Something struck Disneyland in 1984, and I don’t think the Magic Kingdom has ever really recovered.
It wasn't just a third of the Cast, who voted 97% to reject the company’s offer of a two-year wage freeze and 1% increase in the third year of a new three-year contract.
It wasn’t even the twenty-two day period during which nearly 1800 Disneylanders stayed away or picketed the Park.
It was the attitudes that dropped onto 1313 Harbor Blvd. like a kind of genesis device, largely replacing the Disneyland that existed back then with something else. Since Disneyland will never be completed, that shouldn’t have been such a big deal. But the new tried to represent itself as the old, and just about everyone who was around back then could tell it wasn’t going to be anything close.
You could hear it in the hollow echo of times past hanging in the air in the Opera House after Eisner and Wells tried to re-instill “The Spirit of Disneyland” in presentations that did little to convince us that the spirit hadn’t departed to join the 999 happy haunts, forced out by new landlords interested more in raising the rent then keeping the quality at the highest level.
You could feel it backstage when some Cast Members began referring to management as the “dark side.” Sometimes, you could see it onstage in guest relations that were less than they should have been. It’s nearly impossible to create happiness in others if you don’t have it within yourself.
In this holiday season, I wish for the Disneyland that was, the Park that played an important part of helping me become the person I aspire to be. Before the Bass brothers ever heard of Anaheim, before Eisner, Wells, Ovitz, Pressler, and Harris. Before Rocket Rods, Pizza Ports, and Paradise Pier.
Maybe I’ll get my wish this year. A recent new visitor to this blog reported all the Cast Members he encountered during his last visit presented an outstanding Show. If a work force composed of lower-paid, rapid turnover people can still make the dream a reality, then the new management must be doing some things right.
If you’re one of those Cast Members, keep up the good work. And if you’re in management, hop on the Jungle Cruise when Mike is back at the helm. After you ride his boat, catch up with him on break at the Pit, and learn what things were like twenty-plus years ago.
Then help bring that magic back to the Magic Kingdom.
You’ll find that by continuing the tradition, you’ll be helping to create a very important thing in life.