September 19

This Day in History

Cold War

Sep 19, 1959:

Khrushchev barred from visiting Disneyland

In one of the more surreal moments in the history of the Cold War, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev explodes with anger when he learns that he cannot visit Disneyland. The incident marked the climax of Khrushchev's day in Los Angeles, one that was marked by both frivolity and tension.

Khrushchev arrived in the United States on September 15 for an extended visit and a summit meeting with President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Soviet leader indicated a desire to see Hollywood and a visit was arranged. On September 19, Khrushchev and his wife arrived in Los Angeles. The day began pleasantly enough, with a tour of the Twentieth Century Fox Studios in Hollywood. The Soviet premier was taken on to the sound stage for the movie "Can-Can" and was immediately surrounded by the cast of the film, including Shirley MacLaine and Juliet Prowse. MacLaine greeted Khrushchev in broken Russian and then attempted to engage the premier in an impromptu dance. Khrushchev jovially begged off and then stood by while the cast members performed a number from the film. Frank Sinatra was brought in to serve as an unofficial master of ceremonies for the visit, and he later lunched with an obviously delighted Khrushchev.

Things began to unravel when Twentieth Century Fox President Spyros P. Skouras introduced Khrushchev at Los Angeles Town Hall. Almost immediately, Skouras, who was an ardent anticommunist, irritated Khrushchev by referring to the premier's famous statement that Russia would "bury" capitalism. Skouras declared that Los Angeles was not particularly interested in "burying" anyone, but would meet the challenge if posed. Khrushchev's famous temper quickly flared. He charged that Skouras's remarks were part of a campaign to heckle him during his trip to America. The plan, Khrushchev suggested, was to needle him, "rub" America's strength in his face, and make him "a little shaky in the knees." Addressing Skouras directly, Khrushchev stated, "If you want to go on with the arms race, very well. We accept that challenge. As for the output of rockets--well, they are on the assembly line. This is a most serious question. It is one of life or death, ladies and gentlemen. One of war and peace."

Khrushchev's anger increased when he learned that he would not be allowed to visit Disneyland. Government authorities feared that the crowds would pose a safety hazard for the premier. Khrushchev, still fuming about the debate with Skouras, exploded. "And I say, I would very much like to go and see Disneyland. 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?" Khrushchev left Los Angeles the next morning.

From photo ops with Shirley MacLaine to a heated debate with the head of a movie studio and a childish outburst about not being allowed into Disneyland, Khrushchev's day in Los Angeles was full of activity. The Soviet leader continued his trip through California without further incident and returned to Washington for his meeting with Eisenhower.

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