The Wild West Extravaganza known as Slue Foot Sue’s Golden Horseshoe revue had its first ever performance on July 13th, 1955 at the 30th anniversary celebration of Walt and Lillian Disney. The party was held in the barely finished Golden Horseshoe Saloon, which would house the long-running show until its final performance in 1986.
The Golden Horseshoe Saloon itself can hold approximately 300 guests and was designed by famous Disney artist Harper Goff in the style of his earlier work on the Doris Day film Calamity Jane.
The way the Golden Horseshoe Revue came to life might seem unlikely today. Rather than have a script and music complete and then open up casting for the show, Walt found comedians and performers and hired them for the show and gave them the job of writing the script. Walt told his friend Don Novis that when Disneyland was finished he had a place for him to perform – in an old-time saloon. Don Novis will be famous to Disney fans for having performed “Love is a Song” in Disney’s 1942 feature animated film, Bambi.
Don Novis, The Silver-toned Irish Tenor, as he was known, for his part, suggested hiring a kid he’d worked with in Australia who was funny and liked to make balloons, and could bring some comedy to the show. That kid was comedian Wally Boag, who had been a contract player for MGM and coincidentally, brought a young Julie Andrews on stage to help in his act and perform in front of the crowd at the London Hippodrome’s Starlight Roof.
Wally Boag met Walt and performed a half hour of his nightclub routine which included tap dancing and playing the bagpipes, which must have really impressed walt because Wally worked such talents right into the show.
In order to bring the saloon’s signature show to life, Walt looked to the songwriting talents of radio writer and song lyricist Tom Adair. Adair had earned a name for himself in the 1940s writing lyrics for Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby, and had written Frank Sinatra’s “Let’s Get Away From It All.” At the time Walt approached Tom Adair he was penning the lyrics to Disney’s feature film Sleeping Beauty.
Adair collaborated with musical director Charles LaVere on original music for the show such as the opening tune “Hello Everybody.” Charles LaVere also composed the Revue’s opening overture and worked in the show as the revue’s pianist. Other original Adair and LaVere pieces written specifically for the show included “Riverboat Blues”, and “A Lady has to mind her Ps and Qs.”
After Betty Taylor and Don Novis warm up the crowd with those great pieces. Wally Boag is introduced to the stage in his traveling salesman role. Wally Boat fit right into the show employing everything from rubber chickens to creating his characteristic balloon animals or his Boagaloons as he called them. He also portrayed the cowboy “ol Pecos” in a musical routine that involved the cowboy getting hit in the jaw and spitting out some 84 teeth each show, which is quite an accomplishment considering the human mouth only has 32 teeth – he used beans.
Wally Boag was not only busy with The Golden Horseshoe Revue during his tenure at Disney. He could also be found elsewhere in the company including editing Disney’s internal magazine Backstage, performing as a stunt double for Fred MacMurray in the Absent-Minded Professor, and more famously provided the voice of José in Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room.
Of course, like many Disney shows of the time such as The Country Bear Jamboree and The Enchanted Tiki Room, much of the music was not original but was adapted for the show. The beautiful Golden-Horseshoe Girls danced through each show along to pieces such as Jaqcues Offenbach’s “Can-Can.”
Also not original to the show were familiar tunes such as “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Bill Bailey Won’t You Please Come Home.”
The part of Slue foot sue was originated in 1955 by Judy Marsh but she gave way to Betty Taylor the following year. Taylor played the part until the show ended thirty years later in 1986. Taylor was once quoted at the end of the show’s run saying “When I started in 1956, they hired me for four weeks and I wondered from year to year how long id be here. The time went so fast, i can’t believe it’s been 30 years.”
In 1962 when Donald Novis retired, it was Wally Boag who called up his friend Fulton Burley to recruit him into doing the show. Burley stayed with the show until the end in 1986 as well.
For the most part the show remained very much the same through the years though some new songs were added here and there from time to time such as “The Girl on the Police Gazette” and “Clancy Lowered the Boom.”
The cast did not only perform the revue in Disneyland, but took it on the road in 1986 to perform for the troops with the USO in Greenland, as well as to the Nixon White House in 1969. By the time the curtain fell for the final time in 1986 the show had chalked up more than 45,000 performances and held the world record, at the time, for the longest running stage show and had been viewed by more than 16 million people. The show was not unique to Disneyland. With the 1971 opening of the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom their Diamond Horseshoe Revue ran also until 1986, and Tokyo Disneyland had its own Diamond Horseshoe Revue upon its opening in 1983.
On January 10, 2013 The Golden Horseshoe Revue made a brief return to Disneyland as part of the parks Limited Time Magic promotion called Salute to the Golden Horseshoe Revue. The show ran for 3 weeks and saw the return of many aspects of the show including even the can-can dancers. One of the dancers from the original, Deedee Bozikis returned as a stage manager for the revival as well as Tobi Longo, who was a dancer in the Golden Horseshoe Jamboree and whose mother was a dancer in the original show returned as the show’s choreographer.
Check out the episode of Earzup Podcast where I present this segment!