July 13, 2019
Growing Up in Disneyland:
a Conversation with Author, Ron DeFore
Okay, so this photo was not actually taken while I was
on the phone with Ron DeFore on June 25, 2019,
but it was taken that day, shortly after my interesting phone “interview” with him.
Growing up in Iowa, where Hollywood seemed a zillion miles away, I often daydreamed about what it must be like as the child of a famous actor/celebrity. By contrast,
Ron DeFore spent his childhood years in California, living out life as the son of movie and television actor, Don Defore. (By the way, Don Defore was born, and grew up, in Iowa. :o))
Author Ron DeFore, whose father was actor Don DeFore.
These days, I no longer have to wonder what the life of a celebrity’s kid,(during my formative years) must have been like. Ron DeFore tells us! Ron has recently written Growing Up in Disneyland. Soon to be released on July 15, this book is described by the author as a hybrid, combining parts of his father, Don DeFore’s (unpublished) autobiography, and Ron’s own autobiography.
Ron DeFore’s new book Growing Up in Disneyland will be available on July 15.
Recently, Ron DeFore generously agreed to an interview with “yours truly” via phone.
It was an informative, and enjoyable conversation.
One only has to speak a few minutes about Don DeFore, to hear the pride in his son Ron’s voice. One of five children, Ron grew up basking in his father’s glory, delighting when ever Don was recognized in public. Ron shared that, occasionally, someone would recognize Don, but could not place him. The stranger, thinking that Don was a neighbor, or acquaintance that he should know, but embarrassed to admit that he did not, would engage in conversation with Don. Ron and the other children would enjoy witnessing this tete-a-tete play out in front of them, as Don would play along, asking the stranger how things were going, with him and his family, until the stranger finally came to the realization of who he was really conversing with.
Don Defore was not the only one in the family who was in the entertainment business. Ron’s mother, Marion, formerly Marion Holmes, was a big band singer prior to marrying Don. Marion was most famous for her recording of I’m a Little Tea Pot with Art Kassel and his Kassels in the Air. She also sang with Henry Busse. Upon marrying Don, Marion quit her singing career. (According to Ron, his mom made great watermelon pickles!)
Marion Holmes DeFore was a big band singer when she met Don Defore.
Among the fringe benefits of being Don DeFore’s offspring, Ron says he counts being part of the parades that the family was invited to participate in, as a highlight. Disneyland parades, including the opening day extravaganza, and the Disney Christmas Parade (where he and his sister sat next to Walt Disney, himself), and the Hollywood Christmas Parade are all wonderful family memories for Ron. As a child, Ron says that it made him feel special to be the son of a celebrity, and take place in all the fun. He loved it.
The DeFore family in Disneyland’s Opening Day Parade, riding the Autopia cars
on July 18, 1955.
(5 year-old Ron is in the front car, and out of this photo’s view.)
Watch the entire parade broadcast from ABC, here.
Growing up in Brentwood
The world that Ron DeFore grew up in was different from that of today. There was little crime in the area then, and Ron does not remember ever bothering to lock the doors when the family went out for the day.
When Don DeFore set out to build his home on a double lot, in 1947, Brentwood, a suburb of west Los Angeles, California, was considered “out in the country”, and many of his actor friends questioned why he would choose to build so far out. The DeFore’s house, designed with split rails and a barn & silo look, was equipped with a huge train bell at the top of the house, that could be sounded from inside the house, to call in the children for dinner from wherever they were playing. (Ron says the bell sounded like the clang of the Mark Twain paddle boat at Disneyland.) Special childhood memories for Ron include, when the DeFore’s had a cow and chickens, and when the house’s beautiful Christmas decorations were up, that had taken two weeks to complete.
See a video of the DeFore home in 1962, here.
Growing Up in Disneyland
It’s every kid’s dream: Growing up in Disneyland! Ron DeFore did it!
