By Gregory Crofton
If you grew up in the Northeast in the 80s, and you haven’t heard about the HBO documentary “Class Action Park,” you should be sure to check it out.
I lived in Connecticut and was six years old when a disgraced former Wall Street executive named Gene Mulvihill opened the Action Park in 1978. It would have been about 90-minute drive for me to reach the Vernon Valley-Great Gorge area in Northern New Jersey, where it was located.
Originally run as a ski resort, Mulvihill expanded operations to year-round by opening a water park, fed by ice-cold water from a nearby spring.
Once TV commercials began to air for the resort, every teen in the tristate area begged their parents to make the trip. I never made it, and that’s something I regret despite the fact that the loosely operated and un-insured park, killed six people and injured thousands over the years.
Action Park was split into three areas: Alpine Center, Water World and Motor World. In the middle of it all was the beer tent. So it wouldn’t have been uncommon for someone to down a few October Fest-sized beers then get behind the wheel of a mini-speedboat or a go-kart that could do 60 mph.
So this dream business was somehow real. But how did it stay open for as long as it did? In a word: fraud.
Mulvihill, who died in 2012, was a Trump-like character who in fact was friends with Donald Trump. Trump even considered investing in the park at one point.
And Just like Trump, things were kept “working” through a combination of fraud and our slow-moving U.S court system. Not only did Mulvihill back Action Park with a fake insurance company called London and World Assurance based in the Caymans, he refused to settle any lawsuits filed against the park. His attorneys took all cases to trial, which took years and cost plaintiffs thousands of dollars. If he did end up losing a case, Mulvihill typically didn’t pay up.
And people got injured all the time. In “Class Action Park” you learn an average day at Action Park meant 50 to 100 injuries; and that number would double on weekends.
Overall, this 89-minute doc delivers by answering every possible question you might have about Action Park. Directors Chris Scott and Seth Porges use animation, archival footage and dozens of interviews with former park patrons and employees — including Mulvihill’s son — to tell this fascinating story. And the best part is that the film includes loads of footage of all the park’s most infamous rides.