Main

Disney Legends Archives

March 6, 2017

Disney Legend Marty Sklar learns that inspiration can be a two-way street

chuck-schmidt.jpg

fest4.jpg
Marty Sklar, center, poses for a photo after his presentation at the Festival of the Arts in Epcot in February. From the left are Julian Robinson, Chuck Schmidt, Marty, Janet Schmidt and Gail Robinson. [Courtesy of Gail and Julian Robinson]


"One little spark, of inspiration, is at the heart, of all creation." - Richard and Robert Sherman

Inspiration comes in many forms. Sometimes, all you need to be inspired is just one little spark.

Take, for example, the young woman who told an inspirational story during a question-and-answer session at a recent Festival of the Arts workshop conducted by Disney Legend Marty Sklar in the Odyssey Festival Center in Epcot.

"This is more of a comment than a question," she began. "I was trying to decide what type of career path I wanted to take when my college professor suggested that I read your book, One Little Spark! I did, and it inspired me to pursue a career as an Imagineer. I'm currently working as an intern with Walt Disney Imagineering."

Add that woman to the very long list of people Marty Sklar has inspired over the years. And, in a roundabout way, add Marty Sklar to the list of people the woman has inspired during her still-young career. More on that later.

fest1.jpg
The artwork of both Herb Ryman, above, and Mary Blair were on display at the Odyssey Festival Center at Epcot during the inaugural Festival of the Arts. [AllEars.Net]

Marty's workshop at the Festival of the Arts was part of a troika of appearances by the former creative leader of Walt Disney Imagineering at his beloved Epcot: There was the sold-out presentation at the Odyssey on Feb. 11, then a book signing on Feb. 12 in the Art of Disney at Epcot, and finally a return to the Odyssey on Feb. 13 for a talk about the artwork of Disney Legends Herb Ryman and Mary Blair.

During his Feb. 11 workshop, Marty talked about his two books, Dream It! Do It! and the aforementioned One Little Spark!

"My first book was sort of takeoff on one of my favorite songs, '50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,' by Paul Simon, although that in no way reflects my real life. My wife Leah and I will be celebrating our 60th anniversary on May 12th.

gurr2.jpg
Bob Gurr and Marty Sklar have done a number of Disney events over the years, the most recent being a presentation at the Texas Transportation Forum. [AllEars.Net]

"It was more about 50 ways to get started. Nothing I had done prepared me to write Dream It! Do It! I first had to come to grips with the question: 'Do I really have something worthwhile to say?' In the end, I found out that writing a book takes a lot of patience, research and flexibility.

"And every writer needs a good editor and I was fortunate to have been able to work with Wendy Lefkon from Disney Editions. Her support and help, particularly with accessing material from the Disney Archives, was very important."

His follow-up book, One Little Spark!, took a deep dive into the world of Imagineering. It also provided a guide map for people aspiring to join the Walt Disney Company's much-heralded and respected creative wing.

Both of Marty's books have been unqualified successes and have resulted in book-signing tours over the last few years that have literally spanned the globe ... from Shanghai, China, to Toms River, N.J. "I just signed a contract with a Brazilian publisher for Portuguese editions of both books," Marty said. "Dream It! Do It! already has Japanese and Mandarin Chinese versions."

I asked Marty if there is another book in the works. That's when I learned that inspiration can be a two-way street.

"Yes, I've started working on another book, but it's hard to get motivated," he admitted. "But the Festival of the Arts audiences – including my separate book signing on Sunday – have inspired me to get moving."

During his workshop on Saturday, Marty said he was "really excited about the first-ever Festival of the Arts. It's wonderful to see the works of the Disney artists on display her at Epcot. Forgive me if I get a bit emotional. I worked on Epcot from 1973 until it opened in October of 1982 ... almost 35 years ago. Today, Epcot is the sixth-most visited park in the world. It's great to see the arts have joined in the fun here."

Inside the Odyssey, some of the works of Legendary Disney artists Herb Ryman and Mary Blair were on display, serving as a fitting backdrop to Marty's presentation, as well as the Festival in general.

msbgtalk.jpg
A poster advertising the Texas Transportation Forum had a very Disney feel to it.

Marty's appearance at Epcot capped off another whirlwind stretch for the now 83-year-old. Prior to his Epcot stint, he and fellow Disney Legend Bob Gurr, who is 85, gave presentations at the Texas Transportation Forum, which ran from Feb 5-7 in Austin.

The title of their keynote talk was "Imagineering a Legacy: How Disney's Designs Influence Today's Transportation." Who better to talk about transportation issues than two of Imagineering's guiding lights, two Disney giants who were always pushing the envelope and developing creative and forward-thinking solutions to a myriad of problems?

Both Marty and Bob gave perspective and context on how Imagineering's "great sense of innovation can be applied to the transportation problems of today," according to the event program. "The Imagineers had to think outside the box to overcome many issues, including developing new and innovative transportation systems."

"I guess we were a big hit." Marty said. After their presentation in front of 1,500 people, "another 500-600 were at our Breakout Session. They said some of the government people [doing other Breakout sessions] were not thrilled – we had by far the biggest audience!"

"Yes, we both had a blast," Gurr added. "1,500 Texas government folks, all friendly Republicans. Well organized and ready for tall tales from Disney's past more than issues of transportation. The panel presenters did all of that, while we made up stories."

Stories that no doubt inspired those in attendance to dream up new and creative ways to tackle many of today's pressing transportation issues.

February 6, 2017

Monorail guru Bob Gurr talks about Monty ... and his concept drawing of the famed transit vehicle

chuck-schmidt.jpg

gurr5.jpg
Bob Gurr's original drawing of the monorail, sketched in late 1958. The color was added by Disney Legend John Hench.

Hey, Bob Gurr ... now that you've completed a documentary showing the world just how you designed some of the world's most innovative theme park attractions, what are you going to do next?

"My next project is gonna be a movie about Monty the Monorail."

Makes sense. Gurr, the father of Disney theme park monorails, has intimate knowledge of the sleek, futuristic modes of transportation that glide along on a single beam of concrete. When Walt Disney wanted to place a monorail system within the confines of Disneyland in the late 1950s, he turned to Gurr, his go-to transportation guru, to make that dream happen.

All these years later, the affable 85-year-old wants to turn a monorail into a living, breathing entity. Enter Monty the Monorail.

Here's the backstory: Turns out there's a guy who bought the front carriage of a Walt Disney World Mark IV monorail and turned it into something of a tourist attraction. "The guy treats it as if it's a character," Gurr said recently. "He fills it up with rock music and flashing lights and smoke and rides it around on an old flatbed trailer."

"I've met the guy and I want to do a movie about the monorail where I do a long voice-over. I look at the situation of a monorail who is a living character. And he has relatives and the relatives go way back to his great-grandfather in 1959. The movie will be really funny, full of graphics and this voice talking like it's his mommy.

"It'll be very tongue in cheek, taking an inert machine and making it into a human. When Monty was traveling across the country, every city was waiting for him and they'd throw a big party. Hundreds of people met Monty all across the United States.

"That's the next project."

gurr6.jpg
Bob Gurr takes a walk around viewing area atop Disney's Bay Lake Tower in Walt Disney World.

Bob Gurr is uniquely qualified to talk about the monorail, be it the nuts, bolts and Fiberglass version or the living character reincarnation.

It was Gurr who was tasked with getting the monorails designed and up and running for Disneyland in 1959. Mind you, he also was challenged with designing the track system for the Matterhorn Mountain bobsleds, as well as designs for a new Autopia car and the submarine voyage ... all at the same time!

Like most of the things he designed over his illustrious career, the monorail started with a simple sketch.

"I did the first sketch of the monorail in October of 1958," Gurr said. "I did about a 10-minute sketch in my house one morning and I brought it back to the office the next day and it took about two hours to complete it because I knew exactly what I wanted.

"Then [Disney Legend] John Hench put the coloring on it. Disney publications are always full of errors; they said John Hench designed it. Then one day years ago, the Disney Archive Department suddenly showed up with my original drawing. And they said, 'See, John didn't draw it, you did.'

An almost life-size mural depicting Gurr's iconic drawing currently adorns the Top of the World Lounge atop Disney Vacation Club's Bay Lake Tower in Walt Disney World. In the lower left-hand corner is the signature R.H. Gurr.

gurr1.jpg
Bob Gurr, center, offers some suggestions to Imagineers working on a refurbishment of the Autopia attraction in Disneyland several years ago. [The Walt Disney Company]

"If you go up there slightly after the sun rises, in the morning when the bar is closed, go over to the windows on the west side. The mural is back-lit so gorgeously in that room. It's just a stunning sight to see," he said. "Unfortunately, that's not when the bar is open."

His signature on the mural proved to be a bit problematic.

"The first time I signed it, the cleaning people came in and wiped it off. The next time after I signed it, they broke the corner off one of the panes. The third time I signed it, they sprayed plastic on it" to preserve it.

"That picture is actually what I've been saying all along: The inspiration comes from the top, not the bottom. Somebody asks you to figure something out and somehow, your brain has life experiences and suddenly, you can't sketch fast enough. It's so vivid in your mind. You've got to get it down on paper really quickly.

"The fact that that thing [the monorail] has turned out to be an icon at Disneyland and all over Florida ... The fact that that picture of the Mark I is in a bar at Walt Disney World, well, that's kinda cool."

January 23, 2017

Documentary shows how Bob Gurr created so many classic Disney attractions

chuck-schmidt.jpg

gurr3.jpg
Bob Gurr holds a copy of his book, "Design: Just For Fun," after its release. [Ape Pen Publishing]

If there's such a thing as a blueprint for an exciting, fun-filled, never-a-dull-moment retirement, Bob Gurr seems to have created it.

Which, in a way, makes perfect sense, since Gurr is the man responsible for creating so many of the exciting, fun-filled, never-a-dull-moment ride vehicles and attractions we've come to know and love in Disney parks around the globe for decades.

Gurr, who is 85, has packed so much into his retirement years that it's almost impossible to pinpoint a time when he's actually stopped working and commenced sitting back in a rocking chair and relaxing. For the record, Gurr officially retired from the Walt Disney Company in 1981 ... but that didn't stop him from working on a number of "side" jobs, among them: The grand finale production at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles ... the monstrous King Kong Audio-Animatonics figure at Universal Studios ... and the complicated stage apparatus used during Michael Jackson's Victory Tour in 1984.

Also during his "retirement," the affable Gurr has "gone on something like 45 cruises," to places like Hawaii, Tahiti and the Caribbean, done dozens of panel discussions and presentations, written and promoted his own book [Design: Just For Fun, APP-Gurr Design], and, most recently, spent more than a year putting together a documentary, Bob Gurr: Turning Dreams into Reality, available through Ape Pen Publishing.

The documentary, which debuted last year at the popular Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet, is not so much a story of Gurr's life as it is an outline of just how Gurr created some of the industry's most innovative and ground-breaking theme park attractions. In short, it's not about what he did, but how he did it.

gurr10.jpg
Bob Gurr takes a spin on a scale model of a monorail during a Disney fan event several years ago. [Ape Pen Publishing]


Carlene Thie, who owns Ape Pen Publishing and who had a big hand in helping Gurr get his book published and was the driving force behind The Bob Gurr Roast in 2015, "Had this long-term idea," Gurr said in a recent telephone interview. "She said, 'I want to do a documentary on your life.' And I said, 'No, no, Carlene. There are so many videos available on my life on YouTube and so forth.' But she was very insistent."

Finally, Gurr told Carlene that "if anyone was going to do a documentary, we should look at HOW I was about to do stuff. We finally agreed to sit down and start talking about it. It was the spring of 2014. By that time, she had assembled a few people, a screenwriter and a videographer. Then she had three friends who were in the videographer business and she was trusting them. She said she wanted to get me on camera and record me so I could tell my story. I said that I didn't want anything to do with that kind of project, but I told her to go get some witnesses who actually watched how I worked.

"So I gave her a list of eight people, and in about two months, she got everybody on the list ... Marty Sklar, Garner Holt and a bunch of other people. Even the head of Walt Disney Imagineering. She got them to agree to come out on a Saturday and a Sunday, four people each day."

The only problem was, she didn't have any place to record them. In lieu of a studio, Bob suggested using his own house in Tujunga, Calif. "So we put tarps over the windows. I told her to bring her photographers in the house and I'd sit in the backyard and run the hospitality food tent. People came and went and I'd greet them.

"Six months later, I called her up and asked her, 'Where's your documentary?' "and she said," 'Uh, Bob ...'"

gurr2.jpg
Gurr poses for a photo with fellow Disney Legend Marty Sklar at a D23 event. [Deb Wills]

Turns out what was filmed wasn't very good. "A train wreck," is how Gurr described it. To make matters worse, it was estimated that it would cost upwards of $50,000 to repair the damage.

Carlene gave Gurr a copy of what was filmed and he poured through the 10 hours of video. When he was finished, he came to a conclusion: "Despite all the wreckage, there was precious content about the theme park industry in general. I said it would sure be a shame to lose all that stuff just because she had a bad crew."

That crew "made more mistakes than you can imagine," Gurr said. "They screwed up the lighting, the sound quality was quite poor, they even walked in front of the cameras. If you wrote down all the major mistakes a film crew could make, they made them.

"Finally, I said to Carlene, 'Buy me a new Macintosh with a quad core processor and all the software and I will teach myself to be an editor of PBS quality. That's the cheapest way you'll ever get out of this thing."

So Carlene bought him the equipment he needed and he began a months-long editing process. "After a while, I began to figure out the story. It was fascinating listening to people from different companies and different eras describing how Bob Gurr works. It slowly dawned on me how I work and I work totally differently than other people work. You know in any line of work, you always think that everybody works the same and then it dawns on you later that when you've got witnesses, no, maybe you don't work like that."

