Writing the Book on George Millay
By Tim O’Brien, author, VP Publishing & Communications, Ripley Entertainment
I’ve been eager to write the story of George Millay for nearly a decade. I felt his was a story that needed telling. Here’s a man who created two magnificent, totally different genres of outdoor recreation over a 40 year period, but he would never sit down and talk about those experiences beyond a cursory glance.
Whenever we would talk about me writing his biography, he would say he wasn’t ready to tell the whole story. He didn’t want this book to be written until he was prepared to bare everything and tell the complete, unabridged story.
In October 2003, George called and said he was ready to talk. Boy, did we talk. Countless hours in person, countless hours by phone. What a wonderfully candid story he told. I approached this project with a guarantee from him that he would hold nothing back. I wanted him to talk about anything and everything as it pertained to his life and career. He appears to have kept his word. Not a question went unanswered.
We talked about his incredible successes and about his family. We delved into subjects ranging from his life-long prejudices to the actions that caused his fall from grace at SeaWorld and the events that led up to his resignation. We talked about his unique management-by-intimidation style and about how disappointed he would become when his employees didn’t live up to their potentials.
From a historical and business perspective, most of what he reveals here has never been in print before. He openly speaks of revenue and attendance figures; he recalls bringing home his first million-dollar check; and he talks about the capital-raising challenges of every project in which he has been associated – topics he has never openly discussed with anyone but his closest confidants.
George spoke candidly of his home life, of his parents, of his emotions and feelings. He spoke of his bouts with cancer that have caused the right side of his face to be disfigured. Speaking with George is a joy. He is bright, articulate and has the vocabulary and style of a voracious reader, which he is.
In researching this book, I spoke with dozens of those who have worked for him. What fun, first-hand color they provided to this story! They related tales of George’s loyalty, of his generosity, of his brash and most often politically incorrect actions. Most importantly, they spoke of their love and respect for the man, once their initial fear of him subsided. They spoke of his ability to lose anything and everything, and of his love for classical music.
I read practically every story ever written about him. Days were spent perusing box after box of clippings, photos, and memorabilia from his 40 years of SeaWorld and Wet’n Wild experiences.
Those who have known and worked for him will undoubtedly be pleasantly surprised to discover new things about the man. His wife Anne, upon reading the manuscript told me she learned a couple new things about her husband of more than 40 years.
I don’t think I could have lasted 15 minutes working for the “old” George. I appreciate his new, mellowed state. His earlier style was certainly not one I would have tolerated. But to be fair, with my penchant for long hair, I don’t think he would have hired me in the first place. His loathing of long hair and alternative life styles is notorious. We joked many times during the past year how ironic it was that after years of not allowing anyone with less than a military style haircut to even talk to him, that he would end up with a pony-tailed, ear-ringed writer as his biographer.
I think I can speak for both of us when I say this has been a fun, rewarding experience. After working together all these months on his story, I can truly say I am lucky, one of a few to really get to know and love this mellowed, but far from worn out, man who claims to be George Millay.
About this Book
What started out to be a biography of George Millay turned into a much larger project. The Wave Maker is not only the official story of George, but it’s the first book to chronicle, in-depth, the early history of SeaWorld, Magic Mountain and Wet’n Wild.
The Wave Maker goes way beyond George. It includes the people, the events, the challenges and the successes that went along with creating the first of their genre of attractions. George Millay was the force behind the creations; but those who worked for him were pioneers in their own right.
It’s important to remember that this was all new ground these professionals treaded upon. The sales and marketing, the operations, the ticketing, the marine trainers, and the ride builders – they were all doing something that had never been done before. They had no roadmaps. They were trailblazers who set many of the standards still in use today.
Many of those early pioneers were interviewed for this book, and George spoke of the important roles each played during his career. They were instrumental in the creation and the early growth of the parks and deserve a rightful mention in any history of their industry.