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A History of the Main Street Electrical Parade by Chuck Mirarchi

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From hotels to restaurants, parks and attractions, parades and special events; everyone has their favorite.  Every time they eat at a particular restaurant, stay in the same hotel, ride the same ride or see the same parade – it’s like it’s for the first time.  One of those is the Main Street Electrical Parade.

At a press conference on February 10th, Walt Disney World Resort President Meg Crofton announced a number of changes and updates for the Florida resort including the return of the Main Street Electrical Parade.  The parade is part of Walt Disney World’s summer promotion, Summer Nightastic!  and will be replacing SpectroMagic.  As of press time, there has been no word on what is happening to SpectroMagic.  Some say it’s being refurbished and enhanced for Walt Disney World’s 40th Anniversary in 2011 and others say it’s being transferred to Disneyland, but until there is official word from the Walt Disney Company everything is just speculation at this point.

The Main Street Electrical Parade is a nighttime parade that features floats and live performers covered in thousands of electronically controlled lights and a synchronized soundtrack triggered by radio controls along key areas of the parade route.

The parade is known by two different names: at Disneyland it is known as The Main Street Electrical Parade (MSEP), and at Walt Disney World it is simply known as Main Street Electrical Parade.  However, the officially registered name is The Main Street Electrical Parade.  The last time the parade was seen at Walt Disney World was on April 1, 2001 before heading cross-country to Disneyland.  The parade has undergone a number of incarnations since its debut and the Disneyland version is expected to arrive at Walt Disney World pretty much intact.

There are a lot of stories out there on Walt Disney World “history” usually consisting of a mix of facts, myths, and urban legends.  The stories surrounding the Main Street Electrical Parade are no different. Some report that Walt Disney himself had conversations about the parade and that there needed to be a nighttime parade.  If there was indeed a conversation about evening entertainment at Disneyland, it would have more than likely been between Walt & Tommy Walker, who was the entertainment director at the time.  And it would have more than likely have become Magic Music Days – where school bands & choirs come to perform in the park (at Disneyland, the performances happen on the Carnation Plaza Gardens stage).

To straighten out the stories behind the Main Street Electrical Parade, we are going straight to the source: Ron Miziker, Founder and Creative Director of Miziker Entertainment Group and The Howdy Show in Mesa, Arizona.  Ron was the co-creator and producer of the Main Street Electrical Parade.

According to Ron’s bio, he started his career in advertising, produced a daily variety show in Cincinnati, and then joined the Disney Company as Director of Entertainment and Show Development.  He was responsible for the planning and production of all shows to open Walt Disney World and then for all the Disney parks including Disneyland, Epcot Center and Tokyo Disneyland including many original shows, spectacular parades, dazzling revues, atmosphere shows, dinner theater shows, celebrity headliner specials, character and animal shows, fireworks, laser extravaganzas and “almost any other kind of production you can imagine.”  He also participated in the master planning of some of Disney’s largest outdoor entertainment projects. Miziker left Disney to produce network television specials and numerous other award-winning projects and then returned to the Disney Studios as Producer of television programs including the Wonderful World of Disney.  He was then named Vice President of Original Programs and Productions for the launch of the Disney Channel.

Robert Janioversaw the events for Walt Disney World’s grand opening, one of which was the Electric Water Pageant. Jani was the head of Disneyland Guest Relations from 1955-1957, then after a 10-year hiatus from the company, returned in 1967 as director of entertainment, and was eventually named VP of entertainment for both Disneyland & Walt Disney World.

The Electric Water Pageant was created not only for the grand opening events at Walt Disney World but also, initially, it served as a backdrop for the Polynesian Luau when the luau was performed on the beach at the Polynesian (before construction was completed on Luau Cove).

The pageant’s popularity prompted Disney to make it into its own stand-alone show after the luau moved into its permanent home.

THE BEGINNING

Ron Miziker, who worked under Jani, was asked by Bob if he would take over the planning of all entertainment and shows for Walt Disney World because Bob was having all kinds of production issues with Disney on Parade.  Subsequently, Ron became, temporarily , the first Director of Entertainment for Walt Disney World.

Shortly after Walt Disney World officially opened, Ron returned to California where Card Walker, company president, had called a meeting with Rob Jani and Ron Miziker.  Card told them that he had a big problem: since the opening of Walt Disney World, very little attention was now being paid to Disneyland.  He wanted to correct that, and quick.  Card’s directive was that this event should take place at night to keep people in the park past the early evening hours.  Dick Nunis, executive vice president of Walt Disney World and Disneyland, was against working on and implementing the MSEP project.  He said with the opening of Bear Band (Country Bear Jamboree, March 4, 1972) he didn’t see a need for another big attraction like a parade.  Card disagreed with Dick and continued to make the parade a reality.

