Walt Dis­ney aide helped shape com­pany’s famed theme parks across globe

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - BY AN­DREW DAL­TON

Martin A. Sk­lar, a right-hand man to Walt Dis­ney and a cen­tral fig­ure in the de­vel­op­ment and ex­pan­sion of the Dis­ney com­pany’s theme parks around the world, died July 27 at his home in Hol­ly­wood Hills, Calif. He was 83.

Dis­ney­land spokes­woman Suzi Brown con­firmed the death but pro­vided no other de­tails.

Mr. Sk­lar had roles in the de­vel­op­ment of ev­ery Dis­ney park, from the orig­i­nal Dis­ney­land in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in 1955 to the Shang­hai Dis­ney Re­sort last year. He was revered by em­ploy­ees as a liv­ing link to the founder.

Mr. Sk­lar con­densed Walt Dis­ney’s ideas into a widely cir­cu­lated creed called “Mickey’s 10 Com­mand­ments,” which many con­sid­ered key to the parks’ re­mark­able suc­cess and longevity. He spelled them out in a 2015 book, “One Lit­tle Spark!”

They in­cluded: Know your au­di­ence; or­ga­nize the flow of peo­ple and ideas; avoid over­load; and for ev­ery ounce of treat­ment, pro­vide a ton of fun.

Mr. Sk­lar was still a col­lege stu­dent at UCLA when he was hired to cre­ate the Dis­ney­land News for the orig­i­nal park and be­came a full-time Dis­ney em­ployee the fol­low­ing year.

For the next 54 years, he led the de­vel­op­ment and ex­pan­sion of the com­pany’s parks. He was among the first to have the unique-to-Dis­ney ti­tle of “imag­i­neer” when he be­came the com­pany’s chief cre­ative leader for theme parks.

“Marty was one of Walt’s most trusted ad­vis­ers and helped turn his most am­bi­tious dreams into real­ity,” said Bob Weis, cur­rent pres­i­dent of Walt Dis­ney Imag­i­neer­ing. “For us, it’s hard to imag­ine a world with­out Marty, be­cause Marty is syn­ony­mous with Imag­i­neer­ing.”

Mr. Sk­lar scripted speeches for Walt Dis­ney along with de­sign and mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als for the parks and a film show­ing Dis­ney’s vi­sion for Walt Dis­ney World and Epcot in Florida be­fore they were built.

He had a hand in the de­sign of mem­o­rable Magic King­dom at­trac­tions such as the “The En­chanted Tiki Room,” “It’s a Small World” and “Space Moun­tain.”

Like most Dis­ney de­sign­ers, Mr. Sk­lar had to face crit­i­cism from hard­core fans. He felt the need to re­spond to com­plaints when “It’s a Small World” added char­ac­ters from Dis­ney films to its usual cast of in­ter­na­tional chil­dren.

“We are not try­ing to turn this clas­sic at­trac­tion into a mar­ket­ing pitch for Dis­ney plush toys,” Mr. Sk­lar said at the time. “We are not ‘young mar­ket­ing whizzes’ try­ing to make a name for our­selves.”

When the com­pany made over Dis­ney­land’s To­mor­row­land in 1998, he ex­plained the com­pany’s con­stant in­tent to forge for­ward. “The fu­ture is a mov­ing tar­get, and you have to keep aim­ing at it,” he said.

Mr. Sk­lar re­tired in 2009, but he was still a fre­quent pres­ence and ambassador at Dis­ney events, in­clud­ing the com­pany’s D23 Expo ear­lier this month.

Sur­vivors in­clude his wife of 60 years Leah, and a son, Howard Sk­lar.

At Dis­ney­land’s 50th an­niver­sary in 2005, Mr. Sk­lar summed up his life’s work as he walked into the park.

“I think Dis­ney­land is so much about re­as­sur­ing peo­ple the world can be okay, that things can be or­derly, that you can speak to a stranger,” he told the As­so­ci­ated Press. “All those things that we are los­ing or have lost in our daily lives.”


Martin A. Sk­lar had roles in the de­vel­op­ment of ev­ery Dis­ney park and was among the first to have the ti­tle of “imag­i­neer” when he be­came the com­pany’s chief cre­ative leader for theme parks.

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