Exclusive Interview: Marty Sklar and his new book “Dream It! Do It!”

| August 8, 2013 | Reply

This year, in what could be thought of as “The Year of the Disney Imagineer,” The Walt Disney Company is celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Disney Imagineering and all the magic it has created and will continue to create in the future.


One of the biggest celebrations will happen at this year’s D23 Expo when The Walt Disney Parks and Resorts will give guests a chance to see behind the curtain on Walt Disney Imagineering, as well as meeting with various Imagineers throughout the Expo’s three days. In addition, Imagineers past and present will host an entire day of panel discussions on Sunday, August 11, celebrating their 60 magical years of “dreaming and doing.”

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 1.15.55 PM

 marty-sklar-thumbnail2-webMarty Sklar
Photo: The Walt Disney Company

To that end, many celebrities and sports figures become heroes to many people and for Disney fans, the Disney Imagineers are our heroes.  We love to talk with them about their work, take photos with them and get their autographs.  One of them, who can be considered one of our Hall of Fame ‘players’, is Marty Sklar.  After a 54-year career, Marty retired from The Walt Disney Company on July 17, 2009, the anniversary of Disneyland’s opening day.

 sklarretireMarty Sklar’s Retirement
Photo: Disneyandmore Blogspot

“When I retired from the Walt Disney Company on July 17, 2009,” says Marty.  “I announced that a primary goal would be writing this book.  In the four years since, hardly a day has gone by when someone – Imagineering colleague, Disney fan, theme park industry associate – has not asked me: ‘How’s the book coming?’”  Well, “Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms” is finished and will be in stores and online August 13, 2013.  In addition, Marty will be appearing at this year’s D23 Expo on August 9 at 3:00 pm for an hour-long lecture about his half-century journey of creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms.  After the seminar, Marty will be available to sign copies of his book.

 Dream It! Do It! High Res

In “Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms”, Marty filled 420 pages with amazing stories that touch on some of the major events during his time with The Walt Disney Company.  When he is discussing writing speeches for Walt Disney, traveling around to court sponsors for The 1964-65 World’s Fair and Epcot Center or describing conversations from a closed-door meeting, you feel that you are right there with him.

I was fortunate to have received an advanced copy of his book and his stories about Walt, Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Epcot, all of the people associated with and behind the magic are simply fascinating.  Whether you are a Disney fan or just have a passing interest in The Walt Disney Company, this book will make great reading.  It’s definitely a “must add” to any Disney library.

 1987 The Living Seas Book (2)Grand Opening of The Living Seas at EPCOT Center
Photo: The Walt Disney Company

There are two great stories that involve Harry Gray, the CEO of United Technologies.  United Technologies was the sponsor of The Living Seas.  One story familiar to Disney fans is when Harry Gray told Disney Imagineer John Hench that he wanted the walls of The Living Seas to be painted bright white.   John told him that he doesn’t use bright white because it’s too harsh on the eyes in the Florida sun.  Harry asked for a demonstration and John was more than happy to oblige.  The other story that involves Harry Gray is when the Disney Team went to see him in New York about The Living Seas life-support system.  I never heard this story before, but after reading it my reaction was, “That would never happen today!”

 photo1waltroyThe 1965 Press Conference announcing the Florida Disney Project
Photo: The Walt Disney Company

In Chapter Two of the book Marty said that he wrote the script for the 1965 press conference announcing the coming of Walt Disney World to Florida and he almost got fired because Walt thought the presentation sounded like his obituary.  Marty said, “Walt was just embarrassed, mostly I think because he had not seen the whole script in advance – only the part he recorded. That was a no-no in my world – and I have no clue why Card Walker decided to do it that way.”  When asked if he made any changes to the script afterwards Marty says, “We made zero changes before it was presented at the Florida Press Conference in October 1965 when Walt and Roy O. Disney announced that Disney was coming to Florida.”

 blainescupltBlaine Gibson’s American Adventure sculptures
Photo: Micechat.com

Marty tells a story about Blaine Gibson and how he kept staring at a local Orlando restaurant chef’s hands.  Blaine was amazed at how big his hands were.  Like Walt and other artists, Blaine made a mental note of it and eventually those big hands made it on to an audio-animantronic figure.  When asked if there was a specific figure that has those chef’s hands Marty says, “There was not a specific figure you can point to and relate to something Blaine Gibson observed. This was well after Walt was gone, but we (and Blaine specifically) had his marching orders: Walt wanted reality in those figures whether they were pirates, birds, and dinosaurs, whatever. Just look at the figures in The American Adventure in Epcot – from George Washington on his horse to Indian Chief Joseph and our narrators, ‘Mark Twain’ and ‘Benjamin Franklin’. That opened 16 years after Walt’s passing, but we had learned our lessons well. (I think it was Blaine’s swan song before he retired.)”

 disneylandopeningdayOpening day at Disneyland
Image: Designing Disney

As a publicist myself, when my client receives a bad review or negative press from something they created, there are a lot of unhappy faces around the table.  When Disneyland opened, because of a lot of mishaps that happened in the park that day, the opening received quite a bit of negative press.  When asked if Marty remembered what Walt’s reaction was the day after the opening he said, “As I wrote in the book, Walt’s reaction on July 18, 1955 was ‘let’s get to it’ – learn from our lessons, fix the problems and really get to understand this new business. And what’s next – he was already planning new attractions that led to Disneyland’s great expansion of 1959: Submarine Voyage, Matterhorn Mountain Bobsleds, Monorail, and new Autopia Freeways. (I had honestly forgotten how negative the media was until I did my research at the Walt Disney Studio Archives!)”

