Part 1: Jack’s Start at Disneyland to Dealing with Walt Disney’s Passing
Recently I was able to speak with Jack Lindquist, a Disney Legend who also served as the first-ever President of Disneyland. He started with the Disney Company in 1955, two months after Disneyland opened, as the park’s first advertising manager. Jack worked his way up the Disney ladder until he was eventually named President of Disneyland in 1988 by Michael Eisner. Jack retired after 38 years with The Disney Company, was honored with a window on Main Street, U.S.A., and Disney Legend status in 1994. Continue after the break to read about and listen to the first part of my interview as he recalls his start at Disney up until the day of Walt Disney’s passing.
Image: As Disneyland’s first President, Jack Lindquist presides over the 1988 Disneyland Ambassador Ceremony at the Sleeping Beauty Castle forecourt.
Jack Lindquist was in charge of advertising and marketing for many of the Disney Parks including Anaheim’s Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris. He just published his memoir titled “In Service To The Mouse” that chronicles his nearly 40 years with the Disney Company. The book is stuffed with first-hand stories and insights from working side-by-side with THE architects of the entire world of Disney from Walt Disney himself; to Card Walker, president and CEO of Walt Disney Productions; to Marty Sklar, Executive Vice President and Ambassador for Walt Disney Imagineering; to, finally, Michael Eisner, CEO of the Walt Disney Company.
Jack started off the conversation talking about his start at Disneyland. In the mid-1950’s Jack worked for a mid-sized advertising agency in Los Angeles, CA promoting “white goods” (washers, dryers, refrigerators, etc.) on TV and radio. After he read a Los Angeles Times article on the amusement park Walt Disney was building, Jack hatched the idea to use Disneyland to help sell Kelvinator appliances. After calling the Disney Studios, Jack secured a meeting on the construction site at Disneyland. When he got there, he walked into the nearly completed Town Square and said it “immediately just blew my mind.” He looked around and saw City Hall, a Train Station, Opera House, and Department Store – he commented that, “This wasn’t an amusement park.” Next, Jack walked out to the center of the street, looked up, and “Wow! They were actually building a castle!” Even before Disneyland opened that July of 1955, Lindquist was smitten from the first instance seeing the nearly completed park.
Image: Jack Lindquist in 1959 as Disneyland’s advertising/promotion manager.
Disneyland opened for media and invited guests on Sunday, July 17, 1955, and the official opening to the public was the following day. Lindquist was part of the special invitational press preview, due to his media position in LA and relationship with Kelvinator appliances. He was none too impressed with the missteps that occurred on opening day, and ended up leaving early to get a chicken dinner at Knott’s Berry Farm. However, it would not be long before he was back permanently. Two months after the park opened, Jack received a call out of the blue – Disneyland was looking for an advertising manager and wondered if he could recommend anyone in the area. Jack instantly replied, “Yup, I can… me!” The voice on the other end of phone answered, “I was hoping you’d say that,” and that’s how Jack Lindquist came to work at Disneyland a mere two months after the park opened.
Image: Rare color photograph from the opening day of Disneyland
Jack described his experience working with Walt Disney as wonderful. He elaborated, “Disneyland was his [Walt Disney’s] personal thing. He knew every minute detail of that park from top to bottom.” Jack added that he appreciated the latitude and flexibility Walt Disney gave his employees – especially in the area of advertising and marketing. In addition to working with Walt Disney, Jack shared an office with Marty Sklar – who would later go on to become Executive Vice President for Walt Disney Imagineering. Jack described Marty as “his closest friend.” Both Jack Lindquist and Marty Sklar worked in the public relations division for Disneyland and kept an office in the upstairs of City Hall overlooking the Town Square. In the book, Jack shared a wonderful story of himself (dressed in full tuxedo complete with top hat and tails) and his public relations team, including Marty Sklar, dressed as Native Americans (1950’s “Indian braves” style; most likely not exactly politically correct by today’s standards), marching in the Anaheim Halloween Festival parade. After the parade, the “war party” performed for a group of conventioneers in the Disneyland Hotel as the “Fantastic Lindquist Indian Show” – direct from Oklahoma. You have to read it to believe it…
Image: Marty Sklar, Executive Vice President and Walt Disney Imagineering Ambassador holds his tribute window at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. The window is in the City Hall on Town Square where he shared an office with Jack Lindquist.
We jumped ahead in the conversation to discuss his reaction to Walt Disney’s passing. Disneyland was only open for 11 years when Walt Disney died suddenly in December of 1966. Jack heard the news as he was driving through Los Angeles for a meeting at the Disney studios. Twenty minutes from the studio the car radio erupted with a news flash, “Walt Disney died this morning at St. Joseph’s Hospital.” When asked if he knew at the time Walt Disney was so critically ill, Jack immediately and emphatically replied, “No. I think we were all totally shocked and taken by surprise.” Jack went on to describe the rest of that day.
He arrived for the meeting at the Disney studios to find Card Walker – advertising manager for Walt Disney Productions (later to become CEO), Marty Sklar, and Dick Nunis – director of operations for Disneyland (eventually executive vice president of Walt Disney World and Disneyland). The first thing they dealt with was whether the park would close or not that day. The four made the decision to keep the park open because they truly believed “Walt would have wanted it that day.” After the meeting at the studios, Jack returned to Disneyland later that afternoon to find the “Happiest Place on Earth” draped with somberness. Lindquist related,
“The atmosphere in the park was strange. Everybody was in shock, really. Today we would have grief counselors at the park, but back then we just continued on. Although people were grief-stricken, I felt it was my job to keep people focused on what we had to do – to prepare for the next day and to keep the park working.”
Jack said there was a touching moment at the end of the day when the Disneyland band performed the flag retreat ceremony in the Town Square. He noted that he did not comprehend the enormity of Walt Disney’s death until later that night while watching Chet Huntley’s eulogy on the evening news. It was then he realized what a loss to the company it was, because, for all intents and purposes, the Disney Company was a one-man show.
Keep watching the DIS Unplugged blog for Part 2 of the interview with Disney Legend Jack Lindquist where he describes his role in the creation of Walt Disney World, including his travels around the world recruiting countries to exhibit in Epcot’s World Showcase. Jack concludes the interview explaining how he unexpectedly became Disneyland’s First President.