Come to the Florida Sunshine Tree

Seated "Orange Bird" in plastic on bright yellow background
Submitted by Jim Liversidge, Curator of Popular Culture Collections

The Florida Orange Bird didn’t talk, sing or whistle, but when teamed with the former beauty queen (Miss Oklahoma in 1958) and recording star (“Paper Roses,” “My Little Corner of the World,” etc.), Anita Bryant, the advertising campaign became one of the most popular and entertaining of the 1970s. The orange-feathered character that nested in the Sunshine Tree at Walt Disney World was created by Walt Disney Productions, in 1970, as a mascot to represent and promote the newly formed Florida Citrus Commission, which invested three million dollars to sponsor the Sunshine Pavilion (now the Enchanted Tiki Room) at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando.

Seated "Orange Bird" in plastic on bright yellow background
A 1971 5-inch vinyl Florida Orange Bird coin bank, created by Walt Disney Studios. This cheery bird with an orange for its head was used by the Florida Citrus Commission to promote the sale of citrus fruit in TV and print ads of the 1970s.

Origins of The Orange Bird

Before the Disney resort opened in 1971, the Florida Orange Bird image was visible on Florida billboards, in tourist literature and in newspapers and magazines around the United States. The ubiquitous non-speaking spokesman for Florida sunshine was a major hit. Visitors to Disney’s Adventureland eagerly sought out the costumed life-sized walk-around facsimile for souvenir photo opportunities. The Disney organization appreciated the excitement created by the Orange Bird and produced a book and record set featuring songs by the in-house composing team of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman (Mary Poppins, It’s a Small World, etc.). The recordings featured the narration and singing voice of pop singer Anita Bryant and was an instant hit at Disney souvenir shops benefiting citrus sales as well as the new Disney tourist destination. Soon after, other souvenir Orange Bird products (dolls, mugs, coin banks, etc.) lined the shelving in the busy Disney retail centers.

Throughout the 1970s, the wholesome image of Anita Bryant and her little orange friend, were the perfect team to represent the healthy Florida produce and lifestyle. Bryant appeared in print, radio and television advertising interacting with the Orange Bird and inviting families, from around the nation and world, to “come to the Florida sunshine tree…” because “breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.”

45 RPM record sleeve for “The Orange Bird Song” featuring The Orange Bird standing on a tree branch with blue leaves. It also features Anita Bryant's name
A 45 RPM record sleeve for “The Orange Bird Song” (Music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman) produced by Disneyland Records and sung by Florida Citrus Commission spokesperson Anita Bryant in 1971.

Out of the Spotlight…Temporarily

Anita Bryant and the Orange Bird became synonymous with the Sunshine State and the Florida tourist industry. However, the celebrated promotion came to an end in 1977 when Bryant stepped forward as an outspoken opponent of gay rights with her successful “Save Our Children” campaign to repeal a local Dade County, Florida ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. As a result, the gay community organized a massive boycott of Florida citrus products gaining the support of many prominent celebrities. The publicity negatively impacted the reputation of the Florida Citrus Commission and Bryant’s show business career. As a result, the citrus industry did not renew her contract in 1979.

After Disney and the Florida Citrus Commission severed ties in 1987, the Orange Bird faded from sight. However, the character re-emerged at Tokyo Disneyland in 2004 as a symbol of Japan’s annual Orange Day. In 2012, the Orange Bird triumphantly returned home to the Sunshine Tree Terrace at Walt Disney World.

Anita Bryant in a red dress on a red background. The text reads "Anita Bryant-Red Feather Girl"
A vintage (c. 1960) Anita Bryant album cover from a 2010 greatest hits compact disk compilation released by Jasmine Records.

All artifacts, pictured, are from the Jim Liversidge Collection in the Department of Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

Like this post? You might also enjoy Widescreen Tourism in Florida

3 Comments

  1. Sharon Brown
    September 29, 2020

    Thank you, I love this big-headed little bird!

    Reply
    1. admin
      September 29, 2020

      We’re glad you enjoyed the post!

      Reply
  2. Jennifer
    September 30, 2020

    I never knew the Orange Bird had such an interesting history. Great post!

    Reply

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