“I went out to the Disneyland site with Walt one time,” Art Linkletter once recalled. “I didn’t want to spoil his enthusiasm. But after we had driven for about an hour south of Los Angeles, into the country and the orange groves, I thought ‘Geez! Who’s gonna come down here?’”
Luckily, Art’s initial doubts proved unfounded, and on July 17, 1955, he announced to an eager television audience, “Well, this job in the next hour and a half’s gonna be a delight.” “And then the show opened, and history was made,” Art recalled years later.
Walt Disney scored something of a coup in getting Art Linkletter as the primary host for his gala live broadcast of the opening of Disneyland. Art was a familiar and welcome visitor in American households, so much so that his best-known programs established records for longevity: People Are Funny aired on NBC (on radio and television) for 19 years, and was in the Top 10 for more than a decade. Art Linkletter’s House Party ran on CBS Radio and then on television for 25 years, and was one of the top daytime shows from the day of its first broadcast in 1945.
Art is the only person in TV history to have five shows run concurrently on network TV. In addition, Art starred in and co-produced many spectaculars and specials, and acted in half a dozen dramatic shows and several motion pictures.
The one problem on opening day was that the Park had stretched Walt so thin financially, he could only afford to pay Art union scale for the job. A savvy businessman, in lieu of his fee, Art asked for (and received) the exclusive rights to the camera and film concessions at Disneyland for the next 10 years.
Born Gordon Arthur Kelly in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada, on July 17, 1912, Art was a star in show business for more than 60 years. In the process, he became one of the most respected and beloved media personalities in America. In addition to extraordinary success in entertainment and business, Art was a dedicated humanitarian, recognized for his work for numerous national foundations and his extensive involvement and experience in the health fields.
He received numerous honors, including the National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
But Art humbly gave Walt a lot of credit in informing the fulfillment of his life and career. “He really gave me my idea of what success is in life, for myself, watching him. And that is, doing what you love to do, with people you enjoy being with. That’s more important than anything else, ‘cause life’s not a rehearsal.”
Art Linkletter passed away on May 26, 2010 at his home in Bel Air, Los Angeles, California.