People walking into Paul Verhoeven's bombastic action film RoboCop expecting an opera of exaggerated violence were not disappointed. But that’s not all audiences got: A sharp observation on militarized law enforcement and corporate excess, RoboCop—which hit theaters 30 years ago today—executed satire with as much skill as it had explosions. Check out these 15 facts (or there will be trouble).
1. ROBOCOP EXISTS BECAUSE A GUY NAMED ED HATED HIS JOB.
Ed Neumeier was so restless as a Universal Pictures story editor that he began to toy with an idea of his own about a robot police officer. Film student Michael Miner had a similar notion that he calledSuperCop; the two brought their ideas together on a script, RoboCop: The Future of Law Enforcement. Despite its satirical bent, the title was so ludicrous they had trouble garnering interest until Orion Pictures—which had just had a hit with The Terminator in 1984—decided to run with it.
2. JUDGE DREDD WAS A MAJOR INFLUENCE.
While Neumeier has said that being on the set of Blade Runner gave him inspiration for the idea of robots in law enforcement, RoboCop’s stoic mannerisms and single-minded action owes a considerable debt to Judge Dredd, the British comic book cop who presides over a diseased urban landscape. Production artists even borrowed heavily from Dredd’s helmet (above) before settling on the sleek suit seen in the film.
3. STAN LEE TURNED IT DOWN.
In 1984, Neumeier decided to see if he could spin the RoboCop script into a comic book to use as a launching pad for a feature. He ran the idea by Stan Lee; before Lee could commit one way or the other, he and Neumeier attended an early screening of The Terminator, which also had a humanoid as the main character. An impressed Lee told the writer, “Boy, you’re never going to top that!” and passed.
4. PETER WELLER BECAME A MIME FOR THE ROLE.
Knowing the suit (which was still being fabricated) would limit his facial expressions, Orion Pictures head Mike Medavoy suggested to lead actor Peter Weller that he seek out a mime coach in order to become more physically expressive. After interviewing several in what amounted to a mime-off, Weller settled on Moni Yakim, a performer who taught at Juilliard. The two worked for months on fluid, balletic movements that incorporated dance training; Weller even suited up in football gear and walked around Central Park to get a feel for moving with added bulk. Unfortunately …
5. WELLER COULD BARELY MOVE IN THE ROBOCOP SUIT.
After protracted design debates with director Paul Verhoeven, effects artist Rob Bottin was unable to deliver the suit until the day they were to begin shooting with it. It took Weller nearly 11 hours to squeeze himself into it, at which point he spent an hour trying to catch a set of car keys for a fleeting shot. Cumbersome beyond his expectations, all of Weller’s mime work had gone out the window; Yakim took the frustrated actor aside and told him to begin thinking of himself as a "beast." Production was halted for several days so that Weller could grow comfortable with his movements.
6. THE HEAT ON THE SET WAS EXCRUCIATING.
While the film was set in Detroit, Michigan to reflect the industrial collapse of the city’s automobile industry, it didn’t do much shooting there, as location scouts determined the Motor City's skyline didn’t look appropriately futuristic. Instead, the production was based primarily in Dallas, where summer temperatures regularly exceeded 100 degrees. Weller could lose eight pounds in a day; much of his time between takes was spent re-hydrating or having cool air hoses stuffed into the suit.
7. WELLER REFUSED TO ANSWER TO HIS REAL NAME.
According to co-star Miguel Ferrer, Weller instructed the producers to issue a memo to the cast and crew advising that no one should refer to him by his real name; he preferred to be called by his character’s name, Murphy, or “Robo.” Ferrer went on to say that, having known Weller for years prior to the film, he enjoyed greeting him with “Hey, Pete.” Weller ignored him.
8. ROBOCOP'S GUN NEEDED FBI APPROVAL.
According to Weller, the modified 9 millimeter Beretta automatic sidearm that RoboCop keeps in his thigh had to be approved by the FBI for entry into the United States. The actor, who had handled weapons as a teenager and was able to twirl handguns, said trying to spin the piece was like “trying to twirl half of a baseball bat.”
