Legendary Disney Imagineer Marty Sklar has passed away

Jul 28, 2017 in "The Walt Disney Company"

Posted: Friday July 28, 2017 7:43am EDT by WDWMAGIC Staff

Legendary Disney Imagineer Martin A. “Marty” Sklar passed away in his Hollywood Hills home on Thursday. He was 83.

During an illustrious career spanning 54 years, Marty worked closely with Walt Disney and was instrumental in creating, enhancing and expanding Disney’s creative vision. Named a Disney Legend in 2001, he is best remembered and revered by fans around the world for his work bringing Disney’s theme parks to life.

“Everything about Marty was legendary – his achievements, his spirit, his career,” said Bob Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, 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 in New Brunswick, N.J., on February 6, 1934, Marty was a student at UCLA and editor of its Daily Bruin newspaper when he was recruited to create The Disneyland News for Walt’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 a film showcasing Walt’s vision for Walt Disney World and Epcot. During this period, he also joined WED Enterprises, the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering, and he would later become the creative leader of Imagineering, leading the development of Disney theme parks and attractions for the next three decades. He 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, dedicating a window in his name on Disneyland’s City Hall.

“Marty was the ultimate Disney Imagineer and Cast Member. From his days working as an intern with Walt to just two weeks ago engaging with fans at D23 Expo, 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, 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.”

Bob Weis was one of those Imagineers. “Marty was one of Walt’s most trusted advisors and helped turn his most ambitious dreams into reality. For us, it’s hard to imagine a world without Marty, because Marty is synonymous with Imagineering,” said Weis, President, Walt Disney Imagineering. “His influence can be seen around the world, in every Disney park, and in the creative and imaginative work of almost every professional in the themed entertainment industry.”

Marty’s impact and achievements were recognized with a number of prestigious awards and accolades, including the Lifetime Achievement award from TEA (Themed Entertainment Association), induction into the Hall of Fame of IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions), and the prestigious Professional Achievement Award from UCLA.

He also authored several books about his experiences and adventures at Disney: 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).

Marty 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.

Marty and Leah were two of the founders of the Ryman Program for Young Artists, a project of Ryman Arts, a nonprofit foundation whose purpose is to teach and mentor “traditional” drawing and painting skills to talented young artists in Southern California. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Marty’s name to Ryman Arts at www.rymanarts.org.

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EricsBiscuitMar 01, 2018

It gives a great perspective from the Imagineers which is fun to compare against the business perspective in Disney War.

TJ VazquezMar 01, 2018

Not sure how many Marty Sklar nerds are out there like me, but is book Dream It!Do it! My Half-Century Creating Disney's Magic Kingdoms is on a great sale on amazon, $8.56 for the hardcover. Its a fantastic read if you haven't read it I recommend it, such great insight from of the pioneers. RIP Marty, what a loss.

Captain BarbossaAug 01, 2017


mandstaftJul 31, 2017

Interestingly, I purchased one of Marty's books on Amazon in the morning before the evening that his passing was announced. I had no idea! This is the 3rd time something like this has happened to me. Once with the death of a friend and the other the unexpected passing of Whitney Houston. Weird.

skimbobJul 31, 2017

I couldn't agree more.

StevekJul 31, 2017

If you love the history of the parks or imagineering, you'll enjoy the books.

StevekJul 31, 2017

Simply ignore...always the answer to a message board disagreement when showing a little bit of humanity and compassion would be a much better answer. It would have been much easier for you to heed your own advice by merely ignoring this thread altogether, but there is always some brave keyboard warrior who feels the need to be the dissenting voice and dump all over a thread.

Figments FriendJul 31, 2017

Thank you for posting this. It sums up both sides of the coin rather nicely. -

Jeff456Jul 31, 2017

This is sad, it's prompted me to buy a couple of his books so look forward to reading them!

Captain BarbossaJul 31, 2017

I'm not twisting anything. I can think of stuff to say that's a whole lot worse than "I've lost whatever respect I had for that man". But hey, if you don't like the comments I made about something/someone, it's simple, you ignore it :)