Ron then went to the local library to do research on various show ideas that he had.  He found a story on what some big cities did during the advent of the electricity.   At the turn-of-the-century big cities that were among the first to get electricity would hold parades down their main streets with strings of lighted bulbs.  This struck Ron as an interesting idea.  He went back to Bob and said, “What if we do a parade with lights?!”

The overwhelming popularity of the Electric Water Pageant at WDW further inspired them to create a west coast equivalent, but instead of being on water, Ron and Bob put wheels to the idea and created The Main Street Electric Parade for Disneyland.

It was almost a literal translation of the Electric Water Pageant because the first MSEP for Disneyland was mostly a series of flat screen lit images being pulled down Main Street by Cast Members.  The few dimensional floats were the Casey Jr. Train, Mickey’s large drum, and the whirly bugs, because they pre-existed and were just fitted with lights.  Additionally, the Blue Fairy was a totally new dimensional float.

WE GOT THE IDEA… NOW WHAT?

One of the many problems to come up was how to power these street floats.  Powering the Electric Water Pageant was easy, because the generators were on the lake.  However, it wasn’t as easy for this parade.  The park maintenance department offered the help of one of their electrical engineers, Gerry Hefferly, to come up with a workable power source.

They looked at a number of power sources including various types of generators and even electrifying the tracks in the street, but still was not able to come up with an adequate way to power the parade.   The power source had to accomplish three different tasks at the same time: light the bulbs to create the images, power the unit itself, and power the sound system.

They reported back to Card about their problems and he said to Ron and Bob that they and their team had about a week to figure out whether it was possible or not.  Three days before their deadline, Gerry was working virtually non-stop to figure out the problem.  He was doing a number of calculations on various types of batteries when he told Ron and Bob that he believed he might have the answer.

The Walt Disney Studio had recently purchased a brand new type of battery called nickel-cadmium batteries – commonly known today as NiCad batteries – for lighting and other various film productions.  Gerry believed that, based on his calculations, they were more efficient than existing car batteries and would solve their power issue.  He determined if they ran the parade in one direction they could then recharge the batteries and do a second show in the opposite direction.

After the week was over, the team went into another meeting with Card and Dick and told them that they found a solution to their power problem.  Card was ecstatic, but needless to say Dick still was against the entire idea.  Plans for the parade continued to move forward.

Another issue was where to get the right light bulbs to create the exact desired effect.  The team determined the specifications of the bulb that would be ideal for each of the floats.  After an extensive search they finally found a company, the Silvestri Lights Company in Chicago. At the time, this Italian company was the only company manufacturing the tiny Christmas lights.  One of the problems was that the lights only came in clear – all color required hand dipping the lights into a color medium.

Planning for the parade took place January and February of 1972.  Construction of the floats had to start quickly if they wanted to get the parade up by the mid-June deadline.  Relying on their working knowledge of their lights they contracted Silvestri in the beginning of March to handle the construction of the floats.  With regular updates the team found that the construction company was falling far behind and not accomplishing what they needed.  Ron then headed to Chicago to evaluate the situation.  It was a disaster.  Very little had been accomplished.  Bob and Ron discussed their options by phone and it was decided that the floats would come back to California to be finished.  While Ron organized moving vans and had all the floats packed up and driven back west, Bob began preparations for their arrival and the work that needed to be accomplished.  Large circus tents were erected in the back area of Disneyland, and a large crew of electricians, carpenters and others were hired to begin work on the parade unit pieces once they arrived.  .  Flying back from Chicago, Ron remembers contemplating that he was flying over a fleet of 14 moving vans of stuff – none of which was anywhere close to being finished – with only a few weeks left before the announced opening of this spectacular new parade! 

Once back in California, crews worked around-the-clock on the floats.  Most of the scheduled rehearsals with the performing cast were cancelled to allow more hours of work on the units. Of the two rehearsals that did take place, the first was an absolute disaster.  Some of the units fell apart – including Cinderella’s canopy of lights, one unit crashed into a building on Main Street, and two horses (yes, there were several horses with riders in the first version of the parade), fell under the weight of the lighted banners they were carrying.  The electricians and other crew members each became totally dedicated to the task at hand.  They all were determined to get this parade done and opened on time!  In fact they were working on the floats right up until the moment it premiered, June 17, 1972.  As the floats were readying to move from backstage to Main Street, the lights on the units were lighted for the first time! Dozens of electricians were still working on the lights and hopping off just before each unit went through the gates into public view.  Ron said, “The sight of that happening was like people jumping ship just prior to it sinking.  Fortunately the parade was an instant hit!”

