52 Years Ago: Do You Know Who Was the First-Ever Celebrity Narrator at Disney World’s Candlelight Processional?

celebrity narrator disney candlelight processional
Credit: Disney/Canva

More than 50 years ago, Walt Disney World celebrated its first holiday season, and the center point of the celebration was the Candlelight Processional, but do you know who the very first celebrity narrator was for the event, which was held on Main Street, U.S.A.?

Candlelight Processional EPCOT's International Festival of the Holidays

Credit: Disney

Per Walt Disney World Live Entertainment, the Candlelight Processional began in 1958 at Disneyland, three years after Walt Disney’s first park opened to guests. The event took place for the first time at the Walt Disney World Resort in December 1971, just over two months after the resort opened.

The Walt Disney World Resort’s Candlelight Processional event took place annually at Magic Kingdom until 1994 when it was moved to the America Gardens Theater at EPCOT.

Related: Cast Member & Canine Friend Get a Touching Surprise Before Disney’s Candlelight Processional

Candlelight Processional

Credit: Disney Parks

Every year, during the Candlelight Processional event, a celebrity narrator appears to share the story of the birth of Jesus. The narrator is joined by a huge choir, often comprised of Walt Disney World cast member volunteers, as well as high school student groups and community groups from Florida and other states as well.

It’s estimated that during each holiday season, as many as 16,000 “amateur vocalists” volunteer their time and talents to participate in this beautiful and moving presentation at EPCOT, which takes place as part of the International Festival of the Holidays.

international festival of the holidays epcot

Credit: Becky Burkett

The annual event takes place at the America Gardens Theater at EPCOT and runs from late November to late December. There are usually two to three showtimes every evening, and the celebrity narrator is different every couple of nights.

Celebrity Narrators at the Candlelight Processional

Over the years, the list of celebrity narrators has included Eva Longoria, guest-favorite Neil Patrick Harris, Contemporary Christian recording artists Bart Millard (from MercyMe), Steven Curtis Chapman, and Sandi Patty, actors John Stamos, Brendan Fraser, Sterling K. Brown, and others, and other celebrities, like Marie Osmond, Cal Ripken, Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, Gloria Estefan, Angela Bassett, Josh Gad, and many, many more.
But the very first celebrity narrator during the Candlelight Processional at Disney World in 1971 was Hollywood heartthrob Rock Hudson.
rock hudson and the hollywood sign

Credit: Biography/Canva

Rock Hudson enjoyed a decorated career as an actor in Hollywood, though he never starred in a film by Walt Disney Studios. He did, however, have leading roles in Disney productions–in the form of events at Disney Parks, including the Candlelight Processionals, as well as Disney World’s televised opening ceremony, and even the dedication of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland.
rock hudson dedicates pirates of the caribbean ride disney world

Rock Hudson dedicates the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disney World/Credit: Disney Archives/Canva

Disney World’s First Candlelight Processional

On December 18 and December 19, 1971, Disney World held its first series of Candlelight Processional events–though not at EPCOT, where the event takes place today. Instead, the Candlelight Processional in 1971 took place on Main Street, U.S.A.
As part of the event, more than 1,200 carolers lifted their voices in unison as part of the choir, each one singing as actor Rock Hudson took to the podium to serve as Disney World’s very first narrator during the annual event. The processional that year concluded with the choir singing “The Hallelujah Chorus.”
rock hudson narrator disney world candlelight processional

Credit: Dad For Disney

Because Rock Hudson never starred in a Disney film or Disney television series, many fans don’t realize that he was Disney World’s first Candlelight Processional celebrity narrator. He did so well that Disney World asked him to narrate the story of the birth of Jesus again in December 1973, and it was during that visit that he took part in the dedication of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Who knew?

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!