Jack Lindquist, the first president of Disneyland, has died. He was 88.
A Villa Park resident, Lindquist began his nearly four decade career at Disneyland when he was hired by Walt Disney as its advertising manager, just a few months after the theme park opened in July 1955.
“My dad was truly the center of our family. The memories that we share will always be at the center of our fun times,” said Troy Lindquist, one of his sons, on Sunday.
Lindquist had been in declining health and was to be moved to hospice care last week, according to posts on social media outlets.
“Over the past several weeks, from the letters and emails I’ve received from people that knew him, and even people that didn’t know him – he touched so many people, not just in his own family and his Disney family, but many, many others,” he said.
A trailblazer in marketing Disneyland, Lindquist served as its president for three years before retiring in 1993. He was inducted as a Disney Legend in 1994.
A window above City Hall on Main Street U.S.A. reads: “J.B. Lindquist, Honorary mayor of Disneyland, Jack of all trades. Master of fun.”
“He made sure Disneyland was the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ for each guest who walked through the gates, setting the standard for every leader that followed,” Bob Iger, chairman and chief executive officer at The Walt Disney Co., said in a statement.
“Those of us who had the good fortune to know Jack will always remember the kindness, humility and dedication that made him such an important part of this company and a true Disney Legend,” Iger said.
“Everybody liked Jack,” said Brian Alters, a professor at Chapman University who teaches a course on Disney, and a friend for 10 years. “Jack had the amazing, innate and educated talent to go around the world and sell Disneyland… that this is an amazing place and they should go.”
Born in Chicago on March 15, 1927, Lindquist’s family moved to Los Angeles when he was four years old. Lindquist spent most of his early years as a child actor, appearing in “Our Gang,” and a Lucille Ball film, “Best Foot Forward.”
He spent two years in the U.S. Air Force before enrolling at the University of Southern California.
His nickname “Goofy of Sports,” came about from Lindquist‘s attempt to make the USC football team as a freshman but in the process broke both his ankles trying to field a punt.
Lindquist joined Disneyland at the age of 28 and embarked on a 38-year career, moving up as a director and vice president of marketing for the Anaheim park and Walt Disney World, and also helped set up the marketing division for Tokyo Disneyland.
Throughout his career, he was an influential part of a team that created many programs that are still in place at Disneyland and other Disney theme parks today: Advance ticket sales, Grad Nite, the Disneyland Ambassador program, and Disney Dollars.
“In those days, nobody sold advanced tickets,” Lindquist once told the Register. “If you wanted a ticket, you went to the venue the day of the event.”
Disneyland’s Grad Nite, a rite of passage for many high school graduating seniors in Southern California, came about in 1961 after a group of PTA moms reached out to Lindquist. They were “looking for a place where young people could celebrate their graduation from high school and do so in the safety of a controlled environment,” he said in his memoirs, “In Service to the Mouse.”
Lindquist added stipulations to host the event: everyone had to arrive by bus, there had to be a chaperone for every 20 students, and students had to abide by a strict dress code.
He also helped the Disney Co. purchase the now Angels major league baseball franchise in 1995. Disney sold the franchise to Arte Moreno in 2003
Lindquist said Autry, the former owner of the Angels, had approached Walt Disney to purchase the baseball team with him in 1960. The $125,000 investment at that time was too much for Disney but over the years Autry would confide in Lindquist, “If I ever decide to sell this ballclub, I would be happiest if Disney bought it.”
“Gene [Autry] had always preferred Disney to be the owners,” Lindquist said in his book.
After retiring, Lindquist maintained a close relationship with Chapman University, where he was a trustee.
“If you survive long enough in this job you get a reputation as a guru,” he once said in an interview. But you, alone, are not really that fantastic, he added.
“Of all of the people you run into in your life, you never know which one is the most important. Don’t look down on anyone. They’re all important,” he said.
Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait remembered Lindquist as a good neighbor.
“Jack was not just a Disney Legend, he was a tremendous friend,” Tait said. “His family was next door neighbors with my family, so as a young boy I grew to know him personally. As a kid I would play basketball and often times the ball would wind up in his backyard.I would have to knock on his door to retrieve it, and he always did so with good cheer and kindness.”
At Disneyland, Lindquist knew early on he was working at a special place. On Christmas Eve night in 1955, he remembers walking down Main Street and observing a family enjoying the park. The little girl turned to her parents and said, “Mom, this really was better than having Santa Claus.”
“The parents must have told their children that if they went to Disneyland, Santa couldn’t bring presents,” he said, lamenting he did not have the authority to provide special gifts or access at that time.
“To me, this one brief moment proved to be my most meaningful memory at the park because it symbolized what we mean to people: We are not a cure for cancer, we are not going to save the world, but if we can make people happy for a few hours or for a day, then we are doing something worthwhile.”
Lindquist is survived by wife Isabelle and his 5 children, David, Garry, Troy, Jim, and Kimberly, 16 grandchildren, 7 great grandchildren.
From the Orange County Register