The engineers who helped create the parade also created the first show-control program in existence. This required the 2,000-foot (610 m) long parade route to contain multiple radio-activated “trigger zones.”

Using radio-activated triggers as each float entered a zone, the audience would hear float-specific music through the Disneyland audio system. Each zone was between 70–100 feet long, and the zoned system meant that every person watching the parade would experience the same show, no matter where they stood along the parade route.

THAT MUSIC

From the very beginning, Bob Jani was hooked on calliope music and was set to use it for the MSEP.  However Ron’s team wanted something else and a member of that team, Jack Wagner, who had been responsible for finding all the background music for Walt Disney World was given the challenge of finding alternate music samples.  (Bob eventually got to use his calliope music for America On Parade).

A side note about Jack – in addition to him being responsible for finding the music he had another distinction.  He was nicknamed “The Voice of Disneyland.”    Jack’s voice was not only heard over Disneyland’s PA system for parades and special events, he also did a lot of voice work for the attractions themselves, including instructions, emergency precautions, and safety spiels. Jack also did some voice work for the Walt Disney World Resort and – what is probably his most famous and popular work to some Disney World fans – his voice can still be heard on the Walt Disney World Monorail System: “Please stand clear of the doors; por favor mantenganse alejado de las puertas.

Jack also had one more responsibility with the Main Street Electrical Parade – he provided the very famous announcement for both the original Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade and Walt Disney World Main Street Electrical Parade.  In a vocoded voice, you hear, “Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, Disneyland/Walt Disney World proudly presents our spectacular festival pageant of nighttime magic and imagination, in thousands of sparkling lights, and electro-synthe-magnetic musical sounds, The Main Street Electrical Parade!” After the parade concludes, you hear one final announcement before the closing electric fanfare; “Disneyland’s/Walt Disney World’s Main Street Electrical Parade!”  Don Dorsey took over after Wagner passed away in 1995.

Jack found a number of musical samples that he thought would work for the parade.  They gathered in Bob Jani’s office and Jack played each music sample.  Ron, Music Director Jim Christensen, and others agreed that there was one piece that was better than the rest, Baroque Hoedown.  The music had been created electronically – something totally new at this time in the music world.  The electronic sound and its quick, catchy melody were infectious.  The tempo was right for choreography and a one-minute and three-second portion could be looped to play continuously; exactly what parade music needed to do.

The original version was created in 1967 by early synthesizer pioneers Jean-Jacques Perrey from France and Gershon Kingsley from Germany.  The team spoke to the composer’s agents who agreed to allow them use the music for the parade.  Originally, the parade’s soundtrack had the same themes as the current recording, but was a different arrangement by Jim Christensen and Paul Beaver. In 1977, it was updated and arranged by electronic music artist Don Dorsey and Jack Wagner at Jack Wagner Studio, which was used until January 2009 in Disney’s Electrical Parade.

When the parade returned to Disney’s California Adventure in June 2009, it began using the updated, orchestrated DreamLights soundtrack from Tokyo, but with some changes made, as certain floats in the California parade are not included in the Tokyo parade.

According to Don Dorsey’s website, “A quick search of Los Angeles-based musicians turned up synthesizer programmer Paul Beaver. Paul had a small studio and was considered “the only guy” for synth work in Hollywood.  On May 17, 1972, Jack and Jim met with Paul for the first time…  As they experimented and explored, with Paul programming the electronic sounds and Jim playing the keyboard, two demo tracks were completed.  One was a short patriotic medley and the other was the original Baroque Hoedown recording with a synth bass line added.

Through discussions with Bob, it was decided to build the entire parade on top of Baroque Hoedown, a technique similar to “It’s a Small World” where one melody is overlaid with multiple synchronized arrangements.  In this plan, instead of moving the audience through the arrangements, the arrangements would move past the audience.  Armed with sketches of the parade floats, Jim began the puzzle-like process of fitting Disney melodies into the harmonic structure and format of Baroque Hoedown.”

He continues to say, “A deal was quickly negotiated… and less than two weeks later, Jack and Jim were back in Paul Beaver’s studio recording the masters for the very first Electrical Parade.  They created six different musical scenes, each one using Baroque Hoedown as the foundation.  (Three of those original tracks, Baroque, Alice, and The Angry Dragon, were retired with the original Electrical Parade after its 1974 season but Cinderella, Dumbo, and the Patriotic Finale are still used in the current parade.)