During his Disney days, Bob Gurr had a reputation of being somewhat of a genius. After all, he played significant roles in such classic Disney attractions as the Autopia cars, Matterhorn Mountain, the submarine voyage, the Disney monorail system, the Abraham Lincoln figure at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, and the development of Audio-Animatronics.

gurr1.jpg
Bob Gurr offers his advice during a remodeling of the Autopia track at Disneyland. [Walt Disney Imagineering]

"People would say, 'Didn't you know Gurr's a genius?' and I'd say, 'No, no, I just work here. Whatever Walt wanted, I did. Whatever Michael Jackson wants ... you just did it.. On top of that, I never went to engineering school and I had no qualifications to do any of this stuff and Walt never gave it a thought, he didn't care.

"And looking at my life backwards, these guys [the eight 'witnesses' who came to his house on that fateful weekend] are explaining it, and I thought, now I could write a story that would make sense."

Then he invited some friends to drop by and help with the project.

Following Gurr's lead, those friends dove right in. "They'd show up here and the minute they looked at the computer, they'd start taking notes and writing things furiously on paper" and a script began to take shape.

Gurr then began the arduous task of editing. "Sound editing is really fascinating," he said. "Luckily, my nephew, Eric Johnston, has five Emmys. He's a recording engineer for X Factor and Dancing with the Stars. He said, 'When you get the sound tracks to where you want them, I'll go through them and clean up all the technical problems in the audio.'"

Meanwhile, Carlene Thie was beginning her own long journey. "It took about a year for her to get Disney's approval to use the images of the things I designed," Gurr said. "They wanted thousands of dollars for the licensing fees. I told her to keep writing them every few weeks and wear them down. Every time she did, the price went down a little bit. I think they got down to where they got just enough money that it would be a contract."

roast.jpg
Bob Gurr, third from the right, poses for a photo after he was roasted in 2015.

Gurr then threw himself head-long into video editing. "From a technical standpoint, I became totally fascinated with video editing," which was a painstakingly long and tedious process. "I had to swap out all the poor quality and I had to construct the soundtracks by hand."

During the final stages of putting the documentary together, Gurr had to compile credits for the film. "I left on all the names of the people who did such a bad job. The people who actually did all the work were my nephew, Carlene Thie and myself. But I knew it's completely wrong for a person to edit their own life documentary. It's just not right.

"So, when you look at the credits in the back of the film you'll see Eric Johnston, Carlene Thie and 'editing done by a new company called RescueEdit Services.'

"That's the final joke," he laughed.

Bob Gurr: Turning Dreams into Reality can be purchased through Ape Pen Publishing at www.apepenpublishing.com. To view Bob Gurr's website, go to www.bobgurr.com.

January 9, 2017

Charlie Ridgway and Rick Sylvain: Two Disney PR guys with the "write" stuff

chuck-schmidt.jpg

charlie9.jpg
Rick Sylvain, left, and his former boss, Charlie Ridgway, crossed paths in England several years ago. As Rick puts it: "This was taken in 2007 after a travel writers' convention in Manchester, England. Two friends and I were getting our rental van serviced deep in the English countryside. Who do we run across on that day, at that hour, at that minute, in that town, but Charlie, off on his own adventure? He had stopped for a candy bar. Long odds. Lottery odds. Must have been some sort of kismet. I love Charlie's smile in this photo." [Courtesy of Rick Sylvain]


Press events at Walt Disney World, as well as my interactions with numerous Disney cast members, have been an integral part of my reporting on all things Disney over the last 35 years.

These experiences and the bonds that I've forged were so important to me that I wrote a book about them, On The Disney Beat: Over 30 Years of Chronicling the People and Places in Walt's World [Theme Park Press]. Through many of the press events I've attended and during the many interviews I've conducted, I've met some outstanding people, many of whom I consider friends.

So it was with sadness when I learned on Dec. 24 of the passing of Disney Legend Charlie Ridgway, who was a key figure in my journalistic journey through Disney's world. Charlie was an important part of my book, from my first invitation to a Disney press event he supervised in 1986 to an extensive interview I had with him in 2014.

I had the pleasure of having lunch with Charlie in 1992. After learning that my extended family and I would be in WDW during August of that year, he invited us to join him for an unforgettable afternoon. We [I believe there were eight of us] met him at 12:30 at City Hall in the Magic Kingdom and he walked us back stage to his waiting company van. The afternoon parade was in the process of queuing up and he made sure the younger ones in our party looked away, lest they see a character out of costume, thus spoiling the magic. He drove us all to the then-new Yacht Club Galley, where we chatted about a wide range of Disney-related topics, including the opening of several on-property resorts. I still have his business card, with his work phone number and his [get this!] Telex number.

Charlie was best known for dreaming up new and better ways to get the word out on Disneyland [he was hired in 1963] and later Walt Disney World, where he settled in as Press and Publicity director about a year before the resort opened in 1971. In those days, Disney did very little advertising, so it was up to the Press and Publicity folks to publicize the parks. And Charlie did it in a way that was creative, imaginative, fun and, most importantly, effective. Charlie retired a few years after our lunch, although he was often called on by his colleagues to lend his expertise on a number of projects.

rick1.jpg
Charlie Ridgway holds a Donald Duck figure as Rick Sylvain looks on during a 90th birthday celebration for Charlie in 2014. [Walt Disney World]

During the most recent WDW press gathering in November 2016, I was able to renew acquaintances with Rick Sylvain, a man I've known since the 1990s, when he was hired by Charlie to work on WDW's PR team. Following in Charlie's rather large footsteps, Rick was as sound a PR man as you could find, always ready to help out and always going above and beyond to make sure you had all the information you needed to make your story complete. Rick retired from Walt Disney World's Press and Publicity Department in 2015, but still has his hand in PR work.

It was Rick who helped me secure an interview with Charlie, a man he considered a beloved mentor, in January 2014. "It was Charlie who rescued me from a nasty strike at The Detroit Free Press [where Rick was a travel editor of considerable import] and got me to come down here to work for him," Rick told me a few years ago. "It was Charlie who launched me on 20 years [at Disney] that I will never forget."

The bond between Rick and Charlie was strong. During Charlie's retirement years, the two got together as often as they could. In fact, a few weeks before Charlie died, Rick and several other members of "the old guard" were supposed to take Charlie out for a holiday celebration, but it had to be canceled. Rick considered it an honor and a privilege when Charlie asked him to write the foreword to his book, Spinning Disney's World, upon its re-release in paperback.

let.jpg
Tom Bergeron, left, chats with actor Michael J. Fox during a press event in New York City to announce the beginning of the Let the Memories Begin Disney Parks campaign in 2010. [The Walt Disney Company]

When I think of how many times I've had the pleasure of Rick's company, as well as his witty repartee, it dredges up some pretty fond memories. Many of the press gatherings he had a hand in putting together were held in New York City, so he knew I was pretty close by and would always make an effort to be in attendance.

There was the event to promote the Let The Memories Begin initiative on the West Side of Manhattan in 2010, which was hosted by Dancing With the Stars' Tom Bergeron and featured an appearance by actor Michael J. Fox.

There was the Limited Time Magic event in midtown Manhattan in 2014, where artisans carved several Disney-themed ice sculptures right on Broadway to emphasize how quickly things come and go.

In 2015, he invited me to a special press preview of the re-imagined Disney Magic; the ship, which had been overhauled a few months before, sailed up from Port Canaveral and docked in Manhattan for just one day before heading to Europe for its summer season.

dream.jpg
The Disney Dream was christened on Jan. 19, 2011 at Disney Cruise Line's Port Canaveral port. [Disney Cruise Line]

And then there were the christenings of the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy cruise liners, both lavishly produced press events that would have made Charlie proud.

The day before the Dream event at Port Canaveral, Fla., on Jan. 19, 2011, Rick invited me to join an exclusive press tour of the then-new Wild Africa Trek at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

He wanted to make sure that we journalists [a group of about 10 of us met in the lobby of the Grand Floridian] would get the full experience, so he was with us every step of the way. Included in the trek were two treacherous trips across swaying and rickety rope bridges, with an assortment of hungry hippos and smiling crocodiles watching our every move with more than casual interest some 30 feet below.

"It's nice to feel the ground under my feet," Rick said after traversing the second bridge and climbing down from the lofty perch.

The Disney Fantasy christening took place in New York City in February 2012. Rick made sure I got to meet Jay Rasulo, then Disney's CFO. I had conducted a lengthy interview with Jay a few years before and was anxious to meet him in person.

At a press event during the spring of 2016, I ran into Rick at Morimoto Asia, a wonderful upscale Asian restaurant in Disney Springs. I mentioned to Rick how I was now writing a blog for AllEars.Net and he was positively effusive in his praise for the site. "Truly, the best Disney website out there," he said.

Like Charlie, Rick had a strong understanding of how to supply folks in the media with exactly what they need to get the most out of their stories about Walt Disney World. It made sense, since both men grew up in the newspaper business and always had a kinship with journalists.

"I always tried to hire people with newspaper backgrounds," Charlie told me during that 2014 interview, "because I felt that they knew what the news guys wanted and how to get it to them."

charlie6.jpg
Charlie Ridgway is interviewed during Walt Disney World's 15th anniversary in 1986. [Walt Disney World]

Charlie was among a handful of people still around who worked and interacted with Walt Disney. After toiling for years as a newspaperman in Southern California [he wrote a lengthy pre-opening feature on Disneyland, covered Disneyland's opening day on July 17, 1955, and often wrote human interest stories on the park] Charlie was hired by Disney in 1963.

On Walt, Charlie said, "he had supreme confidence that he would know what the public wanted. And he was right 98 percent of the time. He had a tremendous ability to pay attention to every little detail, and yet know the overall picture as well, and he paid attention to the tiniest little detail in everything he did. Sometimes that put off some people, but overall, those who stayed with him for any length of time appreciated his talent so much that they didn't mind going all out for him."

Like Walt Disney himself, Charlie Ridgway long understood that while there's very little adult in each child, there's plenty of child in every adult.

As Rick Sylvain put it on the occasion of Charlie's 90th birthday: "Charlie, for me, embodies the true Disney spirit -- consummate professional, but a kid at heart. I know I and my colleagues can truly say that thanks to Charlie's inspiration, we can fly. Ideas define this man. Then and now."

Although Charlie hired Rick Sylvain in the mid-1990s, they had known each other for years, having gone on a number of travel junkets together, including several harrowing adventures in Egypt and Jerusalem in 1983, which are detailed beautifully in Charlie's Spinning Disney's World
book.

wdw15.jpg
The Disney characters gather for a publicity photo in front of Cinderella Castle during WDW's 15th anniversary, one of the hundreds of Disney events Charlie Ridgway had a hand in. [Walt Disney World]

When I saw Rick at the press event this past November, I quickly sought him out. And I made sure to give him a copy of On The Disney Beat, in large part because he had such a big hand in making it happen.

A few weeks after the event, Rick sent me an email that touched me on so many levels.

Hey Chuck:

So good crossing paths with you this month. Just finished your book - thanks for the copy. I laughed, I cried, I reminisced. Too many favorite parts to recount here - so I won't begin to try. True to your craft, you report All Things Disney so well. A book with lots of heart.

Rick went on to explain how my book actually inspired him.

Your wonderful narrative stirred for me so many personal stories from those 20 years. I remember walking around Epcot one afternoon in 2005 when a wheelchair-bound woman spotted my name badge and asked me to take her picture. We were at the red phone booth in the U.K. pavilion. Of course, I obliged her.

"Where you from?" I asked her.

"New Orleans," she said.

"What brings you here?"

"I lost everything in Katrina and just wanted to smile again."

That was powerful.

Another time, I was criss-crossing New York City a la Charlie [but not nearly as well] and had scored an audience with then-editor Walter Anderson of Parade Magazine. Nervous beyond words in the presence of this media giant, I pitched Animal Kingdom. Quiet enveloped the room. Walter sat back on his sofa, summoned his design editor and announced they were scrapping a coming cover story in favor of Animal Kingdom in words and pictures.

I left the Parade offices on Cloud Nine. The following week, I was working with famed Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Eddie Adams, setting up his cover shoot.

That's the pull of Disney you write so beautifully about. Again, thanks for my copy of On The Disney Beat. I will treasure it.

As I will my association with both you, Rick, and Charlie ... two class acts ... and two men who definitely had the write stuff.

December 26, 2016

Disney Legend Charlie Ridgway, who passed away Dec. 24: There will never be another like him

chuck-schmidt.jpg

charlie3.jpg
Charlie Ridgway conducts an interview on Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World prior to the beginning of WDW's 15th anniversary celebration in 1986. [The Walt Disney Company]


"There will never be another like him."

In the hubbub of the holiday season, the passing of Disney Legend Charlie Ridgway on Dec. 24 may have gone unnoticed to most casual Disney fans ... but not to the people who knew him, worked for him, admired him and flat-out loved him.

"I wanted to let you know that our dear Charlie, 93, passed away today," former Walt Disney World publicity director Rick Sylvain messaged me on Christmas Eve.

Our dear Charlie.

That pretty much sums up the feelings of so many people whose lives were touched by the kind-hearted gentleman from Missouri, whose humble beginnings as a radio disc jockey and Midwestern newspaperman belied his legendary status in Disney's star-studded firmament.

Charlie, the master of spinning Disney's world as the company's chief press agent at both Disneyland and WDW, followed in his father's footsteps and earned a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. Despite his journalism pedigree, he began his career in radio because his father, who covered the agricultural beat for the Chicago Tribune, told him that "newspapers are bound to be a dying breed and encouraged me to get into radio. He was pretty wise."

ridg1.jpg
Charlie sets up a publicity photo of Donald Duck in the shadows of Cinderella Castle. [The Walt Disney Company]

Charlie landed a job at a 5,000-watt radio station in Erie, Pa., in the late 1940s after serving honorably during World War II. After about three years, though, he got a job offer from the Erie Dispatch, "my first job as a newspaperman. That job lasted about a year before I decided I needed to get into a bigger market. I had fallen in love with Los Angeles during the war, so I decided to go out there in 1952."

