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Marty Sklar, pioneering Disney imagineer, dies at 83

Los Angeles Times

July 28. 2017 11:33PM

LOS ANGELES — Martin “Marty” Sklar, the pioneering Walt Disney Co. imagineer who played an instrumental role in the design of Disney theme parks, has died, the company announced Thursday night. He was 83.

During his 54 years at Disney, Sklar worked closely with Walt Disney and led the creative development of the Burbank company’s theme parks, attractions and resorts around the world, including the company’s ventures in the cruise business, housing development and the redesign of Times Square in New York.

“Everything about Marty was legendary _ his achievements, his spirit, his career,” Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger said in a statement. “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.”

Sklar was born in New Brunswick, N.J., and attended UCLA, where he was editor of the Daily Bruin newspaper when he was recruited to create the Disneyland News for Walt Disney’s new Anaheim theme park in 1955.

After graduating in 1956, he joined Disney full-time, and would become Walt Disney’s lieutenant. He wrote speeches, marketing materials and a film showcasing Walt’s vision for Walt Disney World and the Epcot theme park in Florida.

Sklar is known for having distilled Walt’s wisdom into a creed known as “Mickey’s Ten Commandments,” a widely circulated list in the theme park business that includes sayings such as “know your audience” and “wear your guests’ shoes.”

“He understands the Disney way because he learned it at Walt’s knee,” Jim Cora, a former chairman of Disneyland International, told The Times in 2006. “He is the keeper of the keys, the conscience, the Jiminy Cricket for the organization.”

Sklar would eventually become the creative leader of Imagineering, the company’s storied theme park design and development arm.

After half a century with the company, Sklar retired as principal creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering in 2006 but remained an “ambassador” for the group for three more years.

“Marty left an indelible mark on Disney Parks around the globe and on all of the guests who make memories every day with us,” Bob Chapek, the chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said in a statement. “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 (Disney Resort) just last year.”

Low-key and unimposing, Sklar was deeply revered by imagineers for his mentoring and his links to the company’s heritage.

Bob Weis, president of Walt Disney Imagineering, described Sklar in a statement as “one of Walt’s most trusted advisors who 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.”

Sklar 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.

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