In September 1959, the Cold War was raging.
Fidel Castro had just become dictator of now-communist Cuba, the formation of the Viet Cong was just a couple of months away in North Vietnam and the fate of post-war Berlin seemed uncertain. Children were learning "duck and cover" drills in schools. At home, families built bomb shelters in case of a nuclear attack. With this backdrop, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower invited Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to visit the United States for a 13-day summit.
Besides meeting the president at Camp David, Khrushchev indicated he wanted to see the sights of the U.S. Eisenhower was reluctant at first, but approved Khrushchev's whirlwind tour. Some Americans, however, were outraged and demanded he not be allowed to visit the U.S.
Still, according to Smithsonian magazine, others welcomed him with open arms to their county fairs and small towns. (In an instance of true Minnesota nice, the chairman of an apple festival in the state is said to have told Khrushchev, "If you'd like to enter a float please let us know.")
Khrushchev is said to have been most excited about visiting Hollywood. Hollywood officials obliged, arranging for Khrushchev and his wife, Nina, to tour 20th Century Fox and visit the set of the movie musical "Can-Can" (which he later called "exploitive and pornographic.") He also met big stars like Marilyn Monroe, Shirley MacLaine, Juliet Prowse and Frank Sinatra.
But on Sept. 19, 1959, Khrushchev's visit to California was about to hit a road bump when the Los Angeles Police Department told him he would not be allowed to visit Disneyland in Anaheim because they could not guarantee his safety there. They feared the crowds would get out of hand in the open space of the Magic Kingdom and Khrushchev could face a very non-fairy tale ending. Khrushchev was livid and erupted in a tirade during a large luncheon at the studio.
“And I say, I would very much like to go and see Disneyland," he said. "But then, 'we cannot guarantee your security,' they say. Then what must I do? Commit suicide? What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken hold of the place that can destroy me?”
Those in the audience of nearly 400 seemed surprised watching a grown man having a temper tantrum about not going to an amusement park. Others called it one of the strangest incidents of the Cold War. Authorities told Nina Khrushchev that she would be allowed to visit, but she chose to stay with her husband.
Khrushchev ended up settling down a bit after his tantrum and was allowed to visit the less popular Marineland of the Pacific (now SeaWorld). But seeing Mickey and Minnie was obviously not meant to be. He never did visit Disneyland.
Khrushchev would later go on a boat tour of the San Francisco Bay and eat a real American hot dog at a meatpacking plant in Des Moines, Iowa. He wrapped up his visit by meeting with Eisenhower at Camp David. Upon leaving the U.S. on Sept. 27, he told the press he was "enriched" by his visit and his talks with the American president helped both men "understand each other better."