Journalist-turned-publicist Charlie Ridgway didn’t consider himself a salesman when he joined Disneyland’s publicity office in 1963. He did, however, know what made good news and, as a result, ably promoted Disney theme parks by assisting with the planning and logistics of more than 150 major press events. Among the most memorable moments of his career, Charlie recalled a 1964 dinner hosted by Walt Disney at Disneyland for the United States Olympic Team. It was attended by press and celebrities alike, including comedian Bob Hope.
According to Charlie, “We had a stage set up and Walt made a short speech and got a lot of good laughs. Then he sat down, and Bob Hope walked up to the microphone, when one of the whistles on the nearby train went ‘toot, toot.’ Hope didn’t miss a beat and said, ‘Walt, your waffles are ready.’ He brought the whole house down.”
Born July 20, 1923, in Chicago, Illinois, Charlie graduated from high school in Shelbina, Missouri, in 1941. Shortly thereafter, during World War II, he enlisted with the United States Army and served in the field artillery unit of the 13th Armored Division.
After the war, Charlie earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and, in 1947, began his career writing and editing news for radio and newspapers. Early jobs included WDZ in Tuscola, Illinois; WERC in Erie, Pennsylvania; and the Erie Dispatch. In 1952, he moved to Los Angeles, where he joined the staff of the Los Angeles Mirror-News, followed by the Long Beach Press Telegram in 1962.
Even before he was hired as a cast member, Charlie promoted Disneyland as a news reporter. During 1954-55, while the Park was under construction, he authored some of the first articles about Disneyland to appear in any of the major metropolitan newspapers. He also covered Disneyland’s grand opening celebration on July 17, 1955. Eight years later, he joined the Park’s publicity staff.
He once said, “Disneyland was the one public relations job I thought I would enjoy, and I was right. And my radio and newspaper background helped me to understand what the reporters needed and how best to work with them.”
As a result, Charlie was promoted to Disneyland’s publicity supervisor in 1966. In 1969 he was bumped up to publicity manager and, later, director of press and publicity for the then under construction Walt Disney World. He helped launch the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971 and Epcot Center in 1982. He also helped launch Disneyland Paris in 1992, as well as special projects for celebrations such as Donald Duck’s 50th birthday.
After more than 30 years with Disney, Charlie Ridgway retired in 1994. He would go on to consult on special projects, including the launch of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the Disney Cruise Line. He published his memoir, “Spinning Disney’s World,” in 2007.
Charlie passed away on December 24, 2016.