This article about a curious event in Disneyland history will jog the memories of many a baby boomer, which experienced the turbulent and uncertain times of what was known as the “Cold War.” This term was given to the period right after WWII and, although many historians disagree, lasting until about 1991. Emerging from the war, the United States and the USSR, the first so-called “Superpowers”, dominated international affairs for decades which led to many major crises… the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Hungary and the Berlin Wall being just some. Of course, world destruction by nuclear weapons was the major fear.
Leading the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964 was Nikita Khrushchev. He served as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964 and as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Premier from 1958 to 1964. Boomers will remember he had a fiery temper, often threatening America by saying “We will bury you!” It was this temper and other political reasons Khrushchev’s party colleagues removed him from power in 1964, replacing him with Leonid Brezhnev.
So what has this have to do with Disneyland? Well, in 1959 Khrushchev was invited to visit the United States to discuss mutual problems with president Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first visit by a Soviet premier to the United States. It was during this thirteen day visit that the cold war and the Happiest Place on Earth got together. He arrived on September 16th, and during the trip, he visited several American cities including New York and San Francisco; and it was to end with a summit meeting with the president. Before arriving in Los Angeles on September 19th, Khrushchev said he wanted see Hollywood and also visit Disneyland. After they arrived, he was informed that his wife and family might be able to visit Disneyland, but because of security reasons, his safety could not be guaranteed, he learned that his day’s itinerary called for him to tour Los Angeles housing projects. But none of the Khrushchev’s visited Disneyland that day; instead they attended a special luncheon at the Twentieth Century Fox studios.
At the studio, the movie “Can Can” was being filmed and the Khrushchev’s got to see several musical numbers from the film performed. At the luncheon, there were many Hollywood celebrities in attendance, including Shirley MacLaine, Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra who was the unofficial master of ceremonies for their visit. Although not confirmed, comedian Bob Hope has said to her along the lines of… “You should really try to go to Disneyland. It’s wonderful.” It was allegedly that Mrs. Khrushchev bemoaned to Frank Sinatra about the trip to Disneyland was cancelled because of security reasons. She said…’It’s the only place I really wanted to see here”. There is one rumor that Frank turned to David Niven and said… , “Tell the old broad that you and I will take her there this afternoon if she wants to go that badly”!. Mrs. Khrushchev then, according to Hope, gave her husband a note telling him that she wanted to go to Disneyland. It was when Khrushchev then asked the Secret Service about visiting Disneyland, he was told it was too dangerous. It was this that led to Khrushchev’s rant. Khrushchev made an incensed speech criticizing the decision to dismiss a trip to Disneyland from his day’s activities…”We have come to this town where the cream of American art lives. And just imagine, I a Premier, a Soviet representative, when I came here to this city, I was given a plan, a program of what I was to be shown and whom I was to meet here” “But just now I was told that I could not go to Disneyland. I asked: ‘Why not?’ What is it; do you have rocket-launching pads there? I do not know”.
“And just listen — just listen to what I was told — to what reason I was told. We, which means the American authorities, cannot guarantee your security if you go there” “What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken over the place that can destroy me? Then what must I do? Commit suicide? This is the situation I am in — your guest. For me the situation is inconceivable. I cannot find words to explain this to my people” The State Department later said that Mrs. Khrushchev and her daughters were free to attend Disneyland, but that Mrs. Khrushchev decided “at the last minute” to remain with her husband instead.
Three weeks earlier, a Major General Nikolai S. Zakharov of the Soviet Security Police arrived in Los Angeles to discuss security with LA police chief William Parker. Citing the length and difficulty of the route, and because the City of Anaheim was outside his jurisdiction, Parker could not guarantee proper security. But in the past, LA escorts to Disneyland were successfully carried out for other Soviet dignitaries and former President Truman. Later on the State Department told Mrs. Khrushchev that she and her daughters could visit Disneyland, but declined and decided to remain with her husband.
So in lieu of visiting Disneyland, Khrushchev and family were given a tour of shopping centers, the UCLA campus and housing developments. Told he could stop anywhere and visit, the Secretary of the Communist party chose to stay in the car, remaining in a sullen mood. He later said… “Putting me in a closed car and stewing me in the sun is not the right way to guarantee my safety. This (not being allowed to go to Disneyland) development causes me bitter regret. I thought I could come here as a free man,” said the Soviet premier. Although none of the Khrushchev family ended up going to Disneyland, four Soviet newsmen did spend about four hours at the park, saying that there was “nothing like it in the Soviet Union, and that they believed Mr. Khrushchev and his family would have enjoyed visiting it”
There were reports that Khrushchev was denied entry into the park. This was not true. Actually, Walt Disney wanted the Khrushchev’s to attend his park. Always a showman, Walt would have loved the worldwide exposure it would create, considering that Disneyland was about four years old. And Lillian Disney expressed an interest in meeting Mr. Khrushchev. In a later interview, Walt said…”We didn’t refuse him permission. No, we were all set. You see we work according to what the State Department want to do when they come in and they have guests” “Khrushchev was a guest of the government, so I mean we were ready to receive Khrushchev”. “But we were ready for him. The press was ready. Both the State Department security and the Soviet security had come and cased Disneyland and they were all set. And I was all ready”. In fact we’ve had a lot of dignitaries down there and he was one that Mrs. Disney wanted to go down and meet. So, she was disappointed he didn’t come”.
So, with Disneyland behind him, Khrushchev continued his trip through California without further incident and returned to Washington for his meeting with Eisenhower. So, maybe if Nikita Khrushchev did get to spend time in the Happiest Place on Earth, maybe the cold war would have ended years earlier!