First, a little background-From 1957-1962 Don Defore owned Disneyland’s Don DeFore’s Silver Banjo Barbecue Restaurant, named for the banjo that Don’s father used to play.
Don said that the sounds of the banjo strumming gave one an appetite. It is the only restaurant on Disneyland property to ever have an actual person’s name (other than Walt Disney). Don Defore was friends with Walt Disney, and when a space opened up at Disneyland’s Frontierland for a restaurant, DeFore already had an idea that he had been mulling around. Don DeFore’s Silver Banjo Barbecue Restaurant was born.
Ron DeFore spent a lot of weekends, and summer vacation time, at Disneyland from 1957-1962. The DeFore’s even had a second house in Anaheim, near Disneyland, that they used to store extra restaurant supplies, and to stay at when working at the Silver Banjo.
Ron says that he is probably the only kid who didn’t want to go to Disneyland all of the time. :o) He did enjoy it, though, when he could bring along a friend, and “show off a little”. Ron knew a lot about the park, spending a lot of time exploring.
Years, later, while working as associate director on The Steve Allen Show (1971-1972),
Ron met an up and coming comedian named Steve Martin. Yep, THAT Steve Martin. (As Ron put it, “I enjoyed meeting guests in the Green Room/lounge, and introduced myself as Don DeFore’s son, as many of the guests had nice stories about my dad.”) After chatting a bit, Martin mentioned that he had worked at Disneyland as a teen in the magic shop in the 1950’s. Ron mentioned that he used to go to the magic shop a lot then, when he was “bored”. After further discussion, Ron said, “I remember you!”, and Steve Martin said, “I remember you!” :o)
Check out this Disneyland documentary from 1956 called Disneyland Dream, about a family who won a trip to Disneyland, here. In this film, around 20:20-20:28 you can spy a very young Steve Martin selling programs in a pink striped, long-sleeved shirt and a top hat in the lower right part of the screen,
or find him at around 1:34 in this restored and shortened version, without audio, here.
Don DeFore, in addition to being a husband and father, was an actor. He starred on Broadway, in movies, and on television. DeFore starred with many classic movie stars, including Doris Day in her first film, in Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’s first film, with Liz Scott’s first film, and with Charlton Heston in his first film. DeFore forged life-long friendships with Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney, among others. (Judy Garland was in his wedding.) Ron says that two of his Dad’s movie favorites are, It Happened on Fifth Avenue, and She’s Working Her Way Through College.
Don Defore as Thorny, with Ozzie Nelson, on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet
DeFore was one of the first well-known television characters, playing Thorny on
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, for which he was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1954. In 1961, despite the protests of his agent (thinking DeFore would be overshadowed by Academy Award winning actress Shirley Booth), DeFore took the role of the memorable Mr. B on the classic TV show Hazel (1961-1965).
Don Defore and Shirley Booth starring on Hazel
Ron DeFore starred in an episode of Hazel, here.
Lesser known, DeFore served from 1954-1956 as president of National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and was the powerhouse behind broadcasting the Emmy Awards on television for the first time. (No small feat at the time, considering there was no satellite broadcasting, and the show was live from both New York and California.). Impressed by this major coup, Walt Disney met and became friends with DeFore. DeFore received an Emmy Award for his two-year service as the National Academy of Television Art and Sciences president.
See a short video of Don DeFore’s Emmy Award replacement, opened by Ron DeFore,
at the bottom of the page, here.
Don DeFore‘s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for television.
The star is on the 6800 block of Hollywood Boulevard (on the south side),
according to an article, here.
DeFore was inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960.
Read the Hollywood Walk of Fame write-up on Don DeFore, here.
Name Dropping :o)
I asked Ron to name drop a little, and tell me about some famous people that he met, or knew.
Here is a list of some of those names, in no particular order.
