The Prolific Penman: Disney Legend Marty Sklar

disney legend marty sklar

January 21, 2024

Written by: Jim Smith

(A version of this article was shared with Laughing Place and published on February 3, 2024.)

The Walt Disney Company has seen hundreds of thousands of employees and Cast Members come and go over the company’s prolific century of storytelling. While each and every member has offered unique and valuable contributions, they all add up to one grand product – the Disney brand. Marty Sklar summed it up succinctly when he said “There is only one name on the door at Walt Disney Imagineering.”

A master with a pen and notepad, Sklar quietly wrote many of the words we attribute to Walt Disney himself. Come take a look behind the curtain as we explore the inspired career of Marty Sklar, in this edition of Disney Legends Spotlight.

The Jersey Boy Finds Disneyland

Martin A. Sklar was born on February 6, 1934, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. While he may have been a Jersey Boy by birth, Sklar was California Dreamin’ at a young age, moving to the Golden State before his thirteenth birthday. 

Sklar attended college at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) where he served as editor of the school’s campus newspaper, the Daily Bruin. In July 1955, following his junior year, he worked for Disney (at Disneyland) as a summer job. Sklar was recognized for his prowess with the pen, and was recruited to write a turn-of-the-century-themed tabloid newspaper for Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. That tabloid was known as Disneyland News, which sold on Main Street during Disneyland’s opening year.

disneyland news 1955

Walt Disney’s Literary Wizard

Sklar finished up his degree at UCLA and returned to Disneyland after graduation, working in the publicity and marketing department. For first decade at Disney he was affectionately known as “the kid,” the very youngest of the creative team Walt Disney had assembled at WED Enterprises. In 1957, he established Vacationland magazine (originally called Disneyland Holiday) – a quarterly magazine published by Disney, themed to the different seasons. Vacationland was available for free in hotels near Disneyland. A version of the publication was later offered at Walt Disney World.

Despite his youth, Sklar’s communication talents propelled him forward into substantial responsibility. He became something of a speech writer for Walt and his brother Roy, crafting their statements in the company’s annual reports. Working so closely with Walt, Sklar learned his philosophy on entertainment, storytelling, and communication firsthand. Sklar used this familiarity to great effect when preparing materials for Walt which were used in publications, television appearances, and special films. He also wrote most of Disneyland’s publicity and marketing materials in the park’s earlier days.

Blog Post Subscription Form

Facts and Figment Newsletter!

Signup here if you’d like us to share occasional tidbits (we won’t be constantly spamming you)!

But Sklar took a step beyond simply marketing Disneyland. He also developed initiatives to obtain sponsors, which gave Disneyland the financial freedom to grow. This was particularly valuable in the Tomorrowland section of the park, which was largely unfinished when the park opened in 1955. Sklar helped secure Disneyland sponsorships with companies such as Monsanto, Kaiser Aluminum, American Motors, Ritchfield Oil, and Douglas Aircraft Company. 

Marty Sklar in Disney’s 1964 World’s Fair Era

In 1961, Marty Sklar transitioned to WED Enterprises (renamed in 1986 to Walt Disney Imagineering – or WDI). At WED, he worked on all Disney attractions for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, including Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, GE’s Carousel of Progress, Ford Magic Skyway, and “it’s a small world.”

Sklar’s most notable contribution to the World’s Fair projects was for Ford Magic Skyway. He wrote the narration Walt recorded for the attraction. In preparing this narrative, Sklar spent three weeks with Ford executives to make sure he was delivering exactly the message they wanted visitors to hear.

Sklar also helped write the script for “it’s a small world.” The legendary Sherman Brothers wrote the song which plays throughout, but Sklar was largely responsible for the design flow of the attraction’s scenes. To put a cherry on top of Sklar’s “small world” contributions, he came up with the famous tagline: “the happiest cruise that ever sailed around the world.”

Outside the World’s Fair, Sklar had a time-stamped, yet memorable, impact on Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. During the 1960s, the attraction endured a famously long development phase, where the Mansion facade sat fully constructed in New Orleans Square for years before it actually opened. To keep guests intrigued about the attraction that would eventually come, Sklar wrote the clever “advertisement” which was posted outside the building.

