Remember TV variety specials where you could get to see your favorite "stars" doing things they normally didn't do on TV-like perhaps singing, dancing or doing magic tricks? Back in the 1970s, it seemed like the networks would program such "specials" at least once a month - usually filling a timeslot vacated by a low-rated or cancelled show and starring a personality who already had a development deal with the network. Lynda Carter? Cheryl Ladd? Paul Lynde? These shows were primarily sponsored by one company, like Kraft (be sure to check this week's TV Guide magazines for more recipes!) or Burlington (hey, isn't that Petula Clark swinging on a rope?). Well, today I'm gonna look at one such special, from 1974 and sponsored by McDonald's, it's called "Sandy in Disneyland".
Sandy Duncan was the Nabisco Triscuits spokeswoman and an acclaimed Broadway musical comedy star from the early 70s. By 1974, she had starred in two short-lived CBS comedies. I believe the first one, FUNNY FACE, ended when Sandy had brain surgery and lost an eye. She came back the following year in a similar show called THE SANDY DUNCAN SHOW. I remember really liking her as a kid - but I'm not really sure why. Maybe it's because she was also a guest on THE NEW SCOOBY-DOO MOVIES - another CBS show. So it makes sense that this special aired on CBS, even though Disney was almost exclusively an NBC fixture back then.
The hour starts simply enough with Mickey Mouse taking a bow before an orchestra, who then all stand up and don "mouse ears" (canned laughter and applause begins here and continues CONSTANTLY throughout the show). The generic CBS voiceover guy announces "Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Sandy Duncan!" - who appears dressed in all white and glitter and begins singing a creepy song about being in love with Mickey - then Donald appears and she sings about all three of them being in love. Then Goofy and Winnie the Pooh (!) arrive, followed by the Seven Dwarfs and even the Casey Jr. Circus Train -and Sandy is totally IN LOVE with all of them. Rodents, fowl, dogs, bears, dwarves and man-made objects. Sick.
Then the voiceover guy returns to tell us that we're watching SANDY IN DISNEYLAND with guest stars: Ernest Borgnine, Ruth Buzzi, John Davidson, Lorne Greene, The Jackson Five, Ted Knight, Loggins & Messina (!) and Doc Severinsen...sponsored by McDonalds cause "you deserve a break today". Wow.Next up we see Sandy in Fantasyland outside the popular "It's a Small World" attraction, and she's trying to explain in her kooky way why Disneyland is so special. Thanks, Sandy. Then of course, she breaks into song: namely, her rendition of "Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor's Life for Me)" from PINOCCHIO (1940) - only she's backed up by characters from ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Huh?
Then magically she's in Frontierland - visiting the Country Bears and squawking her way through an annoying hillbilly song. One wonders how "song-and-dance" was ever used to described Sandy's talents. Sandy soon runs into BONANZA and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA patriarch Lorne Greene and suddenly she's Southern Belle (much like her later role in ROOTS, which also starred Lorne Greene!) and Lorne is a sophisticated and mature Rhett Butler - but it's then revealed that he's standing there in his boxer shorts! Remember when seeing somebody famous in their underwear was funny? It was usually Tim Conway, but Lorne Greene will do.
Next Sandy's inside "It's a Small World" - but suddenly, she's swept away to the Main Street Cinema where she's starring in "The Perils of Sandy" - a stupid sepia-toned homage to silent movies where women get tied to railroad tracks. Unfortunately she is rescued. Before you know it, Miss Duncan is leading a parade down Main Street. Curiously, Minnie Mouse is no where to be seen. Hmmm...
Next the Jackson Five appear and sing an embarrassing Gilbert & Sullivan parody leading into a pre-recorded medley of their two hit singles. Sandy does not interact with the Jacksons at all, leading one to suspect that she is as racist as her character Missy Anne in ROOTS.
Next up, Sandy and Ruth (LAUGH-IN) Buzzi pretend they are thieves who want to rob Haunted Mansion - while singing "Fortuosity" from the notorious Disney bomb THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE (1967). They tour the mansion as if they have transformed themselves into Doombuggies, navigating by the conservatory, through the hallway of doors, down the stairs into the ballroom, the attic, and they wind up sitting on tombstones in the graveyard. This number is actually BETTER than the Eddie Murphy movie based on the ride, which isn't saying much.
Next up, Loggins & Messina (WHY are they here???) look bored and frankly, anguished to be performing a depressing song on Tom Sawyer Island. Then we are "treated" to a god-awful sketch featuring MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW's Ted Knight and Sandy on The Jungle Cruise filled with some of the most cornball jokes imaginable. One wonders if this inspired the sarcastic attitude that the tour guides now dish out on the ride.
How can we top that? How about Sandy and Cosmopolitan nude centerfold model John Davidson on Main Street wearing matching outfits singing about getting "roped and tied" - which I find completely disturbing. This is followed by Davidson poorly crooning the Carpenter's "Top of the World" as strangers' kids climb all over him.
Later, Sandy sings with Ernest Borgnine as they walk and paddle their way thru Pirates of the Caribbean -spelunking around the coves, through the golden treasure, and even the captain's quarters (with a skeleton in the bed!). After this debacle, Sandy buys a shawl in New Orleans Square (I surely did not know there was a shawl shoppe there!), and runs into THE TONIGHT SHOW's Doc Severenson and dances to Peggy Lee's "Fever" while a dozen shirtless guys in pink chaps back her up. What would Walt say???
Following this, Loggins & Messina are back - but this time in a comedy skit! The duo are playing duelling "Prince Charmings" to Ruth Buzzi's Sleeping Beauty in drag - only the prince in that story, actually had a name - Phillip. Charming was from SNOW WHITE...or was it CINDERELLA?.
As if that wasn't enough, Sandy and Lorne Greene soon are reunited for "an old-fashioned walk" all over the Primeval World diorama while singing a horrific duet. They interact with a baby Triceratops and even walk under the belly of a Tyrannosaurus! It's really odd to see "live" people interact with animatronics- especially when Sandy gets clubbed by a caveman. More wacky comedy!
In the final comedy segment, Ted and Ruth play a couple of annoying tourists. While Ruth blathers on about how she wishes he was more heroic, he manages to pull the "sword" out of the "stone" - only for some unknown reason it's not King Arthur's sword - but a Musketeer sword!!! What follows is a inane swordfight all over Sleeping Beauty Castle, as Ted fights off villains and rescues a fair maiden, even throwing a guy into the moat. Murder in Disneyland!
When you think you've just about seen (and heard) it all - Sandy's back all dressed in white singing "He Touched Me" from FUNNY GIRL... about Mickey Mouse!!!! This leads into her being a part of the Electrical Parade and concludes with a totally orgasmic fireworks show.
Wow - somehow I wonder WHO at Disney approved this mess. It seems like they just recklessly broke all the unwritten rules (except perhaps showing Mickey with his head off). Between mixing up songs and characters from across the Disney pantheon, and "interacting" with the attractions - it seems like somebody at Disney was asleep at the wheel. I don't think this could ever happen today. In one way, it was great to see what the park looked like in 1974 - but all the forced "entertainment" just seems to detract from the real magic of the park itself. All in all, I'll give it an 8, because it's totally a must-see for historical reasons alone. In fact, I'm really looking forward to seeing SANDY'S CHRISTMAS IN DISNEYLAND from 1976!!!
Other Duncan appearances in Disney productions: THE FOX & THE HOUND (1981), THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE (1978), and THE MILLION DOLLAR DUCK (1971).