9. WELLER WAS WEARING A WALKMAN UNDER THE ROBO-HELMET.
In addition to having a very narrow field of vision and practically sautéing in his own sweat, Weller also had trouble hearing in the suit. For a shootout with drug dealers, Weller decided to set the mood by putting on headphones attached to a Walkman and playing Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain.” Weller called the moment “wildly, psychotically enjoyable.”
10. IT RECEIVED AN X-RATING—EIGHT TIMES.
Verhoeven thought he had sensationalized the violence to a comedic degree, particularly in a scene where an office executive is the victim of a “glitch” in law enforcement machine ED-209. The robot essentially tears him to shreds by firing high-caliber ballistics, at which point someone asks for a medic. The MPAA did not find this as amusing as Verhoeven did and asked him to cut down the scene, as well as the murder of Weller’s Officer Murphy. In all, Verhoeven submitted the film eight times before finally receiving an R rating.
11. SOME OF THE ACTORS GOT UNSOLICITED STUNT PAY.
Kurtwood Smith and Ray Wise had been standing in such close proximity to a building explosion that the production—without any sense of humor—paid both men for “stunt work,” which amounted to roughly $400 apiece for the scene. But the actors didn’t feel their pay justified the risk to their lives; neither was aware the explosion would be that big, and Smith’s coat ended up catching on fire.
12. IT BESTED SNOW WHITE AND JAWS AT THE BOX OFFICE. BARELY.
RoboCop opened in theaters on July 17, 1987, with the only other new release being Jaws: The Revenge, the fourth entry in the shark franchise. RoboCopwon the weekend with just over $8 million, slightly more than third-place Jaws and Disney’s reissue of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. When all tickets were counted, the film made roughly $53 million—enough to crack the top 20 for the year, coming in at number 16, but still not enough to topple the 15th highest-grossing movie of the year: La Bamba.
13. ROBOCOP SOLD FRIED CHICKEN IN KOREA.
While he may not actually possess a stomach, there’s just no killing RoboCop's appetite for chicken: RoboCop shilled for a Korean frozen food company in the 1980s, terrorizing a housewife before making off with the entire refrigerator. In a noodle commercial, RoboCop can be seen exercising his nonexistent abdominal muscles on a beach.
14. ROBOCOP ALSO DID A LITTLE PRO WRESTLING.
As the years went on, RoboCop’s place as social satirist gave way to a more one-dimensional portrayal of the character as a shellacked action hero in sequels, animation, and television. His nadir probably came in 1990, when an actor in the outfit emerged from backstage to assist professional wrestler Sting for a World Championship Wrestling pay per view event. Fortunately, he was able to restore order without opening fire.
15. A ROBOCOP STATUE WILL BE ERECTED IN DETROIT. SOMEDAY.
In 2012, word began to spread about a campaign to erect a RoboCop statue in Detroit—this despite the fact that the city was not exactly portrayed in the most flattering way in the films. A Kickstarter campaign was successful, and work on the statue has begun, but there’s still no ETA for the unveiling.
Christopher Nolan didn’t set out to make sequels. As the director of hit thrillers like Memento and Insomnia, his personal style never seemed to mesh with the idea of helming a mega-franchise. After reenvisioning the Caped Crusader with 2005’s Batman Begins, though, Nolan couldn’t stop thinking about how his version of Batman would respond to the introduction of The Joker. The result was The Dark Knight, a hyper-real exploration of how chaos shakes up the mission of the righteous, complete with huge stars, incredible stunts, and an Oscar-winning performance by the late Heath Ledger. To revisit this landmark movie, which was released 10 years ago, here are 19 fascinating facts about The Dark Knight.
