and at a point when he and the President were face to face, Walt flipped up his lapel to reveal the pin.
For decades, this episode was viewed as an urban legend. It’s only recently that accounts from eye witnesses have surfaced confirming the incident. Although the exact details may remain fuzzy, the event itself has not been denied. Some members of the Johnson administration came forward to admit that LBJ “was not very happy about it…but I don’t think anything was said between them” and that “Johnson did not take Walt’s political commentary with good grace at all.”
One account of the incident comes from Emile Kuri, a longtime set decorator for the Disney live-action films. Kuri was a regular travel companion of Walt’s in the 1960s. Kuri recalls: “Walt didn’t like Johnson at all and he was wearing a Goldwater button. I was wearing the same button. But before I entered the White House, I took the button off. Walt didn’t. When he went into the White House, the aides to Johnson said, “Mr. Disney, please take that off.” He said, “Why should I? I’m voting for him.” You know he had the courage to do that. I didn’t. I had to take my button off. That man had such tremendous courage.”
2013GoldwaterLine-1x10Back in Los Angeles, Walt told his daughter that he had worn the small button openly and that he had worn the larger “Go Go Goldwater” button on the underside of his lapel. He explained this double placement as “So if anyone said anything about it [the small button], I’d flash this [the larger button]… as if to say, ‘which one do you prefer I wear?’ Wearing an opponent’s button visible to LBJ would seem to have been a slap in the President’s face, a rude gesture difficult to reconcile with the Walt Disney legend.

Walter Elias Disney, was born in Chicago and grew up in Missouri. He was a very devout Congregationalist Christian, the religion of his family, and was named after the family minister. Walt’s political leanings are well-known to be conservative, anti-union, and vehemently anti-communist. Disney was a close ally of “Red Scare” zealot Joe McCarthy. Walt even testified against some of his Hollywood peers in McCarthy’s infamous House Un-American Activities Committee hearings. But was Walt Disney a boorish, ungrateful guest in the People’s House receiving an award so prestigious that- like the comparable Congressional Medal of Honor- it must be bestowed by an act of U.S. Congress?
Whatever the exact nature of Walt’s gesture, it was not defiant or insulting. It was more of an expression of Walt’s Midwestern sense of humor. If Walt said anything to LBJ about the incident, it would have surely been in jest. LBJ was well aware of Disney’s support for Goldwater before he bestowed the honor upon him. The subject of Walt’s support for Goldwater came up in one of LBJ’s recorded telephone conversations on September 6, 1964, eight days before the Medal of Freedom ceremony.
Disney was by nature an enthusiast, and in 1964, politics had become one of his enthusiasms. He had gotten to know General Dwight Eisenhower on social occasions at Palm Springs, and in July 1964, just a few days after the Medal of Freedom announcement, he visited the GOP national convention in San Francisco and was photographed there with Ike and his son, John. By wearing a Goldwater button, Walt may have been sticking up for his friends. Probably a mix of motives was at work: loyalty to fellow Republicans, sharp political differences with Johnson, and, perhaps most importantly, a once in a lifetime opportunity to pull the ultimate prank.
Years later, Walt’s daughter Diane said, “It was in bad taste not to remove it when he was received by the President. Dad did not respect Johnson, but did have great respect for the office he held. I was uneasy about what he said he’d done, but I did not let on. Rather, I probably said, ‘Good for you!’ or something like that. Alas, your animated man was not a perfect man. But he was not a coarse man. He did like to do the little unexpected ‘cute’ things like the bride and groom he designed for our wedding cake [the bride figure, representing Diane, was dressed in Levi’s, and the groom figure, representing Ron Miller, was dressed in Bermuda shorts and bare feet—and a football helmet]. He was the consummate gag man.”
WaltAndJohnson0001

Whether you believe Walt Disney was making a political statement or just pulling a gag, this little known episode from the real life of a man whose name, like Ford, Hershey or Firestone, has become an iconic American brand, must surely make you smile.