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Florida

1998 Mick Cusimano

The cold winds blew through the streets of Cambridge. It had been a long winte too long. The days at the museum seemed almost the same. The days at the museum seemed almost the same. The days at the museum seemed almost the same. The same routine, the same faces, the same paintings. No doubt about it, it was time for a vacation.

Off I flew to the land of palm trees and alligators. Yes alligators. Nearby where I was staying was a place called Gatorama the home to reptiles. When I arrived it was feeding day. How do you handle a hungry gator? The man on the deck was throwing whole chickens the water. A bevy of 15 foot alligators swam up to gobble up dinner. Evidently they are only fed once a week. These prehistoric reptiles are kept in the park for tourists. Some are sold or their hides to be made into handbags and shoes, etc Others are sold for meat. Once a lot of alligator meat was sold to Japan, but the local market has recently exhausted the supply. Several years ago the alligators were taken off the endangered species list making them fair game for exploitation.

One can barely visit Florida without being drawn to Orlando. Orlando doesn't produce computers. cars, or oranges. What it produces is for the most part is entertainment: hair-raising rides, talking cartoon animals, and simulated movie sets. It's the zenith of post-industrial America. We visited Disneyworld with it's many outer space rides, Hall of Presidents, and many other attractions. Walt Disney's idea of an amusement park was originally considered to be a folly, but Orlando now has mushroomed into an entertainment capital that rivals Hollywood itself.

The Widener Library has a few interesting biographies about Walt Disney, the visionary who created this mouse empire from a amischievous little mouse. Originally a rascal in the early days he had to be toned down and made cuter to become the image used by Disney merchandise, which by 1950 had already grossed $100,000,000.

Disney s early animation's usually lost money. But they were financed by the royalties from merchandising his characters. Walt Disney was a visionary artist. Many visionary artists being impractical end up broke, disappointed, or end up as museum attendants. Walt Disney had the good fortune, like Charlie Chaplin and Vincent Van Gogh, to have a practical brother to handle his business affairs. (Van Gogh's brother didn't make Vincent much money, but their letters to each other insured Vincent's fame.)

Roy Disney kept the reins on Walt by financing his projects but sometimes stepping in to say no. Walt Disney's foray into a feature length animation Snow White was considered risky until it became a financial and critical success.

Disney listened to people telling him that there weren't enough movies that you could bring the whole family to. Disney's animated cartoon movies: Pinocchio, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Lion King have made lots of money for the studio. Most of the live action movies Disney has made for family audiences, however, have done very poorly, because families don't go to see them. Recently Disney films has cut back on such family live action movies to produce more action adventure films that will garner larger grosses from the overseas market. The reason Rambo hardly speaks in his action films isn't just because he's an inarticulate clod. It was designed that way to appeal to world wide movie audiences where the different languages of the audience won't matter.

After years of success with animation Walt Disney had the vision to build the Disneyland amusement park. Roy argued vociferously against such an impractical idea. The banks that financed Disney were struck with horror at the idea and called in all the company's loans. Walt persisted and what you see in Orlando is the result of his dreams.

The next day we visited the ever expanding Universal Studios. The Back to the Future ride had the longest wait. Earthquake, Terminator, and E.T. were interesting experiences as was King Kong attacking your subway car in the simulated back streets of N.Y. City.

Universal Studios devotes one whole building as an exhibit dedicated to Lucille Ball. There was something different about this place. The people were walking through slower and more solemnly than the other pavilions. Then it hit me! This building was an obvious parallel to a religious shrine. Cases are filled with relics: hats and costumes worn by the revered characters of the show. There was a miniature movie set of the living room, kitchen, and bedroom used in the TV series. On the walls like Byzantine icons were pictures of Saint Lucille. In cases were photographs of her constantly agitated husband Ricky Ricardo. Also there were pictures of Lucy's two faithful disciples and neighbors Fred and Ethyl Mertz (who hated each other in real life). Inside was a huge video screen, almost like an altar. The faithful gathered to gaze at never ending reruns of I Love Lucy show never ending reruns of I Love Lucy show, never ending reruns of I Love Lucy show, never ending reruns of I Love Lucy show, never ending reruns.... In an age where we have 500 channels with nothing on, videos, and the Internet it may be hard to imagine that in the 1950s over half the people in the country were all watching one show every week: Lucy Lucille Ball, the queen of comedy, and her friends were America's obsession. If reruns aren't enough there are a dozen Lucy Internet sites, an annual Lucy convention in California, and a Lucille Ball Museum in her hometown of Jamestown, N.Y. south of Buffalo.

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