Charlie, his wife Gretta and their young family moved west, to a sleepy suburb of Los Angeles called Anaheim. He got a job as a general reporter with the Los Angeles Mirror-News and became aware of a construction site near their house when he and his family passed it on their way to the beach on weekends.

That construction site, rising up from large fields of orange groves, was to become Disneyland. It was Charlie Ridgway who was among the first journalists to do a story on Disneyland in early 1955 prior to opening ... and it was Charlie who was among the hundreds of frazzled journalists on hand to cover opening day on July 17, 1955.

Indeed, Charlie covered Disneyland for several years, for both the Los Angeles Mirror-News, then the Long Beach Press-Telegram, before he accepted a job offer from Disneyland in 1963 in the park's publicity department, doing the bulk of the office's writing.

A legendary career with Disney was launched.

From his tiny office above the police station near City Hall, Charlie dreamed up new and creative ways to get the word out on Disneyland, among them the press event he helped set up for the grand opening of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in 1967.

charlie5.jpg
Charlie signs a copy of his book, "Spinning Disney's World," several years ago.

"We sailed all the press people around in the sailing ship Columbia and then came in and fired the cannons and had a big sword fight on the deck." In addition, buccaneers boarded the ship from smaller craft and pirates fell from the ship into the river during their duels. Once the press folks were in a swashbuckling mood, they disembarked the ship and "stormed" the entrance of the Pirates of the Caribbean to gain access.

"I was in on that," Charlie said proudly during an interview with me in early 2014.

In the years that followed, Charlie was the go-to guy when it came to dreaming up fun and creative ways to publicize the park. Then, in 1969, Charlie was asked to move to central Florida to drum up publicity for Walt Disney's "latest and greatest dream" ... Walt Disney World.

"The first trip I made when I took the job at the end of 1969 was to go to New York. I went to Time, Life and Look magazines and all the major newspapers and I also went to Washington to National Geographic."

Look Magazine wanted to be the first publication to have a cover story on WDW, but the Magic Kingdom was still six months from completion. "It was way too early," Charlie said. "There wasn't that much really finished. But we were able to gerrymander things and produce pictures that looked like it was really done."

Charlie also played a key role in the classic photo that appeared on the cover of Life Magazine a few weeks before WDW opened.

charlie2.jpg
The Life Magazine cover prior to the opening of Walt Disney World in 1972 which Charlie Ridgway helped set up. [Life Magazine]

"I suggested we do a mob-scene photo and we carried forward from that point," Charlie said. "We went to Life with the idea and they liked it. They sent down one of their very best photographers [Yale Joel]. He got up on a stand with an 8 x 10 view camera to shoot the picture. Of course, that was the one we shot in front of the castle. We assembled as many cast members [3,000 of the 5,000 on staff at the time] as we could get there."

Charlie also was the architect of many elaborate press events during his years at WDW, events that saw literally thousands of members of the media invited to experience first-hand the magic and wonder of The Vacation Kingdom of the World.

Perhaps the most significant press event in Charlie's eyes was the grand opening of Epcot in October of 1982. It was the first time in broadcast history that television stations from around the country were able to carry an event live, thanks to a still-untested satellite uplink technology. "It was a rather feeble attempt, by today's standards," Charlie said, but it worked beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

It was Charlie at his finest. "We used to sit around marketing meetings dreaming up crazy ideas," he said.

Charlie's "crazy ideas" left a lasting impression on those folks who were privileged to work with him.

charlie7.jpg
The author with Charlie Ridgway during lunch in 1992. [Chuck Schmidt collection]

"I don't think he realizes how important he is to all of us and how much influence he's had on our careers," Michelle Baumann, who was hired by Charlie more than 25 years ago, told me a few years ago. "To give you an idea of what kind of person Charlie was, I was hired back during the time when photo captions had to be pasted onto the backs of the publicity photos, which was pretty tedious and time-consuming, but Charlie would be right there with us, doing the grunt work, not giving it a second thought.

"Every once in a while, we'll be stumped with something and someone in the office will say, 'What would Charlie do?' He made that much of an impression on us."

Rick Sylvain and a bunch of Charlie's "old guard" were scheduled to take him out to lunch on Dec. 14, but the luncheon had to be scrapped because of Charlie's failing health.

"So many of us owe so much to that man," Rick said. "I know he rescued me from a nasty newspaper strike in Detroit in 1995 and launched me on 20 years that I will never forget.

"There will never be another like him."

December 15, 2016

Remembering Walt

Gary Cruise banner

Fifty years ago today, December 15, 1966, the world lost a great man!

His life story has been well documented and I’m sure that those of you reading this are as familiar with his background and his achievements as I am. But on this special day, let’s pause briefly and reflect on the life of Walt Disney and the rich legacy he left for all of us to enjoy.

Walt Disney said “If you can dream it you can do it” and during his life he proved that he was both a dreamer and a doer. He conceived new ideas, daring and wonderful ideas, and then he made them reality.

Yes, he had some significant setbacks over the years but he always rose to the occasion and he overcame them all.

Time Magazine Dec 27 1954

I consider myself very fortunate; I am part of the “Baby Boom Generation” which means that I had the opportunity to see Walt on television every Sunday evening. My entire family watched; Walt was like an uncle, he was warm, caring and always had an interesting or exciting tale to tell us. We seldom missed an episode.

From his humble beginnings he rose to fame and fortune. Walt Disney created an entertainment empire the likes of which the world has never seen. Yet through it all he retained his humility and his focus. To paraphrase one of Walt’s famous quotations, he never forgot that it was all started by a mouse!

Early last summer I had the opportunity to chat with Disney Legend Tom Nabbe who was hired by Walt himself to play Tom Sawyer at Disneyland. As I sat with Tom, enjoying a cocktail in Dayton Ohio, he described his conversations with Walt in the fall of 1955. He was a newsboy at the time; every day after school he sold copies of The Disneyland News in the new theme park. When Tom heard that Walt was planning to build Tom Sawyer’s Island he thought he would be perfect for the role of Tom Sawyer, so he stopped Walt and told him so. That’s the sort of man Walt was, he stopped and listened to a young newsboy. Walt didn’t hire him after that first suggestion, but young Tom was persistent. Over the next six months he would stop Walt almost every time he saw him in the park and ask, “Are you ready to hire me yet Mr. Disney?” Walt would always smile and say, “Not yet, but I’m still thinking about it.”

Then came the pivotal day in May 1956 when Dick Nunis, at that time a manager at Disneyland, led twelve-year-old Tom to the newly built raft landing near Tom Sawyer’s Island. Walt Disney was waiting there and asked, “Do you still want to be Tom Sawyer?” “Yes Mr. Disney, I absolutely do.” Tom replied. His 48 year Disney career began that day.

The reverence Tom Nabbe feels for Walt Disney shone in his eyes throughout our conversation.

Let’s look at the words of a few others who knew Walt personally and worked with him. About 27 years ago the Disney News magazine ran a series of articles, titled “Remembering Walt”, in which some of those people looked back and shared their memories. Click on each image to see a larger, easily readable version.

In the Fall 1989 issue Margaret Kerry, who was the live-action model for Tinker Bell, was featured.

Disney News Fall 1989 page 39

In the Summer 1990 edition Wally Boag, the traveling salesman in the original Golden Horseshoe Revue shared his memories.

Disney News Summer 1990 page 31

In the Fall of 1992 Marc Davis, one of Walt’s “nine old men reflected on the many years he spent working closely with Walt.

Disney News Fall 1992 page 26

The last “Remembering Walt” article, at least the last one in our magazine collection, featured Paul Carlson who had the dubious honour of directing “the Boss” in his first television introductions way back in the mid 1950’s.

Disney News Fall 1993 page 15

Let’s look back at one comment from each of those articles:

Margaret Kerry told us about Walt arriving at a meeting and as someone rose to give him a chair he said, “No, no, no, I’m the one who was late. Sit down.”

Paul Carlson commented, “He told us once that when he gave a guy the responsibility of a director, he also gave him the authority. Whenever I saw him work he would always show respect to the guy he worked with.”

Mark Davis, who worked very closely with Walt for over 30 years told us, “He was a fascinating guy with a lot of ideas, there’s never been anyone like him.”

Wally Boag said, “His mind was brilliant and all of a sudden he was gone. There’s so much more I’d like to have talked to him about.”

Yes Wally, I think we’d all like to talk just a bit more with Walt Disney!

December 12, 2016

A November to remember for Disney Legend Marty Sklar

chuck-schmidt.jpg

ms5.jpg
Mickey Mouse joins Neil Patrick Harris in presenting Marty Sklar with the prestigious Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award on Nov. 1. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

If there's such a thing as a rock star in the world of amusement parks, it's Marty Sklar.

Who else in the vast Disney cast, current or retired, can draw hundreds of adoring fans to book signings or presentations around the country? Who else would spend five hours signing autographs for nearly 500 people after an event in Chicago this past summer? Who else would be sought out by today's generation of Imagineers to offer his unique insight into projects they're currently working on?

That's right. It's Marty Sklar, rock star.

Marty is someone who understands his place in the history of the Walt Disney Company ... and someone who understands how he's viewed by his former colleagues and his legions of fans. Through it all, he's remained humble about his life's work, yet more than willing to give the people what they want when it comes to his knowledge and perspective on all things Disney.

I've always known how important the former leader of Walt Disney Imagineering is to the history of the Walt Disney Company, how influential he's been. Apparently, Walt Disney's family knew it, too.

It was Walt's surviving family members, starting with son-in-law and former Disney CEO Ron Miller, right down to Walt's many grandchildren, who saw fit to honor Marty Sklar as the second recipient of the prestigious Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award at the Walt Disney Family Museum's annual fund-raising gala on Nov. 1.

ms10.jpg
Marty joins the Dapper Dans and belts out a tune with the help of Neil Patrick Harris. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

Marty, surrounded by many members of his own family, as well as numerous members of his extended family, accepted the award in the Grand Californian Resort at Disneyland.

"When Ron Miller called me about the award, of course I said yes," Marty told me during a recent interview. "I felt that in accepting the award, I could be useful in helping to raise money for the museum."

For those who don't know him, that's typical Marty. If you're going to give me an award, he's saying, I might as well turn it into a positive thing for you, too.

"I've tried to help out the museum as much as I can over the years," Marty said. "I've visited the museum at least six times in the 10 years since it opened. It means a lot to me to preserve Walt's legacy. Diane Disney Miller [Walt's daughter and the founder of the museum] was always intent on doing just that. I've always appreciated what she tried to do ... to focus on Walt the man, and what he accomplished. That was always her goal."

In Marty's eyes, the museum is a must-see. "It's hard to get past the first section of the museum, it's so enticing. There's a lot of early Disney memorabilia, things that Walt had recorded. All of us who knew and worked with Walt can really appreciate those things. They didn't whitewash anything. It's the whole story of Walt in a direct and interesting way."

And, Marty noted, the Walt Disney Family Museum is branching out, getting involved in educational programs for children in the San Francisco area.

Marty was pleased that many of his family members were able to attend [son Howard, who lives with his family in Finland, couldn't make it]. But during the evening, "There was one thing I screwed up," he said. "I had written a thank you script that I was going to read, but under the circumstances, it was impossible to do that. I wanted to introduce all my family members in the attendance and I wanted to mention that my wife Leah and I will be celebrating our 60th anniversary next May. I didn't get a chance to mention it; fortunately, Leah wasn't mad at me."

Was this the most important award he's ever received?

"The Disney Legend Award will probably always be No. 1. It's the top award given out by the company. But this award is very special, in part because it's only the second time it's ever been given out [the first recipient was composer Richard Sherman, who was on hand during Marty's big night to sing a special song dedicated to his long-time friend]. They started giving out the award after Diane passed away, and it was the members of her family who said that I should be this year's recipient, so that's quite an honor."

ms6.jpg
Marty Sklar accepts the Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

The night itself was "a lot of fun, in addition to raising a lot of money for the museum," Marty said. Master of ceremonies Neil Patrick Harris surprised Marty by inviting him on stage for an impromptu session with The Dapper Dans, a Disneyland mainstay for decades. "I fumbled a little during the song, but Neil guided me through it."

The Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award was the beginning of a typically busy month for Marty, who turns 83 in February.

Later in the month, Marty flew to central Florida for a whirlwind week that would have exhausted most folks half his age. First, he attended the annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions [IAAPA] convention in Orlando, where he took part in a panel discussion, adding what he called "context about the industry."

"There were something like 30,000 people from all over the world in attendance" during the convention, Marty said. "They even set up new rides in the parking lot outside the convention center. And they had these little kewpie dolls on sale, which I found very reassuring that this amusement business we've been involved with for decades is going to go on."

On Friday, Nov. 18, Marty gave a talk to a group of about 100 Disney Vacation Club cast members at the DVC headquarters in Celebration. Ryan March, the editor of the Disney Files Magazine, served as the moderator. "I like to do things like that," Marty said of the hour-long session in front of a clearly rapt audience. March added that it was Marty who approached him about doing the presentation.

ms1.jpg
Marty is surrounded by his family prior to the Walt Disney Family Museum gala on Nov. 1. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

"It gives me the opportunity to find out what people are thinking. They, of course, look to me to tell them stories of Disney's past in hopes that they can then relate them to what they're doing now. They asked some really good questions, which I really enjoyed."

During the hour-long session, March asked Marty a series of questions about his long career and the many people he's worked with. He started by introducing the Disney Legend to the audience, saying "Marty is one of those rare people who's not interested in who gets the credit," as long as the job is well-done. He then related how Marty started his Disney career in 1955 by creating The Disneyland News, which was sold to guests for 10 cents. To which March added: "I can't believe our company ever sold anything for 10 cents."

Among the questions March asked:

"What's the best advice you ever heard?" Marty: "Don't avoid cliches. They're cliches because they work." That advice came from Star Wars creator George Lucas.

