Saturday, 29 July 2017


It was with great sadness that heard of the death of a long time (some 30+ years) Disney friend, Marty Sklar. Rightly known as Walt's 'right-hand man', he wrote the first book about 'Disneyland' and worked with the Boss on speeches and many important projects including writing the script for the promotional film that introduced the world to Walt's concept of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, shown a matter of weeks before his death in 1966. His role in expanding the Disney theme park franchise from its Anaheim origins to the four corners of the world, is a legendary legacy.

I had the great pleasure to work with Marty on a number of BBC radio programmes about Walt Disney and the Disney company and he provided the title – ‘Waltopia' – for a BBC TV documentary I made in 1982 on the creation of what was by then called EPCOT Center. During my interview with Marty, he recalled how, on first hearing of Walt's plans for a futuristic city, he had quipped: "You know, Walt, I've got the perfect name for your project – Waltopia!" Not only did Marty supply the show's title, he was the film’s opening and closing contributor with a number of appearances in between!

And when my producer Norman Stone and I went out to join the press contingent covering the opening of EPCOT, it was Marty who ensured that on the night before the opening day ceremonies – while the rest of the press corps were being entertained at Rosie O'Grady's nightclub in downtown Orlando – Norman and I had invitations to the exclusive black-tie party for the dedication of the park's iconic attraction, Spaceship Earth.

I have many fond memories of Marty, but one that I especially hold dear was being invited to the opening of the French Pavilion at EPCOT's World Showcase. During the ceremony, Marty spotted me seated on the elegant gilt chairs arranged outside the pavilion. He took something from his pocket, wrote on it and then, catching the attention of a cast member, indicted that it should be delivered to me. It was one of his business cards on which he had written: "Brian! This is some sort of Utopia where a Brit gets invited to the opening of France in America! Marty."

I had first become aware of the name 'Martin A. Sklar’ many years earlier when, as a young Disney fan living in the UK (without any hope of ever making it to California), I was given a copy of his book on Disneyland, brought back for me by some rich friends! Years later, when I realised that the author, 'Martin A. Sklar', was the same 'Marty' I had got to know at (as it then was) WED Imagineering, I carried it all the way to LA in order to get it signed!

Marty was one of the great unsung heroes of the Disney kingdom and I – like many others I am sure – came to value his insights into Walt and his world along with his integrity, candour, quite authority and personal modesty. More than that, I treasured the relationship I enjoyed, across a number of years with him: his friendship (much more than just professional courtesy) meant a great deal to me and I fondly salute his memory.

Here's a typical note from Marty: a truly gracious gentleman of great charm...

From Deadline Hollywood

Marty Sklar, the man who supervised the design and construction of Tokyo Disneyland, the Disney-MGM Studios, Disneyland Paris and other theme park attractions, has died at his home, Disney said tonight. He was 83.

Having started as an intern for Walt Disney, Sklar finished his 54-year career at Disney as the International Ambassador for Walt Disney Imagineering. That role meant traveling to art and design colleges and architecture schools to lecture and attract talent.

During his career, Sklar worked closely with Walt Disney and was instrumental in creating, enhancing and expanding Disney’s creative vision. Sklar was named a Disney Legend in 2001.

“Everything about Marty was legendary – his achievements, his spirit, his career,” said Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company. “He embodied the very best of Disney, from his bold originality to his joyful optimism and relentless drive for excellence. He was also a powerful connection to Walt himself. No one was more passionate about Disney than Marty and we’ll miss his enthusiasm, his grace, and his indomitable spirit.”

Born on February 6, 1934, in New Brunswick, NJ, Sklar was a student at UCLA and editor of its Daily Bruin newspaper when he was recruited to create The Disneyland News for Walt Disney’s new theme park in 1955. After graduating in 1956, he joined Disney full time and would go on to serve as Walt’s right-hand man — scripting speeches, marketing materials and creating a film showcasing Walt’s vision for Walt Disney World and Epcot, according to Disney.

During this period, he also joined WED Enterprises, the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering, and later would become the creative leader of Imagineering, leading the development of Disney theme parks and attractions for the next three decades. He retired as EVP 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, dedicating a window in his name on Disneyland’s City Hall.

“Marty left an indelible mark on Disney Parks around the globe and on all of the guests who make memories every day with us,” said Bob Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “He was one of the few people that was fortunate to attend the opening of every single Disney park in the world, from Anaheim in 1955 to Shanghai just last year. We will dearly miss Marty’s passion, skill and imaginative spark that inspired generations of Cast, Crew and Imagineers.”

He also authored books about Disney including Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms (2013), and One Little Spark!: Mickey’s Ten Commandments and The Road to Imagineering (2015).

Skalr is survived by his wife of 60 years, Leah; son Howard and his wife, Katriina Koski-Sklar; grandchildren Gabriel and Hannah; daughter Leslie; and grandchildren Rachel and Jacob. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Marty’s name to Ryman Arts.


Michael G. said...

Brian - what a nice tribute to a truly nice man. For many he was one of the last links to Walt, and a keeper of the flame. May his memory be for blessing. R.I.P.!

Brian Sibley said...

He was, as you say, Mike. To know him as to love him –– and his love for Walt!