the.dreamfinderJul 31, 2017

Weekend Review Special The Light-bringer: A Tribute to Imagineer Marty Sklar (1934-2017) " 'I want to talk to somebody, only my head is muddled.' 'Shall I fetch a glass of wine?' 'No, Tom. Sit down and try to listen. Lift these chessmen off the stool. Can you understand things, when they are said?' 'Yes, my lord. I am good at understanding.' 'Could you understand if I asked you not to fight tomorrow?' 'I should want to fight', it said shortly. 'Everybody wants to fight, Tom, but nobody knows why. Suppose I were to ask you not to fight, as a special favour to the King? Would you do that?' 'I should do what I was told.' 'Listen, then. Sit for a minute and I will tell you a story. I am a very old man, Tom, and you are young. When you are old, you will be able to tell what I have told tonight, and I want you to do that. Do you understand this want?' 'Yes, sir. I think so.' 'Put it like this. There was a King once, called King Arthur. That is me. When he came to the throne of England, he found that all the kings and barons were fighting against each other like madmen, and, as they could afford to fight in expensive suits of armour, there was practically nothing which could stop them from doing as they pleased. They did a lot of bad things, because they lived by force. Now this King had an idea, and the idea was that force ought not to be used, if it were used at all, on behalf of justice, not on its own account. Follow this, young boy. He thought that if he could get his barons fighting for truth, and to help weak people, and to redress wrongs, then their fighting might not be such a bad thing as it once used to be. So he gathered together all the true and kindly people that he knew, and he dressed them in armour, and set them down, at a Round Table. There were a hundred and fifty of them in the happy days, and King Arthur loved his table with all his heart. He was prouder of it than he was of his own dear wife, and for many years his knights went about killing ogres, and reducing damsels and saving poor prisoners, and trying to set the world to rights. That was the King's idea.' 'I think it was a great idea, my lord.' 'It was, and it was not. God knows.' 'What happened to the King in the end?' asked the child, when the story seemed to have dried up. 'For some reason, things went wrong. The Table split into factions, a bitter war began, and all were killed.' 'No,' he said, 'not all. The King won. We shall win.' Arthur smiled vaguely and shook his head. He would have nothing but the truth. 'Everybody was killed,' he repeated, 'except a certain page. I know what I am talking about.' 'My lord?' 'This page was called young Tom of Newbold Revell near Warwick, and the old King sent him off before the battle, upon pain of dire disgrace. You see, the King wanted there to be somebody left, who would remember their famous idea. He wanted badly that Tom should go back to Newbold Revell, where he could grow into a man and live his new life in Warwickshire peace-- and he wanted him to tell everybody who would listen about this ancient idea, which both of them once thought good. Do you think you could do that, Thomas, to please the King?' The child said, with the pure eyes of absolute truth:'I would do anything for King Arthur.' 'That's a brave fellow. Now listen, man. Don't get these legendary people muddled up. It is I who tell you about my Idea. It is i who am going to command you to take your horse to Warwickshire at once, and not to fight with your bow tomorrow at all. Do you understand all this?' 'Yes, King Arthur.' 'Will you promise to be careful of yourself afterward? Will you try to remember that you are a king of vessel to carry on the idea, when things go wrong, and that the whole hole depends on you alive?' 'I will.' 'It seems selfish of me to use you for it.' 'It is an honour for your poor page, my lord.' 'Thomas, my idea of those knights was a sort of candle, like these ones here. I have carried it for many years with a hand to shield it from the wind. It has flickered often. I am giving you that candle now-- you won't let it out?' 'It will burn.'" ---"The Once and Future King" Like the old King Arthur and young Tom of Warwickshire, Walt Disney gave a light to a young Marty Sklar. New Brunswick, New Jersey native Sklar began his Disney career during his UCLA studies as a copy writer for "The Disneyland News" in 1955. He rose through the ranks and joined WED Enterprises in 1961 as one of Walt's right hand men alongside the likes of John Hench and Dick Irvine. Mommy working so closely with Walt and his Imagineers he learned so much. How to marshal so many talented people across different disciplines and ways of thinking towards a common goal. How to encourage that same talent to continue to grow and learn. And most importantly for his future, how to find and bring new talented people into the fold. Marty got to see first hand how much Walt had changed Disneyland since opening day in '55. Many things came and went, but it was always, truly for the better. Walt asked Marty to write a script for a presentation he would give about his "Florida Project"; Disney World featuring a new progressive city of the future called E.P.C.O.T.. This was the point when the light was passed to Marty. And like that, Walt was gone. E.P.C.O.T., the city, was never truly realized, but in EPCOT Center the vision and beliefs that had shaped E.P.C.O.T. found their way into a space that showcases the sciences and their applied uses through technology and the arts, history, and culture from people around the world in a celebration of our common humanity. Marty was the guiding hand for this ambitious project for the then tiny Walt Disney Productions. Through a period of creative decline in other branches of the Disney organization, he helped nurture a generation of Imagineers