Class Action Park, the newest documentary from HBO Max, investigates the rise and fall of the infamous Action Park.
Gene Mulvihill, the park's owner and founder, is one of the central subjects of the documentary.
Along with being a founder of the park, he also engaged in illegal money schemes.
If you were living in the Tri-State Area (or maybe even anywhere along the east coast) in the 1980s and early 1990s, there's a decent chance you've heard of the infamous Action Park. So many things about the theme/waterpark were infamous—teenagers ineptly operating the rides, partying at all hours, etc. And that's all before the multiple deaths and injuries which occurred based on poorly constructed rides and activities meant for attendees to have a good time.
HBO Max's new documentary Class Action Park explores the rise and fall of the infamous amusement park, along with some key players who helped create the lackadaisical and rather dangerous atmosphere found at the park. There's one man who stands out in this story: Eugene "Gene" Mulvihill, the founder and designer of many of the park's attractions. While he garnered notoriety for Action Park's faults and dangerous conditions, he also took part in money laundering schemes which added a criminal element to what he brought to his beloved park.
Here's a brief history on Mulvihill and his Action Park legacy:
Mulvihill started out on Wall Street.
Although Mulvihill is notorious for his creation of Action Park, his run-ins with the law didn’t start there. They began in the 1970s, at the height of the penny stocks (also known as “pump and dump scams”) within the New York Stock Exchange, when salesmen would sell worthless stocks to unknowing customers for an exorbitant amount of money; think The Wolf of Wall Street.
Mulvihill, a prominent and charismatic face on Wall Street (a version of Donald Trump or a real-life Gordon Gekko, the documentary called him) used this idea to his advantage while running Mayflower Securities with friend Robert Brennan. In 1973, the company eventually was suspended by the Securities and Exchange Commissions (SEC) on the grounds of “selling its customers worthless securities in a bankrupt electronics company,” according to a 1974 write-up in the New York Times.
“It’s not just that he’s a businessman.” Mary Pilon, a financial journalist, says of the business mogul in the documentary. “It’s the personality he’s bringing to it.”
Action Park was an easy way to add more revenue.
Essentially banned from Wall Street and needing to find a way to make money, Mulvihill, along with Brennan and a few other investors under a company called the Great American Recreation, bought the recently combined Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski resort, which also housed the exclusive Great Gorge Playboy Club on its grounds. Although the resort found success during the winters, they needed to find a way to generate revenue in the summer. It was in 1976 when the group came up with a brilliant idea: construct a water park, which would eventually become Action Park in 1978.
Mulvihill was not one to follow rules.
While the idea of creating a water park came with success, it also came with Mulvihill experimenting with designs for new and often unsafe rides, which included the Action Skoot, the Alpine Slide and the Cannonball Loop, an infamous slide which featured a dangerous loop-de-loop and was officially only open for a month in 1985 before being shut down by the New Jersey Carnival Amusement Ride Safety Advisory Board.
“[Mulvihill] was big and loud and full of ideas,” Ed Youmans, the park’s operations manager, said about his former boss in the documentary. “Probably 90% of those ideas were just so crazy and off-the-wall that nobody would get near him, and the other 10% were pretty close to that. He actually made a lot of those ideas happen.”
Mulvihill also kept up his antics from his Wall Street days, allowing inexperienced teenagers to run the park without any sort of rules or guidance. As the documentary shows, his employees engaged in multiple inappropriate activities on site, ranging from all-out ragers at the end of the summer to smoking weed and having sex in an abandoned shed on the park’s expansive property.
Mulvihill also engaged in illegal financial activities.
By the mid 1980s, it was apparent that Mulvihill’s ideas and rides in Action Park wouldn’t be held responsible for the catastrophes accumulating day by day, from multiple broken bones to deaths. People wanted Mulvihill and the park to be liable for what happened and pay for the reparations. But, as the documentary points out, Action Park had no form of insurance to protect itself from multiple lawsuits, because “what insurance company would dare cover this creatively designed park?" If someone tried to sue the park, not only would Mulvihill not settle, he’d eventually force you to a super-long trial, without fail.
This led to the next scheme from Mulvihill, who believed it was the victim who was responsible for their accidents: creating a phony insurance company titled London and World Assurance Inc. This allowed him to not only opt out of paying for insurance, but also gave way to money laundering, which according to the documentary led to the state discovering his wrongdoings and conducting a three-day trial on a 110-count indictment, which included fraud, theft and embezzlement. While he did end up pleading guilty to multiple charges and had to give up control of the park, it wasn’t long before he eventually regained his rightful place as the head of the park and expanded it to include three more areas in his world of chaos. (His son, Andy Mulvihill, later wrote all about his father's antics and the tumult caused at the park in his 2020 book Action Park: Fast Times, Wild Rides and the Untold Story of America's Most Dangerous Amusement Park.)
“I said, ‘you can’t do that,’” Youmans said of a conversation he once had with Mulvihill about the subject. “He said, ‘why can’t we do that?’ I said because the state says we can’t do that. He goes, ‘Well who the hell are they? They can’t shut us down.’ I said actually, yes they can.’”
Mulvihill had potential ties to the Mafia.
In the midst of all the incidents occurring at Action Park, word got around that Mulvihill potentially had under-the-table deals with the Mafia, which played into how much money he owed and how much power he had over the community in Vernon, NJ, where the park resided.
“When I got fired from the local newspaper as its editor because of Gene contacting my boss,” said former editor Jessi Paladini in the documentary, ”he told me point-blank in a phone conversation that he was threatened by the local officials that if he didn’t go to my boss and get me fired, they were not going to approve his projects anymore.”
Mulvihill eventually shut down the park in the mid-1990s.
After a series of insurance frauds, low attendance rates, and friend/money loaner Robert Brennan being sentenced to prison for ten years, Great American Recreation eventually declared bankruptcy and shut down Action Park at the end of the summer of 1996. In 1998, Action Park was bought out by the owners of Whistler Mountain, revamped it and renamed it Mountain Creek.
Two years before Mulvihill died in 2012, he led a group that actually bought back Mountain Creek; in April 2014, the Mulvihill family reverted the name back to Action Park. In May 2016, though, the Action Park name was once again retired.
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