It's been over a month now since we lost Charlie Ridgway.
And for those of us who were lucky enough to know and/or work with this Disney
Legend, this is a wound that will take a while to heal.
"And why exactly is that?," you say. Well, I could go on & on about my own
dealings with Charlie over the past three-plus decades. What a genuine pleasure
he was to work with because Mr. Ridgway was that rarer-than-rare thing: A PR guy
who actually liked working with reporters.
Charlie Ridgway works with WDW's video team as the Resort gets ready tocelebrate its 15th anniversary back in October of 1986. CopyrightDisney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
But if I did that, I'd then wind up hogging the spotlight at
a time when the focus should really be on Charlie. So here. Rather than having
me talk about the handful of times that he & I collaborated on a
Disney-related story, I'm going to let the people who were lucky enough to work
with Charlie on a day-to-day basis share their memories of this man.
First up is John Dreyer, the former head of Corporate
Communications for The Walt Disney Company.
It was Charlie who helped John get his start at the
Mouse House back in 1976 by hiring him to work as a publicist for The Walt
Disney World Resort. And ...
we've been friends ever since.
think everyone who ever met Charlie has been friends from that moment on.
those of us who worked for Charlie, he was our Peter Pan. He led us on fantastical adventures.
had an infectious enthusiasm for life and a boundless curiosity about
everything. And he was passionate about all things Disney.
Charlie Ridgway supervises a photo shoot with Clarence "Ducky" Nash (i.e., theoriginal voice of Donald Duck) as Walt Disney World gets ready to celebrateDonald Duck's 50th birthday. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.All rights reserved
loved big ideas. For Donald Duck's 50th
birthday, he concocted the idea of hatching 50 ducklings and imprinting them on
the costumed Donald so that they would follow him in the park. They rode on a float with Donald in the daily
parade wearing Disney name tags and birthday hats.
loved directing publicity shoots and is well known for unintentionally
photo-bombing his own shoots. For the
opening of Disneyland Paris, he organized a shoot of all the Disney characters
on Main Street with the castle behind them.
There was a flock of media photographers. The shot we all love appeared on the cover of
a major European magazine with all of the Disney characters including Charlie.
of us who worked for Charlie in the days of typewriters remember fondly
Charlie's editing process. Charlie would
call you into his office or come to your desk and sit at your typewriter. With you over his shoulder, he and you would
do the rewrite. Charlie would cross out
sections you had written and he had written and you had written together. He would move graphs around by cutting them
out and then stapling the sections together.
At least one release that was two pages in its final form was six feet
long in its finished draft.
Charlie takes a knee in Paree back in April of 1992as the opening day parade for Euro Disneylandrolls by. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.All rights reserved
I said earlier, Charlie made friends for life.
When Charlie started sending me on trips to South America that he had
previously taken, virtually every journalist I called on first asked me,
"Where's Charlie? Is he
ok?" And when I said he was fine,
they told me to tell him they sent their regards.
struck up a friendship with many notable journalists, among them Walter
Cronkite. And when Walter had his
sailboat on the Florida east coast, he would invite Charlie to come over and
spend time on it.
Pam Brandon - who's now a highly regarded public relations
consultant - also has extremely fond memories of the man who helped launch her
I was a 20-something tourism reporter for Orlando Magazine in the 1980s, I was
always a little afraid of big, bold Charlie Ridgway. I wanted to be sure I had my facts straight
and told a solid story when reporting anything Disney.
my trepidation when he called me one day out of the blue and offered me a job
on the Disney "Press & Publicity" team that operated out of a tiny office
above City Hall in the Magic Kingdom. Charlie and Bob Mervine drove to Winter
Park to interview me, and over soft drinks, made me an offer on the spot.
