Yesterland

Saturday,
September 26, 1953


and

Sunday,
February 23, 2014

More the 60 years separate September 26, 1953 and February 23, 2014. The common factor is Disney Legend Herb Ryman (1910-1989).

The 1953 date was the beginning of Walt Disney’s and Herb Ryman’s “lost weekend.”

The 2014 date is this coming Sunday. How I wish I could be in Anaheim that day!

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, February 19, 2014

Screen capture from Theme Park Investigator

drawing by Herb Ryman, 1953, copyright Disney

I never get tired of the “lost weekend” story. I’ve read it and heard it told many times. The details change a bit, especially the dialog. (Nobody was there with a tape recorder.) But there’s no doubt that it happened. We can still enjoy the results of that weekend—the wonderful drawing reproduced in this article and, more importantly, the fact that Walt and Roy Disney were able to scrape together financing for Disneyland.

The story begins September 23, 1953. Less than a year earlier, Walt Disney set up a new company, WED Enterprises, intending to make his dream of a new kind of amusement park a reality. Walt had assembled a small group, which included hiring a 20th Century Fox art director, Richard “Dick” Irvine, who had worked for Walt in the past. By now, WED was running out of money.

Biographer Neal Gabler describes a life-changing phone call in Walt Disney: The Triumph of American Imagination (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2006):

Herb Ryman, an art director who had worked at the studio in the story department in the 1940s before Leaving for Twentieth Century-Fox, was painting at his home on the morning of September 23, when he received a call from an old colleague, Dick Irvine. Irvine told him that he was at the studio with Walt and Walt wanted to have a word with him. As Ryman later related it, Walt got on the phone and asked him how long it would take for him to get to the studio. Ryman said fifteen minutes if he came as he was, a half-hour if he dressed. Walt told him to come as he was and Walt would meet him at the studio gate.

detail from Herb Ryman Disneyland drawing, 1953

detail from drawing by Herb Ryman, 1953, copyright Disney

Main Street detail

In Walt Disney: An American Original (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1976), biographer Bob Thomas has this account of the conversation that happened after Ryman arrived:

Walt greeted him affably and told him, “Herbie, we’re going to build an amusement park.”

“That’s interesting,” Ryman replied. “Where are you going to build it?”

“Well, we were going to do it across the street, but now it’s gotten too big. We’re going to look for a place.”

“What are you going to call it?”

“Disneyland.”

“That’s as good as anything.”

“Look, Herbie, my brother Roy is going to New York Monday to line up financing for the park. I’ve got to give him plans of what we’re going to do. Those businessmen don’t listen to talk, you know; you’ve got to show them what you’re going to do.”

“Well, where is the drawing? I’d like to see it.”

“You’re going to make it.”

Here is Ryman’s reaction from Walt Disney’s Railroad Story (Pentrex, Pasadena, 1997) by historian Michael Broggie:

“No, I’m not,” was Herb’s emphatic response. “This is the first I ever heard about this. You’d better forget it. It’ll embarrass both you and me. I’m not going to make a fool of either one of us.”

detail from Herb Ryman Disneyland drawing, 1953

detail from drawing by Herb Ryman, 1953, copyright Disney

Frontier Country detail

According to Broggie, Walt Disney eventually won over Ryman:

“Herbie, this is my dream. I’ve wanted this for years and I need your help,” [Walt] pleaded. “You’re the only one who can do it. I’ll stay here with you and we’ll do it together.”

Convinced and moved by Walt’s unusual, emotional display of sincerity, Herbie agreed. Soon, he created a few quick conceptual sketches of the project, aided not only by the drawings and plans of Marvin Davis and Dick Irvine, but also Walt’s verbal descriptions.

With each themed section, Walt carefully crafted—in precise detail—how it would work, mentally walking through every area and building, and riding on every attraction. His storytelling ability wove word pictures, from which Herb quick-sketched visual interpretations with a carbon pencil. For the next 42 hours, the two spent all of their imaginative and creative energy in a marathon session.

Early Monday morning, Marvin Davis and Dick Irvine walked into the littered room. They found a bedraggled Walt and a bone-weary Herbie sitting there, looking at a large Vellum panel, illustrated in pen, with a bird’s-eye view of a completely detailed theme park. In the lower left corner, a scroll proclaimed “Disneyland—schematic aerial view—approximately 45 acres within railroad tracks—designed by WED Enterprises.”

In Ryman’s drawing, Disneyland is recognizable, although different from what opened to the public on July 18, 1955. The named parts of the park are Main Street, The Hub, Holiday Land, Frontier Country, Mickey Mouse Club, Recreation Park, Fantasy Land, Lilliputian Land, and True-Life Adventureland.

detail from Herb Ryman Disneyland drawing, 1953

detail from drawing by Herb Ryman, 1953, copyright Disney

World of Tomorrow detail

The drawing was an amazing accomplishment—by someone who was not even an employee of Walt Disney at the time. Ryman’s employment status quickly changed.

Herb Ryman continued to design for Disney theme parks. His renderings of Sleeping Beauty Castle, Cinderella Castle, and New Orleans Square are legendary. Although he retired from Disney in 1971, he produced conceptual drawings for EPCOT Center, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris as a consultant.

In 1989, Herb Ryman died—and the Ryman-Carroll Foundation was born. To give you an idea of what this wonderful organization does, here’s the beginning of the introduction in the “About Ryman Arts” section of the Ryman Arts website:

Ryman Arts teaches classical drawing and painting to talented and motivated high school students as a bridge to a lifetime that expresses and appreciates the arts.

Ryman Arts teaches teens essential skills for art and life in a rigorous, nurturing studio environment. The Ryman-Carroll Foundation was established in 1989 as a living tribute to Disney Legend, artist and mentor Herbert Dickens Ryman, (1910-1989). It was agreed by family and friends that the most positive way to commemorate the life of Herbert D. Ryman was to carry on his philosophy and commitment to teach and encourage young artists to reach their full potential. It was in this spirit that Ryman Arts was created. From a single drawing class for 12 students in 1990, Ryman Arts has grown to 30 classes for 450 students annually, engaged 4,500+ Southern California teens in its core program, and provided outreach activities to 7,500+ inner city students.

This brings us to what is happening in Anaheim on February 23, 2014 at 4:00 p.m. Depending on when you read this, you might have an opportunity attend an event that I wish I could go to. (I live two time zones away from Anaheim, and airline tickets are expensive.)

Ryman Arts Spectacular Charity Gala, February 23, 2014

courtesy MiceChat.com

The event is MiceChat.com’s Ryman Arts Spectacular Charity Gala, taking place at the Sheraton Park Anaheim. I am sure it will be absolutely the best way for a Disney fan to spend three hours on a Sunday.

It’s quite a package—reception, Disney Legends multi-course, dinner, Disney songs performed by Broadway stars (hosted by Michael-Leon Wooley, Louis the Alligator from Disney’s Princess and the Frog), a tribute to Diane Disney Miller by Disney Legend Marty Sklar, and an auction with amazing one-of-a-kind opportunities (I’ve seen a tentative list).

Best of all, the event will support the fine work of Ryman Arts.

Honestly, considering all that will be offered at the event, the ticket price is lower than I would have expected.

Ryman Arts Spectacular Charity Gala, February 23, 2014
Ryman Arts Spectacular Charity Gala, February 23, 2014

courtesy MiceChat.com

For more details, including how to buy tickets, CLICK HERE: Ryman Arts Spectacular Charity Gala.

 
  Click here to post comments at MiceChat about this article.

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© 2014 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated February 21, 2014.

Thank you to John Delmont for the excellent scan of the Herb Ryman drawing.