1. IT HAS MANY COMIC BOOK INSPIRATIONS.
While it doesn’t adapt any one specific story to the screen, The Dark Knight did draw inspiration from several specific Batman stories in the pages of DC Comics. When researching and writing the film, director Christopher Nolan and his brother, co-writer Jonathan Nolan, specifically went back to The Joker’s very first appearance in 1940’s Batman #1 in search of how best to introduce the character. Co-writer David S. Goyer, himself a DC Comics contributor, also cites the classic stories The Long Halloween, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Killing Joke as keys to his research, with elements from each making their way into the film.
In addition to classic Joker stories like The Killing Joke, Nolan and star Heath Ledger drew on a diverse array of influences both in and out of comics to craft the film’s version of the Clown Prince of Crime. Before attempting to write the character, the Nolan brothers revisited Fritz Lang’s classic film The Testament of Dr. Mabuse as a study in how to write supervillains. Visually, Nolan also specifically cited the work of painter Francis Bacon as a touchstone for Joker’s distorted view of the world.
As for Ledger, he famously locked himself away in a hotel room for weeks, experimenting with voices and mannerisms until he developed something he was satisfied with. Among his inspirations: Sex Pistols icons Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious and the anarchist character Alex from Stanley Kubrick’s classic film A Clockwork Orange.
3. NOLAN WAS INITIALLY RELUCTANT TO MAKE A SEQUEL.
The Dark Knight is the first Christopher Nolan film to be a sequel, and though Batman Begins ends with Gordon handing Batman the Joker card as a kind of setup for the next film, the director wasn't exactly determined to return to Gotham City. Nolan and Goyer had ideas for how a trilogy of films would happen, of course, but after Batman Begins hit big, Nolan instead went off to make magician drama The Prestige. Ultimately, the lure of telling a Joker story proved too enticing for Nolan to pass up, and he eventually re-teamed with Goyer to begin mapping out the story that would become The Dark Knight.
“I didn’t have any intention of making a sequel to Batman Begins and I was quite surprised to find myself wanting to do it,” Nolan toldEmpire Magazine. “I just got caught up in the process of imagining how you would see a character like The Joker through the prism of what we did in the first film.”
4. HEATH LEDGER WAS THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY THE JOKER.
Though other stars like Adrien Brody expressed an interest in playing the film’s key villain, Heath Ledger was the only name on Nolan’s wish list.
“When I heard he was interested in the Joker, there was never any doubt. You could just see it in his eyes,” Nolan told Newsweek. “People were a little baffled by the choice, it's true, but I've never had such a simple decision as a director.”
5. YES, HEATH LEDGER REALLY DID KEEP A JOKER DIARY.
Because of the actor’s untimely death in January 2008, at the age of just 28, Ledger's performance as The Joker has been somewhat mythologized by fans, so the idea that he kept a secret “Joker diary” while getting into character might sound apocryphal. In fact, Ledger really did make a diary while preparing to play the character. It included various clipped art (Alex from A Clockwork Orange figures heavily), stylized notes, and even lines from the script recopied in his own handwriting. In 2013, Ledger’s father Kim revealed the diary in a documentary, and noted that his son did immersive work like this for every role but “really took it up a notch” for The Joker.
6. MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL WASN’T THE ONLY ACTRESS CONSIDERED FOR RACHEL DAWES.
For the role of Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend and current Gotham City assistant district attorney Rachel Dawes, Nolan had to look for a replacement. Katie Holmes played the role in 2005’s Batman Begins, but opted out of the sequel ostensibly so she could act in the comedy Mad Money. So Nolan went in search of other actresses and ultimately decided on Maggie Gyllenhaal for the role. Gyllenhaal was the final choice, but she wasn’t the only one. Other actresses up for the role included Rachel McAdams and Emily Blunt.
7. GYLLENHAAL TOOK THE ROLE BASED ON NOLAN’S PRESENCE ALONE.
For many actors, the prospect of starring in a sequel to a hit film is a major draw. For others, the prospect of finally being a part of a Batman film would do the trick. For Gyllenhaal, who stepped in as Rachel Dawes, there was only one key reason to say yes: Christopher Nolan.