"What did [Disney artist and Legend] Herb Ryman mean when he said 'Poor taste costs no more'?" Marty: "Herb always believed in striving to do your best. He was very clear about that. He believed that if you didn't do your best, lesser ideas would be accepted and become reality."

To reiterate that point, Marty talked about legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who was an inspiration to Marty when he covered the team for the Daily Bruin campus newspaper in the early 1950s. Among Coach Wooden's many famous sayings was this gem: "Make every day your masterpiece."

"People really notice when you don't give it your best shot," Marty added.

In between these events, Marty was invited by several of his Imagineering protégés ["They're all like my kids," he said of the hundreds of people he's inspired over the years] to visit several projects they're currently working on, most notably the much-anticipated Pandora: The World of Avatar land under construction at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Marty came away from that visit amazed. "Guests will be blown away" when the new land opens during the summer of 2017, he said.

ms2.jpg
Marty chats with Neil Patrick Harris in Disney's California Adventure after the awards gala. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

The World of Avatar will feature two cutting-edge attractions, one a boat ride through the Navi River, the other a Soarin'-type flight simulator on the wings of a banshee. "And with Animal Kingdom's new emphasis on night-time shows, Pandora will be over-the-top in the dark," Marty said.

He also was shown the new Frozen attraction at Norway in Epcot and he came away impressed. "The Audio-Animatronics figures are really well-done ... excellent. There was one problem; the boat ride was a little rough in spots."

Marty missed the new holiday show over Lake Buena Vista between the new Disney Springs and Saratoga Resort. "I was sorry I didn't get to see the drones," he said. "From what I've heard, it's really a unique way to present a show outdoors."

To top off his whirlwind week, Marty gave an engrossing presentation at the D23's Destination D: Amazing Adventures, a two-day gathering at The Contemporary Resort. Marty's talk focused on the development of the Adventurelands that are featured in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. He took guests on an audio and visual tour through the early concept days through completion, sprinkling his talk with fascinating stories about many of the people who helped bring those original ideas to life.

During his presentation, Marty showed a photo of Walt Disney talking to guests Disneyland near the entrance of Adventureland. Walt was leaning up against a trash can. "Walt loved to walk through the park and talk to the guests. He wanted to find out what they thought and wanted to see what was working and what wasn't. Here, as you see, Walt's 'office' was a garbage can."

Prior to Marty's presentation at the D23 event, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek updated guests on future attractions coming to Disney, other than Pandora.

Specifically, he mentioned how changes would be coming to Epcot in conjunction with that park's 35th anniversary. Chapek talked about making Epcot "more Disney, more relevant, timeless and more family friendly."

Marty, one of the key architects of Epcot in the 1970s and early 1980s, was happy to hear about the changes. "Over time, a lot of Epcot has become dated. I'm happy to hear they're looking into bringing some new ideas into play. It's time."

After the Destination D event, Marty headed back to southern California, where he ended his month the way he started it: Surrounded by family members for a big celebration, this time Thanksgiving.

Although a bit hectic at times, it was truly, a November to remember for the revered Disney Legend.

ms11.jpg
Members of Walt Disney's family were on hand for the gala. From the left are Jennifer Goff, Tammy Miller, Joanne Miller, Walter Miller and Chris Miller. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]
ms9.jpg
Neil Patrick Harris joins Disney Legend Richard Sherman for a musical tribute to Marty Sklar. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

September 19, 2016

Marty Sklar to be honored by Walt Disney Family Museum

chuck-schmidt.jpg

meet2.jpg
Marty Sklar accepts a donation, bound for Ryman Arts, from Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet founder Don Morin, left, and Beci Mahnken, president of Mouse Fan Travel. [Courtesy of Don Morin]


If Marty Sklar knew how hectic retirement was going to be, there's a chance - albeit a slim chance - he might have eschewed jetting around the world and willingly signed up with the checkers and rocking chair crowd.

Marty retired in 2009 after more than 50 years with the Walt Disney Company, serving as the Vice Chairman of Walt Disney Imagineering over the last years of his storied career. In addition to being the only person to have been in attendance at the opening of all 12 Disney theme parks worldwide, Marty played significant roles in Disney's participation at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, the development of Walt Disney World in the 1970s and the conceptualization of Epcot in the 1980s.

Since retiring, life seems to have become more hectic over the past few years for Marty. Prior to hanging up his nametag and earning a well-deserved window on Main Street at Disneyland, Marty was approached by then-Disney Parks and Resort chairman Jay Rasulo about becoming "a Disney Imagineering ambassador." The job description: Keep spreading the pixie dust ... and in doing so, help to enlist more gifted and talented people to join Disney's creative wing.

Marty gladly accepted, in large part because he knows all too well that he is THE main conduit to Walt Disney, having worked side-by-wide with him for more than a decade as his go-to wordsmith. Marty wrote many of Walt's messages, publicity and marketing materials, as well as Walt's annual report. He also got an intimate look at Walt Disney, the man ... what drove him, what inspired him and what his hopes and dreams were for the entertainment giant he founded way back in the 1920s.

martytalk.jpg
Marty Sklar talks to guests at a D23 event. To his right is Disney legend Bob Gurr, while to his left is fellow Legend X. Atencio. [Deb Wills]

Walt Disney is arguably the single most important person in Marty's life, outside of the family he cherishes. So when Marty talks about Walt during his jam-packed presentations around the country, it's from a place that few people have ever been privy to. It's obvious as people listen to Marty speak, they are hanging on every word, eager to soak in all that he has to ell them.

After settling in as Disney Imagineering Ambassador, Marty took his prolific writing skills to a new level: He wrote his well-received memoir, Dream It! Do It! The success of the book and the subsequent - and often strenuous - book signing tour that resulted spawned a follow-up tome, One Little Spark!, which took a deep dive into what it takes to become a member of Walt Disney Imagineering.

On Nov. 1 at Disney's Grand Californian Resort & Spa, Marty Sklar will be the recipient of the Diane Disney Miller Achievement Award at the Walt Disney Family Museum's second-annual fund-raising gala, putting an exclamation point on a stellar career of making magic. Anyone who is anyone in Disney's vast world will be on hand to show their appreciation to a man who so embodies the spirit, the drive and the inspiration of Walt Disney.

"I'm very honored, and, of course, could not say 'no' when Ron Miller called me," Marty said. Songwriting legend Richard Sherman was the first recipient of the prestigious award last year, named for the Walt's oldest daughter, who passed away in 2013.

Like a passenger on a classic Disney roller coaster, Marty Sklar's retirement years have been much like a high-speed thrill ride. Even though he turns 83 in February, he's taken Jay Rasulo's comment about his appointment - "You are the hardest working ambassador in the world!" - to heart and has flown with it. Literally.

His appearances following the release of One Little Spark! last year are a case in point. "The book tour for One Little Spark! has been going crazy," he said earlier this summer. "I'm just back from the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago – there was an audience of 700 for our presentation. I signed 500 books in five hours!

mschina1.jpg
During his visit to Shanghai Disneyland in July, Marty was interviewed by the Chinese media following the re-release of his book "Dream It! Do It!" in Mandarin. [Cheers Publishing Company]

"Before that, there were 400 people at Fort Worth Museum of Science & History in Texas; 200 at Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, and 300 for a UCLA event at the Chuck Jones Cultural Center in Orange County, California."

If you get the idea that Marty Sklar is a bit of a rock star in the Disney firmament, you wouldn't be far from the truth. His presentations and book signings draw enthusiastic audiences of the young and the young at heart, all seeking words of Disney wisdom from a master story teller. His talks are fact-based without getting bogged down in too much detail, and they often are sprinkled with Marty's dry sense of humor.

Although the book signing tour earlier this year might seem hectic to most, it was actually a prelude to a series of mid-summer jaunts that probably would have exhausted an Olympic athlete.

It started in mid-July when Marty flew from Los Angeles to Shanghai, China, for the opening of Shanghai Disneyland. Marty had some misgivings about going since, as he put it, "On the other 11 parks, I was actively involved. On 10 of them [except for Disneyland Day One], I had an active part in creating them. Shanghai is different; I've had nothing to do with it."

Bob Weis, Walt Disney Imagineering's current creative leader, thought otherwise. "On my watch, he won't miss any openings. He's far too modest. His imprint is on Shanghai, as it is on all the other [parks]." So Marty was on hand for the grand opening, and even spent some time promoting his two books for the Chinese media. Dream It! Do It!, in fact, was re-released in Mandarin to coincide with the park's opening.

He returned to Los Angeles, only to turn around and fly up to Seattle a few days later for the annual Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet, "It's the best-run Disney fan event around," he said. "Don Morin [PNWMM's founder] does a great job and the fans come from all over the country. Saturday's program and sale of Disney stuff was a huge hit. There were 500 in attendance, which included 450 fans [the max] and another 50 sponsors.

mill1.jpg
The late Diane Disney Miller with songwriter Richard Sherman, the first recipient of the Diane Disney Miller Achievement Award. [The Walt Disney Family Museum]

"On Sunday, Bob Gurr and I did a session together - our usual attempt to be clever and funny and also to convey information about working with Walt."

Marty then flew from Seattle across the world to England to join his family for a special occasion: Grandson Gabriel's graduation from the University of Kent in Canterbury. In doing so, Marty had to pass up on an appearance at a Ryman Arts fund-raiser. Ryman Arts is a cause near and dear to Marty and his wife Leah, both of whom were co-founders of the free arts education program named in honor of legendary Disney artist Herb Ryman.

"The graduation took place in Canterbury Cathedral, which was built in 1100, and was the site of much early conflict between church and state, including the murder of Thomas Becket," Marty said.

During an email exchange after his arrival, Marty noted that the time stamp on the missive "really is 5:45 a.m. I'm getting on a fast train at 8 for Canturbury and Gabriel's graduation."

Following the graduation and spending time with his son Howard and his family, there was another long flight back to Los Angeles and home.

When it was suggested that all of his globe-trotting had earned enough frequent flier miles to qualify for a real-life Mission to Mars, Marty was quick with a quip.

"Actually, I think of my Los Angeles-to-Shanghai, then Los Angeles-to-Seattle-to-London-to Los Angeles madness as Mission to Sklars. That's more than enough for one summer!"

Marty won't have to travel too far from home to receive his award on Nov. 1. And it's only fitting that the ceremonies will be held within the confines of Disneyland, a place that's been a second home to him since 1955.

June 20, 2016

Disney fan clubs have captured people's imaginations, and fueled their passion, for years

nwteam.jpg
The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet planning committee. That's founder Don Morin, second from the right. [Courtesy of the Northwest Pacific Mouse Meet]

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

During the weekend of May 14-15, 2011, I attended my first Disney fan convention. I walked through the doors of the Contemporary Resort's Convention Center at Walt Disney World at 8 on that Saturday morning and stepped into a different version of Disney's world ... a world populated by people wearing Mickey Mouse ears and Figment T-shirts, Disney-themed leather jackets and multi-colored vests adorned with the faces of Disney characters ... a world where nostalgia and memories were about to be rekindled and celebrated, with the help of many of the people who played such an integral role in generating all those warm memories in the first place.

I was walking into D23's Destination D: Walt Disney World's 40th. Even though I was a first-time fan event attendee, I felt a kinship with all those in attendance and anxiously looked forward to drinking in everything the two-day experience had to offer.

It turned out I was late on this very important date. Even though the first of the speakers and presenters wouldn't take the stage for another hour and a half, the queue stretched farther than the eye could see, from one side of the massive entrance lobby to the other, then around a corner and beyond. I walked to the end of the line, official event lanyard dangling from my neck, and joined the others, who didn't seem to mind the long line at all.

After the doors opened and everyone filed into the massive auditorium, I began to understand what all the excitement was about: What followed was a weekend worthy of an E Ticket park attraction: Exciting, thrilling, fun and entertaining, with memories that will truly last a lifetime.

D23, of course, is the official fan club of The Walt Disney Company. It was formed in 2009 as a way to keep Disney fans "in the middle of the magic." The group has its own website, throws a huge biennial Expo in California and even publishes its own magazine four times a year.

At each D23 Expo, the past, the present and the future all share the spotlight during the always jammed-to-the-rafters event in Anaheim, Calif. Disney Legends reminisce about their glory days, product displays give attendees an idea of what's hot on the market now, while Disney's top executives take the opportunity to introduce new theme park attractions or upcoming blockbuster movies to appreciative audiences.

In addition to its Expo, D23 offers a variety of events around the country for its members, including behind-the-scenes tours and exclusive movie screenings. On Nov. 19-20, they'll be hosting a major event at Walt Disney World. It's called Destination D: Amazing Adventures, to be held in the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World. Presenters and panelists will include Disney Legends Marty Sklar and Tony Baxter; Walt Disney Imagineers Joe Rohde, Chris Merritt, Jason Grandt and Wyatt Winter; producer Don Hahn (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast); and Walt Disney Archives Director Becky Cline. A selection of exclusive Imagineering merchandise as well as limited-edition pins, T-shirts and collectibles themed to the event will be available for purchase by eager fans.

book.jpg
Disney Legend Marty Sklar signs a copy of his first book, "Dream It! Do It!", during an appearance at a Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet. [Courtesy of the Northwest Pacific Mouse Meet]

But D23 is far from the only Disney fan club out there. Regular gatherings, whether they are once a year, every other year or every few months, are the hallmarks of these groups ... as is their affection for all things Disney. They get together to share that mutual love, reveling in the past while keeping a watchful eye on what's planned for the future.

One of the most popular fan gatherings, the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet, is held in Lynnwood, Wash., outside of Seattle, each year [it'll run from July 9-10]. Guest speakers this year include Disney Legends Bob Gurr and Marty Sklar, as well as Disney artist and historian Stacia Martin. In addition to its main event, the group also hosts smaller 'mini-Meet Ups' throughout the year both locally, in the parks and at other select locations, including at the D23 Expo.

