If you’ve spent more than a little bit of time at Disneyland over the past quarter-century or so, you’ve probably encountered a character named Farley the Fiddler standing outside the Pioneer Mercantile shop near the entrance to Frontierland. And this Memorial Day weekend is your final opportunity to interact with Farley at the Happiest Place On Earth, as the actor who plays him, Gary Francisco, is retiring after Monday.
Though Farley started fiddling full-time in Frontierland in 1986, an interview with the Orange County Register reveals that Francisco first performed at Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe Saloon way back in 1978 as part of a group called Montezuma’s Revenge. He was then brought on eight years later as a Cast Member when Big Thunder Ranch opened at the back side of the park.
Watch Farley the Fiddler performance during his final weekend at Disneyland:
Known for his quick wit, even quicker fiddle fortitude, impressive roping skills, and dozens of groan-worthy cow jokes, Farley the Fiddler has become a staple of Disneyland’s western-themed area. As Farley, performer Gary Francisco wears an authentic cowboy outfit inspired by fashion styles of the 1860s and 1870s. “I got fringed heavy duty leather chaps. You know I get a lot of fringe benefits. I even have fringe in low places,” jokes Francisco.
In the OC Register interview, Francisco says he based the Farley the Fiddler character on folk musician Sam Hilton and country/western singer John Denver. He also admired Rod, the longtime piano player on Disneyland’s Main Street, USA. Farley takes requests, and during my brief visit with him today I asked for the 1948 western song “Ghost Riders in the Sky”– which you can see him perform in the video above.
Gary Francisco is retiring the Farley the Fiddler character after Memorial Day to spend time at his new house in Big Bear Lake, conduct his educational program in schools and camps, and occasionally return to Disneyland to perform at special events. As for us Disneyland regulars, it will certainly be difficult to get used to not having him greet us with a smile and a song as we walk through the entrance to Frontierland.
Mike has been fascinated by theme parks and Disney all his life. He has worked in the entertainment journalism field since 2015, after spending a decade as a film projectionist at one of Hollywood’s most prestigious movie theaters. He resides in Burbank, California with his wife and cat.