When my first book was published, I had what can be best described as a George McFly moment.
You remember the scene from Back to the Future: Surrounded by his family, George proudly opens a box containing copies of his newly released book. He’s obviously excited about adding the title of “author” to his resume as he glances, chest puffed out, at the hot-off-the-press finished product.
Even in this age of portable devices, telecommunications and digital wizardry, it’s still quite a thrill to see your name on the cover of an honest-to-goodness, printed-on-paper book. As the author, you know how hard you’ve worked and how proud you are to see the finished product; the only thing that’s left now is waiting on the public’s response, which, of course, you hope is positive.
I had another George McFly moment the other day when not one, but two of my books arrived at our doorstep in a plain cardboard box — the re-release of my first book, Disney’s Dream Weavers, and the brand new An American in Disneyland Paris .
I must admit, there’s always a bit of trepidation when something you’ve written “goes public.” The hope is that everyone loves what you’ve written … the fact is, some people may not. As in life itself, you take the good with the bad.
It’s truly gratifying, then, when an unsolicited comment comes your way from someone you’ve known and respected for years.
“What great journalism you are doing,” wrote Rick Sylvain, the former print and on-line manager for Walt Disney World media relations. “Your deep dive into the personalities that shaped Disney is important reading, not only now, but for future generations. As Charlie Ridgway and others pass on, their stories live on.”
Humbling, to be sure, but much appreciated.
And so, it is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure, that I steer you toward my latest releases:
Disney’s Dream Weavers was first released in 2012 by Dog Ear Publishing. It was a three-year labor of love that began innocently enough when I filled in for a columnist colleague at the Staten Island Advance, who missed work for several months after surgery.
His column dealt with the people and places on Staten Island in bygone eras from the 1940s into the 1980s. For reasons I can’t really explain, I decided to write several substitute columns on Staten Islanders’ participation at both the 1939-1940 and 1964-1965 New York World’s Fairs, both of which were held on the same site in Flushing, Queens.
The highlights of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair were, of course, the four Disney-created attractions: Ford’s Magic Skyway, Carousel of Progress, it’s a small world and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln in the Illinois state pavilion.
I researched the 1964-1965 Fair, corresponded with folks who had attended and also drew on my own experiences as a Fair visitor. As I dug into the Fair, I came upon references to another amusement park popular during that era – Freedomland, which also was open in the early 1960s and was located relatively close to the Fair in The Bronx.
I had attended Freedomland as well, and have fond memories and some grainy photos to prove it. In researching Freedomland’s story, it quickly became apparent to me that there was a link [a common thread, if you will] that ran through Disneyland, which opened in 1955, Freedomland [1960-1964] and the World’s Fair.
Many of the people who had helped bring Walt Disney’s dream of a park where parents and children could have fun together [the people who had, as I wrote, brought Disneyland from “fruit field to fruition”] also made significant contributions to both Freedomland and the World’s Fair.
Unbeknownst to most of us, at about the same time Freedomland was shutting down and the World’s Fair was in full swing, Walt Disney and some of his trusted lieutenants were scooping up land in central Florida to build what would turn out to be The Vacation Kingdom of the World.
As the idea of putting together a book on that link among the four venues began to take shape, I was able to score interviews with a number of key people … like Marty Sklar, Bob Gurr, Charlie Ridgway, Jack Lindquist, Tom Nabbe and Tony Baxter on the Disney side, and Ben Rossi, Bob Mangels and Mike Virgintino, speaking on behalf of Freedomland. Their combined insight helped, in my mind, to legitimize the book.
When Bob McLain of Theme Park Press agreed to re-release Disney’s Dream Weavers, I could think of no better person to write a foreword to it than Mike Virgintino, who grew up near the park as a youth and has written about it extensively over the years. Along with a group of other “Friendly Freedomlanders,” as they call themselves, he helped spearhead an initiative that resulted in the placement of a commemorative plaque near where the park’s entrance once stood in the Baychester section of The Bronx.
Mike also has been a huge help to me in promoting my books over the years. I’m happy to report that he’s currently working on his own book dealing exclusively with Freedomland.
An American in Disneyland Paris came about thanks to my ability to take notes no matter where I am. My wife and Janet and I joined our friends Gail and Julian Robinson on the trip of a lifetime in September of 2015, seven months after I had retired from the newspaper business. We visited Paris, France, Disneyland Paris and then sailed on the Disney Magic for its trans-Atlantic re-positioning cruise. [As luck would have it, also on that cruise were Deb and Linda!]
The fact that Julian grew up in England and had visited Paris on many occasions over the years allowed us to see the City of Lights not as first-time tourists, but as seasoned visitors [For example: Our trip to the Montparnese Tower, where we were able to view magnificent Paris from 56 stories above, right before sunset]. We saw things that very few tourists see and, if nothing else, his experienced hand allowed us to navigate the complicated underground rail system quite smoothly.
And when it came to Disneyland Paris, both Gail and Julian were park veterans. During our five-night stay, we got to enjoy things we probably might have overlooked, like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and Walt’s, a Club 33-type restaurant on Main Street that’s open to the public.
To top off our trip, we flew from Paris to Barcelona, Spain, where we boarded the Disney Magic for an unforgettable 11-night adventure.
Among the highlights: Sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar, where one can see two continents, Africa and Europe, by simply turning your head; a day-long visit to the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira; a number of presentations by several Disney Imagineers, giving incredible insight into what goes on behind the magic; behind-the-scenes tours of the ship, and a glorious finale on Castaway Cay.
Photos taken by Gail and Julian during the trip enhance the book immeasurably.
Some time in May, another book I had a hand in will be published. It centers around some amazing, real-life adventures experienced by former Walt Disney World boating supervisor Ted Kellogg.