Founded in 2009 by Don Morin, the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet strives to capture the essence of what it means to be a Disney devotee. Morin is proud to say his Mouse Meet is "by Disney fans, for Disney fans."

Morin's love of Disney began in 1974 when his grammar school class was asked to write a report on a famous person from the 1900s. He chose Walt Disney. The experience "had a profound affect on me, for sure," he said. From that point on, with his Disney switch flipped, "I had a desire to learn who was creating all this magic."

stacia.jpg
Stacia Martin, an artist and Disney historian, will be featured during this year's Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet. [Courtesy of the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet]

The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet grew out of that quest to take a deep dive into Disney history and culture. Morin says he devotes hundreds of hours into giving guests as rewarding an experience as possible; he has many hard-working volunteers helping him to achieve that goal. The work includes "prep on so many levels. Contacting vendors and guest celebrity speakers; working with the convention center and the volunteer team; updating the website; planning, building displays and securing photo ops; writing, producing and recording videos, scripts, travel, set-up and so much more. It's definitely a love and a passion for what I do for Disney fans."

This year's event is already sold out, with a crowd of about 500 fellow Disney fanatics expected to be on hand for presentations, product displays, memorabilia sales and, as an added treat, Dole Whips.

Marty Sklar, the former creative leader of Walt Disney Imagineering, has high praise for the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet and Don Morin.

"It's the second time for me, and I know it is for Bob [Gurr]. Don Morin runs such a great show and is a grand host. He's had Tony Baxter, Don Hahn, Kevin Rafferty and many other Disney and Pixar people participate in the past."

Getting Disney's blessing is a major coup for Morin. In 2015, D23 participated in the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet by supplying guest speakers. This year, D23 will be a sponsor. [The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet has a number of sponsors, including AllEars.Net].

"Earning the respect and partnership of so many people over the years has been key to longevity, growth and building of the PNW Mouse Meet brand," Morin said. "From early on, guest celebrities have been so impressed with the event, how it is run, what it represents and what it offers the guests, that these guest celebrities go back home and talk to others about the event and even recommend them being a part of the event in the future.

"One Disney Legend has been noted as stating several times, 'The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet is by far the best fan run Disney fan event in the country.'"

During the 2013 event, Morin presented a donation to Marty Sklar earmarked for Ryman Arts, a cause near and dear to Marty's heart [he and his wife Leah, as well as Lucille Ryman Carroll, Sharon Disney Lund and Harrison and Anne Shaw Price founded the arts education group in 1990 in honor of Disney Legend Herb Ryman].

disneyana.jpg
A poster advertises the upcoming Disneyana Fan Club event where proceeds will benefit Ryman Arts. [Courtesy of Disneyana Fan Club]

Another well-known Disney fan group, the Disneyana Fan Club, will be holding a dinner and fundraising event of its own on July 13 in Garden Grove, Calif., with proceeds also going to Ryman Arts. "This event is our 'big' fundraiser for Ryman Arts," said Dennis Ritchey, Ryman Arts Fund Raising Event Coordinator for the Disneyana Fan Club. "This will be our 10th year doing this and currently we are about $4,000 away from having donated $100,000 to Ryman Arts over the past 10 years." The club also holds fundraisers throughout the year for other worthy causes.

The Disneyana Fan Club is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich legacy of Walt Disney. Its common goal is to provide Disneyana enthusiasts of all ages from around the world with news, information and events that enhance their experience with, and love of, all things Disney. The group also publishes a member newsletter, called the Disneyana Dispatch.

The Disneyana Fan Club holds an annual gathering, called DisneyanaMania Convention, July 13-16, while staging other events at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

"In addition to our annual convention in July, we usually have several special events," Ritchey noted. "Last year, we had an event at the Smoke Tree Ranch, and a great afternoon at the Jim Henson Studios in Hollywood, where Lisa Henson accepted our Legends Award posthumously for her father."

Cathy Perrone, a Disneyana Fan Club board member in charge of special events, adds that the group "hosts events that showcase some of the finest talent the Disney brand has to offer. ... A recent outing was a weekend at Walt's 'happy place,' Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs. Our group was able to see Walt and Lillian's two homes, learning why they were so special to them."

Ms. Perrone added that Disneyana Fan Club prides itself "in bringing 'intimate' experiences so our members and their guests are able to speak to, shake hands with and, yes, get autographs and pose for pictures" with some of Disney's most prominent Legends.

"One of our personal favorites was a magnificent luncheon in the Magic Kingdom Ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel. There, we were treated to a rare opportunity with eight of the original Mouseketeers. They surprised us with interviews, live music and dance. To top off that special day, Tommy Cole sang 'Annette,' which was written by Disney Legend Jimmy Dodd."

At its DisneyanaMania Convention, "we have an annual Luncheon with a Disney Legend. This is an opportunity for our organization to honor and salute those individuals who have helped make so many of our dreams come true through their talents, skills and artistry.

"We began this tradition in 1993 and to date have bestowed this honor to 137 individuals," Ms.Perrone added. "While a few have been presented posthumously, I'd say 98 percent of all those honored were able to attend in person and were very moved by this honor. It is a highlight of our club and one that makes it very special."

According to Ritchey, "there are Disneyana Fan Club chapters throughout the country and we have members worldwide."

There are other clubs out there, as well ... smaller, less well-known, perhaps, but drawing devoted Disney fans to the fold. Many are popular online sites, some are tied to the Disney Vacation Club, like Mouseowners. But all have one thing in common: A desire by its participants to spread the word about Disney and share their thoughts, ideas and opinions about their passion.

May 23, 2016

Tom Nabbe, Disneyland's Tom Sawyer, had a big hand in bringing Walt Disney World's monorail system to life

tom2.jpg
Tom Nabbe poses for a photo in 1957 on Tom Sawyer Island. [Courtesy of Tom Nabbe]


CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

To many people, riding the monorail at Walt Disney World is one of those must-do experiences when they make it down to the Vacation Kingdom of the World.

For one thing, the monorails are free. For another, they're air-conditioned [a true blessing during the scorching summer months]. They offer panoramic views of the property, and let's face it: What tops actually riding through a hotel's Grand Concourse the way the monorails glide in and out of the Contemporary Resort? And, when compared to most of the popular attractions inside the four parks, there's usually not much of a wait.

When monorails were first introduced at Disneyland in 1959, they were truly a futuristic mode of transportation ... a glimpse at what moving large quantities of people in an efficient, timely manner might look like in the not-too-distant future.

Although they've never really caught on as was hoped, they remain an iconic presence at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Tom Nabbe, who was hired by Walt Disney in 1955 to play the roles of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn on Tom Sawyer Island, remembers seeing the monorails when they debuted in 1959, wanting very much to pilot one of those Buck Rogers-inspired vehicles.

By 1959, he had outgrown his role as Mark Twain's mischievous youngsters and had transitioned into a ride operator, primarily for the Jungle Cruise and Submarine Voyage attractions. But the monorails seemed to be calling his name. "At the time, the steam trains and monorails were run by Retlaw [a division in the Walt Disney Company which was owned by heirs within the Disney family; Retlaw is Walter spelled backwards] and you had to be at least six feet tall to operate them."

The vertically challenged Nabbe refused to let that stop him, however. He was persistent, to say the least. When he didn't have an assigned shift at the park, he'd show up anyway. "I'd sit in the operations office and hope for people to call in sick or that the park would get real busy. If that happened, the supervisor knew I was there, so he didn't have to call around to get somebody else to come in." If he wasn't needed on a particular day, "I'd head off to the beach and go surfing."

In the mid-1960s, when word began filtering through the Disney cast member ranks that the company was looking for experienced operators to help open a new Disney theme park in central Florida, Tom was well-positioned for the big career shift. "I couldn't think of many people more qualified than me, since I had been at Disneyland since opening day and it was Walt himself who hired me."

mono1.jpg
The Disneyland monorail, with just three cars, pulls into the station near Tomorrowland. [The Walt Disney Company]

He also had the respect of his immediate boss, Pete Crimmings, who encouraged him to take on more of a supervisory role at Disneyland, all with an eye to making the big move to Walt Disney World. After several years learning the management ropes under friend and mentor Crimmings, Tom was ready to head east and take on new challenges.

Tom and his wife Janice were part of a small army of Disneyland cast members who relocated from southern California to central Florida to help bring Walt's "latest and greatest dream" to life. The Nabbes moved in January of 1971.

Once they arrived and settled in the Orlando area, Tom finally got his chance to work on the monorails, overseeing the construction of the stations and the beamways that would service the Magic Kingdom and the two resorts [Contemporary and Polynesian] that bordered on the Seven Seas Lagoon.

"We built the whole system on swampland," he told me. "I was involved in the layout of the stations, as well as major decisions involving the beams for the monorails. The beams were built in Tacoma, Washington, and shipped here to Florida by rail."

Tom recounts how, as the beam-laden train was making its way through Georgia, it rounded a sharp curve. "Two 110-foot beams rolled off the train," he said. Those two beams were scheduled to be placed right outside the Contemporary Resort. Two new beams were quickly re-manufactured and sent to Florida, but "they never quite matched up with the originals. You can feel it today ... a little transition right as you roll over those two beams."

Tom became an expert on those monorail beams while helping to get the entire system up and running. "The beams are made up of stainless steel tubes and cables welded together, all pulled tight under stress."

He would routinely walk on the beams as a way to "check the loop, foot by foot," to get a "feel" for each of them. He'd walk from the Transportation and Ticket Center station up the gradual incline to the Contemporary, check the station there, then walk the beam down to the Magic Kingdom station. Then he'd make the long walk, over marshland and the Seven Seas Lagoon, to the Polynesian [the Grand Floridian was still years away from being built].

mono3.jpg
The monorail exits the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World. Yes, Tom Nabbe actually walked along those beams during the construction phase of the system. [The Walt Disney Company]

The beam is 60 feet off the ground at its highest point at the Contemporary. It also is about 30 inches wide, which didn't leave much room for error as Tom went on his regular jaunts. "It was the only way I could move through all the stations during times of heavy construction," he said. "It wasn't that bad being up there, as long as it wasn't windy."

There are several differences between the monorails in Disneyland and those in operation at Walt Disney World. For one, passengers on board a Disneyland monorails can cool off by opening a window. For another, the Disneyland monorails only operate in one direction, making their way through Disneyland Park, California Adventure and the Downtown Disney District in one continuous loop.

"To reverse the Disneyland monorails, you can only go 2 or 3 miles per hour," Tom said. "If they backed up any faster, connection shoes that operated off a bus bar would derail. The monorails at Disney World were designed to go in both directions."

During WDW's early days, the monorails went in both directions on a daily basis. "I learned real quick that everyone wanted to go through the Contemporary," he said. "If guests arrived in the morning, and didn't go through the Contemporary, they'd stay on the monorail for an extra trip. As soon as we figured this out, we adjusted. At about 4 in the afternoon, we'd switch the direction of the train" [so guests leaving the park would get to experience the trip through the Contemporary's still-spectacular Grand Concourse].

In the beginning, the WDW monorails consisted of five cars per train. The capacity was about 120 guests. "Improvements were made over the years with six-car trains, standing room and additional doors ... 22 doors on each side of the train," Tom said. "You'd push a button to open all 22 doors simultaneously. All the doors had to be closed together. Inevitably, we would pinch somebody's hand or arm." Disneyland's monorail doors only open on one side, while at WDW [at least at the Magic Kingdom station] guests board and exit using both sides of the cars.

The Magic Kingdom station at Walt Disney World, easily the busiest station on property, needed the most "tweaking" in the months after the park opened.

"It was because of the Florida rains," Tom said. "When it started to rain there was only enough room to unload maybe one train load of guests under cover on the outside of the Magic Kingdom station platform. Then we would have to shut down the operation until we could clear the station platform of guests. Sometimes we would just park a train in the station and let the guests sit there until the rain would let up.

"But we could unload five to six trains of guests onto the center of the station platform. We set up temporary holding areas and gates until the station could be redesigned and modified to fit the new S.O.P. [standard operating procedure]. The down ramps needed to be covered and all of the direction signage for the local and express monorails needed to be relocated to the bottom of the new entrance ramps.

"Every day was a new learning curve for us!"

I asked Tom if there ever was any thought given to expanding the monorail system beyond the Magic Kingdom/Epcot lines.

tom3.jpg
Tom Nabbe as he appeared on the cover of Parade Magazine in 1957. [Courtesy of Tom Nabbe]

"If you go back to the original drawings, the monorail system went to an industrial park off Route 192, then Epcot, then the Magic Kingdom and, finally, the hotels," Tom said. "Actually, there were three destinations, if you look at the original map that Walt is standing in front of [when he first introduced the world to Walt Disney World in the Florida Project film]. The Transportation and Ticket Center was in the north end of loop.

"The original monorail was very expensive, about two to three million dollars to build a mile of track" ... which goes a long way in explaining why the monorail system hasn't been expanded to, say, Animal Kingdom.

Once the monorails were up and running efficiently, Tom's career segued into more behind-the-scenes challenges: He took on supervisory roles in WDW's massive logistical warehouses, assisting in the openings of Epcot and Disneyland Paris. For a guy who was very much in the spotlight at a very early age, playing the roles of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn at Disneyland [he even had his photo on the cover of Parade Magazine in 1957], he made a smooth transition into those less visible, yet vitally important backstage roles.

For all of his efforts throughout his 48-year career with Disney, he received a window on Main Street in Walt Disney World in his honor [it's behind the Main Street Cinema marquee], as well as recognition as a Disney Legend.

For more on Tom Nabbe's fascinating career, get your hands on a copy of his book, From Disneyland's Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend: The Adventures of Tom Nabbe.

May 9, 2016

Jack Lindquist: A rich legacy and a fun-filled career with the Walt Disney Company

jack6.jpg
Jack Lindquist and Mickey Mouse appear at a function held at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., where Jack was a trustee. [Courtesy of Chapman University]

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy About Disney
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

In May of 2011, at Walt Disney World's 40th anniversary celebration, Jack Lindquist had this to say about fellow Disney Legend Marty Sklar:

"Marty was always a big troublemaker. He'd bring water guns to work and, right there in our offices above City Hall in Disneyland, we'd have shootouts! Either that, or he was always throwing footballs around the place."

