John Hench

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World Secrets: Video! Walt Disney and the 1960 Olympics

Published July 28, 2012 by Disneyways.com

Opening ceremonies for the 2012 Olympic Games was on TV  – and with it – lots of talk about the Olympic Games of the past. In 1960 the organizers of the Olympics asked Walt Disney to provide the entertainment for the event. Walt brought in big named entertainment, fashion shows, and even snow sculptures to the Winter Olympics. He also had Art Linkletter plan logistics for performers to provide nightly entertainment for the athletes and officials. You will hear Art Linkletter tell you in this video that the stars and performers came out to be a part of this at no charge. Not only that – but Art got to be a guest in Walt’s home while all this work was taking place.

The 1960 Olympics were where many “firsts” took place – thanks to Walt. For instance, this Winter Olympics introduced Disney artist John Hench’s Olympic Torch design, which all further torches have been based on. Then came the idea of having the first ever Olympic sponsors. Walt Disney decided on the concept of thirty steel poles for the flags of all nations participating in the games. They each cost $500-$600 (big money back then!) so every flagpole came with a plaque from Walt thanking the Olympic sponsors for their contributions. What a way to get your company some exposure!  After the Games were over, each company received the flagpole their finances had helped place. Things I wold imagine you don’t read on a thank you note every day…my paraphrased version: “Yay you got to be one of the first Olympic sponsors in history! Thanks so much, and here’s your flagpole back now.” Actually, I’m sure Walt Disney would have written a thank you note with much more class…if he actually wrote thank you notes that is.

Olympic officials complained about the costs for some of Walt’s elaborate plans but he quickly responded, “Either we’re going to do it the right way or Disney will pull out.” (You tell ’em Walt!) The Opening and Closing Ceremonies involved 5,000 participants, 1,285 instruments and 2,645 voices from 52 California and Nevada high school bands. This and so much more meant Disney set new pageantry standards for future Olympic games. In the Los Angeles Times, reporter Braven Dyer wrote, “The opening ceremony was the most remarkable thing I ever saw. No matter how much credit you give Walt Disney and his organization, it isn’t nearly enough.”

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