In Memoriam: Disney Legend Marty Sklar
Today, we recognize and remember one of the most important individuals in Disney history.
On the 27th of July, the Disney Community was hit with a surprise that nobody was ready to endure. Many of us, including myself, opened their Twitter feed at an unsuspecting hour of the night, seemingly wasting pointless time, only to realize that one of the most important individuals in our life had passed away.
I was left in a state of shock. The news was delivered so sudden. In the following moments I was left to internally note the impact he had left on my life without even knowing it.
As an Imagineer, Marty stood as one of the most prominent. Not only did he serve creatively for each of the Disney Parks, but as an advocate for the advancement of design culture.
Marty began his career with Disney by penning “The Disneyland News,” developing marketing materials for the park a month prior to opening.
That position could stand for the entirety of Marty’s career with the company, ushering fans into worlds of purity with loving arms.
Soon after, Sklar took a position at WED while continuing to write for Mr. Disney at public events (television broadcasts, speeches, etc). At WED, Sklar had a hand in attractions such as It’s a Small World and The Enchanted Tiki Room amongst many other classics.
In 1974, Sklar became the vice president of planning for WED Enterprises focusing specifically on Epcot Center and creative development for future Florida projects.
The next few years would be immensely important in both the life of Sklar as well as that of Disney itself. As he rose the ranks of Imagineering (eventually becoming the president for 9 years), Sklar supervised projects such as Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, MGM Studios at Walt Disney World, Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Disney’s California Adventure, Tokyo Disney Sea at Tokyo Disneyland, Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland.
To end his career with Disney, Sklar resigned his position in 2006 to become the “International Ambassador for Walt Disney Imagineering,” giving him worldwide oversight regarding the developments headed by WDI.
On the 54th anniversary of Disneyland, Sklar left the company and was given a window on Disneyland’s Main Street to commemorate his years of service.
As a Disney fan, I must admit that summarizing the years of service that Sklar provided for the company in such a short passage is sacrilege. As a child, visiting the parks, I fell in love with Marty’s creations. In his time at WDI he created environments that open the imagination and push guests away from the world of reality and into one of imagination. One that blends reality with fiction, truth with superficial details. One that can bewilder an adult as it does the youngest of children.
I’ve heard this loss describes as the modern equivalent to losing Walt Disney, likely because of the proximity Sklar worked with the legend himself. A modern visionary, the world is not the same without Marty.
Even out of the parks, Sklar was an incredible advocate of arts and other creative groups. Sklar was president of Ryman Arts, a program created to support young artists in Southern California in the honor of Herb Ryman, who himself was a designer and Disney Legend at The Walt Disney Company. The Walt Disney Family awarded him with the Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award for his efforts in preserving the dream of the late Walt Disney, to create entertainment for people young and old.
In my life, I’ve devoted my efforts to designing. For years I’ve had a book of personal designs that, while amateur, allowed me to take the mindset of a Disney Imagineer in what was a childhood aspiration.
As I got older, I began to delve deeper into the mentality of Imagineers, and the philosophy behind proficient design versus pointless ones. Movies became important in my life, and as did animation. I continued to explore other means of creation with Imagineering always being a cornerstone in my life.
At one point I received the book One Little Spark by Marty Sklar, personalized with my name and a signature from the legend himself. Now, I hadn’t met the man, and it’s possible that it was a standardized note, but the story I heard from my father (who got the signature) seemingly showed that while Mr. Sklar had never met me, just hearing that my father’s child was interested in a career in Imagineering struck a chord with him. He had a passion for the job, something that works perfectly with design. Passionless design is what fuels poor results, but a man like Marty Sklar always wanted to appease someone, sometimes himself, sometimes his mentor Walt Disney. It was so obvious that he loved the job, and loved to hear that people loved him for doing it.
At his last public appearance at D23, Marty seemed both young at heart and in mind. Answering questions and describing his history with the company, Sklar still had it in him. Marty was an inspiration to us all, which made the loss all the more powerful. We had just seen him, there’s no way we could’ve prepared ourselves for such a tremendous loss.
Which is the sentiment I had. Immediately after his passing I called my father to recount memories and share the surprise we had both felt. Discussion led to the mention of One Little Spark, with myself elaborating on the passion and intelligence shown on the pages of that Disney masterpiece. I was immediately reminded that I had a signed copy, something that I had forgotten over the years.
I hung up the phone, and darted to a bookshelf to find the book. On the opening page was the aforementioned note by Mr. Sklar. It felt like he was still alive, sharing another word of wisdom lost to time. Just like the footprint he left in the parks, he had left a note of optimism in my own, and many others.
As a community, we will not forget what Marty did for us all. Not for the money, or the fame, but for the craft. For years Marty Sklar advocated for the company, promoting Imagineering and the effort put into it.
If Walt Disney was the king of animation, Marty Sklar was the king of theme park design. The world will not be the same without Marty, but as long as we have the Disney Parks, we can appreciate the effect he’s had on us all.
Ryan Dorman is a Columnist and the Content Director for the Boardwalk Times, a website that owes itself to Marty Sklar.
Please send donations to Ryman Arts to help creators, as Marty did, find a place express themselves.