“When Chris approached me about the film, it was almost incidental that it was about Batman,” Gyllenhaal said. “I was lured into becoming intrigued by the character through the process of making the movie. From the very beginning, Chris was so interesting and engaging—and so interested in me and my ideas about Rachel—that I wanted to be a part of it.”
8. AARON ECKHART WASN’T THE ONLY STAR CONSIDERED FOR HARVEY DENT.
Though The Dark Knight is unquestionably a Batman movie, Nolan and company didn’t consider the Caped Crusader to be the film’s main character.
“Bruce Wayne was the protagonist of the first film,” Goyer said, “but we decided early on that he would not be the protagonist of the second film—that, in fact, Harvey Dent would be.”
To that end, finding the right actor to play Gotham’s district attorney was crucial. Nolan ultimately chose Aaron Eckhart, who reminded him of Robert Redford, to play the part, but Eckhart wasn’t the only star considered. Other potential Harvey Dents included Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, and Ryan Phillippe.
9. MICHAEL CAINE DIDN’T THINK THE FILM WOULD WORK ... UNTIL LEDGER WAS CAST.
Batman fans weren’t the only skeptics when it came to Nolan’s decision to deliver a new cinematic Joker. Michael Caine, who played Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler Alfred, was very apprehensive when Nolan told him The Dark Knight’s villain would indeed be the Clown Prince of Crime, namely because Jack Nicholson’s performance as the character in 1989’s Batmanstill cast a very large shadow.
When Nolan informed Caine that Ledger had been cast in the role, though, the film legend came around.
“I thought: ‘Now that’s the one guy that could do it!’ [laughs] My confidence came back. And then when I did this sequence with Heath, I knew we were in for some really good stuff.
10. THE JOKER’S SCARS WERE INSPIRED BY A REAL PERSON.
Nolan deliberately resisted the idea of giving The Joker an origin story in the film, opting instead to portray him as a force of pure anarchy with no discernible motivation other than chaos. For this reason, the character’s scarred face—as opposed to the chemically-induced frozen grin given to the character’s previous movie incarnation—had no clear source. In fact, the character deliberately tells different stories to different characters to explain where the scars came from. As a result, prosthetics supervisor Conor O’Sullivan was driven to take inspiration for the scars from real life. So, he used an actual man on the street as a reference.
“I immediately thought of the punk and skinhead era and some unsavory characters I had come across during this time,” O'Sullivan recalled. “The terminology for this type of wound is a ‘Glasgow’ or ‘Chelsea smile.’ My references had to be real. A delivery of fruit machines was made to the estate near my workshop and the man delivering them had a ‘Chelsea smile.' I plucked up the courage to ask him for a photo and he told me the story of how he had got his scars while being involved with “a dog fight”; needless to say I didn't pursue the matter, but the photos proved to be very useful reference.”
11. LEDGER LICKED HIS LIPS BECAUSE OF THE JOKER PROSTHETICS.
One of the most identifiable characteristics of Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker is the way he almost constantly licks his lips inside and out, probing his scars with his tongue over and over again. It adds energy to the character as well as a certain menacing quality, but it apparently was not planned. According to dialect coach Gerry Grennell, who worked with Ledger on the film, that tic arose because the scar prosthetics—which extended into Ledger’s mouth—would loosen as he performed. So, he licked his lips repeatedly in an effort to keep them in place.
"The last thing that Heath wanted to do was go back and spend another 20 minutes or half hour trying to get the lips glued back again, so he licked his lips. A lot,” Grennell recalled. “And then slowly, that became a part of the character.
12. THE MOVIE MADE IMAX HISTORY.
Though IMAX cameras are now on the verge of being used to shoot entire feature films, at the time The Dark Knight was made, the format was primarily used for documentary films to showcase things like the wondrous detail of nature. Nolan had longed for years to bring the format to features, and opted to use the ultra-heavy, ultra-expensive cameras to film several major sequences in The Dark Knight. Most famously, the film’s prologue—featuring The Joker’s bank robbery—was filmed on IMAX and released early, in its entirety, as a teaser.
