Disneyland‘s It’s A Small World Exists Thanks To A Classic Hollywood Star

Joan Crawford in Whatever happened to Baby Jane

Disneyland is home to some iconic attractions but none may be quite so well known, for good or ill, as It's a Small World. The ride is mostly well known for its earworm theme song that people either love, or love to hate on. But even if the song drives you absolutely up a tree, there's something undeniably special about It's a Small World, which is why any and every fan of the ride needs to thank Oscar winner and classic film star Joan Crawford. Because it's all thanks to her that we got It's a Small World in the first place.

The story of how It's a Small World came to be is part of a new episode of the Disney+ series Behind the Attraction. The episode tells the story of the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, an incredibly important even in the history of Disney Parks, as Walt Disney Imagineers produced four different attractions for the event, three of which, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, the Carousel of Progress, and It's a Small World, would be transplanted into Disneyland following the fair's end. The fourth would see it's technology reused for Peoplemover.

Creating four attractions for the World's Fair was a tall order for Walt Disney's relatively small team of Imagineers. This is why, according to the new episode, when there were already three attractions in development, and the Pepsi Cola Company called Disney looking to sponsor a pavilion, the company was told no, without even consulting Walt. There was only about a year until the fair and getting four different attractions done was seen as impossible.

However, as luck would have it, as Walt Disney was as big a star as anybody in the early 1960s, he found himself at a Hollywood party with a number of other big stars. Among them, Joan Crawford. Crawford had been married to Alfred Steele, who had been CEO of the Pepsi Cola Company until his death in 1959 and afterward Crawford herself was named to the company's Board of Directors. She had been the one who had urged the company to use Disney for their World's Fair project, so she mentioned to Walt at the party how disappointed she was that they wouldn't be able to work together.

Walt, of course, had no idea what she was talking about, but as somebody who is quoted as saying that's "fun to do the impossible," he added the fourth pavilion to the work to be done. Whether it was because Walt wanted to make Joan Crawford happy or whether it was that the proceeds of the attraction were to be donated to United Nations children's charity UNICEF, Walt set the Imagineers to work coming up with an idea.

Partially inspired by the UNICEF connection, It's a Small World would begin to take shape, a boat ride attraction that saw the children of the world brought together in one place, singing in harmony, to a song written by the Sherman Brothers, the same duo who was working on the music for a new Disney movie called Mary Poppins.

Whatever you think of It's a Small World, Disneyland, and the other Disney parks for that matter, simply wouldn't be the same without it. It's an iconic ride with an iconic song. And the new episode of Behind the Attraction contains a special version of the song you won't want to miss. The episode arrives on Disney+ August 27.

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.