One of my parents’ favorite Disney World attractions was the Diamond Horseshoe Revue. This saloon show included singers, dancers, and other variety acts performing inside a large theater in Frontierland. I remember visiting it as a kid but don’t have many clear memories. My brother was chosen as the volunteer once with a magician, but it’s all a little blurry. The Diamond Horseshoe is a descendant of the original Disneyland version called The Golden Horseshoe Revue. Wally Boag and Betty Taylor starred in that show, which ran for more than 30 years.
Despite all the visits to the Diamond Horseshoe, I know little about the original show. This week, I caught up with the episode from Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color titled “The Golden Horseshoe Revue”. This special version includes popular guest stars and an introduction from Walt Disney. Clad in full cowboy garb, Walt beams like a young boy as he introduces this episode. Included as part of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD release of Disneyland — Secrets, Stories, and Magic; this episode offers an engaging look back at the legendary live show.
Setting the Scene
Despite Walt’s presence, this isn’t a typical episode of his weekly TV series. We don’t visit the studio and begin right at Disneyland with shots of guests having fun. It’s a cool look at the park in 1962 with scenes of the Matterhorn, Mad Tea Party teacups, the Columbia, and the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes. I want to visit that Disneyland era, despite the guests’ fancy outfits. We eventually reach the Golden Horseshoe and enter the doors for our feature presentation.
I love the cheesy POV shot as we stroll in and sit down at our “Walt’s Guests” table. With the live band in the orchestra pit nearby, we’re all set for the big show! Despite the dancing girls and high production values, the first song from Betty Taylor’s Slue-Foot Sue isn’t so great. “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home” is a standard first written in 1902, but such lines as “I’ll do the cooking. I’ll pay the rent” are still problematic. Taylor has a striking voice and is an effective MC, so it’s a little too easy to criticize unfortunate dialogue.
The Buffalo Roundup
That song is really just the precursor to the real fun. Annette Funicello was already a star in 1962 thanks to The Mickey Mouse Club and roles in Disney films like Babes in Toyland. That doesn’t explain the idea to place Annette in Native American garb to sing “Do the Buffalo Roundup”. I don’t mean to be overly critical; the end result is mostly just silly. Seeing Annette and other white people dressed as Native Americans and dancing around is odd to say the least.
I have to consider the time period when viewing this episode; Disneyland had an Indian Village until 1972. This also isn’t the typical Golden Horseshoe show and has extra star power for the TV special. Annette returns later in typical Western showgirl garb after sleepy cowboys demand “we want girls!” to Slue-Foot Sue. Along with those excited dudes, Annette must deal with some creepy looks from the piano player. It’s a long way from the Mickey Mouse Club.
The show also includes two veteran comedians with connections to Disney TV shows and films. Gene Sheldon played Bernardo on Zorro and had recently co-starred with Annette in Babes in Toyland. His work in this special recalls a silent-film comedian and draws some good laughs. Without saying a word, Sheldon fights against various musical instruments (and loses). His pantomime routine feels timeless and stands out among this episode’s performances.
It’s surprising to note how few kids we see in the audience. For the most part, the cut-away shots reveal older members of the crowd. It makes sense given the subject matter and performers involved, but it’s still noteworthy compared to modern Disney. The few kids are the ones that seem out of place among this crowd. Disney’s approach to this show is fitting given my parents’ appreciation for it. It contains physical comedy but has moments that aren’t so hectic.
The other guest star is Ed Wynn, who would play Mary Poppins’ Uncle Albert in a few years. He’d been performing for much of the century and shows an effortless grace here. It seems like the jokes are just coming to the top of his head. Wynn’s costume mix-ups with Taylor are a nice touch, especially given the speed involved in the gag. Wynn shows he hasn’t lost a beat.
The Clown Prince of Disneyland
The previous laughs were really just the set up for the main event. Steve Martin has talked about the huge influence that Wally Boag had on his comedy, and you can definitely see it. Boag is a master of physical comedy yet makes it look effortless. He’d been performing as the Pecos Bill traveling salesman character for seven years by the time of this show. The constant string of rapid-fire gags is stunning; Boag is a true original that changes the show’s tone for the better
Boag interrupts a song by Taylor and proceeds to dominate the show with his card tricks and mind-boggling balloon creations (Boagaloons). He plays the buffoon so well, but there’s serious craft in everything that Boag does. The gag of losing his teeth still works, especially with the perfect timing from the band. Combine that with a water gun and ridiculous physical comedy, and it’s just brilliant. The show concludes with total mayhem in a bar fight that knocks out the band, destroys tables, and even includes a dummy flying through the theater. How could I resist?
The Legacy of the Golden Horseshoe
The Golden Horseshoe is long gone at Disneyland, though the building remains in Frontierland. Billy Hill and the Hillbillies played there until a few years ago, but now it’s just a quick-service restaurant with some live music. I’m glad to see the building still in place, but it’s sad to not have a full show on par with its past glory. The Diamond Horseshoe at Disney World faces a similar situation, though it’s received even less use than the California original.
Would Disney consider adding a new show to the Golden Horseshoe? Given the crowd-control issues they’ll face with Galaxy’s Edge, it would be wise. A popular show that could draw people away from the headliners would make a huge difference. The Magic Kingdom appears to be doing something similar with their announcement of the Willis Theater on Main Street. Top-notch live entertainment has been a key element of Disney’s theme parks since 1955. It’s also important to avoid just taking the obvious road (i.e., Frozen). I’d love to see Disney get behind a new Frontierland show in the spirit of the Golden Horseshoe but with a modern aesthetic. There are plenty of rollercoasters on the horizon, let’s mix it up a little! Variety is the key to any successful theme park, and this theater is a perfect spot for a new showstopper.
“The Golden Horseshoe Review” is easy to find online; here’s one good example. You can also pick up a copy of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD release Disneyland – Secrets, Stories, & Magic; which includes this and other gems.
The images in this post are screen shots from the DVD presentation. All images are © Disney.
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