Foundersland: “750 million people in an orange grove!”

By Marty Sklar, Founder, Past President, Member of the Board of Directors

I had the privilege and pleasure to be one of the cast members whose Disney career began with the opening of Disneyland on July 17, 1955. On Friday, July 17, 2015 about a dozen of us were invited to ride in the Parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the opening of Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

It was a truly magical experience – amazing to see and feel the enthusiasm from thousands and thousands of Disney fans – all of them waving and cheering and “making memories” with their photos – as we rode down Main Street, past Sleeping beauty Castle and the Matterhorn, to end as we came to “it’s a small world”.

It was very special to be part of something that means so much to so many. It reminded all of us that this place, Disneyland, is at the heart of so many hearts. “I think what I want Disneyland to be is a happy place – a place where adults and children alike can experience together some of the wonders of life, of adventure, and feel better because of it.” That was Walt Disney’s goal.

Of course it was Walt we thought most about. It’s hard to imagine that one man’s dream for his own children – Diane and Sharon –could have had such an impact around the world, beginning that July day 60 years ago in that former orange grove in Anaheim. Now there are eleven Disney Parks across the planet, on three continents. A twelfth, Shanghai Disneyland, opens in mainland China in 2016.

Disneyland alone has welcomed 750 million visitors in those six decades. Thus the name of my story: “750 million people in an orange grove!”

I admit I had a not so secret vision in mind as I rode in that Parade. It was an illustration created over a weekend 62 years ago, in the fall of 1953. Today we know that illustration – drawn simply but with tremendous detail in pencil – started an industry, the industry that Disneyland’s success ignited. But it also started something else: it really was the illustration that inspired our Ryman Arts program.

Herb Ryman, Original concept sketch for Disneyland (1953)

Although it was the first overall illustration of Walt Disney’s concept for Disneyland, it has never been officially named. So today I am proposing Herb Ryman’s illustration be named “The Happiest Painting on Earth!”

Small wonder then that is was created by the artist whose name our program proudly wears. For Herb Ryman was not only one of the great talents of his time – for his own personal works and his concepts for Disney Parks and motion pictures – he was also a friend and mentor to everyone.

His colleagues often saw Herb drawing the first illustration of Walt’s – and the Walt Disney Company’s – newest dream: for Disneyland, for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, for Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. Others saw him wandering from office to office, from artist to artist, at Walt Disney Imagineering, offering suggestions to his fellow Imagineers, mentoring young talent.

Herb’s body of work – so well detailed in “A Brush with Disney – An Artist’s Journey told through the words and works of Herbert Dickens Ryman” – not only shines from the walls of many homes like mine – but occupies a special place in the Imagineering archives, both for their numbers and for their importance in communicating Disney projects to the public, and to his fellow Imagineers. Herb’s colleagues were (as is he) Disney Legends – the best of the best in Walt’s world. And no one stood taller in Walt Disney’s lexicon than Herb Ryman.

Leah and I are so proud to have been Herb Ryman’s friends, and to have joined with his friends Sharon Disney Lund, Buzz and Ann Price, and Herb’s sister Lucille Ryman Carroll, to create Ryman Arts a quarter century ago. We all know how important it was for Herb to encourage and inspire young talent. He continues to do that very thing for thousands more each year through Ryman Arts.

Cover image: Walt Disney & Herb Ryman at Herb’s desk looking over Ford art from the World’s Fair