The storyteller you’ve come to know as Disney, loved by all the world, wasn’t always so Disney-like. There were some dark days in the past for Disney, like the opening of the first park, which was a disaster of forged tickets and failed park infrastructure.
That all worked out in the long run, in case you haven’t been keeping score. Disney is doing just fine.
There have been, over the years, a few moments where the Disney you’ve come to love wasn’t quite itself. I suppose it’s a little like childbirth, as is often the case with any growing business. Creating something beautiful can be messy.
Considering the festive nature of Disney theme parks and films this time of year, I thought it would be a good time to look back at some rare moments in Disney history. These are examples of times when, despite their best efforts, the good people of Disney missed the mark.
Bizarre Early Costumes
Long before Disney became one of the wealthiest brands in the world, they were beating a path to make “the magical world.” That meant bringing cartoon characters to life, easy by today’s standards, but not always so easy.
With today’s mascot and character costumes, we take the best of what we’ve learned from making movies, mashed that knowledge with modern engineering to craft fantastic costumes.
The earliest versions of those costumes were… well, frightening. Kids will always be spooked by costumes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Disneyland originals scared the adults too.
Bras On Main Street
In 1955 Disneyland once sold lingerie under the name of Hollywood-Maxwell Brassiere Co. of Los Angeles.
The fact that they sold undies is only half the story. This wasn’t just any lingerie shop, tucked into a corner of the park. They put it right on Main Street.
Once inside, patrons enjoyed a brief history of undergarments. In the other part of the store, one could buy corsets and bras. The store closed about six months later, but in 1990 another lingerie shop appeared, this time on Pleasure Island.
Jessica’s sold nightgowns and underwear, but also did not last. It closed three years later. Apparently, adults aren’t thinking of sexy times when kids are running around, screaming.
Donald Duck Promoted Birth Control
Speaking of sexy times, During WWII and again in the ’60s, Donald Duck gave us the straight dope on contraception.
Experts believe the first example was an Australian ad. They made created posters to promote the use of prophylactics during WWII.
In 1968 a short film produced by The Population Council walked viewers through what could happen if we didn’t control reproduction.
The film was tame by most standards. In true Disney fashion, Donald skirts the main subject but encourages viewers to consult a doctor about their options.
Disney War Bonds
Donald wasn’t the only character getting involved in WWII. In 1944, Disney sold war bonds. Everyone was doing their part to support the war effort. This was Disney’s contribution.
The strangest thing about the bonds was that the border of the bonds was a line of Disney characters. The bonds could have simply read “Walt Disney War Bond Certificate.”
Smiling as if there were something exciting going on, the characters face and point at the legal text of the bond. It’s weird.
According to the US Treasury, these were not official war bonds, but savings bonds owned by someone other than the Treasury. What they are worth today is anyone’s guess, but I found a replica online for $500.
People die wherever the grim reaper designates them to pass over to the other side. It would be more convenient if humans would do so in their homes, surrounded by family.
Over the years, there have been a few accidents at Disney parks, none of which make a nice story. There’s a good reason you haven’t heard about the time in ’64 when a boy stood up on the Matterhorn, then fell to the concrete below.
How he stood up is a good question, but likely due to safety provisions at the time.
In another bizarre case, two boys hid in the Tom Sawyer Island attraction, intending to play Tom Sawyer when the park closed.
They ended up trapped on the island. When they tried to swim back, one boy drowned in the process.
In the end, it’s good that some of these sound downright offensive. That means they’ve elevated the Disney brand out of darker times.
If the only things anyone ever remembered us for was the mess we made when we were born, it would be tough to get anywhere in life.
What is remarkable about Disney is how well the brand survived over the years, long enough to carve out a different image. Bravo Walt, bravo.