Brushes with Greatness
Thanks to my chosen occupation, I have had an abundance of fun in amusement and theme parks worldwide. Lots of great stories came out of those visits, and probably even more lasting memories. Throughout my career, I have made it a point to explore anything and everything on every business trip I was required to take. I am truly the son of wanderlust.
During my 18-year tenure at Amusement Business, I visited hundreds of parks in 29 countries, including my 50 visits to the Disney parks on three continents. I have been given great opportunities to meet many people, so hold on, I’m about to become a name-dropper.
For instance, one morning at Walt Disney World (WDW), I went for a run while staying at the Grand Floridian and ran into Senator (and astronaut) John Glenn, also out for a jog. I fell in next to him and we chatted for a couple miles until I faded and he kept going. On another trip, I rode “Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster” with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, and on another I shared a huge hot fudge sundae with Drew Carey.
I’ve had some great moments at Disneyland, as well. Among the most memorable was the day I rode “it’s a small world” with George Lucas. I saw him in line and as I worked to get a good angle for a photo, he motioned me over. He said I could take photos of him, but not his children who were with him. He suggested we wait until the ride was over and he would spend a couple minutes with me. I climbed into the same boat with his family and afterward, true to his word, we chatted for a few minutes and he posed for a few photos. Pretty cool.
In February 2001, I hit a luminary goldmine at the opening of Disney California Adventure. I had a great spot next to the red carpet as the star-studded array of guests arrived. Many of the stars hung around and enjoyed the park through the evening and most were amazingly accessible. I saw Mike Love of the Beach Boys walking with a group and I walked up behind and started singing “California Girls.” Kind of hokey, I know, but it caught his attention; he turned around, smiled, and gave me a high five. “Love your music,” I crooned out as he sauntered on down the midway.
Later that night, I spotted Art Linkletter, one of the hosts of the televised opening of Disneyland in 1955. He was with a couple of my Disney friends and I walked over and asked if I could have a few minutes. He said sure, and we ended up walking along as he told me about that big Disney day on July 17, 1955. I wish I’d had a recorder. His narrative was so colorful and fun!
All my celebrity encounters weren’t at Disney parks, though. I met Mister (Fred) Rogers at an IAAPA event at Kennywood in September 1992. He was very generous with the time he gave me for a spur-of-the-moment interview. I remember being charmed by his stories. He was quite humorous and talked just as gently in person as he did on TV. It definitely was a wonderful day in the (Kennywood) neighborhood, and the fact that so many celebrities want to be involved with our industry in one form another is just one example of why this is a great business we’re in.
I’m just glad I’ve been in the right places at the right times to meet so many of them!