Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Charles Ridgway's Wonderful World

Disney pundits across the web seem to be in complete agreement with their praises of Charles Ridgway’s wonderful new book, Spinning Disney’s World: Memories of a Magic Kingdom Press Agent. I as well would like to voice my very, very enthusiast endorsement of this must-read tome for any Disney fan.

An unquestionable Disney Legend with a window on Walt Disney World’s Main Street USA (Ridgway Public Relations - Charles Ridgway Press Agent), Charlie is a forty year veteran of the Walt Disney Company and has literally worked in some capacity for every Disney theme park around the world. He covered the opening of Disneyland in 1955 as a local newspaper reporter, and most recently worked as a consultant to help prepare for the debut of Hong Kong Disneyland. In the time between, he has amassed an amazing collection of stories and anecdotes that fill the pages of Spinning Disney’s World.

Reading Charlie’s stories is akin to spending an evening or two with an old friend. His prose is friendly and conversational, and it feels like you reach the end of the 200+ pages all too quickly. What is exceptional about the book is that Charlie was either present or on the periphery of just about every major development at both Disneyland and Disney World over the course of the last half century.

A great example of this, and one of my favorite passages, is where Charlie describes the nearly overnight, fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants design and construction of Mickey’s Birthdayland in 1988 at Walt Disney World. With the majority of WDI resources tied up with the building of Disney-MGM Studios at the time, creating a way to celebrate Mickey’s 60th birthday fell to a new Michael Eisner/Frank Wells-created marketing task force dubbed MATADORS, of which Charlie was a member. The project literally went from conception to completion in a few short months and on a shoestring budget, but ultimately laid the groundwork for Toontown expansions at Disneyland and Disney World.

Equally entertaining is Charlie's own favorite story of training fifty white Peking ducks to follow Donald Duck down Main Street as part of his 50th Birthday parade in 1984.

In a book where the names of Hollywood stars, political figures and international dignitaries are sprinkled heavily throughout, Charlie remains a down-to-earth, genuine and sincere witness to Disney history. It is refreshing to read a book where there are no axes to grind and the author’s sole purpose is to simply share his happy, positive and always interesting life stories with the reader. In a time of contentious debates and Eisner-bashing, Charlie only has kind words and compliments for his former bosses and company associates. He is as gracious as his book is captivating.