Last month, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure stayed open for 24 straight hours beginning at 6 a.m. on a Friday. Many thousands of Southlanders flocked to “Monstrous Summer All-Nighter”, and some eager fans camped out outside the gates starting on Thursday night.
That event brought to mind the first time Disneyland stayed open all night – its first Grad Nite in 1964. One of the park’s marketing geniuses thought it up and it was some chore selling it to Operations, Security, Legal and every other department. Imagine having thousands and thousands of teen-agers in the Park overnight? Unheard of!
The other concurrent event that would add to the first Grad Nite’s excitement was the introduction of the Ford Mustang to the general public, the most successful launch of a new car since the Model A. Lee Iacocco, later to become president of the Ford Motor Company, had been one of the forces behind the original Mustang whose development costs were astronomical. It was said at the time that there was no way the car would flop, because Ford would spend whatever it took in marketing costs to make it a success. And Disneyland was the happy recipient of Ford’s marketing windfall. A brand-new, silver Mustang would be given away at the first Grad Nite.
There was a lot of hustle in the Park’s Marketing Department to promote the giveaway to the high schools. Pre-publicity, posters in schools, and paid advertising created quite a hoopla. A few weeks before the event, the car was to be on daily display, parked in a showy spot in front of the castle. There was a local Ford plant in nearby Pico Rivera, where this fabulous new car was starting to come off the assembly line. I was assigned to pick up the display car and drive it back to the park. There were snickers in the department as I was known to be a somewhat reckless driver, roaring into the employee parking lot each morning – always just a few minutes late. This time, however, I took my responsibility quite seriously, even though I could hardly wait to get behind the wheel of that bad boy.
I was driven to Pico Rivera and then handed the keys to this stylish new car. It was fabulous looking. Driving back to the park on the freeway, I was aware of the startled looks and pointed fingers from other drivers as I carefully wended my way back to Anaheim. I triumphantly brought the car to the Disneyland back area, and parked it in front of the Marketing Department’s offices. I ran as fast as my high heels would allow into my bosses’ office” It’s here,” I trumpeted. At the same moment, two of the department’s graphics artists slyly sneaked out to the car and placed some clear, crumpled cels around the front fender, creating the illusion of serious car damage. They had plotted this out very carefully. Unaware, I led my boss out of the building to see the car and we both stopped dead in our tracks, speechless. It took about 15 seconds for us to realize the joke was on us, but for me that was the longest 15 seconds of my life as I stuttered to find an explanation and assert my innocence.
Grad Nite arrived, and a long line of yellow school busses started to form on Harbor Blvd, backing up the freeway exit for miles. The Park opened at 6 p.m. to hordes of grads rushing through the front gate. No ticket coupons needed as they had purchased all-ride tickets beforehand. It was like a giant, free candy store complete with fun, food and Rock n’ Roll. I was assigned to the local DJ’s all-night broadcast station. I kept a steady stream of kids handy for his live interviews between records. Between that and fetching coffee, I was pretty much done in by 4 a.m. But the grads went on full steam until closing time at 6 a.m. Later, I learned that one girl had caused quite a commotion. She was terribly popular on the dance floor until security figured out that she had a long plastic straw protruding out of the back of neck, which the boys could “nuzzle” as they sipped long gulps of vodka from a flask attached to her bra. (The kids could easily have sneaked in a bottle of vodka and drank it behind a bush, but apparently slurping it right under the noses of Park security was too rich to pass up.)
As dawn broke, the partying continued unabated. The DJ who was not used to broadcasting all night kept asking for more coffee. I was already wired from too much coffee. What a relief it was to hear the announcement that the busses were now available for boarding. With the party over and the sun rising, I noted that the 1964 silver Mustang was still gleaming, just as pristine as when I delivered it.