In 1953 the Paramount theatre chain merged with ABC Radio. The ABC Television Network was created from the merger, and the theatre chain was renamed American Broadcasting-Paramount Theatres, Inc. In 1954 Walt Disney agreed to produce the television series Disneyland for ABC in exchange for ABC-Paramount financing the building of the theme park Disneyland. In the meantime, whenever Disney released a new film, he often arranged for an ABC-Paramount theatre to premiere it.
ABC-Paramount was one of several theatre chains to have franchises in the South. In some of those franchises, African Americans sat in the balcony and barely saw the movie on screen. In other ones, they were not allowed inside at all. Therefore, Disney’s theme park was financed by a business that actively segregated against African Americans. Moreover, every show that appeared on ABC-TV from 1954 to 1964 aired on a network that profited from Jim Crow. That includes Woody Woodpecker, The Bugs Bunny Show, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Rocky and His Friends, among others.
But back to Disney, he premiered some of his cartoons at “whites only” venues while contracted with ABC-Paramount. By then he distributed his own films through his company Buena Vista; so he had the final say in which films went in which theatres. Sleeping Beauty made its debut in 1959 at the Tower in Dallas, Texas. In 1960 the cartoon short Goliath II opened at Sarasota’s Florida Theatre.
In the following year, 101 Dalmatians premiered at St. Petersburg’s Florida Theatre. By this time African American animator Floyd Norman was employed at Disney, and he worked on Beauty and Dalmatians. But he would been barred from seeing his own work on screen at the premieres because of his skin color. Then again, back in 1946, James Baskett could not see himself as “Uncle Remus” at Atlanta’s premiere of Disney’s Song of the South for the very same reason.
By 1961 Disney and ABC had parted ways, and ABC and the Paramount chain severed their ties in the late 1970s. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened all American theatres to all people. Still, through Jim Crow and the ABC-Paramount merger, Disney entered the last decade of his long, storied entertainment career.