In 1923, Walt Disney arrived in California with $40, a suitcase, a lot of dreams and little else. William Fox, on the other hand, was a multi-millionaire who owned a chain of movie theaters and the Fox Film Corporation.
Most people in 1923, if told that the company established by one of these men would eventually buyout the company established by the other, would have guessed that it was William Fox’s company that would buy Walt Disney’s company. Of course, today we know it was the opposite. Walt Disney’s Company grew exponentially, making his name known throughout the world. Today, Twentieth Century Fox becomes part of The Walt Disney Company- because anything can be done with just one dream.
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The Walt Disney Company officially took over 20th Century Fox at 9PM PDT. Welcome aboard!
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You might be forgiven for thinking that the above map is of DISNEYLAND. Sure, a closer look might show a few strange things (#7 on the map appears to show Boris Badenov cavorting with Elvis) but certainly that’s just the way things were in the 1950’s, right? Wrong- this map is of Nara Dreamland, the most bizarro DISNEYLAND you’ll ever see. Nara Dreamland wasn’t so much an “answer” to DISNEYLAND as it was a cheap photocopy.
The magic of DISNEYLAND brought excited guests from around the world to Anaheim, California; it still does today. One of the most excited guests from the early years was Kunizo Matsuo, who ventured to the Magic Kingdom from Japan. Matsuo was amazed at the wondrous showcase and asked Disney representatives if he could speak to Walt Disney about opening up a franchised DISNEYLAND in Nara, Japan. At the time, Walt Disney was not interested in building another DISNEYLAND. So Matsuo bought every book and postcard he could and went home to begin planning his own version of DISNEYLAND.
Imagine a DISNEYLAND built on the cheap, designed by people who only had postcards and pictures to work from. There was a Matterhorn replica that looked like it was built out of cardboard boxes, a cut rate castle and even a “Screw Coaster”. Shortly before Nara Dreamworld opened, Walt Disney had actually started talking with Japanese authorities about building a DISNEYLAND in Japan. Upon hearing of this ersatz tragic kingdom, Walt Disney became incensed and stopped all discussion of building anything in Japan. The company wouldn’t begin talking again about locating a DISNEYLAND in Japan for twenty years.
Amazingly, the park would last until 2006. The real Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan would put the final nail in the park’s coffin. It was eventually demolished.
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The most successful “answer” to DISNEYLAND was arguably Six Flags over Texas. Inspired by a trip to DISNEYLAND, Six Flags founder Angus Wynne decided that his home state of Texas needed a theme park. Proud of his state, Wynne decreed that his park would be themed to the six different governments that Texas had been controlled by- Spain, Mexico, France, the Texas Republic, the Confederacy and the United States. Thus his park would have the obvious name- “Texas Under Six Flags”. Fearing that Texans would be offended at the idea of Texas being “under” anything, the name was changed to Six Flags Over Texas.
The park opened in 1961 in Arlington, Texas to great success. It would never surpass DISNEYLAND in quality or profitability, but it was successful enough to convince Angus Wynne to go head to head with Walt Disney- at the 1964 World’s Fair. Wynne took on the task of privately funding the Texas Pavilion at the World’s Fair with the goal of attracting the fair’s visitors to Texas- and Six Flags. The ambitious project would ruin Mr. Wynne. The Texas Pavilion faced construction delays, went over budget and was eclipsed by other attractions at the fair, including those constructed by Walt Disney. Wynne was forced to sell off his theme park and would remain uninvolved with it until he passed away.
The park’s new owner was the Pennsylvania Railroad, which wanted to diversify its holdings. It built two other Six Flags parks- Six Flags Over Mid-America and Six Flags Over Georgia. The company soon soured on the idea of building new theme parks; the process of designing, developing, building and opening new parks tied up capital for years before the company could begin selling tickets. It decided to expand its empire by buying other regional theme parks that were already up and running. Many of the original developers of these theme parks saw them as a way to make fast money and hadn’t realized that theme parks need constant investment to keep customers coming in the gates. Six Flags could snap them up and operate them more efficiently as part of a chain.
While Six Flags would go through many corporate hands, including those of WarnerMedia and even declare bankruptcy a few times, it- and its original park- survive as an independent entity today.
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When Walt Disney began construction on DISNEYLAND, he hired C. V. Wood to help with managing the vast project. Upon its completion, C. V. Wood initially stayed on to help manage the operation, but he soon began taking credit for things that he’d had nothing to do with as a way to line up new consulting jobs. He was soon fired and decided to get his revenge by constructing rivals to DISNEYLAND, none of which were particularly successful. The biggest and most ambitious of the projects was Freedomland, U.S.A.
Located on reclaimed landfill in The Bronx, Freedomland, U.S.A was shaped like the United States and featured a history theme. While not directly competing against DISNEYLAND, Freedomland, U.S.A was positioned as an east coast rival to the DISNEYLAND, making a trip out west to see Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom unnecessary. After some suspicious fires took place on the construction site, the park opened to acclaim in 1960. Unfortunately, the acclaim would be short lived.
A stagecoach accident created a controversy in the park’s first few months after it denied such an incident had taken place despite evidence to the contrary. Attendance was also not what it needed to be; guests initially found it to be too educational and not entertaining enough. Park operators quickly added more traditional amusements, toning down the educational aspects, which angered the park’s corporate sponsors. The park quickly began circling the drain.
By 1964, the park was on its last legs. The company declared bankruptcy, shuttering the park a mere four years after it opened. The park’s owners claimed that the nearby 1964 World’s Fair was drawing too many guests away from the park. They couldn’t seem to explain why the park was already having financial problems before the World’s Fair started, why they couldn’t seem to attract any of the millions of tourists brought into the area by the World’s Fair and why they would make the decision to permanently close the park when the World’s Fair was going to end forever in 1965. C.V. Wood’s claims of being one of the visionaries whose ideas made DISNEYLAND a success were mostly proved to be just puffery. By 1969, all of his post-DISNEYLAND projects had gone bankrupt and were closed.
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