Imagineer That: Marty Sklar
By Robyn Stark
Published Jan 1, 2014 8:00 AM
Most people can only dream of designing rides for Disneyland, but some Bruins actually do it.
In his new book, Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms, theme park design icon Marty Sklar ’56 offers a behind-the-scenes look at his half-century working his way from editor of Disneyland News to head of Walt Disney Imagineering, turning seemingly impossible dreams into reality. His heartfelt memoir takes us on a roller-coaster ride through the ups and downs of the company with Sklar at the wheel. From the disastrous opening day of the “Happiest Place on Earth” in 1955 to the years after the company lost its founder, leader and creative genius Walt Disney in 1966, Sklar recounts the rewarding — and often challenging — experience of working within the Disney empire.
As the only employee who has been involved in the opening of all 11 theme parks (including the tumultuous building of Epcot), Sklar has a unique perspective on Disney during and after Walt. “There are so many myths and legends about Walt Disney,” he says. “I wanted to write about some of those and my experience having worked with him for so long.”
About the challenges Disney faced with his then fledgling company, Sklar writes, “The day Disneyland opened, there were thousands of counterfeit tickets, and I don’t think there was an Autopia car still running at the end of the day. Also, there was a plumber strike in Orange County the week before, and Walt had to decide whether he was going to finish the drinking fountains or the bathrooms for Opening Day.”
Ironically, Disney was later criticized for “forcing” guests to buy Coca-Cola on the first day because there were no drinking fountains.
Though the book opens in 1974 during an energy crisis that caused a spike in gas prices and threatened to slow tourism, Sklar says this wasn’t the biggest adversity he faced at Disney: It was the death of Walt Disney himself. “There was only one Walt Disney; he ran the company from a creative standpoint,” Sklar explains, “and picking up the pieces after his death was a huge challenge.” It was Sklar who was called upon to write the one-page release that needed to portray all that Walt Disney had meant to the company, its employees, stockholders and the world. He had only an hour to create the release, in which he wrote: “We are in the creative business, and we are going to press on.” And press on they did.
From the opening of Epcot in 1982 to the purchase of ABC and ESPN in 1995, and Pixar in 2006, Sklar says the biggest change he has seen in 50 years is the growth of the company. Having trained many of Disney’s newer “cast members,” he is confident that the company will continue to follow Walt’s best piece of advice: Meet the needs of people.