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My parents' role in promoting Disneyland

by William McGaughey, Jr.


How American Motors sponsored the Disneyland TV show:

A committee was established at American Motors to determine the next year’s advertising budget. Dad was the chairman. Representatives from the various divisions of AMC plus the advertising agency were on the committee. Dad, as George Romney’s assistant, was the chair. There was no particular consensus reached at this meeting. Some wanted to sponsor shows like the $64,000 Question or others popular at the time.

Mother had seen a list of the proposed shows. Disneyland, down on the list of about 20 shows, excited her. Dad agreed with her enthusiasm for this show. So, without further meetings of the committee, Dad simply recommended that AMC sponsor Disneyland. George Mason, AMC’s chairman, agreed with this decision, partly because Walt Disney had produced a nature film about fishing. Mason was an ardent conservationist, active in Ducks Unlimited. Mason agreed to be on Disneyland’s first show. However, Mason died a few weeks before this show aired. George Romney, AMC’s new chairman, stepped in. Romney’s spot on Disneyland was his first national exposure.

Most TV critics gave Disneyland good marks. However, the Detroit critic panned it. After this man’s article appeared, the sales manager for the Hudson division - a man named Vanderzee - came into Dad’s office and chewed him out for committing the company to a loser. Disneyland went on to become TV’s sensation of the year. Kids loved it. Davy Crockett starring Fess Parker was a national craze. The McGaughey children were photographed with Parker wearing his coon-skin cap.


William McGaughey with Roy Disney (left) and Walt Disney (right). Photo was taken on July 12, 1954.

Joe Reddy of Walt Disney Productions wrote the following about this photo:

Gathering for a three day parley with Walt Disney and ABC officials, 20 top executives representing sponsors and their agencies of Disney’s forthcoming “Disneyland” series for ABC arrives from throughout the country at the Disney Studios in Burbank (Calif). Purpose of the successful conclave was to set a format for commercial presentations on the television series, finalize participation projects in the $9,000,000 “Disneyland) Orange County (Calif) amusement center toward its opening next year, and draw up an overall promotional program covering both operations. “Disneyland” TV is sponsored by American Motors Corp. (Nash Motors - Kelvinator - Hudson Motor Car Co.), American Dairy Association and Derby Foods, Inc.

Roy O Disney, president of Walt Disney Productions, William H McGaughey, assistant to the executive vice president, Nash-Kelvinator Corp, a “Disneyland” TV co-sponsor, and Walt Disney chat during a reception for the officials at the studio.

George Romney, Joanna McGaughey, and William McGaughey (left to right) enjoying the moment when the Disneyland series began in 1955. George Romney, formerly AMC executive vice-president, was then chairman of American Motors. A pitchman for American Motors' Rambler automobile in Disneyland television commercials, Romney later became Governor of Michigan and a presidential candidate.


The opening of Disneyland:

Walt Disney Co. was short of money needed to open Disneyland theme park. It invited sponsors of the TV show to invest in this new project. Disney engineers had been working with experimental film techniques. They developed a technique of using fourteen cameras to shoot 360 degrees of scenery. Disney proposed that AMC sponsor an exhibit at Disneyland using this technique. AMC agreed. The exhibit was called “Circarama”. It showed an AMC car traveling through the desert to Las Vegas and other interesting places. Visitors standing in a circular room could look out the “windows” on all sides viewing the scenery in motion.

There was a special one-hour show on American Broadcasting system on the Sunday before the Disneyland Park opened. The show included testimonials from celebrities who were visiting the Park. Two of the celebrities were Marjorie Main, Dad’s cousin, and Art Linkletter, whom Dad had known since Linkletter did his popular radio broadcast from Detroit during the 1946 Automotive Golden Jubilee. (Dad was publicity chairman for that event.) A roving reporter would interview the celebrity in this fashion: Q: What do you think of this place? A: It think it’s great - TERRIFIC!

Mother and Dad were invited to attend the preview of the Park’s opening along with other specially invited guests. Disney provided the transportation. Mother and Dad first went to Cincinnati where there were joined by four other people including a representative of Gibson greeting cards. From there they flew by private plane to Los Angeles. George Romney later joined them there.

There was an artificial river in Disneyland down which visitors could travel by boat. At the Disneyland preview, Mother and Dad were invited to join Roy Disney, business head of the Walt Disney Co., and other including Robert Kintner and Goldenson, head of ABS. Mother and Dad sat on both sides of Roy Disney during the boat ride. They remember Goldenson trying to elbow one or the other aside so that he could sit next to Roy Disney.

Disney provided free liquor for all invited guests. Dad’s driver, who worked in the sales department at Hudson, had a bit too much to drink and was obviously in no shape to drive on the return trip. So, Dad drove back through unfamiliar territory in Los Angeles and later returned the car.