Turns out, The Master of Fun was just getting started.

There followed another story, this one about Jack's used Cadillac, a series of blown head gaskets, an engine fire and Marty laughing so hard that he had to relieve himself in a nearby orange grove adjacent to Disneyland.

Long-time friends can do that -- poke fun at one another in a good-natured way and tell hilarious stories about each other without hesitation -- because they've experienced so much together and their bond is that strong, that enduring.

The friendship between Jack Lindquist and Marty Sklar began in 1955 when the two were members of Disneyland's first publicity department, and it lasted more than 60 years. Although the two followed different paths during their decades-long careers with the Walt Disney Company -- after first making his mark dreaming up unique ways to market Disneyland, Jack would go on to become the first president of the park, while Marty would head up Walt Disney Imagineering -- they remained close through it all.

"It's always fun to spend time with Marty," Jack told me last summer during a phone interview that Marty helped set up. "We've been good friends for 60 years. We had offices right next to each other above City Hall at Disneyland." It was in those offices where some of their most creative marketing strategies took root ... and where the two often engaged in those spirited water-gun battles.

"He was a Bruin [Marty graduated from UCLA] and I was a Trojan [that would be bitter rival USC], but despite that, we've remained the best of friends."

prteam.jpg
Disneyland's public relations team posed for this photo in 1957. Pictured are, front row, seated, left to right: Phil Bauer, graphic artist; Dorothy Manes, in charge of group sales and children's groups; Marty Sklar, in his early 20s; Eleanor Heldt, group sales manager, and Milt Albright, promotions. Second row, standing, left to right: Charlie Nichols, head photographer; Jack Lindquist; Eddie Meck, publicity; Ed Ettinger, Division Director; Carl Frith, photographer; Lee Cake, publicity writer, Frank Forsyth, Vacationland Magazine distributor. [The Walt Disney Company]

Indeed, having fun while still keeping his eye on the prize made Jack Lindquist such a special person among his colleagues. "Jack really was one-of-a-kind," Marty said recently.

When Marty Sklar retired in 2009, he was given a window in his honor in Disneyland. It was placed on City Hall, appropriately, on the opposite side of the building where Jack Lindquist's window was placed. Marty's window lauds him as "Dean, Main Street College of Arts and Sciences," while Jack's proclaims him "Honorary Mayor of Disneyland" and calls him "The Master of Fun."

"Jack and I worked together when he was advertising manager at Disneyland," Marty said. "He's got the only other window on City Hall, so the two of us are kind of bracketed" ... which is appropriate on so many levels. At Marty's window dedication on July 17, 2009, Jack kept the audience in stitches with several wonderful stories about experiences they both shared.

The placement of their windows insured that they will remain together, forever, at a place that was near and dear to both men.

Jack Lindquist passed away on Feb. 28 at the age of 88, leaving behind a legacy of accomplishments that few, if any, will match ... as well as a loving family, many dear friends and former colleagues, and countless people who were influenced by his innovative marketing strategies.

In those early days at Disneyland, the success of the park "wasn't a slam dunk," Marty recalled. That's why the work of the marketing department -- and Jack Lindquist in particular -- was so crucial.

Jack was an outsider looking in when Disneyland was under construction in 1954. He was working in marketing for Kelvinator, one of Disneyland's many corporate sponsors, and was given access to the park during construction. He was in attendance when the park opened on July 17, 1955, and was witness to the chaos of that first day. Still, he was quickly enamored with The Happiest Place on Earth.

jack4.jpg
Jack Lindquist, who topped off his long and distinguished career by being named Disneyland's first president, was honored as a Disney Legend in 1994. [The Walt Disney Company]


A few weeks after the park opened, Jack was approached by a Disneyland representative and was asked if he could recommend someone for the position of marketing manager at Disneyland. "The job looked pretty good, so I recommended myself," he said. "Since there was no one else in marketing at the time, I was the manager of nothing. So I guess I did an excellent job!"

All kidding aside, he did do an excellent job. Out of that fledgling department came ideas like The Magic Kingdom Club, Disney Dollars, Grad Nites and the Disneyland Ambassador Program. The department would quickly grow and add many key people, all of whom played important roles in the long-term success of Disneyland.

Jack was a proponent of celebrating anniversaries and turning them into huge park promotions. His first -- Disneyland's Tencennial -- helped spur highly successful marketing promos at the other Disney properties over the years. He also dreamed up the now-iconic "I'm going to Disney World!" post-Super Bowl promotion.

In early 1957, members of the department gathered for a group photo. I was given a copy of that photo by the folks at Walt Disney Imagineering and both Marty and Jack helped supply the IDs for "the cast of characters," as Marty called them, in the picture, which was taken in Frontierland.

They were Phil Bauer, a graphic artist; Dorothy Manes, who was in charge of group sales and children's groups; Marty Sklar; Eleanor Heldt, group sales manager; Milt Albright, promotions; Charlie Nichols, head photographer; Jack Lindquist; Eddie Meck, publicity; Ed Ettinger, public relations Division Director; Carl Frith, photographer; Lee Cake, publicity writer, and Frank Forsyth, magazine distributor.

In addition to Marty and Jack, Eddie Meck and Milt Albright would go on to achieve Disney's highest accolade -- Disney Legend status. Meck was a well-known figure in the movie industry before he came to work for Disneyland, while Albright worked in finance before being transferred to the PR department, where he made many significant contributions.

According to Marty, the people in the photo "were my close colleagues until 1961, when Walt moved me to WED [the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering] to work on the New York World's Fair. This was the group I worked with in the summer of 1955 and when I returned to Disneyland in September of 1956 after graduation from UCLA."

Although Marty was able to identify most of the people in the photo, it was Jack who provided me with the IDs of the two women seated to Marty's left and right. "Glad to help," Jack wrote in an email. "The women in the picture are Eleanor Heldt, group sales manager, and Dorothy Manes, group sales staff for youth programs. As for the other things you want to talk about, there's too much to write. Call me and we can talk."

I called Jack bright and early a week later and we chatted for about 45 minutes. He was an absolute pleasure to speak to, sharing warm memories and intricate details from his storied career.

During my interview with Jack, he expanded on women's roles in Disneyland. "Group sales probably had more women working in non-secretarial positions than any other jobs in the park," he said. "In the 1950s, that was rather unusual."

He went on the say that Dorothy Manes "worked at a kids' amusement park up in the Bay Area and Walt somehow happened to go to this park and met her and ended up hiring her to do youth programs at Disneyland."

Jack's accomplishments are legendary, not only within Disney's ranks, but in corporate America, as well.

jack7.jpg
Jack Lindquist rides with Walt Disney during a Christmas parade in Disneyland. [The Walt Disney Company]

It was Jack Lindquist who came up with the idea of selling tickets for special events in advance. In 1957, Disneyland decided to hold its first New Year's Eve celebration. Jack thought it would be a great idea to make the night a special ticketed event, but 5,000 tickets needed to be sold just to break even. Since there were no guarantees 5,000 people would show up that night, Jack directed that tickets be sold weeks ahead of time at a variety of businesses in Hollywood, Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The night was a big success and the idea of advance-sale tickets caught on throughout the entertainment industry. "In those days, nobody sold advanced tickets," Jack said. "If you wanted a ticket, you went to the venue the day of the event."

Vacationland Magazine was another of Jack's promotional gems that helped generate tremendous interest in Disneyland and, in turn, solidify the park's long-term success.

"When Marty and I created Vacationland Magazine, we wanted to use the theory of reaching people with something different," Jack said. "Most of the hotels and motels throughout California [in the mid- to late 1950s] used to have racks in their lobbies. On these racks, all of the attractions throughout the state were featured in pamphlets. We didn't want to do the same old thing. So Marty and I developed the magazine concept; Marty was the editor and I did the marketing."

Originally, the magazine was called Disneyland Holiday. "But the people at Holiday Magazine were not happy with us using that name," Jack said. Still, "the magazine was a tremendous tool for Disney, very unique. It had all the information on the park, but it also had all the things happening in the area, not just Disneyland ... Knott's Berry Farm, Catalina Island and so on. At its height, in California, Nevada and Arizona, I think we distributed 300,000 magazines, four times a year."

As far as getting the product to the public, "we hired two guys [Bill Schwenn and Frank Forsyth] who delivered all the magazines," Jack said. "They were on the road most of the time and they built a tremendous rapport throughout the area. Everyone got to know them and like them.

"It was one of those ideas that worked beyond our wildest dreams."

Ideas that worked. That was the hallmark of Jack Lindquist's distinguished career. "We were willing to try anything, because there were no precedents," he said.

It didn't matter how or why he came up with those ideas ... just as long as they got the desired result: Promoting Disney in a fun and imaginative way.

Case in point: The giant Mickey Mouse head crop circle carved out of cornfields in Iowa to celebrate Mickey's 60th birthday in 1988, visible to any and all aircraft flying overhead. His colleagues believed that Jack probably got the idea while flying cross-country in Walt's company plane.

jack1.jpg
Jack Lindquist proudly wears a pair of Mickey Mouse ears during Disneyland's 50th birthday celebration in 2005. [The Walt Disney Company]

Jack also played a key role in setting up the marketing strategies for Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. He had a hand in signing up several countries' companies to join the World Showcase lineup at Epcot. During those endeavors, Jack was reunited with his old buddy from their Disneyland PR days, Marty Sklar.

"When Jack autographed a copy of his memoir, In Service to the Mouse, for me he wrote: 'It's been quite a ride!' We were great friends and colleagues for almost 60 years – we both 'grew up' in marketing and publicity in the early days of Disneyland, when [as Jack liked to say], 'we didn't know what wouldn't work, so we tried anything!'

"Jack pioneered marketing in the theme park industry around the world. One of my proudest accomplishments, together with a few others in the industry, was finally getting Jack inducted last November into the Hall of Fame of IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions). He deserved it for many years!

"Jack was a mentor to countless marketing people in the theme park industry. Beyond that: other than Walt Disney himself, I think Jack Lindquist was 'Mr. Disneyland' in Orange County. He represented the values and highest standards that Walt Disney wanted Disneyland to stand for, and he did it with such dedication that it never felt as though he was selling – he believed 100 percent in the product."

After his retirement from Disney in 1993, Jack formed The Lindquist Group, a distinguished marketing consulting firm. He also became a trustee at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. Chapman's president, Jim Doti, spoke in glowing terms at a memorial service for Jack.

"Jack and I frequently had breakfast together, usually at Rockwells in Villa Park," Doti said. "He was my marketing guru, and I learned so much from him. Jack was also my friend, my mentor and my hero.

"In addition to becoming a Chapman trustee, Jack provided dedicated and exemplary leadership through his involvement with Orange County's professional sports teams and convention and visitor bureaus as well as organizations like the Boy Scouts and Bowers Museum."

Fittingly, Marty Sklar was a speaker at another memorial celebration held in Jack's honor. "A great event that Disney staged," Marty said. "I'm using what I said as the core of my column for the Disney Vacation Club's Fall Disney Files magazine."

To be sure, it's going to be a fun-filled tribute, chock-full of many great stories ... and plenty of love, from one dear friend to another.

March 28, 2016

In greenlighting Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland, Card Walker cemented his Disney legacy

cardtokyo.png
Walt Disney Company president Card Walker, left, and Masatomo Takahashi of the Oriental Land Co. sign an agreement in 1974 to join forces in the creation of Tokyo Disneyland. [The Walt Disney Company]

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy About Disney
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

On Oct. 24, 1982, E. Cardon Walker stepped onto a small podium in front of a giant geodesic dome known as Spaceship Earth and read the following words:

"To all who come to this place of joy, hope and friendship, welcome. Epcot Center is inspired by Walt Disney's creative genius. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, the wonders of enterprise, and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all. May Epcot Center entertain, inform and inspire. And, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man's ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere."

With that short dedication speech, Card Walker opened the gates to Epcot, bringing to a close a decades-long odyssey that began with a sketch on a napkin by Walt Disney. Over that time span, Epcot evolved from Walt's concept of a futuristic city of tomorrow into an eclectic, two-pronged experience: Future World, where technological advances and glimpses into innovative products on the horizon would be displayed, all in an atmosphere conducive to learning; and World Showcase, where several of the world's countries would be able to show off all their nations had to offer ... kind of a permanent world's fair.

>cardep.jpg.jpg
Card Walker reads the dedication during opening day ceremonies for Epcot Center on Oct. 24, 1982. [The Walt Disney Company]

Right from the start, Epcot was different, unlike anything that had ever been created before ... or, frankly, since. While most people were blown away by the shear innovative nature of the place, as well as the richly detailed architecture in World Showcase and the product displays [such as cell phones and personal computers] in Future World, some people were puzzled. Many surmised that if the Magic Kingdom was mainly for kids, then Epcot was a place devoted strictly for adults.

For one thing, Epcot in 1982 was devoid of thrill rides and, for that matter, lacking in any sort of amusements for young children. For another, the Disney characters, so prevalent in the Magic Kingdom, were virtual no-shows at Epcot during the early days.

But Epcot, like every other Disney theme park after their openings, evolved and changed to meet public demand, and after a few years, the park hit its stride and became an overwhelming success.

What many people don't realize or appreciate is that during the design and construction of Epcot, Card Walker and the Walt Disney Company had undertaken the unprecedented task of building another theme park ... this one, thousands of miles, one vast ocean and another continent away. A Japanese firm named Oriental Land Co. Ltd. had approached Disney in 1974, inquiring about the possibility of building a Disney park in the Land of the Rising Sun. Oriental Land Co. did an extensive feasibility study, met with many of Disney's corporate leaders and even took them on a helicopter tour of the proposed site.

