Spinning Disney's World
Memories of a Magic Kingdom Press Agent
Author Ridgway spent four decades pushing Disney on millions of consumers worldwide, and this collection of “war stories” from the front lines of perhaps the biggest marketing success in history brims with insider info, but without once betraying the Disney name. It’s to Ridgway’s credit that his fondness for his subject—he writes kindly of almost everyone he met and worked with—doesn’t detract from the integrity or appeal of the material.
Fascinating asides delve into the personalities that fueled Disney’s dream, as well as the newspeople and celebrities involved in Ridgway’s PR efforts. Among numerous charmers, Ridgway’s best story chronicles the intense, hilarious effort to train 50 newborn ducklings to “follow” the Donald Duck character in a 50th Birthday Parade. Other tales include the orchestration of parades and VIP galas; the impetus, construction and opening of attractions at both parks (including Ridgway’s accidental early outing of the “Florida project”); and the arrival of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells.
Entertaining throughout, Ridgway’s prose is fluid and gentle, reflecting that sense of wholesome delight common to Disney creations, making this a rare behind-the-Mouse-ears exposé that’s a real crowd-pleaser.
Publishers Weekly, April 16, 2007
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On your next visit to the Magic Kingdom, instead of sprinting to Splash Mountain, slow down and take a moment to check out the second-story windows of the shops lining Main Street USA. The various business advertisements there are more than decoration; they are permanent tributes to the people who helped build the park. Along with Roy E. Disney’s sailing shop and Dick Nunis’ gym, you’ll find the home of “Ridgway and Company Public Relations — No Event Too Small.”
Charles Ridgway, the man behind that window, served more than four decades as Disney’s press agent. From Anaheim and Orlando to Paris and Hong Kong, Ridgway has formed friendships with the industry’s most powerful people and had a front-row view of Disney’s expansion into a global empire — all without losing his sense of humor or humility.
After a lifetime of getting other people’s stories into print, this Disney legend has told his own story in Spinning Disney’s World, one of the most entertaining books written about the rodent that reshaped Orlando.
From his tiny office in Main Street’s City Hall, Ridgway quietly guided the media-driven growth of Disneyland’s image in the world’s imagination. “The man who told Walt where to stand” posed a significant portion of the park’s most iconic images, most notably those taken shortly before Disney’s death. Ridgway claims credit for “prematurely” alerting the press to Walt Disney World’s planned existence, and in the late 1960s he was among the resort’s first employees. From Disney World’s 1971 debut until his recent retirement, Ridgway oversaw press events for the grand openings of countless parks, hotels, parades and more, concluding his career by writing the media guide for Hong Kong Disneyland.
Remarkably, until the Eisner era, Disney had no paid national advertising, relying instead on free publicity. They transplanted Ronald Reagan’s snowed-out 1985 Inaugural Parade to Orlando; got the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to endorse a parade; and kick-started the age of ENG (electronic news gathering) by using live satellite uplinks for the 1982 opening of EPCOT Center. Ridgway also relates memories of how Orlando has changed, such as the plight of the proprietor of Johnny’s Corner; his tiny hunter’s bar on State Road 535 was so overwhelmed by construction workers that he sold the business rather than order more beer. Structurally, stories in Spinning Disney’s World skip around with little chronological or thematic coherence — it’s like listening to a favorite uncle ramble through memories of the old days.
Ridgway is almost unfailingly positive about the Mouse’s management; declining to criticize Eisner, he says, “Walt himself was the greatest micromanager of all.”
Between anecdotes about training ducks and chaperoning royalty, Ridgway keeps returning to the values Walt preached: Treat the press with respect, insist on detail and quality above cost-cutting, and let the parks sell themselves.
Seth Kubersky, Orlando Weekly, April 5, 2007
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Listen To A Legend. A treasure trove of radio and podcast interviews with Charlie Ridgway.
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