Interview with Jack Lindquist, Disneyland’s First President, Part 2
Jack Lindquist is a Disney Legend whose Disney career began in 1955 as the initial advertising manager for the new theme park. He worked in the public relations office alongside future head of Walt Disney Imagineering Marty Sklar. In Part 1 of the interview, Lindquist discussed his early years at Disneyland, working with Walt Disney, and the reaction to Disney’s death in 1966. Continue after the break to learn about his role in the creation of the Epcot we know today, the idea for Disney Dollars, and how he was unexpectedly promoted by Disney CEO Michael Eisner to the post of Disneyland’s President.
When Walt Disney announced his plans for the “Florida Project” they included the futuristic city of Epcot. Jack Lindquist expressed amazement at how a “little” 10 minute film aimed at gaining entitlements from the Florida legislature captured the attention of the media. Reporters fixated on the word “Epcot”, and for several years after Walt Disney World opened in 1971 whenever there was a press event some reporter would ask, “When are you going to build Epcot?”
Lindquist said Epcot was a thought, an idea supplemented with futuristic images of a domed city with 20,000 residents. Walt Disney wanted it filled with the latest creations from American industry. However, when the Imagineers were charged with the task of creating Epcot, they quickly realized how unpractical the concept was. “Nobody would stand for 10 million people a year traipsing through their kitchen to see what the latest products were,” Jack exclaimed. Instead of Epcot becoming the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, Marty Sklar and John Hench changed the “C” to “Concept”, and Epcot became a theme park with two parts: Future World and World Showcase.
Once they figured out how to approach building Epcot, Lindquist then spent the next several years traveling around the world selling the concept to countries and industries. Lindquist’s team “beat the bushes” trying to get countries to come aboard and establish pavilions on the World Showcase. He said the most exotic country they tried (and succeeded) to recruit was Morocco. He worked with Morocco’s foreign minister and tourism minister and met with the King. Jack laughed as he shared a story of how a model of the pavilion, designed by Walt Disney Imagineering, was sent to the King of Morocco ahead of Lindquist’s team arrival. The model ended up in the hands of the Prince who used it as a prop to run his toy train through. Evidently the Prince was quite upset when the Imagineers needed to take back their model in order to start building the pavilion.
Lindquist also talked about some of the negotiations with countries who ultimately decided not to sign on with Epcot. “We had a great concept for a pavilion for the Philippines,” he said. Jack described a meeting with Imelda Marcos – wife of President Ferdinand Marcos, the Minister of Tourism, and the Minister of Trade, where she looked at the concept for 10 minutes, turned and said, “We can’t afford this. If I had $9.6 million dollars to spend, I’d do wonderful things for my people.” Lindquist did comment that he never got a chance to see Imelda Marcos’ shoe closet.
Iran ultimately did not sign on either. Lindquist and his team spent 4 weeks in Iran almost 1 year to the day before the revolution. They were the guests of the Shah of Iran, he treated them wonderfully, but got cancer, was deposed, and sent away before they could agree to anything with Disney.
As much as Jack Lindquist enjoyed traveling the world, he was an advertising/marketing guru at heart, and one of his schemes has lasted for nearly 25 years. Jack came up with the idea for Disney Dollars as he flew back from Florida en route to California. He reflected on how 11.5 million people/year traveled to Disneyland and 12 million people/year visited Walt Disney World, and how that was bigger than a lot of countries. He thought it would be fun if Disney had its own currency. Jack always maintained that Disney Dollars were not an advertising or publicity gimmick, but real money. Disney consulted with the Secret Service and currency plate makers to put all the same safeguards and protections in making Disney Dollars as the US government does in making currency. The printer Disney uses to produce Disney Dollars is the same printer that makes British Pounds. Jack thought that Disney having its own currency would be another fun way for guests to enjoy their vacations. Furthermore, Disney Dollars have turned into a huge revenue generating source because, “millions and millions of dollars are still out there, 10’s of millions, probably 100’s of millions.”
In 1988, at the service awards banquet at the Disneyland Hotel, Jack Lindquist was shocked by Michael Eisner’s announcement naming him President of Disneyland – effective tomorrow. Jack’s strength was in advertising, marketing and promotions, and he made Norm Doerges the head of day-to-day operations for the park. In his book, “In Service to the Mouse”, Jack described Disneyland as a little city with 12 million residents, but “they just come to this city one at a time,” he wrote. As President of the park he found Disneyland had all the same problems as any other city with 12 million people: social, criminal, health, and welfare. However Jack was also quick to say, “Who could have a greater job than being President of Disneyland, the best playground man ever had?”
When Jack Lindquist retired in 1993 and took the final walk down Main Street as now ex-President of Disneyland, he described the experience as “very nostalgic.” The reason Jack gave for retiring was because it was Mickey Mouse’s 65th birthday, and “a 65 year old mouse didn’t need a chaperone anymore.” However, Disneyland was always meant to be a representation of show business, workers are “Cast Members”, and there are both on-stage and backstage areas of the park. Like show business, Jack wanted to exit the stage while the audience was still applauding.
I want to thank Jack Lindquist for taking the time to speak with me and share so many of his memories from his 38 year adventure working at Disney. The conversation I had and shared here just scratches the surface of the myriad of stories that can be found in Lindquist’s new book “In Service to the Mouse.” If you are a Disney fan, and fan of the parks in particular, you are going to want to pick up your own copy of this fascinating book.