Professor Robert Neuman will present a paper at the annual joint national meeting of the Popular Culture Association and the American Culture Association, to be held in Washington, DC, March 27-30, 2013. The paper, entitled “Westward Ho! Disneyland’s Frontierland and Its Origins in the Hollywood Western,” revisits Disneyland at the time of its inauguration in 1955. Neuman’s earlier article on Main Street, USA, published as a chapter in the anthology, Disneyland and Culture: Essays on the Parks and Their Influence (2011), explored Walt Disney’s indebtedness to the Hollywood genre of the small-town movie. Neuman is now moving his investigation westward from Main Street to Frontierland, while asking the same questions concerning the impact of Hollywood on the park’s visual design and ride narratives.
The paper focuses on a little-discussed source for Walt Disney’s celebration of America’s pioneering spirit in Disneyland’s Frontierland: the movie genre of the Hollywood Western. When Disneyland opened in July 1955, the park’s earliest souvenir brochure boasted, “Our country’s exciting past is accurately reproduced in Frontierland,” and credited a team of “museum authorities.” But Disney’s designers owed a considerable debt to Westerns, which Walt had enjoyed since his youth and to which the public flocked in the 1940s and 1950s. Investigation of several standard plotlines of these films shows how they conditioned guest expectations for the park’s rides. Similarly, an exploration of Hollywood studio backlots reveals numerous motifs that inspired Frontierland’s designers, from MGM’s Missouri paddlewheeler (featured in Show Boat, 1951) and Warner Brothers’ saloon (Calamity Jane, 1953) to Paramount’s steam locomotive (Carson City, 1952, and other pictures) and the ubiquitous false-front towns recycled in scores of movies.