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Admiral Joe Fowler: The Lost Interview

More than any other person, except for Walt and Roy Disney, we have Admiral Joseph William Fowler to thank for creating Disneyland and Walt Disney World. He was an amazing man with a singular view on how both resorts came to be, as well as tons of insight about Walt Disney Company operations from the 50’s on.

Luckily, due to the generosity of some die-hard Disney fans, we’re all able to get a taste of what it was like to actually build The Happiest Place On Earth©, not to mention work with some of the most creative minds this country has seen, in an audio file called Admiral Joe Fowler: The Lost Interview.

 Joe Fowler: An Everyday American Hero

I bought the Fowler interview from ImagineeringDisney several months ago. It took me a while to listen to it, but boy am I glad I finally did. Right off the bat, the audio track puts you in the mood with a few seconds of 60’s, classic Disney-sounding audio straight out of the Carousel of Progress. It whets your appetite for the vintage insider info you’re about to receive.

My heart started beating faster in excitement, like walking toward the tunnel under Main Street Train Station and catching those first notes of the soundtrack. You find your pace quicken and you have to fight breaking into a run. That’s what the beginning of this interview is like.

The first thing beyond the short musical intro that struck me about this interview is how humble and self-effacing Admiral Joe is straight off the bat (from here on, by Disney tradition, I’ll refer to him only as Joe). A Naval Academy graduate, Joe not only had a distinguished Navy career, but he personally had a huge hand in the construction of the American icons that are the Disney theme parks. From listening to him speak about it, you’d think he’d just done okay in life.

In the interview, you’ll learn about Joe’s early naval career and his service in World War I. Later Joe went to Imperial China, where he was stationed outside Shanghai with orders to build six gunboats during the civil war involving Chiang Kai-shek. I looked up where the shipyards were and they’re only about 10 miles from the new Shanghai Disney Resort! It’s a small world after all.

Kiangnan Shipyard, where Admiral Joe Fowler assisted the Chinese in building six river gunboats, in relation to Shanghai Disney Resort.
Kiangnan Shipyard, where Admiral Joe Fowler assisted the Chinese in building six river gunboats, in relation to Shanghai Disney Resort.

The Man Who Built Disneyland

Joe was eventually transferred back to the US, where he helped with the effort of overhauling naval vessels for the Pacific during World War II. He eventually rose to command the San Francisco Naval shipyards entirely, with over 40,000 people working under him. Based on his past occupations, you can tell why Walt would want to have such a man in charge of building his new entertainment enterprise in Anaheim!

Without giving too much away, Joe talks about:

  • Where the name ‘Disneydendron,’ the species of tree for Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, came from.
  • How Fowler’s Harbour got its name and what Walt really called it.
  • How the operational structure of Disneyland and future Disney theme parks came about.
  • How Joe found the Alweg monorail and brought it to Disneyland.
  • How classic Disneyland attractions like the Matterhorn and Submarine Voyage through Liquid Space came about.
  • Behind the scenes events on the opening day of the Mickey Mouse Club Circus at Disneyland.
  • The methods used and just how secret the Florida land purchase for Walt Disney World really was.

One thing that I really love about this interview is the sense of who Walt Disney really was, told first person by a man who knew him for years. I love all the stories about how Walt wanted a specific thing, like the Monorail, Joe found one, and Walt just said, ‘buy it.’ No vacillation, no checking with the bean counters, just move forward. This is always something I’ve loved and found personally kindred with Walt.

Another interesting thing I learned was that sometime shortly after the opening of Disneyland, Disney Productions bought a controlling interest in ride manufacturer Arrow. In fact, this was a helpful part in the deception surrounding the Florida land-grab for WDW. Arrow had built an elevated train for Busch Gardens in Tampa, so Disney execs could fly there, ostensibly look over the Arrow construction, but actually checking out the Florida real estate market.

As far as the recording itself goes, sometimes its hard to hear the interviewer, so turn up the volume a bit. I had to scroll back in a few spots to hear the actual question being asked.

Conclusion

This interview can be summed up thus: a great, detailed, insider interview on the birth of the Disney theme park, told by a supremely humble and knowledgeable man who made a lot of it happen. I’ve already listened to it several times and it’s definitely a must-have audio track for any Disney fan. Make sure to listen all the way to the very end for more Carousel of Progress audio goodness.

Thanks to the folks at ImagineeringDisney.com for sharing it with everyone. It’s definitely worth the meager price of $3.00 USD. That’s all for today, we’ll see ya’ real soon!

By Alex Blasingame

I'm a professional pilot and entrepreneur. I love Disney, TaleSpin, Eeyore, maps, details, etc.

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