What It Was Like Winning A Trip To Disneyland in the 1950s
I recently watched an episode of "The Jetsons" about Elroy winning a contest and getting to meet his spaceman idol from TV. The episode always reminds me of a story that Karal Ann Marling told me a few years ago, so I dug up the tape and transcribed the story below.
Marling is a retired professor, author and Disney expert who has written extensively on American popular culture. In 2008, I had lunch with her in Minneapolis and she told me this great story about a cereal box contest she won in the 1950s at the age of 12. She was living with her family lived in Rochester, New York at the time.
The story is pretty unbelievable:
When I was in eighth grade my mother was trying to control my younger brothers at breakfast with diversions and I was the one who had to put her plans into action. We used to buy cereal boxes that had games on the back. She got one set of cereal boxes that had coloring pictures on the back. She instructed me that I was to show my little brothers how to color these pictures and keep them quiet. So I colored the picture and then I passed it around and they all scribbled away, caused trouble and threw their eggs on the floor.
So, unbeknownst to me, my mother snipped it off the back of the cereal carton and sent all three of them in an envelope to the contest. There was also underneath a place where you could print -- legibly it said -- in 25 words or less why you wanted to be on the first 707 Boeing flight to the West Coast. Well, I did that too and about a month afterward my mother goes to the mailbox and there's big official-looking envelopes for my brothers. And she opens them up and they're from the contest and my brothers had each won third prize which were rollerskates -- they were giving away about 10 million sets of those. So the kids come home from school and by the time I got home they were dancing around the living room: "Ha-ha! We won the prize! We won the prize! We won the rollerskates!"
So I didn't think very much of it and went upstairs and did my Latin or whatever I was working on. A week after that a very official huge package comes for me registered mail and signed twice and all that stuff. Turns out I won the contest. So my mother and I got a two-week all expenses paid trip to Disneyland. And yeah, that was like going to heaven!
So off we went. And they put us up at the new Disneyland Hotel and I met Walt and he told me it would be nice if I came to work for him since I was such a good colorer.
Among other things Walt did was he asked me who my favorite movie star was. So I said Rock Hudson -- I was mad for Rock Hudson at that age. So he got on the phone and told his secretary, "Find Rock Hudson." He gets on the phone and says "I've got a little lady here who would love to meet you; this is Walt Disney. Suppose you could come stop by the studio?" Well, within 15 minutes this beautiful blue convertible with a white top pulls up and there's Rock Hudson out in front of Walt's office in the Animation Building. He took me out to dinner to 77 Sunset Strip.
My mother meanwhile was being entertained and they asked her who her favorite star was and she said Gisele MacKenzie, a singer on "Your Hit Parade." Sure enough, they produced Gisele MacKenzie and she and my mother went shopping at Bullock's Wilshire. We had a wonderful time.
Illustration of Sleeping Beauty Castle in 1955 (Source: Art of Disneyland book)