After the summer of 1974, the original Electrical Parade was retired to make way for a two-year Bicentennial celebration.  America On Parade, including Rob Jani’s calliope music, was its replacement.  Paul Beaver, who was working on the music for this parade as well, died suddenly.  Jack Wagner contacted the Moog Company, the manufacturer of the synthesizer that Paul had used, to see if they knew any local programmers.  They suggested Don Dorsey – a student at Cal State Fullerton.  He helped create the Great American Band Organ sound for the patriotic parade.

Following his work on America on Parade, Jack hired Don as his full-time audio production assistant.  When the MSEP returned to Disneyland in 1977, Don proposed to do something very different.  The original parade began with a manually triggered tape of an oscillator sweep, followed by the fade in of the continuous parade music as the lights were turned off.  Don wanted to create an exciting musical opening that would incorporate a fanfare that segued directly into the parade tempo.  He also wanted to synchronize the light cue to the music for dramatic effect.  Because the parade would need this sonic beginning as it arrived in each different area of the park, Don invented a way to perform automatic synchronized introductions “on demand.”  This process, called the “opening window” has been used to start Disney parades ever since.

Don composed the “Electric Fanfare,” reworked the Underliner/Blue Fairy track with a perkier bass line and new melody enhancements, rearranged the Alice in Wonderland unit and added creature sounds, and arranged new tracks for Pete’s Dragon, Briny Deep/Underwater and Disney Neon Finale.  Bob Jani called the new music “electro-synthe-magnetic” and wrote the announcement for the opening sequence.

The summer of 1977 also saw the first complete revision of the parade taking it from flat screens to three dimensional units and the debut of the Electrical Parade at Walt Disney World, and the following January, Disney took several Electrical Parade floats to the Orange Bowl for a spectacular half-time show produced by Ron Miziker.  For the half-time show, introductions and endings for the Alice in Wonderland and Pete’s Dragon units needed to be created, along with a grand finale for the Blue Fairy track.  Don composed the “Fanfare of Lights” for the finale and used the “opening window” concept in reverse to achieve the musical endings.  Bob Jani liked the result so much that the closing fanfare was added to the parades in the summer of 1978.

Over the ensuing years, the parks saw many musical units come and go, most arranged and performed by Don.  In 1979, the Briny Deep unit was transformed into a Pinocchio/Underwater scene.  Disneyland’s 25th Anniversary brought a new unit for the 1980 season, and The Fox and the Hound unit appeared in the summer of 1981.

The parade opened in June of 1972 and was an instant hit.  Park guests requested copies of the music so, in 1973 when Jack, Jim and Paul reunited to record a Small World unit, a recording of the soundtrack was produced.  The seven-inch souvenir disc featured a colorful graphic of the parade pressed directly into the vinyl, and was among the first of its kind.”

THE PARADE ON THE MOVE

Disneyland’s The Main Street Electrical Parade had an East Coast version with the same name and layout at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort, which ran from 1977 to 1991.  It was replaced by a similar parade, SpectroMagic, which ran from 1991-1999 and then reopened in 2001.  In 1992, the electrical parade from the Magic Kingdom went to Parc Disneyland at Disneyland Paris and ran there until 2003.

It was then replaced by Fantillusion, a nighttime parade from Tokyo Disneyland that had earlier replaced the Tokyo version of the Main Street Electrical Parade.  Tokyo’s  current electrical parade is DreamLights, which premiered in 2001.  It was a return to the style of the original with updated new music and floats.

The Main Street Electrical Parade closed in Disneyland in 1996 after a 24-year run.  Light bulbs certified as having been part of the show were sold to collectors.  The replacement show, Light Magic, opened in 1997 and proved to be not as popular.  Disney quickly cancelled Light Magic but held off in bringing back the popular Main Street Electrical Parade.  However, the parade was refurbished and appeared at WDW’s Magic Kingdom in May 1999 for a limited engagement, just in time for the resort’s Millennium Celebration.  It ended its run at the Magic Kingdom on April 1, 2001 and SpectroMagic was brought back the very next day.

The Main Street Electrical Parade floats were then sent back to California for the parade’s return to Disneyland.  These plans changed after Disney management decided that their recently opened Disney’s California Adventure needed a boost.  On April 25, 2001, Disney announced that the popular Main Street Electrical Parade would be coming to Disney’s California Adventure on July 2, 2001 in honor of the first summer of the park.

