A rocket blasts off, leaving a thick white cloud of smoke in its wake. A small private plane ascends from a faceless runway. "The Twentieth Century has produced a new man. A man on the move, curious, alert, with his eyes on the stars and his feet solidly on the ground, living enthusiastically for today but working hard to turn dreams of a better world into tomorrow's reality," booms the stentorian voice-over to a Sixties promotional short film touting Orlando, Florida, as "Action Center U.S.A.," the "City Beautiful in Orange County." Who would have thought that a pre-Disneyfied, pre-Britney tract of swampland in the middle of the state would ever be considered the place where the all action is? But somewhere in the past someone had an ambitious vision, and like all great plans they often went awry.
Machinations of every kind designed to get people here to stay or to play are the point of the Louis Wolfson II Media History Center's latest program, Florida Future for You, screening footage from the Fifties through the Seventies that attempts to lure outsiders looking for the good life to the Sunshine State. And why not move? Aside from the copious acres of swampland and miles of mangroves waiting to be transformed into sterile housing developments devoid of personality, we had endless stretches of white sandy beaches waiting to be cluttered with towering high-rises. Best of all, there was barely anyone here!
The happy-go-lucky attitude exhibited by the thrilled masses in "Industry of the Sun" is enough to give viewers the creeps, as Floridians young and old engage in all manner of outdoor activities and happily cheer "Yes!" to a bouncy jingle urging folks to come on down. Unfortunately, as several pieces of film covering overpopulation and its hardships cogently demonstrate, it was a ploy that worked all too well. A segment from a 1960 WCKT-TV program dubbed "The Crying City" features black-and-white shots of a seemingly bustling Flagler Street at noon but really examines the increase of suburban flight quickly draining vitality from the city. Ironically in 1960 a sanguine Henry Milander, then mayor of Hialeah, gloats to the news cameras about the latest census figures charting the explosive growth in his city.
Yee haw! We wanted everyone to come to Florida, and apparently they did and still do. Today's traffic congestion, urban sprawl, and fractious relations between ethnic groups are proof enough of what another segment called "The Changing Face of Florida" touted in the mid-Sixties: Our state was "no longer a land of palms but a land of people." How true it is, and to misquote another pro-Florida propagandist, Jackie Gleason: How sweet it was!