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Marty Sklar      

Former Vice Chairman & Principal Creative Executive of Walt Disney Imagineering

Shortly before he celebrated his 50th year as a Walt Disney Company “cast member” in June, 2006, Martin A. (Marty) Sklar agreed to take on a challenging new assignment: he became the first-ever “Imagineering Ambassador.”

“What a thrill to represent the legacy, the future and especially the people of Walt Disney Imagineering,” Marty said as he began his new role. “From the beginning in 1952 when Walt Disney formed WED Enterprises to create Disneyland, the Imagineers have been the creative force behind the Disney Parks and Resorts around the world. I don’t think there’s a more highly talented and respected design and engineering firm in the world. Who wouldn’t want to be the Imagineers’ Ambassador?”

Martin A. (Marty) Sklar was in fact the perfect choice for this assignment. Beginning his career at Disneyland a month before the park opened in July of 1955, Marty is the only active Disney employee who has participated in the opening of all 11 Disney parks around the world, including Hong Kong Disneyland, which opened in September 2005. Beginning with Epcot at Walt Disney World (1982) and Tokyo Disneyland in Japan (1983), he led the Imagineering teams who created nine Disney parks, serving successively as Vice President, President and Vice-Chairman and Principal Creative Executive for the Imagineers. There were only two parks (Disneyland and the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom) when Marty assumed overall creative responsibility at Imagineering in 1974.

Along the way, Marty has accumulated just about every award Disney (and the theme park industry) has to honor achievement and leadership. He was named a Disney Legend in 2001, became only the second recipient of the “Lifetime Achievement Award” presented by TEA (the Themed Entertainment Association) in 1995, and became only the fourth person from Disney inducted into the Hall of Fame for IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) in 2002. The others: Walt Disney and Roy O. Disney and artist-illustrator Herbert Ryman.

Even with these and other recognitions, Roy E. Disney told the Los Angeles Times: “He’s one of those very rare people who is not interested in getting credit for anything and loves to see other people get credit for what they do…(yet) he has creatively influenced everything we’ve ever done.”

“The one thing above all I have truly loved about our process is starting over with a blank sheet of paper and creating something new and unique,” Marty says. “With my fellow Imagineers, we’ve done that over and over again with new parks and resorts, new attractions, new cruise ships, new entertainment and retail concepts. Now I’ve been given a new blank sheet of paper to fill with Imagination and passion, and for me, that’s like someone saying ‘figure it out, and have fun doing it!’”

Among the early objectives Marty has set are attracting and recruiting new talent for Imagineering, developing projects such as traveling exhibitions to tell the Disney parks & resorts story, and communicating the importance of the company’s legacy of creativity and innovation outside and inside Disney. One of his prime audiences will be Disney cast members around the world, who love to hear Marty’s stories about working with Walt Disney, about leadership and about creativity.

Marty Sklar originally joined the Disney organization for a brief stint a month before Disneyland opened in July 1955. At that time, he was a student at UCLA, recruited by former Disney Chief Executive Officer E. Cardon Walker, while Marty was serving as editor of The Daily Bruin student newspaper. His assignment was to create a tabloid 1890 newspaper, The Disneyland News, which was sold for 10 cents on Main Street during the Park’s first year. (Fifty years later, in June 2005, the staff of The Daily Bruin made Marty the fifth member of the publication’s Hall of Fame. And in June, 2007, Marty received the UCLA Award for Professional Achievement, one of five prestigious recognitions presented annually by the UCLA Alumni Association.)

After graduating from UCLA, Marty returned to Disneyland in September 1956, where he assumed responsibility for most of the Park’s publicity and marketing materials, including the establishment of the highly successful Vacationland magazine.

Joining WED Enterprises in 1961, he was part of the team assigned by Walt Disney to develop industry-sponsored shows and pavilions for General Electric, Ford, Pepsi-Cola/UNICEF and the State of Illinois at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.

During the late 1950s and 1960s, until Walt Disney’s death in 1966, Marty wrote personal materials for the “Showman of the World”, for use in publications, television and special films. These included a 20-minute film devoted entirely to communicating Walt Disney’s visionary concepts for Walt Disney World and the Epcot project.

“Working with Walt Disney was the greatest ‘training by fire’ anyone could ever experience,” Marty says. “When Walt said on opening day that ‘Disneyland would never be completed,’ he set the agenda for everything that followed as first Disneyland, and then all the other parks we developed constantly grew and changed in response to our guests’ expectations. Walt didn’t ‘do sequels,’ so we were constantly breaking new ground to create unique projects never before attempted in this business. That, I’m proud to say, has been the ‘Disney Standard’ for all my 50 plus consecutive years in the company.”

In addition to his concepts, writing contributions and leadership of the creative development for Disney park shows, Marty Sklar has written and produced films, television shows and major presentations communicating Disney projects to the public, industry, government and professional organizations.

From the 1960s to the 1990s, Marty was Imagineering’s primary strategist in relations with American industry in the development of sponsored attractions for Disneyland and the Walt Disney World parks, with emphasis on Epcot. Corporations who have participated in Disney’s U.S. parks include many of America’s leading companies: AT&T, American Express, Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, Federal Express, General Motors, Kodak, Nestlé USA, United Technologies, MetLife, RCA, General Electric, and Siemens among others.

