Yesterland Growing Up in Disneyland

by Ron DeFore, Guest Contributor
Photo of Walt Disney and two of the DeFore children

I grew up in Disneyland, literally. My father was the movie star, Don DeFore, and he owned “Don DeFore’s Silver Banjo Barbecue” restaurant in Frontierland (next to Aunt Jemima’s) between 1957 and 1961. I still have the big banjo sign with all the twinkling lights in my memorabilia basement!

Although we lived in Brentwood, we also owned a house in Anaheim and spent most weekends there. My brothers and sisters and I were perhaps the only kids in the world to have ever uttered the words, “Gee do we have to go to Disneyland again?” !!!!

I have a number of wonderful memories from that era. My friends and I would use my dad’s employee pass, which would allow us to get not only on the rides for free but at the front of the lines—and we could ride the rides over and over again!!! We used to be able to use all of the employee hidden back entrances too.

Walt used to love to come over and eat at the restaurant with us. I think it was one of his favorite spots in the park—with the view of Tom Sawyer Island, the Columbia, and Dixieland jazz music.

Another great memory is of one of the Christmas parades—my father was always the Master of Ceremonies for Frontierland, and one year Walt called my dad frantically from the Main Street entrance just before the parade was to begin. His grandchildren had not yet arrived, and of course, Walt could not ride in his old-time car without kids. So he asked my dad if he had brought his kids (me and my brothers and sisters). He said yes, and Walt said to send two of them to the front gate immediately.

The rest is history. In my Don DeFore museum in my basement, right next to the original Silver Banjo Barbecue sign, hang two black and white photos of me and my sister and Walt waving to the crowd in the parade. For a brief moment in history we played the role of his “grandchildren!”


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Updated September 1, 2009.

Photograph of the Walt Disney and two of the DeFore children: courtesy of Ron DeFore.