13. THE JOKER FREAKED CAINE OUT SO MUCH, HE FORGOT HIS LINES.
For the scene in which Bruce Wayne is hosting a fundraiser for Harvey Dent in his elegant Gotham City townhouse, Ledger and a group of Joker goons were meant to burst into the party via the elevator. Caine, as Alfred, was supposed to be there waiting to greet guests as the elevator doors opened, only to be frightened by the appearance of The Joker. Caine was there waiting, the elevator doors opened, and he was apparently so frightened by what he saw that any lines he was meant to deliver during the scene completely left his mind.
"I was waiting for Batman's guests, but (the Joker) had taken over the elevator with—he has seven dwarfs and ... oh! wait until you see them,” he said while promoting the film. “So, I'd never seen any of it and the elevator door opened and they came out and I forgot every bloody line. They frightened the bloody life out of me.”
14. THE TRUCK FLIPPING SEQUENCE WAS DONE FOR REAL.
Embracing the hyperrealism of his version of Batman, Nolan opted to do many of The Dark Knight’s biggest stunts practically rather than relying on CGI. That includes arguably the biggest and most visually staggering stunt in the film: When Batman uses steel cables to flip The Joker’s 18-wheeler trailer over cab in the middle of a Gotham street. While another filmmaker might have opted to recreate the moment with computers or models, Nolan wanted to do it for real, on a real Chicago street. The task of pulling it off fell to special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, who ran tests in a more isolated area to ensure the flip wouldn’t harm any member of the crew or any neighboring buildings. With the tests successful, the production was primed to film the stunt … though Corbould still tried to talk Nolan into scaling it down.
“It was a funny thing—and this is always the way working with Chris—where he kept trying to talk me into a smaller vehicle,” Nolan said. “He said, ‘Can't it be one of those SWAT vans, not an articulated truck?!’ I kind of went along with that for a while and we storyboarded it that way and kept talking about it. And I finally just went to him and said, ‘Chris, you can do this, you're fine. It's gotta be a huge truck, it's gotta be a big 18-wheeler,’ and he went ‘Oh, all right,’ in that way he does, and he figured out a way to do it. Nobody had ever done it before and it was really a pretty amazing thing to watch."
15. CHRISTIAN BALE PERCHED ON SKYSCRAPERS HIMSELF AS BATMAN.
One of the most beautiful shots in the film finds Batman, cape billowing around him, perched atop Chicago’s Sears Tower as he surveys his city. It’s a gorgeous image, but also one that easily could have been carried out by a stuntman so Bale didn’t have to take the risk. The star was having none of that. When he found out his stuntman Buster Reeves was preparing to perform the perch, Bale rushed to convince Nolan that he should be the one to stand 110 stories above Chicago for the helicopter shot.
“It was important for me to do that shot,” Bale explained, “because I wanted to be able to say I did it.
Bale also opted to perform a similar stunt in which Batman stands on a ledge of the IFC2 building in Hong Kong. By then, he was quite comfortable with the height.
16. BALE COULDN’T MANAGE THE BATPOD.
One of the great visual hallmarks of Nolan’s Batman films is the introduction of the Batpod, The Dark Knight’s sleek motorcycle. While it may look like an oversized version of any other bike, the pod didn’t handle the same way, so a specially trained stunt driver was required. Jean-Pierre Goy was the man. He took to the vehicle immediately and trained for months to master the high-speed sequences required for the film. Bale, who was more than willing to volunteer to drive the Batpod, was ultimately only able to ride it when it was attached to camera rigs.
“Jean-Pierre was the only one who could master it,” Bale admitted. “Everybody else just fell off instantly.”
17. THE FILM INCLUDES A SMALL TRIBUTE TO LEDGER’S DAUGHTER.
For the scene in which The Joker sneaks into a panicked Gotham hospital to see Harvey Dent, Ledger dressed up in a nurse’s uniform. If you look closely, you’ll see that the nurse’s name tag reads “Matilda.” Matilda is Ledger’s daughter, who was born in 2005.