The advertisement read: “Notice! All ghosts and restless spirits. Post-lifetime leases are now available in this Haunted Mansion. Don’t be left out in the sunshine! Enjoy active retirement in this country club atmosphere, the fashionable address for famous ghosts trying to make a name for themselves…and ghosts afraid to live by themselves! Leases include a license to scare the daylights out of guests visiting the Portrait Gallery, Museum of the Supernatural, graveyard and other happy haunting grounds. For reservations, send a resume of past experience to: Ghost Relations Dept. Disneyland. Please! Do not apply in person.”

disneyland's haunted mansion
Image: Disney Wiki

Sklar also wrote much of the “punny” dialogue for Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room.

“We Call It EPCOT”

Walt Disney’s most ambitious project was one he never lived to see completed. EPCOT – the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow – was Walt’s vision of a city of tomorrow, using his urban planning interests, along with his Imagineering talent, to improve future living in society.

When Walt officially unveiled his grand plan to the world in 1966, Marty Sklar was key behind the scenes. He conceived and prepared presentations for the U.S. government, as the EPCOT project required government approval. Most memorably, Sklar planned and wrote the 25-minute film expressing Walt’s philosophy for the Walt Disney World project and EPCOT. Every Walt Disney fan is at least aware of Walt’s folksy presentation of the “Florida Project,” which he delivered shortly before his death in 1966. We can thank Marty Sklar for sketching that moment.

walt disney in epcot video
Image: Disney

Rather humorously, Sklar’s creation of the EPCOT film didn’t happen without an irritated eyebrow from the boss. His first draft of the pitch to the Florida Legislature included a 20-minute movie on the history of the Disney company and Walt Disney himself. Walt, however, was irritated that he hadn’t seen the script earlier. Sklar recalled “After a special screening … Walt came up to me and said, ‘I didn’t realize anyone was writing my own obituary’.”

But EPCOT wasn’t the only plan for Florida. Disney needed to start with a stream of income in Florida, on which to base the funding for EPCOT. Sklar told the New York Times in 2002 “Nobody went to central Florida on vacation when we started that project. We had to create a resort destination.” From there, in 1971, arose Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, along with the Contemporary and Polynesian resorts – the first of many more to come.

Disney’s Creative Genius

Marty Sklar’s experience working on the World’s Fair attractions, and with their sponsors, positioned him as a key Disney representative working with American industry in developing and sponsoring attractions for Disney parks and resorts around the globe. This would prove especially useful later in Sklar’s career. In 1974, he became vice president of concepts/planning. In this position, Sklar guided the creative development of EPCOT, which relied heavily on sponsorship contributions in the creation of many of those initial pavilions.

marty sklar epcot development
Image: Disney

As vice president of creative development, executive vice president, and eventually president of Imagineering, Sklar supervised the design and construction of Disney Parks around the world, including:

According to Disney, Sklar is the only person within the organization to have attended the grand openings of all Disney parks. He even attended the opening of Shanghai Disneyland in 2016, following his retirement in 2009.

Former Disneyland International chairman Jim Cora later said of Sklar, “He understands the Disney way because he learned it at Walt’s knee. He is the keeper of the keys, the conscience, the ‘Jiminy Cricket’ for the organization.”

Throughout his career, Marty Sklar never forgot those who inspired him. In 1990, he honored a fellow Disney contemporary when he co-founded Ryman Arts in 1990 with his wife Leah and several others. The program – named after and honoring Herb Ryman, an artist, designer, and fellow Disney Legend – offers access and opportunity for a diverse community of young artists throughout southern California. In addition to co-founding the program, Sklar served as President from 1990-2015.

