Yippie-Dee-Doo-Dah, Part 3: When The Yippies Invaded Disneyland

Those who were actually inside Disneyland on the night of Aug. 6, 1970 recall gaping at those 150 riot police that suddenly appeared along Main Street, U.S.A., their billy clubs at the ready.
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Picking up where we left off in the last post, those who were actually inside Disneyland on the night of Aug. 6, 1970 recall gaping at those 150 riot police that suddenly appeared along Main Street, U.S.A., their billy clubs at the ready.

Looking down from the rooftops of Main Street, U.S.A. at the riot control units that were in the theme park that night. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Guests in other parts of the theme park that night had similar sorts of rude awakenings. One tourist described floating back out into the sunlight after riding through "It's a Small World," having been caught up in this attraction's happy-happy message of "there is just one moon and one golden sun, and a smile means friendship to everyone," only to then discover a police helicopter hovering over Fantasyland, as the officer onboard used this helicopter's PA system to urge all Disneyland guests to move to the nearest exit.

It took a solid two hours to clear everyone out of the theme park that night. And even then, once the gates had been locked, Disneyland security still discovered six Yippies who had hidden themselves away while the place was being closed, in hopes of being able to do some additional mischief once all of the employees had gone home for the day.

As for those over-24,000 people who had come out to Disneyland on Aug. 6 not to take part in this Yippie convention, but rather to simply enjoy all of the rides, shows and attractions at that theme park, Disneyland officials assured all these guests that the price of their admission tickets would be cheerfully refunded were they to return to the park the following morning.

But given what these folks must have felt when they encountered that wall of riot police standing in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, urging guests to move as quickly as possible down Main Street, U.S.A and exit out through the turnstiles, one wonders how many of the people who were in Disneyland on the night of Aug. 6, 1970 ever returned to collect their refunds -- or, for that matter, ever returned to this theme park at all.

As the police in their riot control uniforms look on, guests quickly exit the theme park. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

But the upside is that although a photo of Yippies snake-dancing in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle made the front page of virtually every major newspaper in North America and Europe on Aug. 7 (which must have Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin very happy), as a piece of political theater, this Yippie convention had been something of a bust.

Oh, sure. Disneyland did experience some minor property damage over the course of the day, most of it caused by Yippies who, after they were forced to leave the theme park, vented their frustration by tearing up the flowerbeds that were located just outside the park's turnstiles and then throwing the flowers at the policemen who were now lining Disneyland's perimeter fence.

But beyond that, instead of walking away from this incident with a Chicago-sized black eye, Disneyland officials actually found themselves being praised for the way that they handled the events of Aug. 6, 1970. Because they'd mostly taken a hands-off, keep-things-cool approach to handling the Yippie convention, Mouse House executives had managed to keep this particular powder keg from exploding for most of that day. And then, when the Yippies had seemed determined to move things to the next level, Disneyland officials had quickly defused what could have been a genuinely dangerous situation, by making a sudden and deliberate show of force (i.e., by bringing those hundreds of riot police out from backstage).

Of course, what's kind of ironic about this whole situation is that were you to talk with 90 percent of the Southern California teens who came out to Disneyland on Aug. 6, 1970 to take part in the International Yippie Pow-Wow, you'll find that they weren't there because they believed fervently in the causes of the Youth International Party, but rather because they were just bored teenagers who were looking for something different to do on a hot summer day. These kids made a special trip out to Disneyland on Aug. 6 with the hope that they might get to see something happen.

And given that 23 people did wind up being arrested at the theme park on Aug. 6 (mostly for relatively minor infractions like trespassing), maybe a few of these teenagers got a little more excitement than they had initially bargained for. But overall, most Southern California kids must have walked away from Disneyland on Aug. 6, 1970 disappointed by how little had actually happened at this "happening."

As for Hoffman and Rubin, again, they must have been pleased with the amount of front-page coverage that their Yippie invasion of Disneyland received, which is why Abbie and Jerry then continued to promote their free-speech and anti-war agenda with other pieces of political theater that were staged around the country in the early 1970s and beyond.

And speaking of free speech, it's worth noting here that while there was a brief period of retrenchment at the Happiest Place as a direct result of the events of Aug. 6th (meaning that for much of the early 1970s, Disneyland turned away any guests with long hair and/or hippie-style garb), over the past 40 years, this theme park has become much more open and tolerant when it comes to the types of people that it allows to come through its turnstiles.

Don't believe me? From Sept. 30 through Oct. 2, Disneyland will be packed to the gills with happy couples wearing red shirts who are in town celebrating Gay Days Anaheim. Then, on May 18, 19 and 20, 2012, Disneyland will celebrate Bats Day, which is when Goths from around the country descend on the park wearing outfits that would have given pause to even the most fashion-forward Yippie from 1970.

Anyway, that's the story of what happened on Aug. 6, 1970, the day that the Yippies invaded Disneyland, which, now that I think about it, did have an awful lot in common with what just happened on Hollywood Boulevard: both of these powder kegs could have exploded if those who responded to these would-be riots hadn't then found relatively peaceful ways (which, admittedly, did involve brief shows of force) to defuse these potentially dangerous situations.

And speaking of Hollywood, remind me sometime to tell you about the sequel to "Good Morning, Vietnam" that Walt Disney Studios almost made in the late 1980s. It was to have transplanted Robin Williams' Adrian Cronauer character from the rice patties of South Vietnam to Chicago in the Summer of 1968, so that this motor-mouthed DJ could then have a front-row seat to all the battles in the street that occurred over the course of the Democratic National Convention.

Having read the screenplay for this proposed "Good Morning, Vietnam" sequel, I can tell you that "Good Morning, Chicago" would have put the Yippies in a very sympathetic light. Even though Adrian Cronauer's brother (in this movie, anyway) was to have been a Chicago cop, the real heroes of "Good Morning, Chicago" were supposed to have been the idealistic teenagers who went head-to-head with the Illinois National Guard and Chicago's finest as they protested America's involvement in the Vietnam War.

And given that Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin appear (albeit briefly) in the script for "Good Morning, Chicago," I always wondered how these two counter-culture icons would have felt about going from being the master planners of Yippie Day at Disneyland to then being depicted as characters in a Disney-produced film.

So, to bring things full circle here, do we have any would-be partygoers out there who can tell us what really happened out on Hollywood Boulevard on July 27, 2011? Or, better yet, any former Yippies who can talk about what it was actually like to be inside Disneyland on Aug. 6, 1970?

Jim Hill is an award-winning entertainment writer who lives in New Boston, N.H. Over the past 30 years, he has interviewed hundreds of veterans of the animation and themed entertainment industry and written extensively about The Walt Disney Company. For his more immediate musings on movies, TV shows, books and theme parks, please check out his blog, jimhillmedia.com.

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