Disney lieutenant and chief ‘Imagineer’ Marty Sklar dies at 83

Disney lieutenant and chief ‘Imagineer’ Marty Sklar dies at 83

Executive was a leading figure for decades behind the company’s theme parks, attractions and resorts

Marty Sklar (YouTube screenshot)
Marty Sklar (YouTube screenshot)

Marty Sklar, who served 54 years as an “Imagineer” for the Walt Disney Co. and led the creative team behind the company’s theme parks, attractions and resorts, has died.

The company announced his death in Los Angeles Thursday night. He was 83.

The Jewish Sklar served as principal creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering, turning the company founder’s ideas into reality.

“Everything about Marty was legendary — his achievements, his spirit, his career,” Disney CEO 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, New Jersey, and attended UCLA. He was the editor of the university’s Daily Bruin newspaper when he was recruited to edit a tabloid to be sold at Disneyland’s Main Street. Walt Disney liked his work on the tabloid, and eventually Sklar became Disney’s lieutenant.

This file photo taken on August 13, 2015 shows a sign above the entrance at Disneyland Paris in Marne-la-Vallee. (AFP / BERTRAND GUAY)
This file photo taken on August 13, 2015 shows a sign above the entrance at Disneyland Paris in Marne-la-Vallee. (AFP / BERTRAND GUAY)

In 2001, Sklar was recognized as a Disney Legend — the company’s version of the Hall of Fame — and in 2009 was honored with a window on Disneyland’s Main Street.

Sklar was the author of the 2013 memoir “Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdom,” in which he debunked a common rumor that Disney was anti-Semitic.

“I never saw a shred of anti-Semitism in him,” Sklar told the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles in an interview when the book was published. “Walt was from the Midwest, he wasn’t used to being around Jews. And then he came out here, [where] most of the people in the entertainment business were Jews, so he was the guy out in the cornfield; he was different, and I think that’s where it came from. It never came from anything he said. Not ever.”

In his final years at Disney, Sklar served as a company “ambassador,” teaching a list of Disney principles called “Mickey’s Commandments” that he had distilled from his time with the company founder. The list included “Know your audience ” and “Take time to teach — mentors are mensches.”

“That was what I learned: It’s the details that make the Disney parks work, that attention to detail,” Sklar told the Jewish Journal. “And you have to make it a complete story, which means striving to be accurate about whatever story you’re telling, down to the smallest details.”

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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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