“Looking back,” Marty reflects, “I have been so fortunate to spend almost my entire career as a creative leader of some of the most talented, committed and inspired people in the world—the artists, designers, architects, engineers, writers and over 140-some different disciplines at Imagineering. It’s a legacy of risk-taking and story-telling in three dimensions that Walt began and established as the foundation of Imagineering: the spirit of innovation that drives our collective talents to eagerly seek that next blank sheet of paper, to create the next breakthrough experience for our guests around the world. We are ‘dreamers and doers.’”

Marty Sklar has been a featured speaker at art, design, education and recreation-related conferences across the country. For the last few years, his presentations at IAAPA’s annual convention have drawn some of the largest audiences and been rated among the most popular. He has also spoken to gatherings of key executives from many companies, and is a popular speaker at such Disney “fan clubs” as the Disneyana Convention and the National Fantasy Fan Club (NFFC), as well as Disney “cast member” (employee) leadership training gatherings around the world.

“Our guests in the Disney parks — and the audiences I speak to — respond to what I call ‘Mickey’s Ten Commandments’: the do’s and don’ts of Disney creativity and communications as I understand and practice them after 50 years of ‘training by fire’.” Now considered a “bible” of the themed entertainment industry, Mickey’s Ten Commandments range from the obvious (“Know your audience”) to industry “insiders” buzz words (“Avoid overload – create turn-ons”) and what Marty calls “Imagineering-speak” (“Create a ‘wienie’ [visual magnet]”). More recently, he has created Mickey’s Ten More Commandments, which Marty calls “The Leader’s Bible” (with gems such as “Make sure yours is not the only voice you are listening to,” and “Empower your teammates—it takes many hands to bake a success”); Part 2 of “The Leader’s Bible” (“Leadership is earned and must be exercised daily!”); and Part IV of Mickey’s Ten Commandments (“Followership: How to be a great team player and help your leaders succeed!”)

Before moving to Los Angeles in 1986, Marty was twice elected (1969 and 1973) to the Board of Education of the Anaheim (CA) City School District and served two terms as board president. He was also elected to two terms as president of the Orange County (CA) School Boards Association; was an Anaheim City Commissioner (Parks and Recreation and Cultural Arts Commissions); was the founding chairman of the “Michael L. Roston Creative Writing Awards”, a 25-year long annual competition sponsored by the Anaheim Public Library; and was the 1977 recipient of the “Community Service Award for Anaheim” presented by Cypress College.

Marty also served two terms on the Board of The Manned Space Flight Education Foundation, Inc., formed to create “Space Center Houston”, which opened in October 1992.

New Year’s Day 2005 marked another recognition for Marty, the culmination of three full days as one of three judges for the 116th Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade. “Even though Ireview creative ideas every day, this was very special,” Marty says. “The talent, dedication and passion of the Tournament volunteers, and the designers and builders of the 50 floral floats we judged, was amazing and very exciting to see. It was one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences!”

Mr. Sklar’s dual honors from UCLA, by The Daily Bruin and the Alumni Association, resulted in an invitation to become a member of the Board of Directors of the UCLA Alumni Association, which he joined in Fall, 2008.

The Sklars are among the six founders of Ryman Arts and its “Ryman Program for Young Artists”, named in honor of the quintessential Imagineering artist Herbert D. Ryman, who created the first visual depiction of Disneyland for Walt Disney. Marty serves as President of the Ryman Arts Foundation. Its purpose is to teach “traditional” drawing and painting skills to talented young artists in Southern California. The program, filling a void in public art education, will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2009 and each year serves more than 150 high school artists with wide-ranging ethnic and cultural diversity. It has provided more than 2500 full scholarships to Southern California students since its inception. A Ryman Program student was twice selected to receive the Governor’s Award as the Outstanding Student Artist in the State of California. Extending their commitment to young talent, the Sklars have established the annual “Martin and Leah Sklar Scholarship for Ryman Program Graduates” at CalArts, in Valencia, California.

He has been married to his wife since 1957. They live in Los Angeles. The Sklars have two children: their son, UCLA graduate, who is currently teaching and living with his family in Helsinki, Finland, and received his Ph.D. in English Literature at the University of Helsinki in 2008; and, their daughter, a graduate of Smith College and a former story analyst in the motion picture industry who lives with her family in Los Angeles. They also have four grandchildren. Mrs. Sklar has also served extensively in the community, most notably as a member of the Orange County Commission on the Status of Women, including two years as its chairwoman.

In addition to the front page story in the Los Angeles Times (“His Success at Disney Isn’t More Than He Imagined”) and a cover story in Amusement Business (“Magic Man – Sklar Reflects on ‘Imaginative’ Career”), Sklar has been featured as the cover story (May 2002) of FunWorld magazine, published by IAAPA. In the article, entitled “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, author Bob Rogers talks about Marty’s impact on the themed entertainment industry: “Along the way, he has generously nurtured and mentored at least two generations of themed entertainment leaders, both inside and outside Disney. His influence can be seen in every Disney Park, and in the careers and creative philosophies of almost every designer and showman in our industry.”

Speech Topics

  • Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms
  • Mickey’s Ten Commandments
  • The Best Advice I Ever Heard


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