 ge_progress_1Disneyland’s Carousel of Progress attraction

Walt said Disneyland would never be finished and would always be in a state of change.  So, of course, sometimes old, favorite attractions go and in their place are usually wonderful, new attractions.  All of us, even Imagineers, have long-gone favorites… even Marty.  “Of course, there’s a bunch!” says Marty. “I miss the Country Bear Jamboree (fortunately it’s still playing at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World). The original 1955 Flight to the Moon was a classic – the passageways into the theatres were kind of rickety, so you really felt you were going on a big adventure into the unknown – it was a dozen years before Man actually landed on the Moon!). And of course, the Carousel of Progress, which had come directly from the New York World’s Fair (and a version is still playing at the Magic Kingdom). I was probably spoiled by this one, getting to re-write the fourth act (contemporary) from the brilliant work Larry Clemmons from the Disney Studio had done for the World’s Fair show, and work with Dick and Bob Sherman (“There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day – and Tomorrow’s just a dream away!”)”

 Skyway_rendered_withlabelsBlueprint of the current Tangled Restroom Area
Image: forums.wdwmagic.com/danlb_2000

At one point Marty talks about a “choke-area” between Fantasyland and Liberty Square at Walt Disney World.  When asked if the new Tangled restroom area is the spot he was referring to and did he feel that it alleviated that issue Marty says, “Yes, the new restroom area – and closing the Skyway to make room for stroller parking for it’s a small world – really helped. But it’s a good reminder for designers that we really don’t know everything!”

 spacmtnrcaSpace Mountain – 1975
Photo: forums.wdwmagic/Expo_Seeker40

Those who have been to both Disneyland and WDW know some of the attractions that each park shares have slightly different experiences – some subtle and some significant – (of course it’s due to available real estate in each park). When asked if he preferred one to the other Marty said, “I love all our creations – especially every Space Mountain we have created around the world.” Be sure to read his story about pitching it to Robert Sarnoff.

 Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 3.03.58 PMRoy O. Disney dedicating Walt Disney World in 1971
Image: The Walt Disney Company

I asked Marty if anyone in management or on the Board expressed any reservations when Walt died and Roy took over to head the construction of WDW?  (I wouldn’t think so, but you never know.)  “Roy O Disney was in charge. When he made the decision to go ahead with Walt Disney World, we all gave it 150 percent – and Roy gave his life to it,” says Marty. “He died 3 months after we opened in 1971. He provided the leadership – and the financial acumen to make it happen.”

Clearly after 54 years with the Company, Marty has many, many stories that us fans are dying to hear.  When asked how he decided what stories to include in this book –and will there be a second book of some sort at a later date Marty said, “A great question! I did (and do!) have many stories to tell, and of course, not all of them made it into the book. A lot depended on the flow of the book, and what felt “right” to me, especially within the chapter sequence as the book developed.”

 Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 3.33.30 PMImage: D23.com

“When I retired, I built an office at my home in the Hollywood Hills, and it has pinnable walls”,” says Marty. So basically I ‘storyboarded’ the book – it was easy to move ideas, stories, even whole chapters around until I got the right tone. And Wendy Lefkon, my editor, was a great help with ideas about flow, titles, etc. Second Book? Ask Wendy at Disney Editions – I’ve suggested several ideas I want to pursue! (Read the chapter on Edie’s Conference Room – I have over 300 of those note cards!)”

 2677.Wells-Eisner-Characters.jpg-550x0Frank Wells and Michael Eisner
Photo: The Walt Disney Company

There are four chapters devoted to the Eisner-Wells era. At one point Marty recalls a story about the decision to build a water park.  He said that they storyboarded three different concepts and Eisner came in and immediately chose the one that would become Blizzard Beach.  He never looked at or considered the other two.  When asked if Marty remembered what were the other water park concepts he didn’t choose he said, “Too many years ago – and too many concepts – to recall. But they were very good!”

 WDIWalt Disney Imagineering Headquarters in Glendale, California
Image: wonderingwhatsnext.com

At one point, late in the book, Marty talks about how Imagineering was folded into and reported to the Disney Development Company.  It was, as Marty says, “At Imagineering, we sometimes used the metaphor that this would equate to a movie director reporting to the manager of a movie theatre in your local mall.”  “Today, there is no ‘Disney Development Company’,” says Marty. “That work is all the responsibility of Walt Disney Imagineering today – Dream It! Do It! I’m pleased to say, ‘Imagineering won!’”

“Dream It! Do It!” is a great read with some truly amazing stories, albeit just the tip of the iceberg.  Whether you are a casual or hardcore Disney fan, Marty’s book will keep you interested, as well as giving you a deeper understanding and appreciation for The Walt Disney Company and the Disney Parks.

Note: Marty and the great folks at Disney Editions have kindly provided a sneak peek of “Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms.” All opinions are my own.  This preview passage was selected by Marty.  To read the passage click here: Dream It Do It excerpt.

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