In 1959, the relationship between The West and the Soviet Union seemed larger than life. Every diplomatic gesture by either side had drastic implications about the very fate of humanity. The United States was led by the popular Warld War Two hero Dwight Eisenhower and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was headed by the tempermental General Secretary of the Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev.
In 1959, the American and Soviet delegations were engaged in talks in Geneva, Switzerland regarding the status of West Berlin. The two sides ran into a snag. In the hopes of ironing out relations, President Eisenhower invited Khrushchev to the United States, on the condition the two superpowers would find a compromise about the Berlin disagreement.
In the actual, official invitation, the condition about finding a compromise didn’t find its way into the Russian translation. Upon reading the letter, the Soviet leader immediately accepted and strongly suggested that he be allowed to tour around the United States for awhile. There was very little the adminstration could do to discourage a US tour, so arrangements were made.
Despite the divided American public opinion, thousands of ordinary citizens expressed the desire to host Khrushchev to their towns, factories, farms, and homes. Administration officials relented and agreed to allow the Soviet leader to go wherever he wanted to visit.
Khrushchev arrived in Washington, DC on September 16, 1959 for his eleven-day long state visit. His entourage stopped over in Pittsburgh, New York City, Los Angeles, then San Francisco, Des Moines, Iowa, and back to DC for his scheduled talks with Eisenhower.
Just before his airplane arrived in L.A. Khrushchev found out that his itinerary included a tour of Los Angeles housing projects while his family was to visit Disneyland. Khrushchev then said he wanted to visit the theme park along with his family, officials told him he could not go because security officials could not assure his personal safety.
Khrushchev’s infamous short triggered temper erupted at the studio luncheon in his honor. “…Just now, I was told that I could not go to Disneyland. I asked ‘Why not?’ What is it, do you have rocket-launching pads there? I do not know. And just listen, just listen to what I was told, to what reason I was told. We, which means the American authorities, cannot guarantee your security if you go there. What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or somethng? Or have gangsters taken over the place that can destroy me? Then what must I do? Commit suicide? This is the situation I am in–your guest. For me the situation is inconceivable. I cannot find words to explain this to my people.”
The Americans were caught in the act of stretching the truth. The Soviet Security Police’s Major General Nikolai Zakharov met with Los Angeles Chief of Police William Parker three weeks before the Khrushchev visit. Parker claimed he could not provide appropriate security for the motorcade because of the length and complexity of the route. Also, because Anaheim is in Orange County, Disneyland was outside of his jurisdiction. Parker’s excuses were untrue because there had been previous L.A.P.D. escorts of officials to Disneyland, including a tour by President Harry Truman, and earlier visits by Soviet officials.
Regardless of the facts, Zakharov and the US State Department agreed to drop Disneyland from Khrushchev’s schedule. By the time the Soviet leader found out about the change of plans, there was not enough time to assign police for the elaborate precautions necessary for an official Disneyland visit.
Even though the Khrushchevs did not visit Disneyland, four Soviet journalists spent several hours there. They apparently enjoyed themselves and stated there is nothing like it in the USSR. They thought the Khrushchev family would have loved a visit there.
Despite his disappointment about the Disneyland cancellation and an earlier heated debate with a rabid anti-communist movie studio head, Khrushchev had an otherwise successful, busy day in Los Angeles. The leader continued his California tour to San Francisco with no further outbursts nor incidents.
Khrushchev went to Iowa, then returned to DC for the scheduled talks with Eisenhower at the Camp David retreat. The Soviet leader was impressed with Eisenhower and anticipated a long friendship. The feelings of goodwill were strong enough that he had a golf course constructed for the US President’s scheduled visit to the Soviet Union the next year.
Those carefully crafted feelings of diplomatic fondness came to a crashing halt on May Day of 1960. That’s when the Eisenhower administration sent a U-2 spy plane on an ill-fated mission over the USSR. Khruschev would have none of it. He had a major temper tantrum in response.