This past Thursday the Disney community lost a legend, a man that Walt Disney trusted implicitly, and a man that probably channeled Walt and his vision more than any other. Marty Sklar was 83.
Born in New Brunswick, N.J., on February 6, 1934, Marty was a student at UCLA and editor of its Daily Bruin newspaper when at 21 he was, rather unexpectedly, recruited to create The Disneyland News at Walt’s new theme park in 1955.
The paper was themed to look like a newspaper from the 1890s and released as a promotion a month before the park opened in July. Marty tells a great story about having to deliver the mock up to THE Walt Disney…
After graduating in 1956, he joined Disney full-time, and would go on to serve as Walt’s right-hand man—writing speeches, marketing materials, and a film showcasing Walt’s vision for Walt Disney World and Epcot.
Marty is also known as the man who came up with the Disney terminology we still use today, customers are guests, employees are cast members, being in view of guests is on stage, outside their view backstage, and many more…
In 1961, Marty moved to WED Enterprises (now known as Walt Disney Imagineering), where he worked on attractions for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Among the attractions he helped to design during this period were the Enchanted Tiki Room and It’s a Small World, the latter originally for the World’s Fair. For nearly 10 years, he wrote personal materials for Walt Disney for use in publications, television and special films. In fact, the Epcot film is considered Walt’s finest on-camera performance, and his words were penned largely by Sklar.
In 1974 Marty Sklar became vice president of concepts/planning, and guided the creative development of the Epcot theme park at Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort.
As vice president of creative development, executive vice president and then president of Imagineering for nine years, Sklar supervised the design and construction of Tokyo Disneyland, the Disney-MGM Studios, Disneyland Paris, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney California Adventure Park, Tokyo DisneySea, the Walt Disney Studios Park and Hong Kong Disneyland. There is very little that has been built since Walt’s passing that doesn’t have Marty Sklar’s fingerprints on it.
In fact, when Walt passed, Sklar was given the arduous task of writing Roy Disney’s statement on the passing Walt.
Former Disneyland International chairman Jim Cora later said of Sklar, “He understands the Disney way, because he learned it at Walt’s knee. He is the keeper of the keys, the conscience, the Jiminy Cricket for the organization.’
Marty retired as Executive Vice President and Imagineering Ambassador on July 17, 2009, Disneyland’s 54th birthday. Disney marked the occasion by paying tribute to Marty with the highest Parks and Resorts recognition, the dedication of a window in his name on Disneyland’s City Hall.
During his retirement Marty wrote extensively about his work with the Disney company in books like One Little Spark!: Mickey’s Ten Commandments and the Road to Imagineering, and Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms.
In his book, Dream It Do It, Marty said, “Life is like a blank sheet of paper. You never know what it can be until you put something on it. So Dream It! Do It! And work hard to do the best possible job. What are you waiting for?”
Marty passed away this past Thursday, July 27th at his Hollywood Hills home. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Leah; son Howard, daughter Leslie, and his grandchildren Gabriel, Hannah, Rachel and Jacob, and millions of Disney fans around the world. Marty’s work, like that of his mentor Walt Disney, will live on forever.