Royal Dano was born on this day, November 16th, in 1922. An actor who appeared in over 100 movies and television shows, he’s the voice of Abraham Lincoln in “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” at Disneyland, delivering the same speech that was first heard in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair. In the previous decade, Dano appeared on the television series “Omnibus,” in a five-part episode entitled “Mr. Lincoln,” where he portrayed the 16th president.
Before “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” debuted at the fair, the world had never seen a human Audio-Animatronics figure and it even caused some great concern! A newspaper in Illinois wrote, “A controversy boiled today over whether a life-like Abraham Lincoln figure that sits, stands, talks and gestures is dignified and characteristic or ‘grotesque.’” It claimed that someone said, “It’s almost as ghoulish as the idea to play a mock recording of the voices of the four presidents enshrined at Mount Rushmore,” and that another person said, “The next thing they’ll have Mouseketeers giving guided tours of the White House.” It was even suggested it would resemble a carnival sideshow.
Walt Disney went to Illinois defend his presidential creation. According to that same article, Walt said, “He is going to speak to you. His voice is as close as we could get from actual descriptions of this great man. He will appear in a very dignified setting. While seated in a chair before speaking, he will drop his head in thought, a characteristic Lincoln action. When he is introduced he will stand – putting his hands behind his back – as thought deep in thought.”
The article continued that Walt said the presentation would appear to audiences “as life-like as I am standing before you – perhaps more so.” As for the sideshow suggestion, Walt said, “I have more at stake in this than the state of Illinois. I am staking my reputation on this – my integrity, I am not a carnival operator.”
Far from a circus sideshow, or grotesque, Lincoln well-received, and enjoyed a great success at the fair averaging 10,000 visitors a day on weekdays and 15,000 a day on weekends. With the exception of the New York State pavilion it was the best attended feature at the fair. Jack Gladish, who worked for Disney on the creation of the figure, personally told me he would sit in the audience and listen to people debate whether it was actually a mechanical man or an actor. (You can hear this conversation with Jack at http://blog.mouseclubhouse.com/interview-jack-gladish-his-career-walt-disney-disneyland-and-worlds-fair-attractions/
On July 18, 1965, “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” debuted at Disneyland, making it the only attraction to simultaneously appear at both the World’s Fair and Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Today, 61 years later, the Lincoln figure is more technologically advanced than ever, and continues to feature the speech he gave at the New York World’s Fair. The speech is a compilation of several of the president’s addresses, from 1838 to 1864. Although the audio has been digitally restored, it is the same voice that was first heard in 1964, and that detailed research deemed to probably most closely resemble that of Abraham Lincoln, voiced by Royal Dano.