The name of the show was changed from the Main Street Electrical Parade to Disney’s Electrical Parade.  Most of the 1996 parade floats returned, except for the Pinocchio Pleasure Island section and the Snow White diamond mine float, which were sent to Parc Disneyland at Disneyland Paris in 1997.  During the 2005 off-season, the entire parade was pulled in for refurbishment.  This allowed for the replacement of lights on all of the floats and alteration of wording on the drum to “Disney’s Electrical Parade, Presented by Sylvania.”

On the 2008 Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade special, Disney announced that a Tinker Bell float would be added to Disney’s Electrical Parade, which would make it the first new float to be added to the classic parade in 20 years, since the temporary Mickey Mouse’s 60th Birthday float in 1988.  It was announced on April 24, 2009 at a press conference that the Snow White and Pinocchio units would be returning as well.  Most of the major floats have had new LED pixie dust effects added to them.  No longer featuring the Blue Fairy, this parade made its formal debut on June 12, 2009.  California’s caterpillar received a new digital face in December 2009. As part of showing off classic items from the Disney Archives, one of the original turtle floats, or whirlies, from the Main Street Electrical Parade was on display at the “technology section” of the D23 Expo.

THE PARADE

According to Wikipedia, the original Disneyland parade had the following floats:

Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade / Original Run: June 17, 1972 – November 25, 1996

Sponsors: Energizer (1972-1985) General Electric (1985-1996)

Floats:

Blue Fairy

Casey Jr. Circus Engine

Alice in Wonderland

Mushroom with Butterfly and Ladybug

Snails

Mushroom with Alice and Cheshire Cat

Fireflies

Mushroom with The Caterpillar and Frog (originally a butterfly)

Turtles

Centipede

Cinderella

Pumpkin Coach

Ballroom

Cinderella’s Ball w/ Prince Charming and stepsisters

Clock Tower

Peter Pan (1985-1996)

Pirate Ship w/ Captain Hook, Peter Pan and Wendy

Smee’s Boat w/ Mr. Smee

Dumbo‘s Circus

Hippo and King Leonidas Calliope

Four Ring Circus with Dumbo and Clown (split into two parts)

Bear Balancing on Barrels

Elephant Bathing

Briny Deep/Pinocchio Underwater (1977-1984)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1985-1996)

Dopey’s Mine Train with Dopey, Snow White, Doc, Grumpy, and Sneezy

Dwarf Mine with Happy, Sleepy, and Bashful

Pinocchio on Pleasure Island (1985-1996)

Funhouse Face and Pleasure Island Part 1

Pleasure Island Part 2 w/ Pinocchio and Lampwick.

Sleeping Beauty Dragon (1972) (later changed to Chinese Dragon)

Pete’s Dragon (1977 – 1996, replaced Chinese Dragon)

Return To Oz (1985)

Disneyland’s 25th Anniversary (1980) (replica of Sleeping Beauty Castle)

Mickey Mouse’s 60th Anniversary (1988)

It’s a Small World (1972 – 1988)

Disneyland’s 35th Anniversary (1990) (logo float)

To Honor America

Disney Neon Finale (1977 & 1978) w/ Mary Poppins, Bert, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Goofy, Donald Duck, Chip, Dale, Baloo, King Louie, Pooh, Tigger and Piglet

Fox and the Hound (1980)d

THE MAIN STREET ELECTRICAL PARADE ESCAPES FROM THE PARKS

The first time that some of the MSEP floats were seen outside of a Disney Park was in 1977 at the New York City premiere of Disney’s Pete’s Dragon, a live-action / animated feature-length musical film.  Since the film was being premiered at Radio City Music Hall, Ron Miziker thought that it would be great if they could also promote the addition of a new MSEP float, Elliott, the dragon in the movie, at the premiere.  So he arranged with the City of New York to not only bring the MSEP to New York City and parade the floats down 6th Avenue, but also got the City to agree to turn off the street lights on 6th Avenue.

This was also done on June 14, 1997 for the opening of the New Amsterdam Theater and Hercules movie.  With the addition of some Hercules-themed floats it was called “The Hercules Electrical Parade”.  Again, Disney arranged for the lights to be all turned off on about 8-blocks of Broadway up to the theater.  All the businesses complied with the exception of Warner Brothers, who had a Warner Bros. retail store at the crossroads of 42nd Street and Broadway. One other outside presentation of the Electrical Parade was presented during the halftime show of the 1978 Orange Bowl college football game.

If you have ever seen the Main Street Electrical Parade or will see it for the first time when it returns to Walt Disney World this June for its limited engagement – you will now be able to appreciate it even more and understand why this has been a guest favorite for 33 years.

Footnotes:

Wikipedia

Ron Miziker interview / www.miziker.com

www.dorseyproductions.com

www.waltdisneyworld.com

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