Marty Sklar, Pioneering Disney Imagineer and Architect of Disney Theme Parks, Dies at 83

Marty Sklar, the pioneering Disney Imagineer who worked closely with Walt Disney on the development of Disney theme parks, died on Thursday at his Hollywood Hills home. He was 83.

Sklar spent more than a half-century working for Walt Disney Co. He was one of only a few people in the world to have attended the opening of every Disney theme park, from Disneyland in 1955 through last year’s debut of Shanghai Disney Resort. Sklar was named a Disney Legend in 2001. He received the ultimate Disney tribute upon his retirement from the company in 2009, when his name was added to a window on Disneyland’s City Hall.

“Everything about Marty was legendary — his achievements, his spirit, his career,” said Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger. “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.”

Even after his retirement, Sklar remained active as a booster of all things Disney. He was one of the last links to the generation of Disney employees who worked directly with the company’s legendary founder. Solar was on hand just two weeks ago at Disneyland, greeting fans at the company’s biennial D23 Expo in Anaheim, Calif. He was well known to Disney super-fans for his wide smile and sunny disposition.

“Marty was the ultimate Disney Imagineer and Cast Member. From his days working as an intern with Walt to just two weeks ago engaging with fans at D23 Expo, Marty left an indelible mark on Disney Parks around the globe and on all of the guests who make memories every day with us,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Born in New Brunswick, N.J., in 1934, Sklar was a student and editor of UCLA’s Daily Bruin when he was tapped to launch the Disneyland News publication prior to the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim in July 1955.

After graduating the following year, Sklar became a right-hand man to Disney, writing speeches, developing marketing materials and other promotional elements to support the launch of Disney World and Epcot Center. He also joined WED Enterprises, a forerunning of Disney’s famed Imagineering technical R&D and operations unit.

“For us, it’s hard to imagine a world without Marty, because Marty is synonymous with Imagineering,” said Bob Weis, president of Walt Disney Imagineering. “His influence can be seen around the world, in every Disney park, and in the creative and imaginative work of almost every professional in the themed entertainment industry.”

Sklar penned several books about his lifetime at Disney, including “Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms” (2013), and “One Little Spark!: Mickey’s Ten Commandments and the Road to Imagineering” (2015).

Survivors include his wife of 60 years, Leah; a son, Howard; a daughter, Leslie; and four grandchildren. The family requests that donations be made in Sklar’s name to the Ryman Program for Young Artist. Marty and Leah Sklar helped launch the nonprofit foundation devoted to teaching drawing and painting skills to young artists in Southern California.

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