Philip Barker

In its first fortnight, Frozen 2 has grossed over $742 million (£565,000/€670,000) in worldwide ticket sales and seems set to break all cinematic records for an animated film.

"The avalanche of support for the sequel is yet another victory for Disney," The Hollywood Reporter said.

Yet 60 years ago, Disney struck gold of a very different kind when the Olympic Movement came calling.

The 1960 Winter Olympics had been awarded to the tiny Californian resort of Squaw Valley.

Local organising committee chief Prentice Hale made an appointment for lunch at the Walt Disney studios in Burbank and very soon had an announcement.

"Walt Disney, famous motion picture producer, best known for his animated cartoons, has accepted the position of Pageantry Commission chairman. In this capacity, Disney will oversee the staging of the dramatic Olympic pageantry, including the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the moving victory ceremonies."

Disney's aim was to foster "lasting goodwill among our visitors, and we shall do everything we can to make their stay a happy one".

The decoration of Olympic sites, now known as the "look" of the Games, was also part of the brief.

The first "Disneyland" theme park had opened in 1955, and construction included giant fairy-tale structures in bright colours.

For Squaw Valley, Disney suggested huge sporting snow sculptures depicting each of the events.

Thirty of these were to line the "Avenue of the Athletes".

The Opening Ceremony in 1960 at Squaw Valley ©AFP via Getty Images
The Opening Ceremony in 1960 at Squaw Valley ©AFP via Getty Images

Made of welded wire mesh and papier mache with a weather-resistant white coating, they stood 16 feet high and were designed to withstand winds up to 100 miles an hour.

Communities across California and Nevada each paid $2,000 by way of sponsorship.

The artwork was by artist John Hench, one of many experts Disney recruited from his own organisation.

Hench also designed an Olympic torch, which later became a real collector's item. Only three years ago, a Squaw Valley torch sold at auction for $150,000.

The torch relay was still a new development for Winter Games. In 1952, the Norwegians kindled a festive flame in the village of Morgedal. In 1956, the flame originated in Rome.

Now for 1960, Walt Disney announced that, for the first time, the winter flame would be lit in Ancient Olympia at the site of the Olympic games of antiquity.

There was only one problem. His organisation did not advise the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC).

With time ticking away, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Avery Brundage received an urgent message from Squaw Valley that the HOC "had refused to light the sacred flame".

Olympic Chancellor Otto Mayer telephoned Athens "in order to know what circumstances brought about this refusal".

The explanation was soon forthcoming. The established practice was for the lighting to be followed by a relay to Athens for a formal handover to the host city.

"To carry this out, 350 torches were required, which the Americans failed to provide.

"When one takes into consideration the months required for the preparation of this procedure, one can readily understand why the Greeks did not want to venture so hazardous an adventure just a few days before the opening ceremonies of the winter Games," concluded Mayer.

Speed skaters practice at the Games which had its fair share of drama, even before the sporting proceedings began ©Getty Images
Speed skaters practice at the Games which had its fair share of drama, even before the sporting proceedings began ©Getty Images

Lausanne-based journalist Frederic Schlatter also took aim.

"In this case it is infinitely easier to order the sun to rise in Walt Disney's films than to make the sun shine in Olympia during the winter."

Thus rebuffed, Disney and his team approached the Norwegians who agreed to prepare for a much shorter relay.

The lighting ceremony took place at the end of January 1960.

Temperatures stood at minus 20 degrees as the flame was kindled in Morgedal.

This was done at a fireplace in a cottage which had belonged to Sondre Norheim, regarded as the father of Norwegian skiing.

"It was presented in dignified and beautiful solemnity, in glorious winter weather, cold, but sparkling with sunshine," said Norwegian newspapers.

The older generation was represented by 80-year-old Eivind Donstad, an illustrious ski champion from Norway's past.

Twelve-year-old Olav Norskog, a representative of the younger generation, took the flame towards the centre of the village, where it was greeted by flag-waving school children.

After a short ceremony attended by polar explorer Olav Bjaaland and skiing official Einar Bergsland, the flame was driven to Oslo.

Before it left Norwegian soil, bearers were greeted by King Olav at a ski-jumping competition.

When the flame touched down in Los Angeles, double Olympic shot put gold medallist Parry O'Brien began the relay to Squaw Valley.

On opening day, a blizzard swirled over the site of the ceremony where the gates had opened at 7am.

The storm delayed the arrival of American vice-president Richard Milhous Nixon, who had intended to arrive by helicopter to open the Games.

Local newspaperman Bill Cassidy, publisher of the Auburn Journal, wrote:

"Words cannot describe the sheer magic, or perhaps it has been divine providence wrought at Squaw Valley, born in controversy and opened in a snow flurry, opened the snow clouds for the sun at the exact moment of the opening. Additional magic was added to the proceedings by that old master of pageantry Walt Disney."

Other notices were every bit as positive.

"For one perfect hour, the storm stood still, and in the interval, as if it were pre-ordained, the picturesque opening of the ceremonies were held. It was a gorgeous spectacle made more remarkable by the hand of providence," said Paul Zimmerman in the Los Angeles Times.

Later, the official Games report spoke of "The Miracle of Squaw Valley".

Although Greece did not have a competitor, their flag led the 31 nations who marched in to the soundtrack of The Parade of the Olympians.

The Olympic flame is lit at Squaw Valley ©Getty Images
The Olympic flame is lit at Squaw Valley ©Getty Images

Stadium announcer Bill Henry began the ceremony with a message of welcome.

"The people of the United States of America salute all peoples of the world and honour the Olympic participants. May here in Squaw Valley, as once in the remote Peloponnesos, all contests be decided in fair spirit."

Squaw Valley Organising President Hale then made his address.

"Before we pay so much attention to conquering outer space, we should devote ourselves to conquering inner space, the distance between nations."

The entry of the Olympic flag was the cue for the reappearance of music last heard at the Athens Games in 1896.

The Olympic hymn written by Greek composer Spiros Samaras was played for the first time at an Olympic Winter Games. In another first, this new arrangement by Basil Swift and Robert Linn was in English.

"Immortal flame of truth and hope, let shine thy light this day."

There were performances from a mass choir drawn from high schools in the region, accompanied by bands which came together to provide an orchestra of 1500 instruments.

All now awaited the arrival of the flame.

The 1952 double gold medallist Andrea Mead Lawrence skied down from Little Papoose peak with an escort of honour provided by other skiers.

At the foot of the mountain, she handed the flame to Olympic speed skating champion Ken Henry who lit the cauldron in front of the "Tower of Nations", where only an hour earlier, workers had climbed up to scrape away the snow.

Oscar-winning actor Karl Malden then led the gathering in an Olympic prayer.

Figure skater Carol Heiss spoke the Olympic oath before a display of fireworks and a release of balloons brought proceedings to an end. Shortly afterwards, the storms returned.

"It was like the splendour of a well-rehearsed stage show," was Zimmerman's verdict.

During the Games, a nightly presentation ceremony was also held. Each was preceded by a 15-minute bell recital before medals were awarded, accompanied by the United States Marine Corps.

In the village each night, the athletes were entertained by artistes of the calibre of Danny Kaye and other stars also made appearances.

The ceremonies and other pageantry drew wide praise. For Variety magazine, it was "The Greatest Show on Earth".

Walt Disney died in 1966, but almost 30 years later, his company released Cool Runnings, the story of the 1988 Jamaican bobsleigh team, and in 2004 came Miracle.

This starred Kurt Russell as ice hockey coach Herb Brooks and told the story of the fabled 1980 ice hockey gold medal won by the USA.