Tuesday, August 19, 2014

That Time Tommy Walker Was Kidnapped and Nearly Murdered


Because of this man--Darlene Farley, pictured here in his mugshot as a 19-year-old--Disneyland may very well have never had Date Nites, Dixieland at Disneyland, 76 trombones led by Meredith Willson for the Disneyland '59 event, the 1960 Winter Olympics ceremonies (at a "Disney level"), or even synchronized fireworks and music. That's because on February 23, 1956, Farley kidnapped Disneyland entertainment director Tommy Walker (pictured below) from his home in West Anaheim and held him for a harrowing night around the city.



Tommy rose to prominence while at the University of Southern California, where he was the band's drum major and (simultaneously) the football team's placekicker. Along with Dick Winslow (another character also later involved with Disneyland), Tommy wrote the "Charge" trumpet anthem used by USC and then the Los Angeles Dodgers and seemingly every other athletic team in the country. After graduation, he stayed at the university as the assistant band director, and later the director. He came to Walt Disney's attention during the halftime show for the 1955 Rose Bowl, Walt attending because Disneyland had a float in the parade that year. Walt invited him to orchestrate the Park's grand opening six months later, and Tommy stayed on for the next twelve years.

Presumably Tommy was at work that February day. Since I have written a Disneyland Almanac, I can provide some color for the day. The Park was scheduled open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and had a whopping 979 guests show up, due to the 0.16 inches of rain which fell. I know Tommy would have different feelings, but that's a date I'm going to mark to go back to.

Tommy and his father Vesey--another historic Disneyland employee as leader of the Disneyland Band from 1955 to 1968--lived on the same suburban street in West Anaheim, in houses constructed the same year Disneyland opened. I just drove on the street past their houses two days ago, so I can attest to the quiet nature of the neighborhood.

Farley, a man unknown to Tommy, showed up at his door that Thursday night, blood-spattered and slightly drunk. Conveying that he had been in an automobile accident and needed a tow truck, Tommy drove him to his father's house. (Tommy apparently did not have a telephone.) This accomplished, Tommy drove Farley to Farley's house, where he returned to the car with a .22 caliber rifle.

Farley had Tommy drive him to the garage where Farley's car had been towed. Failing to get the mechanics to immediately fix his car, Farley ordered Tommy to drive him to a girl friend's house. The Associated Press account provides the chilling details Tommy told police:
When Walker refused to call for the girl, Farley ordered him to drive down a lonely road.

The police account said Farley then commanded Walker to stop the car, get out and stand in front of the headlights.

Walker said he tried to cover his heart and head with his hands as Farley's voice came from the darkness:

"You've been nice to me. But I killed my brother and I liked my brother a lot more than I like you."

Then the gun fired, The first shot splattered in the mud at Walker's feet. The next two whizzed past the ex-drum major's head.
This quasi-execution failed, Farley ordered Tommy in the car, stating they were going to Mexico. They stopped in a bar where Tommy was "well known" (I really wanted this to be the Doll Hut, but that didn't exist until 1957). Unfortunately, Tommy couldn't communicate to friends that he was a captive. Farley had Tommy drive him back to the garage where his crashed car was awaiting repair.
En route police officers spotted them and decided the pajama-clad Walker and his bloody companion looked suspicious.
The last newspaper article I saw about this indicated that Farley was set to stand trial in Orange County Superior Court on May 27, 1956. He was charged with two counts of armed robbery and kidnapping; the kidnapping charge could have brought a possible death or  life imprisonment. I admit to not having looked into the court record; if anybody out there does, PLEASE let me know the outcome of the case!

I was just so struck by how early this was in Tommy's career. Anything entertainment-related at Disneyland from 1955 to his resignation in 1966, he had a hand in. More personally as a former Tour Guide, he was in charge of Customer Relations at the time the Guided Tour program came into being. But leaving his Disney contributions aside, Tommy was a major entertainment figure in the 1960s through the 1980s. He continued to do Olympics ceremonies (including the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles), Fourth of July shows, balloon events, Super Bowls, Presidential Inaugurations (including Richard Nixon's second in 1973 and Ronald Reagan's first in 1980), and the Statue of Liberty's centennial celebration in 1986, among so many others. Tommy died way too young, at age 63, during open-heart surgery in Birmingham, Alabama.

Tommy's contribution to Disneyland's history is impossible to quantify. Like other extraordinary members of the early Disneyland, Inc., team, he made Disneyland what it was and shaped expectations for the generations to come. It's amazing to think that one terrifying, oddball night could have derailed so many good memories we've all had through the years. But as my current research is showing, Disneyland wasn't a complete fantasy environment, walled off from the "real world." It was and is very much a part of it, and I feel that makes it all so much more meaningful.

Thanks for the fireworks, Tommy. They're about to go off outside my window.


(Photo courtesy Stuff from the Park)

4 comments:

outsidetheberm said...

Yikes! That's some astonishing history, Jason. And a post that was well worth the wait. Thank you, sir.

Jim Korkis said...

I am a huge fan of your work and love your Disneyland Almanac book which I have plugged in one of my columns about Disneyland.

I have always been fascinated by Tommy Walker but have never read this particular story. You are absolutely correct that some things we take for granted today started with Walker.

Thank you for all you have done to enrich Disney scholarship and please post more frequently.

Jim Korkis

Todd J. Pierce said...

Jason,

Fabulous article. The kidnapping is news to me as well!!!

Todd Pierce

Sean said...

Looks like Farley plead guilty in exchange for some charges being dropped.

http://www.newspapers.com/newspage/49535752/
(From the May 10, 1956 San Bernardino County Sun, page 9.)