18. A SITTING U.S. SENATOR MADE A CAMEO.
When The Joker and his goons crash Bruce Wayne’s fundraising party, almost everyone in the room is intimidated into silence. One man, though, is not. He tells The Joker “we’re not intimidated by thugs,” and The Joker then grabs him and holds a knife to his mouth. That man is Patrick Leahy, the Democratic U.S. Senator from Vermont. A lifelong comic book fan, Leahy has appeared in five Batman films to date, including 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where he sat alongside actress Holly Hunter in a congressional hearing.
19. THE MAYOR OF A CITY CALLED “BATMAN” SUED THE PRODUCTION.
Weird lawsuits surrounding major motion pictures are nothing new, but The Dark Knight inspired a particularly strange one. In late 2008, after the film had opened to rapturous critical acclaim and enormous box office success, Huseyin Kalkan—the mayor of Batman, Turkey—sued Nolan and Warner Brothers for what he deemed a negative impact the film had caused on his city.
"There is only one Batman in the world. The American producers used the name of our city without informing us."
Needless to say, given that Batman is still as popular as ever, the suit didn’t go anywhere.
Additional Source: The Art and Making of The Dark Knight Trilogy, by Jody Duncan Jesser and Janine Pourroy
Disneyland is commonly known as the “Happiest Place on Earth,” but when the park opened on July 17, 1955, it didn’t live up to its now-ubiquitous nickname. In fact, Disney employees who survived the day refer to it as “Black Sunday.” Here are 10 of the most disastrous things that went wrong.
1. FAKE TICKETS FLOODED THE PARK.
Disneyland’s opening day was “invite only” and not for public consumption. Tickets were mailed out and only reserved for special guests, including friends and family of employees, the press, and celebrities, such as Jerry Lewis, Debbie Reynolds, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Frank Sinatra. However, scores of counterfeit tickets were widespread on opening day. Disneyland was only expecting about 15,000 guests in total, but more than 28,000 people entered the park.
In addition, there were two sets of tickets with designated times: one for the morning and one for the afternoon. The time to leave Disneyland was printed on each ticket, so if it read 2:30 p.m., you were supposed to leave the park at that time to make way for the afternoon ticket holders to come in. Unfortunately, the morning ticket crowd didn’t leave, so attendance ballooned when the afternoon attendees were admitted.
There was even some money to be made from Disney's woes: one man set up a ladder outside one of the park's fences and charged $5 per person to climb it and sneak in.
Since Disneyland and the city of Anaheim were not prepared for the amount of people that showed up, California's Santa Ana Freeway that led into the park was backed up for seven miles. The traffic essentially shut down the freeway for hours. In fact, people were in their cars for so long that when they finally made it to Disneyland, there were reports of families taking restroom breaks in the parking lot and on the side of the freeway.
3. THE PARK WAS COVERED WITH WET PAINT AND WEEDS.
Completing Disneyland was a race to the finish. Walt Disney wanted a quick turnaround, and it took exactly one year and one day from announcement to opening day, with construction crews working around-the-clock to meet their deadlines.
However, once the doors opened, guests could easily see that it was not completely finished. Workers were still painting structures and planting trees all over the park. Along the Canal Boats of the World (now the Storybook Land Canal Boats), weeds had yet to be removed from the riverbanks. And instead of landscaping the area, Walt Disney simply added signs with Latin plant names printed on them to make it look like they were meant to be there.
In addition, a number of rides were still under construction like Tomorrowland’s Rocket to the Moon, which showed a glimpse of what routine space travel would look like in the distant future of ... 1986.
4. NO FOOD, NO DRINK, NO FUN.
For the lucky people who made it into Disneyland on opening day, they experienced a shortage of food and beverages in every restaurant and concession stand in the park. Because of the unexpected influx of guests, virtually all food and drink inventory was wiped out within hours.
While there were plenty of water fountains on site, many of them were not working because of a plumbers’ strike during construction. Walt Disney had to choose between working water fountains or working restrooms for Disneyland on opening day, so he picked the latter because he felt the toilets were more important.
