Woody And Walt
I just read Three Years In Wonderland, the story of the making of Disneyland with an emphasis on C. V. Wood, the park's first general manager.
Disney himself was looking for a new challenge. His years as an innovator in animation were behind him, and now, along with older brother Roy, who ran the studio's financial side, he was just trying to keep from going broke. Walt started playing with toy trains, which got bigger and bigger. Soon, he wanted to build an amusement park in some empty acreage he owned across from his studio in Burbank. His plans, however, kept getting bigger and bigger, and more and more expensive. (From the original concept to the final cost, the price doubled, then doubled again, then double once more.) This is where Wood was hired.
Most of the actual research was done by Wood's partner from SRI. Wood was more the salesman--a guy who could convince people like Disney they were brilliant and that he would do everything he could for them. Areas around Los Angeles were investigated and they decided to put Disneyland somewhere in Anaheim, where the new highway from L.A. to San Diego was going through.
Roy liked Wood's work, and hired him to help manage the financial side of building the park. Here he was at odds with Walt. Walt Disney wanted creative people to be in charge, and made sure that his studio people got to determine what would be in the park--even if others had to take their notions and turn them into reality. Wood's most important job was to raise money. Disney had gotten enough to start the project by promising to create TV shows for ABC (a network that was way back in third to NBC and CBS, and thus willing to take a chance) and having the network guaranty bank loans. But as things got ever more expensive, more money was always needed, and Wood tried to convince numerous companies to sponsor rides or exhibits, or lease shop space in Disneyland.
Most experts doubted the project would pay off. Amusement parks were loud, rowdy and often seedy places, with rides that gave people sensations but not much more. Disney wanted to change the amusement park to the theme park. A self-contained space that gave the whole family a special experience, with rides that would affect them emotionally. He was a storyteller, and wanted to transfer that talent to his park. No one was sure how to do it, or even if it could be done.
It took a while to turn things around, but eventually the park put Disney on firm financial footing (for the first time ever). But within months of the opening, Wood was fired. There are a number of reasons. First, there's only one star at Disneyland, and that's Walt. Second, they had different styles, with Wood focusing more on the bottom line while Disney liked to dream, and Wood liking dirty jokes and plenty of drinking while Disney was a bit more prim. Third, and probably most important, Wood was a bit shady. He hired a bunch of Bombers to work for him (though he'd done that before, and there may be nothing wrong with hiring people you trust). He also had that house he promised to keep standing secretly burned down during construction. By far the worst, he took kickbacks from companies.
If the book has problems, it's that it sometimes loses focus on Wood. And the ending feels abrupt. We don't quite stick around to see Disneyland turn into a major success, and Wood's future career, where he helps with many other places and changes the face of the amusement park world, is summed up in a few lines.
Wood has since been scrubbed from official Disney history, but this book should at least do something to redress that oversight.