Building Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland almost concurrently "split our staff quite a bit," recalls former Walt Disney Imagineering leader Marty Sklar. "At the point where we were in the height of construction at the two sites, we were the largest design company in the world. We had to take some of our best people and send them to Japan."

The projects pushed Disney's creative staff to the limit. "It meant that a lot of people were doing double duty," Marty added. "We had to designate people that had to live in Japan because the Japanese had no idea how to do the things that were needed to build a park. We used a lot of outside help in both projects. In building Epcot, there were so many different pieces, so many different contractors. We needed people from just about very craft that you can imagine.

tokyo1.jpg
With Cinderella Castle as a beautiful backdrop, Disney's fabled Partners statue adorns The Hub area of Tokyo Disneyland. [Gregg Schmidt]

"In Tokyo, we were dealing with landfill for the first time. [Tokyo Disneyland] is built all on reclaimed land. What they have there is something called differential settlement. Even today, the castle there is actually on jacks, and the jacks have to be adjusted from time to time. One part will drop, because different parts of what's underneath are going to change character ... drop an inch or two. So they're dealing with differential settlement on a regular basis."

While building a Disney park in Japan offered many new challenges, then-Disney president Card Walker had to come to grips with something on a deeply personal level: Some 35 years before Disney and Oriental Land joined forces, Walker served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during the war against Japan. He was a flight deck officer aboard the USS Bunker Hill, which fought in eight battles between 1943 and 1945.

"Card had a really tough time dealing with the Japanese," Marty said. "The hardest part for him was coming to grips with the loss of so many of the people he served with on the carrier. Many of them were his friends."

Walker eventually came to terms with the dilemma and Disney and Oriental Land forged a strong partnership. Eleven years after Oriental Land had begun exploring the possibility of creating a theme park in Japan - and roughly nine years after design and construction had commenced on the Disney-Oriental project - Tokyo Disneyland opened its gates on a rainy April 15, 1983.

tokyo2.jpg
A topiary of Mickey Mouse can be seen outside the entrance of the Tokyo Disneyland Resort. [Gregg Schmidt]

Before the gates opened, Masatomo Takahashi, president of Oriental Land, and Walker cut a ceremonial tape with Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters looking on.

In front of about 3,000 opening-day guests, Mr. Takahashi addressed the attendees from a platform set up in World Bazaar: "On this day, April 15, 1983, I declare the opening of Tokyo Disneyland!"

Card Walker offered the following words of dedication, just six months after doing similar honors at Epcot:

"To all of you who come to this happy place, welcome. Here you will discover enchanted lands of Fantasy and Adventure, Yesterday and Tomorrow. May Tokyo Disneyland be an eternal source of joy, laughter, inspiration, and imagination to the people of the world. And may this magical kingdom be an enduring symbol of the spirit of cooperation and friendship between the great nations of Japan and the United States of America."

Soon after the opening of Tokyo Disneyland, Walker retired as an executive, but continued to serve as a consultant to the company until 1990. After 61 years of service - which started in the Disney Studios mailroom - Card Walker retired from the board of directors in 1999 and was designated an emeritus member of the board.

He died on Nov. 28, 2005, in La Cañada Flintridge, Calif., his legacy firmly established, his contributions to the company legendary ... and his debt to Walt Disney more than paid off.

March 14, 2016

Card Walker gets the ball rolling on Epcot

epcot1.jpg
Spaceship Earth, Epcot Center's icon, during the early stages of construction. [The Walt Disney Company]


CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney
AllEars.net Guest Blogger

"What are we going to do about Epcot?"

With those words, first spoken in 1974, then-Disney president Card Walker got the ball rolling on what is arguably the most ambitious project ever taken on by the Walt Disney Company after Walt's death in 1966.

According to former Walt Disney Imagineering leader Marty Sklar: "That was the start of eight years of figuring out what to do, and it was a pretty fantastic eight years, I must say. But that was really the start. I give Card a lot of credit, because he didn't let that dream die."

"That dream" was Walt Disney's vision for a city of the future, a Utopian complex that would tackle the problem of urban blight and would introduce new, forward-thinking ideas on how to improve the human condition.

"Some aspects, some version [of Walt's Epcot concept] would have happened and it would have changed a lot, because the evolution of these projects is so dynamic," Marty said. "I have this ad I kept in my office all the time. It was from IBM. It said 'The Future is a Moving Target.' And nobody saw that as clearly as Walt Disney did, believe me."

Once Card Walker decided to give the go-ahead for Epcot, it was up to a team of individuals -- Marty Sklar, John Hench, Carl Borgirno, Don Edgren, Jack Lindquist and Randy Bright among them -- to figure out exactly what Epcot's mission should be ... and, perhaps more importantly, how that vision would be paid for.

epcot2.jpg
An aerial view of Epcot during construction, with Spaceship Earth taking shape and many of the monorail beams in place. [The Walt Disney Company]

From the outset, the team was emphatic what Epcot shouldn't be ... namely, another theme park. "If you think about it, at that time, and even today, it had to have that contrast," Marty said. "Why should we go into competition with ourselves? So the contrast was good."

So the team embarked on a crusade of sorts, reaching out to a variety of leaders from a diverse field to get their thoughts and ideas on the ambitious, first-of-its-kind project.

"We decided we had to test the water, so we held what we called The Epcot Future Technology Forums, starting in 1976," Marty said. "Ray Bradbury [the noted science fiction writer who contributed to Epcot's communication theme] was the first speaker. And we invited people from academia, from government, from corporations and just smart people that we found through our research and it was really fascinating because we had these long discussions.

"We'd show Walt's film and we had translated that into potential directions. It was very early on. And after every one of these conferences, these people would say to us, 'The public doesn't trust government to do this, the public doesn't trust what industry tells them, but they trust Mickey Mouse. So you guys have a role in this.' Well, that was very nice to hear people say that, but what the heck do you do about that?

"I went back to Card Walker, who was a marketing man from his experiences with the studio, and we decided to go back to the whole idea that Walt had said, that no one company can do this by itself. And that's when we started going out to all the big corporations and said, 'OK, here's what we're planning to do and we want you to be part it.'"

epcot4.jpg
Walt Disney Imagineering leader Marty Sklar on-site during Epcot's construction. [The Walt Disney Company]

Getting American industry to fall in line "was a huge selling job," Marty remembers. General Motors was the first company to hear the pitch about Epcot. The automotive giant had put together a committee of its own, called The Scenario 2000 Advisory Committee, which was formed to help chart GM's course for the future.

So Marty and company "packed up two truckloads of models and artwork and we hired John McClure Sr. John had been the art director for the Hall of Presidents, but more importantly, he was one of the great art directors in Hollywood. He did Hello, Dolly and Cleopatra, among other things, so John set up our presentation.

"They gave us their whole design center in Warren, Michigan. They had an area where they introduced their cars. It was big ... huge. They gave us the whole thing. We set up these models and Card Walker put together all the people that were key to the project — Donn Tatum, Dick Nunis, Jack Lindquist and the new Disney Channel people, who were just getting started. Everybody that was gonna be part of making this thing work" was there.

"We made a big presentation to Roger Smith and his Scenario 2000 Advisory Committee, and when we were finished, Roger said 'I want to do this. There's only one problem: I've got to convince my management.' He was the vice president of finance at the time, later chairman. Jack Lindquist and I were left behind and the next day, at 7 o'clock in the morning, we made a presentation to Pete Estes, the president of GM, and they became the first ones to sign a contract at the end of 1978."

Suddenly, corporate America became intrigued with this exciting Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

General Motors' participation "broke the dam, if you will, and Exxon was right behind them," Marty said. "We made so many presentations that we figured out that we couldn't get the top people to go to Florida or California, so we went to RCA and said, 'Do you have a place that we could set up as a presentation center,' and they did.

"They had a recording studio at the Avenue of the Americas and 46th Street where Andre Costellanez used to do his recordings and they said we could have it for a year. And so we rented it and we brought all our models and artwork and we put a staff there and any time of the day or week, if we wanted to set up a meeting, with companies headquartered in the New York area, as most of them were in those days, they could call up and say, 'Yeah, I'd like to have my chairman come in and see your project.'"

At that point in time, Epcot had morphed from a city of the future into two separate sections of one park, one focused on American industry and new technologies, the other one showcasing as many countries as possible in a permanent, world's fair-type setting.

epcot7.jpg
Card Walker and other dignitaries break ground during ceremonies kicking off Epcot Center's construction. [The Walt Disney Company]

"That's how we communicated to the companies," Marty added. "We started out with trying to do two projects. One was international and the other was so-called Future World area, and we found that we couldn't get enough sponsorship for both, so we pushed the two of them together basically and that became Epcot Center."

Journalists who had seen detailed drawings of a domed city with futuristic modes of transportation had a hard time accepting this new Epcot. "Walt left a very sketchy outline," Jack Lindquist said. "It was developed at that time (1966) to influence the Florida legislature. We needed something bigger, bolder, more dramatic than another Disneyland."

Walt asked famed Disney artist Herb Ryman — who had made a name for himself in 1954 by drawing the first rendering of Disneyland which Walt used as part of his pitch to potential investors — to help conceptualize Epcot. "Draw me something to talk about, Herbie," he said. But what Ryman came up with was far more grandiose than almost anyone had imagined. It turned out to be more fantasy than fact-based.

Still, "The media wouldn't let that Epcot go away," Lindquist said. "They had that image [of a domed city] in mind, but nobody really knew what Epcot was."

"I'd say we are doing exactly what we talked about when Walt was alive," John Hench said when asked if the company was departing from Walt Disney's original vision. "Walt introduced ideas as, you might say, the title in Scene One. He knew better than to drop the big scene into people's minds at the beginning. We're engaged in Scene Two now."

Scene Two would take years to be completed and would run up over a billion dollars in construction costs. It was a huge gamble on the part of the Walt Disney Company and its president, Card Walker, especially when you consider that after ground was broken in central Florida for Epcot, plans were put in motion to build another first-of-its-kind Disney park ... thousands of miles and one vast ocean away, in Japan.

The man known as Card was rolling the dice ... and the stakes couldn't have been higher.

Next time: Card Walker comes to terms with a Disney presence in Japan.

February 29, 2016

Under Card Walker's guidance, Epcot begins to take shape

epcot6.jpg
One of the many concept drawings, done in the mid-1960s, depicting the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow -- Epcot. [The Walt Disney Company]

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney
AllEars.net Guest Blogger

In early 1956, several months after E. Cardon Walker hired Marty Sklar to produce The Disneyland News, Card was named vice president of advertising and sales for Walt Disney Productions, getting the word out such films as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

The promotion was the start of a meteoric rise up the company ladder for Card who, like Marty, was a graduate of UCLA. In what seemed like rapid succession, Card was appointed to the company's Board of Directors in 1960. In 1965, he was named vice president of marketing, then executive vice president of operations in 1967, and executive vice president and chief operating officer in 1968. In 1971, he became company president. Five years later, he was named Disney's chief executive officer.

During his tenure as a top executive in the Disney corporate ranks, Card not only oversaw the creation of Epcot, but Tokyo Disneyland and The Disney Channel as well, providing a steady hand at a time when the company was still trying to find its way after the deaths of Walt Disney and his brother Roy.

With the success of The Disneyland News on his resume, Marty Sklar returned to UCLA in the fall of 1955 to complete his studies. After graduation in 1956, Marty accepted a position in Disneyland's publicity department, working with the likes of future Disney Legends Eddie Meck, Jack Lindquist and Milt Albright. Marty and his PR cohorts dreamed up a number of noteworthy initiatives, including Vacationland Magazine, all of which made great strides in promoting the park because, as Marty put it years later, "Disneyland wasn't a slam dunk during those first few years."

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Marty's relationship with Card Walker remained strong.

"I had the good fortune to come out of a group that reported to Card at Disneyland," Marty said, "and I stayed very close to him over the years. Even after I had gone to WED [WED Enterprises was the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering] in 1961 to work on the New York World's Fair, I still did a lot of writing for publicity and marketing. I also was responsible for the annual report. Card kept me close to him all that time.

waltd.jpg.jpg
Walt Disney poses for a photo after recording The Epcot Film in 1966. Two months after filming, Walt died. [The Walt Disney Company]

"To have somebody in that position trust you so much to continue to promote me, if you will, talk me up with Walt and other executives in the company, was quite an honor. And he knew I had written all that material for Walt for Epcot, of course."

Marty was responsible for writing the script for what became known as The Epcot Film. In it, Walt presented, in meticulous detail, his vision for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow ... a city of the future that was the heart and soul of Disney's planned move to central Florida. Included with the film were concept drawings, many by artist Herb Ryman, a Disney Legend. Many of Ryman's renderings depicted a futuristic metropolis featuring monorails, PeopleMovers and a dome encasing the entire complex.

Filming of The Epcot Film took place in October of 1966; Walt Disney died just two months later, leaving the company he had founded and nurtured for decades in a lurch. With plans already in motion for the move to Florida at the time of Walt's death, Epcot was put on hold and the company concentrated on opening the world's first destination resort: A Disneyland-style theme park, on-property hotels and expansive recreational facilities.

Questions persisted about Epcot

After Walt died, "we continued to get questions about Epcot," Marty said, particularly from those people who had seen the early concept drawings. "After Roy [Walt's brother, who took over as company leader after Walt's passing] died in December of 1971, Card and Donn Tatum took up the mantel. I really think Card felt he had a debt to pay to Walt and he had to fulfill that debt as chairman of the company."

In May of 1974, Card Walker took Marty Sklar aside and asked him one of the most important questions of his career: "What are we gonna do about Epcot?"

Walt's original concept for Epcot, to create a city of the future where residents would live and work and where news ideas and systems would be introduced, was problematic, if next to impossible to bring to reality, at least without Walt Disney's guidance. "We knew we couldn't experiment with people's lives," Card said. "You couldn't have spectators peeking in people's kitchen windows."

