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"Spinning Disney's World, Memories of a Magic Kingdom Press Agent"

A Disney Legend spins some terrific Mouse tails, er tales.

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In Alfred Hitchcock's films, the hero was typically an ordinary guy who got swept up in extraordinary circumstances. Such was the fate of Charles Ridgway, although a movie based on his fascinating--but certainly not sinister--career might be called, "Dial M for Mickey." For more than forty years, he trumpeted Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and other Disney parks as a member of the company's publicity department. As such, he has a unique insider's perspective, including some personal memories of working alongside Walt Disney, to share in his wonderful book.

While he joined Disneyland's publicity staff in 1963, Ridgway's connection to the theme park goes back to before its 1955 opening. As a reporter for the "Los Angeles Mirror-News," he frequently covered the park in its early years. A newspaperman at heart, he had a difficult time deciding whether to move to the other side of the desk and accept the Disneyland publicity position. Ridgway's journeyman writing and reporting skills helped him relate to the reporters and media reps he encountered through the years--and helped him craft a beguiling chronicle of his adventures.

In the days before computers, fax machines, copy machines, and satellite uplinks, Ridgway got the word out about Disneyland the old fashioned way: by building person-to-person relationships with media folks. He traveled around the country, as well as the world, meeting with reporters and sharing the latest news from the Disney parks. Ridgway shares some great stories about the ingenious publicity stunts he helped concoct. He also discusses the huge press events he helped pioneer, which brought hordes of media reps to the parks.

He blew Disney's cover

Ridgway drops names from the well-known, such as Walter Cronkite, Bob Hope, and Tom Brokaw, to the not-so-well-known, such as Disneyland's first publicity manager, Eddie Meck, and the eccentric man who was in charge of constructing Disneyland and Walt Disney World, Admiral Joe Fowler. With his folksy, engaging storytelling style, Ridgway writes about events such as the time Walt Disney lost his temper with him (as the official arranger of Disneyland's publicity shots, he angered Disney during a shoot) and his role in blowing the company's cover when it was trying to keep the Walt Disney World project under wraps.

The narrative gets a bit choppy as Ridgway moves back and forth in time and occasionally repeats himself. And it would have been nice if the avid photographer included more photos from his personal collection. But these are petty annoyances. "Spinning Disney's World" will enthrall anyone who wants a front-row seat to the inner workings of Disney's publicity machine.

On a personal note, I had the good fortune to meet Ridgway at a Disney press event and was able to thank him for the personal letter he had sent to me 38 years earlier when I was an 11-year-old, wide-eyed lad seeking information about the Happiest Place on Earth after my first visit to Disneyland. In a small way, he helped set me on my own journey as a journalist covering the theme park industry.

At Disneyland's 50th anniversary celebration, I saw Ridgway, camera in hand, snapping photos of the VIPs coming down the red carpet. I thought that he belonged among the VIPs, but it was somehow fitting that Ridgway, who has the honor of his own window on the Magic Kingdom's Main Street as well as the recognition of the Disney company as a "Disney Legend," would prefer his everyman reporter role.

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