The History of Michael Jackson: at Disneyland (and My 1st Trip There!)

If my love and appreciation for Michael Jackson came from my father, I must give credit for my love of Disney to my mother.

When I think of Walt Disney, one of the things I often think about is how the hard work, creativity, and the dream of one man could create the massive empire that Disney is today. So inspiring!

Michael Jackson has been quoted as saying about Walt, "I have such admiration for Mr. Walt Disney and what he accomplished with the help of so many talented artists. When I think about the joy he and his company have brought to millions of children - and adults-the world over, I am in awe".

I had been to several of the Disney Parks before but, when I had the opportunity to visit Disneyland for the FIRST TIME last month with one of my best friends, I could barely hold my excitement.

A lot of people who consider their home park to be Walt Disney World are taken aback by the size and scale of Disneyland. That couldn’t be further from my experience.

I found Disneyland to be super unique and cozy. It was easier not to compare it to Walt Disney World because I haven’t been there in 2 years but, I liked Disneyland a lot. Whenever I do Disney World trips, I feel like 3 or 4 days still isn’t enough to do everything.

I think Disneyland is someplace that could be enjoyed comfortably over the course of 3 or 4 days, between the two parks... and I like that it isn’t so overwhelmingly large. For a shorter getaway, it is perfect. The thing I noticed most about Disneyland is that there isn’t that “vacation” vibe that you get at the parks in Orlando. I am not sure about the numbers on this but, I would guess that a lot of people who go to Disneyland are locals. Whereas Walt Disney World is an entirely enclosed and isolated “world” of escapism and magic. Pretty much everyone is on vacation there but, Disneyland was so much more of a chill vibe. I guess it was very California, in that way.

Every year 138 million people visit Disney parks all around the world, including me…. and at one time, Michael Jackson.

Interestingly enough, the first track on the Jackson 5’s debut album, “Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5,” (and the first sung words by Michael on an officially released Motown record!) were “Zip A Dee Doo Dah”.

A Disney original, “Zip A Dee Doo Dah,” is a song from the 1946 film Song of the South. The song was originally created for the live action and animated movie mash up and performed by James Baskett (here). I suppose it is no coincidence that Michael’s debut was in some way connected to Disney.

A bit of “real life” foreshadowing of things to come… perhaps?

Most of us have seen photos of Michael in and around the parks as an adult but, many fans don’t realize that his first performance at a Disney Park was with the Jackson 5. The “Sandy in Disneyland” program was a television special that aired April 10, 1974, featuring the quirky comedienne Sandy Duncan. It aired on CBS and showed Sandy getting into entertaining situations around the park. The program featured many guest stars, including the Jackson 5.

Their segment was only about 4 minutes but, they did a short medley of “I Want You Back” and “ABC”--in pirate/sailor costumes!  If you’re interested, the segment can easily be found here on Youtube.

Six years later, Michael was invited back as a celebrated guest at the park and performed on Kraft Salutes Disneyland’s 25th Anniversary.

This special aired on March 6, 1980 and featured a number of special guests, including The Osmonds. His medley of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “Ease on Down the Road,” and “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” was one that I used to listen to regularly on my way to school. It always put me in such a happy mood. It was also during the filming of this special, when Michael requested the presence of Todd Gray to exclusively photograph him for the first time.

Gray’s name should be familiar to you, if you have heard of the book “Before He Was King”. I actually reviewed it here and talked about what a phenomenal collection of photos this was. Todd Gray first shot Michael in 1974 with the Jackson 5 but, once he worked with Michael behind the scenes of the Disneyland special, he continued to be his personal photographer for the next 4 years.

Vanity Fair published an excerpt from Todd Gray about his experience Michael in Disneyland, shortly after Michael’s death in 2009.

 “When Michael was not on the set performing, he took every opportunity to explore the park. The moment the director would release him from the set in order to prepare the next shot, Michael would grab my arm and say, “Come on, let’s hit some rides.” Off we went, the two of us accompanied by a Disney security person, who ushered us through secret passageways, making certain we never waited in line.” (Gray, 2009) 

Michael Jackson and Goofy

Michael Jackson and Minnie

I've heard about Disney Parks accommodating Michael Jackson for private visits after closing for years. Here are a couple shots of an instance of that, also around 1980, as he drove the Disneyland Main Street Omnibus, accompanied by his sister Janet Jackson.

In the years following, Michael Jackson would have an incredibly long history with the Disney Parks and the Walt Disney Company.

There is a lot to cover so, I will be revisiting this someday. If you're curious, I'd love to talk more about my time spent at Disneyland (including what I loved MOST) and some other cool tidbits about Michael and The Happiest Place On Earth.

In the meantime, please check out this post about my experience watching Captain EO with other MJ fans during my trip to Orlando in 2014- it’s a good one!

Be sure to follow MJFANGiRL on social for more! 

Until Next Time, xoxo

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