Shirley Booth (Hazel)
Bobby Buntrock (Harold on Hazel)
Ozzie and Harriet Nelson
Jay North (Dennis the Menace)
Rusty Hamer (Rusty on Make Room for Daddy)
Dick Van Dyke and his children
Meredith Wilson (Creator of Music Man, and from Iowa)
Anthony Caruso (character actor)
David Clayton Thomas (Blood, Sweat, and Tears)
The Beach Boys
Ron DeFore had never seen himself as an author, having had nearly 20 careers throughout his lifetime. In the late 1990’s, he and his brother David, began to do occasional presentations for D23, the Disney Family Museum, and the Disneyana Fan Club. One comment seemed to always follow those presentations, “You should write a book!” While taking his daily walk several years ago, Ron decided, all of a sudden, that he would do just that! He would write a book.! After two years of writing, as well as compiling his father’s writings, Ron has indeed become an author. Growing Up in Disneyland is sure to be a treasure trove of interesting antidotes and history from Hollywood and beyond. I can’t wait to read it!
President Reagan meets with two members of his Presidential Administration,
Don and Ron DeFore while in Los Angeles.
Left to right-President Reagan, Don DeFore, Ron DeFore
Note the look of fatherly pride on Don DeFore’s face. :o)
A Special Recipe
Sampling the delicious barbecue sauce recipe from
Don DeFore’s Silver Banjo Barbecue Restaurant.
It is good stuff!
Here is the recipe for Disneyland’s Don DeFore’s Silver Banjo Barbecue Restaurant, that was based on a California restaurant’s barbecue sauce, at the time. This recipe was derived from UCLA’s ingredient identification of that sauce, and Marion DeFore’s kitchen magic.
Ingredients needed for this recipe.
The barbecue sauce cooking on the stove smelled amazing!
Don DeFore’s Silver Banjo Barbecue Sauce
Read more about the restaurant, here.
Combine all ingredients and simmer 2-3 hours, the longer the better.
Barbecue sauce is best the next day.
I will be trying this sauce with all of my barbecue and grilling recipes!
Annette’s note–I prepared 1/4 of the original recipe.
I used Grandma’s brand of molasses.
I cooked this two hours with the lid off.
My measurements for 1/4 of a recipe are below.
12 ounces/1+1/2 cup Hunts Tomato Sauce
1/4 cup +2 Tablespoons Heinz Chili Sauce
1/4 cup water
3 Tablespoons Pompeian Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tablespoon Kikkoman Soy Sauce
3 Tablespoons (unsulfured) molasses, Grandma’s or Blackstrap Molasses
1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Coleman’s Mustard Powder
1 teaspoon McCormick Celery Seed (not celery salt)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon dry garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon dry onion powder
1/4 teaspoon Colgin Liquid Smoke
Combine all ingredients and simmer 2-3 hours, the longer the better.
Barbecue sauce is best the next day.
Thank you to Ron for giving of his time (and photos) to this very appreciative “hobby blogger”! :o)
Check these out!
Ron DeFore narrates this introduction to Growing up in Disneyland in this video trailer.
Check out the photo clips, including when Ron was an extra (In a youth football uniform) on Hazel.
Click here to check out the Don DeFore web site.
Click here to find the Don DeFore Fan Club on Facebook.
Click here to see Ron DeFore’s Facebook page.
Read These Previous Blog Posts About the Don Defore Film,
It Happened on 5th Avenue!
A lobby card, in color, featuring the Don Defore (Christmas) film
It Happened on 5th Avenue
It’s Christmas Time! Enjoy These Often-Missed Yuletide Movies/
December 2017, click here.
Other Blog Posts of Interest
Thanks for reading,
I’m Annette Stuff
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Look for my next blog post on, or around,
Thursday, August 22, 2019
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I recently purchased this fun book recommended by Ron DeFore,
Eat Like Walt, by Marcy Carriker Smothers, .
It is filled with Disney history, and many old Disneyland recipes,
including the recipe for the Silver Banjo Barbecue Sauce!
You can order this book, here.