It genuinely seems as though it would’ve been hard for Walt to just walk around Disneyland during operating hours. Presumably this is why he’s been badly rear projected into the park for his segments in this show. It’s also been made into a running gag that Walt cannot go three feet without being surrounded by autograph seekers, including one woman who makes him sign about fifteen hats—and to thank him for being a good sport gives him a hat that looks absolutely unbelievable on Walt’s head.
Disneyland After Dark is a long-running program of entertainment that Disneyland does on summer evenings. This is 1962, and Walt is introducing us to it. Mostly what we are seeing is assorted celebrity guests in the park. It’s hardly a surprise to see Annette Funicello or Bobby Burgess, both Mousketeers. Bobby Rydell “happens” to be there to perform. Louis Armstrong’s over on the Mark Twain, sailing the Rivers of America with Kid Ory and Monette Moore. In the Plaza Gardens, the Dapper Dans are singing, and they pause to introduce us to some kids they met on Main Street who have their own barbershop quartet.
Before we get into the rest of it, let’s take a minute to talk about those kids, because that actually seems to be what happened. Oh, sure, George Osmond had brought his boys to town to audition for Lawrence Welk, but Welk had been unable to see them. And it does seem that the boys were discovered by Tommy Walker, Director of Entertainment and Customer Relations, singing with the Dapper Dans on Main Street. He hired them for the show. It was their first TV appearance and would launch their careers; little Donny would join the group later.
However, the best part of the show is definitely the part on the Mark Twain. It’s hardly shocking that Louis Armstrong and the others are the best musical guests on the show. Indeed, to a true Disney aficionado, it’s hardly surprising to see Louis Armstrong there, either. His career was in a bit of a decline at this point—he was entering a two-year stretch where he didn’t record anything—but Disney would later allegedly want him as Scat Cat in The Aristocats, and in 1968 Armstrong would release Disney Songs the Satchmo Way. (The trumpet he’s believed to have used to record it is on temporary display at Epcot.) But he’s not doing Disney here, just good, solid jazz.
Some of what they show is just normal Disney stuff. Hula dancers at the Tahitian Terrace. The fireworks display—though it’s badly presented. Just because the Jungle Cruise skippers of my childhood would joke about throwing Tinkerbell off the Matterhorn and trying to shoot her down with fireworks doesn’t mean they actually had Tinkerbell in the middle of the fireworks, the way the special shows it. This is the kind of thing ordinary people attending Disneyland would actually see on a regular basis; we went every year, and I’m not sure I ever actually saw a celebrity there.
What’s frustrating is that this is another YouTube viewing. Now, it’s on one of the out-of-print commemorative tin sets (and you can help me afford a few of those by supporting my Patreon and Ko-fi and actually make this column that much easier), but it’s not on Disney+. Very little of the mid-century Disney television is on Disney+, in fact, which in my opinion remains the service’s greatest weakness. Just for starters, there should be all of Zorro available. But so much of the assorted incarnations of The Wonderful World of Disney is fun and entertaining and inaccessible in the one place that should have it accessible.