“A few weeks before the opening, there was a major meeting,” Dick Nunis, chairman of Walt Disney Attractions, explained to WIRED. “There was a plumbing strike. I’ll never forget this. I happened to be in the meeting. So the contractor was telling Walt, ‘Walt, there aren’t enough hours in the day to finish the restrooms and to finish all the drinking fountains.’ And this is classic Walt. He said, ‘Well, you know they could drink Coke and Pepsi, but they can’t pee in the streets. Finish the restrooms.’”
6. THE WEATHER WAS SCORCHING.
Although Walt Disney had no control over the weather, it contributed to the disastrous opening day experience at Disneyland. Temperatures reached an intense 100 degrees, which must have been unbearable in a park without working water fountains. The day was so hot that the fresh asphalt became like a sticky tar, with guests complaining that they were getting their shoes and high heels stuck in the pavement of Main Street, U.S.A.
7. THE RIDES WERE BREAKING DOWN.
Like so many of the other workers toiling to make Walt Disney's one-year deadline, both Disney Imagineers and construction workers rushed to complete the theme park. As a result, a number of rides—including Peter Pan’s Flight, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant in Fantasyland—broke down or were closed altogether because they simply were not finished yet.
The growing pains didn’t stop on opening day. During the first few weeks after opening, the stagecoach ride in Frontierland permanently closed when it was discovered it would flip over if it was too top-heavy; 36 cars in Autopia crashed due to aggressive driving (ironically the ride was designed to help children learn respectful rules of the road); and a tiger and a panther escaped from the circus attraction, which resulted in a “furious death struggle” between the animals on Main Street, U.S.A.
The iconic Mark Twain Riverboat in Frontierland was filled way over capacity on opening day, with about 500 people cramming into the attraction. This caused the boat to go off its track and sink in the mud, but the ordeal was far from over.
"It took about 20 to 30 minutes to get it fixed and back on the rail and it came chugging in," Terry O'Brien, who was working the ride on opening day, later recalled in an interview. "As soon as it pulled up to the landing, all the people rushed to the side to get off, and the boat tipped into the water again, so they all had to wade off through the water, and some of them were pretty mad."
9. SLEEPING BEAUTY’S CASTLE ALMOST CAUGHT FIRE.
A gas leak in the park prompted the closing of Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Frontierland for a few hours, while flames from the leak were seen trying to engulf Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Walt Disney was so busy during opening day that he didn’t learn about the fire until the following day.
10. ABC'S LIVE SHOW FROM DISNEYLAND WAS A TRAIN WRECK.
Walt Disney had a partnership with the broadcast network ABC, which helped finance Disneyland with an investment of $5 million of the park’s $17 million price tag. In return, Walt Disney would host a weekly TV show about what people could expect to see in Disneyland, a full year before it was set to open its doors.
On opening day, Walt Disney hosted a 90-minute live TV special with co-hosts Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings, and future president Ronald Reagan. Over 90 million viewers tuned in to see the “Happiest Place on Earth.” And while the cameras showed the fun and excitement of Disneyland, the TV special obscured the numerous disasters described above.
However, the live broadcast itself was riddled with technical difficulties, such as guests tripping over camera cables all over the park, faulty miscues, on-air flubs, hot mics, and unexpected moments that were caught on camera—namely Bob Cummings caught making out with a dancer just before going on air.
“This is not so much a show, as it is a special event,” Art Linklater said during the live broadcast from Disneyland. “The rehearsal went about the way you'd expect a rehearsal to go if you were covering three volcanoes all erupting at the same time, and you didn't expect any of them. So, from time to time, if I say, ‘We take you now by camera to the snapping crocodiles in Adventureland,’ and instead, somebody pushes the wrong button, and we catch Irene Dunne adjusting her bustle on the Mark Twain, don't be too surprised.”
The live broadcast also featured the debut of the original Mouseketeers from The Mickey Mouse Club TV show, which premiered a few months later in 1955 on ABC. So at least something positive came out of all of it.