George Romney and Dad were hosts of the opening of the Circarama Exhibit which opened at 8 p.m. on the preview day. A line of people were standing at the door. Dad spotted Frank Sinatra and invited him in. A black man with Sinatra was hanging back. Dad invited him to come in, too. This man turned out to be Sammy Davis, Jr. After viewing Circarama, Sinatra remarked to Dad that this was the ultimate in motion pictures.

AT&T picked up Circarama after AMC bowed out. It later made this technology available to the U.G. Government for an exhibit at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels.

Disneyland was the first of the major theme parks in the United States. Anheuser-Busch later opened one near Tampa, Florida. Michael Jackson, the pop singer, mentioned the opening of Disneyland as one of history’s greatest events.


William McGaughey, Sr. meets Frank Sinatra at Disneyland: from an article by William McGaughey in the Pike County Dispatch, May 20, 1998

Incredibly, Frank Sinatra seemed more nervous than I during our first and only meeting at the original Disneyland.

The singer’s fall from grace and declining popularity was in its early stage that summer of 1956. By chance, I spotted him just outside the American Motors exhibit of which I was in charge. Frank was fingering the knob on the front door, cautiously weighing the decision whether to enter. To his apparent relief, I invited him in. Then I called out to his black companion who was furtively exploring other entrances to AMC’s Circarama, the 360-degree motion picture screen. It was, of course, Frank’s bosom pal, Sammy Davis, Jr.

I promptly invited the two guests to meet George Romney, president, chairman and CEO of American Motors, who was waiting to see the projections on a screen that was wrapped around the entire room and was about to be filled by Nash and Hudson cars weaving in and out of the streets of Las Vegas.

An electrician told us that the showing on the screen was about to begin. Nineteen separate cameras were coordinated so that the eye first saw the new Detroit models moving forward, then they were shown in side views, and finally the cameras caught sight of rear bumpers as the pictures gave way to the scenic hotels and skyscrapers of Vegas, which earlier had become the stage for the skinny boy from Hoboken.

When the 10-minute Circarama presentation was completed, Sinatra gave his verdict. He turned to Mr. Davis and said, ‘This is the wave of the future. The motion picture single screen is obsolete and future movies will use this exciting new technology.’

He was wrong, of course. Except for World Fairs, such as the upcoming one in Brussels, and especially arranged showings to sizable audiences, Circarama was too expensive to operate.

Nevertheless, his words were encouraging and I felt somewhat redeemed that my Big Boss Romney had accepted my recommendation to pay the heavy rental cost for Disneyland exhibitions.


From a letter by William McGaughey to his son on May 11, 1996

In late June 1954, I was at a series of meetings at the Disney studios, then in Burbank, California, to confer about the forthcoming Disney TV production which American Motors had agreed to sponsor on the ABC network.

During a coffee break, I asked Walt Disney if I could have an autographed copy of one of his cartoon characters for my children. He asked me to write down names and ages. He then went into his office, returning with four cartoons, neatly framed, and, I believe, all autographed. The cartoons were of Mickey, Dumbo, Snow White, and, while my memory falters, I believe the other might have been of Dopey, one of the dwarfs in Snow White, for brother David.



Andy and Bill McGaughey meet NBC president, Robert Kintner, and later other New York media figures

Robert Kintner was the ABC executive who was promoting the Disneyland television show when American Motors decided to sponsor it. Andrew and William McGaughey, Jr. both worked in New York City in the summer of 1960. By that time, Robert Kintner had moved to NBC and become its president.

William McGaughey Sr. gave his sons a list of persons in New York whom they might wish to contact. Andrew McGaughey contacted Kintner. The two brothers were invited to meet the NBC president in his office in Rockefeller Center. William McGaughey, jr. naively asked Kintner if television shows ever tried to cast certain types of people as heroes or villains. Kintner replied in the negative. At the end of their interview, Kintner offered the two brothers a pair of tickets to the Jack Paar show, later called the "Tonight Show". Having never seen it, they unwisely declined the offer.

Several years later, their sister, Margaret, was a classmate of Randy Paar, Jack’s daughter, at the Master School in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Jack Paar was seen videotaping his daughter’s high-school graduation ceremonies. In the summer of 1964, Randy Paar visited Margaret at the McGaughey’s family home in Milford and took a canoe trip five miles down the Delaware river with Margaret, Bill McGaughey, Jr. and his college roommate, Bill Rieder.

Another media figure, Don Hewitt, who produced CBS's "60 Minutes", lived on the same floor (the 21st) as the McGaugheys on East 86th Street in New York. William McGaughey, Sr. often encountered Hewitt near the elevator as he took the family's collie dog, Brigadoon, for a daily walk in the park near Gracie mansion or on other occasions.


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