Charlie chats with a reporter from Orlando's own Channel 6 as Walt Disney World's 25thanniversary celebration gets underway back in October of 1996. CopyrightDisney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
the time, I wondered just what a publicist did; I was a journalist by trade and
had no training in PR. But that was Charlie's secret weapon in the 1970s and
1980s - he never hired a PR person, he hired journalists, both print and
broadcast, who had newsroom experience - that was a prerequisite. He assembled
a team of the best of the best, and always told us to never pitch a weak story
idea, and never to expect coverage - if we got a positive story, that was
wonderful; if not, we had nurtured an important relationship.
never forgotten that, perhaps his greatest lesson: to treat the media with
integrity. And that has served me well. A small group of us from those days
celebrated Christmas every year with a lunch with Charlie, and over the years
I've realized just how much "big, bold Charlie" cared about every one of
us. We will miss his fierce love of all
And given all those years that Ridgway worked (I'm quoting
now from the subtitle of Charlie's 2007 memoir, "Spinning Disney's World") as a
Magic Kingdom Press Agent ... Well, is it really all that surprising to learn
that some of that Disney magic seemed to have rubbed off on Ridgway. Witness
Rick Sylvain (who's now a retired director of Walt Disney World PR)'s tale of
that time when Charlie popped up in the most unlikely spot.
Copyright 2007 Intrepid Traveler Press
Rick recalled that - 10 years ago - he and two colleagues,
Bob Jenkins and Rich Grant ...
were tooling around England
following a travel writer's convention in Manchester. I had talked the boys
into driving to Ulverston, birthplace of Stan Laurel (I'm a L&H buff).
all was going well until it came time, in a little country village, to fuel up
our rental van. Rich merrily poured unleaded petrol into the tank. Not 200
yards from the station the van coughed, sputtered and limped to a dead halt.
Villagers clued us in, pointing to the little sticker on the gas cap.
"Diesel Only" it read. Our hearts sank, thinking we had just ruined
an expensive vehicle and the thousands we would be out.
came and 90 minutes later we were in the cab of a truck towing our very
lifeless van to a Chrysler dealership in a town an hour's drive away. While
technicians drained the tank dry of the wrong fuel, I went around to the front
of the dealership to a convenience store.
stood, to my utter amazement, Charlie Ridgway. He was also touring around after
the same convention and had stopped at this store in this town on this day at
this hour at this minute - for a candy bar. What were the odds?
The photograph that captures Rick & Charlie's extremely unlikelymeeting at that car dealership in the UK back in 2007.Image courtesy of Rick Sylvain.
I had my mates come round to the front of the dealership; I had a surprise for
them. Jaws dropped, smiles widened and Rich snapped the photo. I loved
Charlie's expression in this photo.
our Disney ditto is right - it is
a small world, after all.
of sorts: our day of sightseeing was pretty much spent at an English car
dealership, at a service bay. We never got to Ulverston. Another fine mess!
meantime, drove merrily on his way.
And that - in a nutshell - is one of the main reasons
that I've put off posting this tribute to Mr. Ridgway for so long now. If I
actually type the words - that, on December 24, 2016, Charlie Ridgway passed
away at his home in Longwood, FL at the ripe old age of 93 - Well, that then means
Charlie is no longer out there " ... merrily on his way." Which means that I'm never
again going to bump into him at some Disneyana event. Which is where Charlie would
invariably share some heretofore untold tale about what REALLY happened
behind-the-scenes at the grand opening of some theme park ride, show or
So for strictly selfish reasons, I'm now going to take
a page out of the Ridgway playbook and do a quick rewrite. In my new
stapled-together version of this story (which has the Disney-style happy ending
that I know Charlie would have approved of), he's now on his way to go sailing
again with Walter Cronkite.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
I just hope that there's room on that sloop for the
50 white ducks that Ridgway's bringing along.
This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Thursday, January 26, 2017
Was a fan of Mr Ridgway since I first heard him speak at the first D23 Destination : WDW 40 years event. He was wonderful. I bought his book and he kindly signed it for me - definately one of the better books for Disney historians!