that would go on to do great things in the coming decades. It was Marty's impassioned advocacy to Michael Eisner and Frank Wells, two executives unfamiliar with themed entertainment, at the start of their tenure that saved WED from the chopping block. The newly christened WDI channeled the energy unleashed in the 80's and early 90's to build the Star Tours, four new EPCOT Center pavilions, The Disney-MGM Studios, Splash Mountain, Euro Disneyland, Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Pooh's Hunny Hunt, Tokyo DisneySea, Disney's California Adventure, Walt Disney Studios Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland with a couple dozen hotels too. It was a time when WDI created attractions, parks and hotels that lived up to Walt's high standards, even exceeded them in a handful of cases. Regrettably, this was not meant to last. Marty and the Imagineers would come to interact with more new executives. These folks, many of whom had little respect or love for themed entertainment and even less serious experience with it, didn't listen like Michael and Frank had in '84. They sought to make the timeless 'hip and edgy', to look down on the intelligence and built up goodwill of their guests. Walt had always made sure his supervisors and Imagineers knew the parks from a guest's eye view, the new crop preferred their air conditioned office and VIP treatment when in the parks. As the ambition of Disney theme park plans reduced in scope and quality, Imagineers were laid off and those who remained were pitted against each other as they were pulled between creating projects that lived up to the Disney legacy and the executives' priorities de jour. Successive generations have been introduced to a increasingly diminished Disney theme park experience. Yet the light makes its way in the increasing darkness. Throughout his tenure at WED/WDI, in good times and bad, Marty Sklar strived to protect the light that Walt had entrusted to him. To best protect the light, he shared it. Under his leadership as WDI President, Imagineering has developed new talent and inspired generations of children to one day pursue their dreams and join their ranks. Though they may be the butt of many a joke about all the art of unbuilt attractions they contain, the Walt Disney Imagineering coffee table books, as wells as the ones Marty wrote or contributed to himself, keep the spirit of Imagineering alive, even as it has waned in the Iger years. Particularly in those years, Marty would toe the PR line of day with the hackneyed Waltisms like "Disneyland will never be finished" thoughtless executives used to make major detrimental changes to the parks. Marty understood the political game and would make statements against everything he believed, in public, but he did it to protect WDI. He did it because he knew far too many of Disney's recent projects were not Disney calibre, but they were supervised by many of the Imagineers he and his generation had mentored and were capable of Disney calibre work. He also knew that if he didn't follow the talking points, he wouldn't meet so many of you who are reading this, the students, young and old, who aspire to be Imagineers and the fans who have fought, in their small, but profoundly meaningful way, to preserve the light. For Marty that's what mattered more than anything. We, current and former Imagineers, cast members, executives and fans, have to keep the light now. It is beautiful and precious, yet it can build magic kingdoms, a spaceship earth, a tree of life, many, many mountains, and a galaxy far, far away. It can let us escape, if briefly, from our everyday concerns and create precious memories with our loved ones and teach us more about ourselves and the world around us. It can take us anywhere and we've only just begun to understand and use this medium in the sixty two short years since Disneyland first opened. However, it is increasingly vulnerable; it can be snuffed out. Snuffed out by those who shallow, greedy, and vain and don't appreciate the legacy which they have been entrusted with. Those who lie because a higher paycheck and fancier title are in their sight. Those who are indifferent to the rich history of the Walt Disney Company and the power and potential of themed entertainment as an art form. We have the power to protect the light and we need to spread it to more people, younger generations that have yet encountered it. We can change things. Things can and should get better. When that day comes, and it will, they'll ask, "what took 'em so long?" As per the wishes of the Sklar family, in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Marty's name to Ryman Arts, a Los Angeles based organization that teaches the fine arts to high school students tuition free. Essential Reading: Walt Disney World Background and Philosophy by Marty Sklar http://stars.library.ucf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1159&context=buzzprice Preserved for public access by the Buzz Price Archive at the University of Central Florida, this internal document explains the company's thinking as it set out to build the first phase of the Walt Disney World project.

Monorail MikeJul 31, 2017

Marty's personal response to a fan of the Carousel of Progress showed what a great guy he was and what an amazing career he had. You can read the letter at the link below. http://www.bigfloridacountry.com/carouselofprogress/a_letter_from_martin_a.htm

StevekJul 31, 2017

Twist it however you want in your mind...I know you have a grudge against him because of his support of the POC change...but when people say "remembering," they typically mean offer their condolences versus tapdancing on his grave. But hey, whatever makes you sleep better at night.

Figments FriendJul 31, 2017

This is a moving photo in some respects for me. Thanks for doing this. :) -