Now that Andy Warhol’s prediction that everyone will have 15 minutes of celebrity in their lifetime seems to have been proven true, celebrities are the proverbial dime a dozen. But back in the 60’s, spotting a real live movie star in public was quite a big deal. And when Disneyland arrived on the scene, it became a celebrity itself. Everyone wanted to see it in person, including Hollywood’s own celebs.
Eddie Meck was head of publicity at the Park. He was a seasoned pro from the ranks of Hollywood, most prominently at RKO, a major studio at the time. He wasn’t easily impressed. An agent or studio would call the Park and ask for special treatment for a client, and most would get a polite recitation of the ticket prices and hours of operation. You had to be a Justin Beiber kind of celebrity to get the royal treatment. And one such star was Sophia Loren.
She won an Oscar for “Two Women” in 1962. The day after the Awards, she asked to visit Disneyland and she was accommodated. I got the assignment to meet her at the gate and escort her, along with a Park tour guide, through the attractions. She arrived with the flare of a Hollywood star, complete with black limo and a trail of photographers.
The reason she was so popular was that she had a sensual quality unusual among American stars. Many female stars were considered “sexy”, but in kind of a wholesome way. But Sophia Loren was far from wholesome looking. First of all, she was Italian – the real thing – and secondly, she was flat-out gorgeous. She purportedly once said, “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.”
In her entourage was her husband, Carlo Ponti the Italian film producer. He was about 20 years older than she, and about 20 inches shorter. They made a strange-looking celeb couple. I accompanied them through the Park, not able to chat her up because of her limited English. We sliced our way through the crowds, who stopped to stare; we by-passed long lines to enter rides through the exit gates. No one seemed to mind. “This way, Miss Loren”, as if she were royalty. Those beautiful big eyes got even larger as we “submerged” in the submarine.
After about two hours of hiking around the Park in my high heels, nervously checking on arrangements for her, I was a wreck. She, however, remained composed and glamorous throughout the day. She murmured her thanks as she left, and I hobbled back to my office to get my shoes off.
Among the most frequent VIP visitors were the annual Big Ten teams from the Rose Bowl game in Pasadena. Usually on January 2 we would see a flock of football players arrive for a special tour. If the Big Ten had won the Bowl game the previous day, they were usually terribly hung-over from the previous night’s celebration.
One year, I watched some of the really hefty footballers get on the Tea Cup ride. As they whipped around, a 300-lb. linebacker started waving his hand frantically, and then proceeded to throw up all over the ride. Some the of the parents who were happily watching their youngsters from afar, had to duck to avoid the vomit hurling toward them. Needless to say, the ride was shut down for a while as the maintenance crew came in to save the day. I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen at Disneyland.
Previously in The Park:
Part one: The Park – Disneyland in the first decade
Part two: The Park – Inside the press event for the Tiki Room