When Walt Disney was building Disneyland in 1954, he was running into problems with financing the park but wanted a hotel to go along with his dream. One of Walt’s accounts contacted Jack Wrather, a wealthy television producer and oil man about building a hotel next to the park.
Wrather was born in Amarillo, Texas on May 24, 1918 but grew up in the city of Tyler, where graduated from the local high school in 1935. Wrather worked in the oilfields of East Texas as a wildcatter and pipeline walker as his college summer job. The early 1940s with his father's illness, Jack took over as president of his father's oil company, Overton Refining Company.
After the war, Wrather bought a home in Hollywood and became a movie producer, founding Jack Wrather Pictures Inc. In 1946, he produced his first movie, The Guilty, starring Bonita Granville, whom he would later marry. In 1947. They had two children.
Granville appeared in over 40 movies during the 1930s and 1940s and on many dramatic television series during the 1950s, and later became a producer for the Lassie show. She is best known for playing the role of Nancy Drew in a series of movies in the late 1930s and being the narrator for Lassie.
By 1955, he had produced six more movies, including High Tide, Perilous Waters, Strike It Rich and Guilty of Treason. The films were produced for Eagle-Lion Films, Warner Bros., Allied Artists and United Artists.
Wrather purchased 70 percent share of the television station KOTV in Tulsa, Oklahoma from fellow oil millionaire George Cameron. The other 30 percent was owned by station manager Maria Helen Alvarez and commercial manager John Hill. Wrather knew nothing about the management of a station and offered to increase Alvarez and Hill to 50 per cent of the stock in exchange for their services.
Hill wanted to move on to real estate, so Wrather agreed to purchase his shares and increase Alvarez to 50 per cent owner in the new Wrather-Alvarez Television and Wrather-Alvarez Broadcasting companies and they went on to purchase several more television stations.
Walt Disney asked Wrather to build the hotel after Disney had exhausted his credit line in building the Disneyland theme park. Wrather-Alvarez agreed to financed and owned the Disneyland Hotel next to the park. The hotel was completed in 1955, and immediately shared the success of Disneyland. When Disney later attempted to buy the hotel, Wrather refused to sell.
In 1954, Wrather-Alvarez purchased the complete rights to The Lone Ranger and took over production of the television series (1954–1957). The corporation also purchased the Lassie television series in 1956 and the Sergeant Preston of the Yukon television series in 1957.
Wrather died of cancer on November 12, 1984 at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California. His funeral was held at the Roman Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills and was buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery, in Culver City, California.
Disney finally acquired the Disneyland Hotel in 1987, when it purchased half share ownership in the Wrather Corporation and the other half in 1988. Disney has retained the hotel but sold off most of the other assets. Most of the popular Wrather franchises are now owned by DreamWorks Classics. Various documents related to Wrather, Bonita Granville, and the Wrather company are archived at Loyola Marymount University as part of its Center for the Study of Los Angeles collection.
Learn more about Jack Wrather and the Disneyland Hotel here
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