BOOTLEG FILES 485: “Sandy in Disneyland” (1974 TV special with Sandy Duncan, Ernest Borgnine and the Jackson 5).
LAST SEEN: A couple of sequences can be found on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Problems with music and performance rights.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Unlikely.
During the early 1970s, Sandy Duncan saw her star ascend in a series of pleasant (if forgettable) films and television programs. Even though she wasn’t the sexiest chick in show business, and even though her singing and dancing could hardly be considered as show-stopping, Duncan possessed a spunky vibrancy that appealed to casting directors – hell, she even turned up as a character in the Scooby-Doo cartoons! Audiences came to admire Duncan’s indefatigable spirit following her recovery from surgery to remove a tumor in her left eye (which also led to the popular urban legend that the surgery resulted in a prosthetic eye – in truth, she only lost sight in the eye).
In early 1974, somebody thought it would be a great idea to concoct a Disneyland-based TV variety special centered on Duncan. As per the protocol of the era, the special would include a gaggle of guest stars from the ranks of television programming, along with a couple of current music acts tossed in.
But even by the warped standards of 1970s, “Sandy in Disneyland” is almost too weird to believe. The mad mix of Disney kitsch, B-list guests, bizarre musical segments and the perpetually perky Duncan resulted in an outlandish free-for-all that left audiences stunned.
To its credit, “Sandy in Disneyland” takes its cast off the tourist pathways and directly into the center of the theme park’s famed attractions. Thus, Duncan does a wacky dance with the Country Bears and breaks into ballet in the middle of the “It’s a Small World” exhibit before she and Ruth Buzzi play a pair of thieves robbing the jewels from the Haunted Mansion. Duncan and Buzzi accomplish their heist while singing “Fortuosity” from the Disney flick “The Happiest Millionaire,” which is odd because the song doesn’t match the concept of their sketch. Later in the show, Duncan and Lorne Greene stroll amid the dinosaurs in the Primeval World exhibit, while Ernest Borgnine and Duncan enjoy a musical romp across the Pirates of the Caribbean setting.
If the idea of a singing and dancing Ernest Borgnine isn’t a deal-closer, fear not: the Jackson 5 turn up doing a riff on “H.M.S. Pinafore” that includes slices of their chart-toppers along with parody lyrics to the Gilbert and Sullivan standards. This number probably has the most contemporary resonance, if only for showing a very young Michael Jackson dressing up in the quasi-military costumes that would become a part of his stage persona during his career zenith.
Also joining the musical mayhem are Loggins & Messina, who perform a somewhat downbeat ballad that has little to do with the jolly surroundings. Why they chose not to perform “The House on Pooh Corner” (a natural choice for a Disneyland show) is unclear. The duo turn up again in a brief sketch as dueling Prince Charmings seeking Sleeping Beauty (played by the less than comely Buzzi). More anvil comedy is provided via Ted Knight – he plays a real estate agent trying to sell Duncan property during the Jungle Cruise, and he later plays a henpecked tourist (with Buzzi as his obnoxious wife) who gets chased by swordsmen after he accidentally removes Excalibur from its stone. Comic actors Marty Ingels and Alan Sues also appear in bit parts as onlookers to the chaos.
But where “Sandy in Disneyland” really goes overboard is during a pair of musical sequences that are beyond Dadaist – truly, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen these offerings.
The first involves John Davidson, who initially duets with Duncan in a song where they excessively praise each other. Then, Davidson gets a solo number in which he rides around Disneyland in an open car while scores of children chase after him. Davidson offers a remarkably limp version of the Carpenters’ tune “Top of the World” while a kiddie chorus follows along – never mind that the kids running after the car are not doing any lip-sync actions to the tune. But, then again, why would so many kids want to chase John Davidson as he drives through Disneyland with an epicene rendition of the classic Carpenters love ditty?
But that’s a fairly sane notion when compared to a number that begins with Duncan purchasing a “Creole” shawl at a Disneyland gift shop. Once she exits the store, she is instantly transformed into a Carmen Miranda-style tropical bombshell. To underscore her abrupt shift into hot-blooded exotica, Duncan is supported by eight shirtless men that join her in a frenetic dance to the Peggy Lee tune “Fever,” with Doc Severinsen blasting the high notes on his trumpet. Truly, words cannot describe this presentation – loud primal screams, however, would be a sufficient way to express the emotions unleashed by this assault on the senses.
This all comes to an end with a touch of b********y – as Mickey Mouse rubs his gloved fingers over Duncan’s hand, she launches into a gushing rendition of the romantic ballad “He Touched Me” as fireworks light up the Anaheim sky.
The McDonald’s fast food chain sponsored “Sandy in Disneyland,” though whether the fast food operation experienced a spike in business from Sandy Duncan addicts is unclear. The Disney folks, for whatever reason, couldn’t get enough of Duncan and invited her back in 1976 for a special called “Christmas in Disneyland,” in which the star ho-ho-hoed her way around the theme park with Art Carney, Glen Campbell and Brad Savage.
“Sandy in Disneyland” was broadcast on CBS on April 10, 1974. To date, there has been no commercial home entertainment release – and any future release seems highly unlikely, given the problems in clearing music and performance rights. However, a bootleg DVD can be found on iOffer, and the Jackson 5 and “Fortuosity” numbers can be seen on YouTube.
The sad thing about watching the inane silliness of “Sandy in Disneyland” is realizing that Duncan’s talents were being sorely wasted with this type of show. In 1977, Duncan surprised many people with her intense performance as Missy Anne Reynolds in”Roots,” She received an Emmy nomination for that role, but few filmmakers sought her out for serious dramatic fare. However, Duncan has become a staple of the American theater, charming audiences for years in productions of “Peter Pan” and showing her versatility in stage presentations ranging from the musical glories of “Chicago” and “My One and Only” to challenging lead roles in “Driving Miss Daisy” and “The Glass Menagerie.”
And, of course, anyone who could successfully encourage a generation of Americans to voluntarily consume Wheat Thins must be a talent deserving of praise and respect!
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