Still, the Disney company was committed to building something on the property that reflected and fulfilled Walt's dreams of a great, big beautiful tomorrow.

"In a real sense, the concept of Epcot has been unfolding from the very beginning," Card said. "From the outset of planning and through the design, construction and installation stages of Walt Disney World, Epcot has been the ultimate goal."

According to Marty, "Card made a number of different speeches about ideas for Epcot. These speeches evolved into his vision of the project.

jimmy.jpg
As his wife Rosalynn looks on, left, President Jimmy Carter chats with Disney executive Card Walker in the Contemporary Resort. Seen over Walker's left shoulder in the background is Marty Sklar.

"I have a photo in my office of president Jimmy Carter in 1976 at the International Chamber of Commerce conference at the Contemporary. President Carter spoke to the conference. We brought all the work we had done to that point and put it in a ballroom at the Contemporary. We invited President Carter to come see, as well as leaders from all over the world."

The photo shows Card Walker talking to President Carter, with First Lady Rosalynn Carter to their right and Marty Sklar standing in the background. Donn Tatum is behind Mrs. Carter.

"Card really felt indebted to Walt for his whole career. This [Epcot] was Walt's big dream. He made a number of different speeches around the country," trying to get as many corporate leaders on board. "He was a good salesman. For example, The Living Seas pavilion. It wasn't part of the pavilions on opening day. It came about when Card was playing golf with Harry Gray, the CEO of United Technologies. [The Living Seas, now known as The Seas with Nemo and Friends, opened in 1986, four years after Epcot's opening.]

"Walt always said that no one company can do this [Epcot] by itself," Marty added. "Participation by the country's major companies was the key" to bringing Epcot to life.

One of Marty's chief responsibilities at the outset was to help bring as many of those companies on board as possible. "It was the start of eight incredible years of trying to figure out just what to do."

Next time: The long and winding road leading to Epcot's opening day.

February 15, 2016

Marty Sklar and Card Walker: A winning combination

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney
AllEars.net Guest Blogger

In very real sense, Marty Sklar is the keeper of the flame ... the Disney flame, that is.

Since retiring from the Walt Disney Company in 2009, Marty has gladly taken it upon himself to ensure the stories of Walt Disney, The Walt Disney Company and the many wonderful people he worked with during his 54 years of service are presented in a fair, accurate and truthful manner.

When you speak to Marty about the most influential people in his career, there's one man near the top of his "most respected" list. It's the man who hired him in 1955 and who, 15 years later, presented him with his most daunting challenge.

card8.jpg
Card Walker

The story of Esmond Cardon Walker -- or Card, for short -- is one of those classic American tales that should both inspire and educate us. It's the story of a man who started at the lowest rung of the Disney corporate ladder and rose to become company president, overseeing the construction of both Epcot Center and Tokyo Disneyland and, along the way, proving decisively that nice guys do finish first.

As then-CEO Michael Eisner said of Walker in 1990: "In a very real sense, Card is the link between the small, family-owned film company of the '30s and the major global corporation we are today. I'm grateful to have had the benefit of his experience, his judgment, and his convictions about the 'Disney way' of doing things."

Card Walker was born on Jan. 9, 1916, in Rexburg, Idaho. He moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1924. After graduating from UCLA, he began his business career in humble fashion in 1938 in the Disney Studio mail room, a place where Walt Disney felt new hires could experience every facet of the studio operation. And Card learned his lessons well. He was transferred to the camera department and would go on to serve as unit manager on short subjects in the production department.

In 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Card enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as a flight deck officer aboard the USS Bunker Hill, which fought in eight battles between 1943 and 1945. After the war, he returned to Disney and rose to the position of vice president of marketing and sales.

It was during the mid-1950s, with construction of Disneyland nearing the final stages, when Marty Sklar and Card Walker crossed paths.

"I was fortunate the have known Johnny Jackson," Marty said. "He was the executive director of the UCLA Alumni Association. I had received a scholarship to go to UCLA. The tuition at the time [1952] was 50 dollars. My scholarship was full tuition ... 50 bucks!

"At some point in 1954, Johnny went to work for Disney. He, along with several other people, reported to Card Walker. When they decided to do a tabloid newspaper to be sold on Main Street, I was about to become the editor of the Daily Bruin at UCLA.

"In the spring of 1955, I got a call at my fraternity. When I got the message, I thought one of my frat brothers was playing a trick on me because his father worked at The Desert Inn in Las Vegas. I didn't return his call because he said someone named Card called. I thought it was a joke. It was my good fortune that Card was a graduate of UCLA and was a big booster.

"I eventually went in for an interview and they hired me."

card1.jpg
Card Walker looks over Walt Disney's shoulder during a visit to the Florida property in the mid-1960s. [Walt Disney Company photo]

Marty then told me a story about how a person at the Disney Archives recently sent him a memo he had discovered regarding his hiring.

"It was an inter-office communication for Disneyland, Inc. It was from Ed Ettinger, who was my first boss at Disneyland. The memo read:

Subject: Editor for newspaper-Disneyland.

We have an editor for the Disneyland newspaper. Martin Sklar will be editor of the newspaper. He was thoroughly checked out from every angle. He comes highly recommended.

"The memo," Marty added, "was copied to Card Walker." Marty was particularly amused by the "thoroughly checked out from every angle" line.

One month after being hired, Marty had to present the concept he came up with for The Disneyland News to none other than Walt Disney.

"The meeting with Walt took place at Disneyland in the conference room in the Administration Building, which was [Disney Legend] Ron Dominguez's former house. [The Dominguez house, part of a large orange grove that was owned by his family for decades, was located near where the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction now stands. The property was purchased by Disney and the house subsequently was moved to an area behind the Main Street Opera House, serving as an administration building for about 10 years.]

"The key thing to me was Walt had the time for this little thing I was doing. It really fell into place when I realized why Walt had time for it. Main Street, for him, was a real place. A story point and a detail."

The Disneyland News, like Disneyland itself, was a huge success. And for both Marty Sklar and Card Walker, the newspaper and the theme park would provide a springboard to future success for both men.

Next time: Card Walker pops the big question to Marty Sklar: "What are we going to do about Epcot?"

December 9, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms

Alice%20Miller%27s%20masthead.jpg

Disney Editions has just released "Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney's Magic Kingdoms," an engaging and informative book by Marty Sklar, Disney Legend and longtime leader of Walt Disney Imagineering. With introductions by Ray Bradbury and Richard M. Sherman, and a number of interesting photographs, the book is sure to delight all kinds of Disney fans.

"Somewhere in the world, there's a Disney park open every hour of every day; literally, the sun never sets on their operation on three continents around the globe." In an article about his book in a recent edition of Disney Files Magazine (a Disney publication for Disney Vacation Club Members), Sklar explained that he had four major reasons for writing this book about his career (and I am paraphrasing): 1) he had a unique experience among all Disney Cast Members in that he is the only one to have participated in the openings of all of the 11 Disney Parks around the world; 2) he wrote a large amount of personal material for Walt Disney during the early years of his career (many of which are widely quoted, and well known); 3) he was the creative director for the Imagineers during two very distinct periods in Disney history "after Walt" (basically the pre- and post-Michael Eisner years); and 4) he wanted to provide readers with a special view into Walt Disney Imagineering.

There have been many books published about the history of Disney and its companies in their various iterations, many of which were written as memoirs by the men and women who took part in that history. I have not read any of them (until now!), but they have been written. I am a big Disney fan, and love planning vacations, going to the Parks and watching Disney movies. I once discovered pretty quickly, during a Disney cruise trivia contest, that while I may have experienced the results of the Disney creative processes, I know very little about the processes themselves, or about the rich history surrounding the Disney approach to "Imagineering." ("At WED, we call it "Imagineering" -- the blending of creative imagination with technical know-how.") So, when I read the article in Disney Files, I thought it was time that I dug in, and Sklar's book looked like just the place to do it.

Firstly, I'm not sure whether to call this book a history, a memoir or an autobiography, but it really doesn't matter. Sklar presents his material in a generally chronological, but also thematic format. As noted in the subtitle, "My Half-Century Creating Disney's Magic Kingdoms," much of the book focuses on Sklar's contributions to the openings of all of the Disney parks throughout the world, from Disneyland in 1955 to Hong Kong Disneyland in 2005, and the beginnings of Shanghai Disneyland, which is expected to open in 2015. Sklar has been involved in the openings of all of the eleven Disney parks (Trivia question: can you name them all? Caveat: in this case do not include the water parks or DisneyQuest.), and was instrumental in helping to shape the attractions and experiences that millions of guests enjoy every year.

Sklar started his Disney career in 1955, as the result of a telephone message that was waiting for him at his fraternity house at UCLA while he was still a student. The call was from Card Walker, then the head of marketing and publicity for the Walt Disney Company. He initially thought that the message was a prank, as one of his fraternity brothers' fathers was an executive at a Vegas casino, and that "Card Walker" must have been a "card dealer." He did end up returning that call, and having been recommended for a writing job by a UCLA alum on the basis of his work as the editor for the UCLA Daily Bruin, started down a long, creative and storied path toward becoming a Disney Legend.

During his early years, Sklar was a writer and "ghostwriter" who was responsible for creating copy for many official Disney publications (including annual reports and public relations pieces) and for scripts for Disney leadership (including Walt) for personal and television appearances. Many quotes that are familiar "Waltisms" were actually written by Sklar! ("The way I see it, Disneyland will never be finished. It's something we can keep developing and adding to.") In reading these examples, and in a quote that appears to have come directly from Walt -- which Sklar includes near the end of the book -- it is clear that he was very successful in capturing (and perhaps heavily influencing) Walt's signature, folksy speaking style.

Sklar spent a good deal of time in the book discussing the development of attractions for the 1964 New York World's Fair, particularly on how Disney used the development of those attractions to set the groundwork for upcoming attractions in the Disney Parks. "In fact, Walt's vision for using a temporary event as a testing ground for permanent attractions proved to be a stroke of genius." These attractions involved: the first use of audio-animatronics (Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln for the State of Illinois, Carousel of Progress for GE, Magic Skyway for Ford), a greater focus on ride capacity ("it's a small world," Carousel of Progress), and on innovations in transportation (WEDway PeopleMover technology). He noted that technology often had to catch up with Walt's vision (and still does): "A good idea may come back to life in the world of Disney . . . but a great idea will find its way into our parks somewhere in the world." For example, Walt wanted to build a rollercoaster-style ride in the dark in Disneyland, but it took years for that idea to take off with the development of Space Mountain (pun intended).

Sklar also goes into great depth about the development of Epcot, particularly on efforts to line up critical corporate sponsors for many of the attractions, which was by no means easy and meant numerous trips from California to other parts of the country to nail down the sponsorships. Sklar was instrumental in developing the sponsorship nomenclature for sponsored attractions: "XX Attraction presented by XX Company" as in SPACESHIP EARTH presented by Siemens. "A key to maintaining the Disney standard is consistency around the world." As a result, all sponsored attractions in any Disney Park, wherever they are located, are named this way.

He also recounted the painstaking development of Epcot's vision of technology and the future, and answering the question of how Disney could tell "entertaining and meaningful stories about energy, transportation, communications, food." In one entertaining anecdote, Card Walker asked Sklar how the Imagineers planned to entertain guests on the planned boat ride in the Land pavilion. Sklar replied: "Don't worry Card, we'll be watching lettuce grow!" Sklar recounts that Walker was not amused, but guests have been enjoying watching lettuce (and bananas and nine-pound lemons) grow from the boats in the Living with the Land attraction for decades.

Since this book is an official Disney publication you might be thinking that all will be shiny and bright, with no recollections that would tarnish the Disney image. However, while the book is certainly not a tell-all, and Sklar had great praise for many of his fellow cast members, he does not pull any punches when it comes to those with which he bumped heads. I did find it gratifying, however, that it did not seem in these few critical passages that Sklar was trying to "trash" any of his fellow employees (particularly Paul Pressler) or others with which he had less than positive encounters along the way. Rather he used these occasions to point out how there are always tensions in the creative process, and that while normally this tension is central to success, in some circumstances it is not at all helpful.

Sklar also devotes quite a bit of the book, particularly the last chapters, to his philosophies of leadership and "followership." "The luckiest and smartest leaders I watched as role models as I grew up at Disney always surrounded themselves with people who were smarter, and more talented and productive than they were." Any reader who either is a boss or has a boss (in other words, pretty much all of us) would do well to pay close attention to Sklar's expanded "Mickey's Ten Commandments." Sklar feels strongly that leaders need to be mentors, and should work hard to train and develop young talent, a view that I'm sure was closely informed by the mentoring that he was given as a young (not even out of college!) Disney employee. " . . . Walt never hesitated to interweave age and experience with you and exuberance . . . " and neither did Marty Sklar.

Not having a solid background in Disney history, I did find myself wanting to draw organizational diagrams and family trees to try to keep track of the myriad names and changes in organizational structure over the years. The amount of detail presented in the book was gargantuan. Finally, when I just relaxed, read along, and didn't worry about keeping track of who was who, and who worked where when, I enjoyed the book much more. For those who already have a strong historical knowledge, I am sure that you will have no problem following along, and will be delighted to hear some new stories (or new takes on old stories) about your favorite personalities. I highly recommend this book for fans of Disney history, particularly related to Imagineering, who would enjoy Sklar's first-hand recollections and insightful musings on leadership.

As Marty Sklar exhorts us: "Life is like a blank sheet of paper. You never know what it can be until you put something on it. So Dream It! Do It! And work hard to do the best possible job. What are you waiting for?"


ABOUT THE REVIEWER:

Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was ten years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have now visited every one of the Disney parks throughout the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Order Marty Sklar's book through AllEars.Net's Amazon.com store:
http://astore.amazon.com/debsunoffiwaltdi/detail/1423174062


Return to Blog Central

About Disney Legends

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in the Disney Legends category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Disney Interactive is the previous category.

Disney on Stage is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.