A Career, In Writing

Marty Sklar stepped down from Walt Disney Imagineering in 2006, but by no means did he stop creating Disney magic. After leaving his position, Sklar remained an “ambassador” for Imagineering for three more years, retiring fully in 2009.

marty sklar imagineering ambassador
Image: Disney

During retirement, Sklar authored several books recounting the experiences, adventures, and wisdom of his Disney career, including:

Mickey’s Ten Commandments

Over his time with Disney, Sklar created a list of key lessons he learned from Walt and his time with the Disney company into a creed he titled “Mickey’s Ten Commandments.” Sklar’s list, which he unveiled in 1987, is widely recognized as the ultimate guide to theme park management.

mickey mouse
Image: Disney

They are summarized here (and more fully discussed in his book referenced above):

  1. Know your audience – Don’t bore people, talk down to them, or lose them by assuming what they know (don’t know).
  2. Wear your guest’s shoes – Insist that designers, staff, and other team members experience your product as visitors as often as possible.
  3. Organize the flow of people and ideas – Use good storytelling techniques, avoid lectures, and lay out your presentation with clear logic.
  4. Create a weenie – Lead visitors from one area to another by creating visual magnets and giving those visitors rewards for making the journey.
  5. Communicate with visual literacy – Make good use of all the non-verbal ways of communication – color, shape, form, and texture.
  6. Avoid overload – Resist the temptation to tell too much, or to have too many objects. Don’t force people to swallow more than they can digest.
  7. Tell one story at a time – If you have a lot of information, divide it into distinct, logical, organized stories. People can absorb and retain information more clearly if the path to the next concept is clear and logical.
  8. Avoid contradiction – Clear institutional identity helps give you the competitive edge. Public needs to know who you are, what you represent, and how you are different from other institutions they may have visited.
  9. For every ounce of treatment, provide a ton of fun – Give people plenty of opportunity to enjoy themselves by emphasizing ways that let people participate in the experience. Make your environment rich and appealing to all senses.
  10. Keep it up – Never underestimate the importance of cleanliness and routine maintenance. People expect to get a good show every time. Also, people will comment more on subpar experiences.

In the years following Walt Disney’s death, Sklar reflected on how Walt’s death affected him more deeply than that of his own father. Sklar once stated “I realized I never had to think like my father, but in order to write for Walt Disney I had to try to think like Walt Disney and use words that he used. (Walt’s death) had a tremendous effect on me.”

Sklar died of natural causes in his Hollywood Hills home on July 27, 2017, at age 83.

A Decorated Disney Legend

Marty Sklar dedicated his entire career to Disney, primarily within Imagineering and through his art of communication. Beginning in the 1990s and carrying through the rest of his life, Sklar’s awards added up to an astonishing career.

Sklar won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) in 1995, and was inducted into the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Hall of Fame in 2002.

In 2001, Sklar was given the ultimate Disney honor when he was named a Disney Legend.

While being named a Disney Legend is remarkable in itself, Sklar was invited into even more select company on the day of his retirement – July 17, 2009 – when he was given a Window on Disneyland’s Main Street.

marty sklar window on main street
Image: Disney

Etched on his window is the following:

Id Somniate. ld Facite. (Latin for “Dream It. Do It.”)

Main Street

College of Arts & Sciences

Est. 1852

Martin A. Sklar


Inspiring the Dreamers and Doers of Tomorrow

Sklar has also been honored with windows on the Main Streets of Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland and Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort.

In 2016, Sklar received one final recognition of his lifetime of service to Disney, when Diane Disney Miller gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Walt Disney Family Museum.

Marty Sklar has penned his share of memorable quotes. Perhaps one of the most inspirational – echoing Walt Disney’s philosophy of being both a dreamer and doer – simply says “Do what you dream of doing and never lose sight of that.” Those are good words to live by.

Thanks for reading friends. Which of Mickey’s Ten Commandments is your favorite? Offer a comment or share this article with a friend by reaching out on social at: Instagram Facebook X (formerly Twitter)

Check out more Disney Legends in our spotlight collection.


Disney Legend Marty Sklar, D23

Disney Wiki – Marty Sklar

Ryman Arts – Founders Page

Marty Sklar, pioneering imagineer who channeled Walt Disney, dies at 83 – Daniel Miller and Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2017

Follow Facts and Figment

Facts and Figment Newsletter!

Signup here if you'd like us to share occasional tidbits (we won't be constantly spamming you)!

Subscription Form

Facts and Figment Travel Planning!

We will help you get to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Aulani – A Disney Resort and Spa. FREE FOR YOU!

More Information >>

Facts and Figment Newsletter!

Signup here if you'd like us to share occasional tidbits (we won't be constantly spamming you)!

Subscription Form