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California and the West

Disney Legend Steps Down

Marty Sklar leaves his post as Imagineering's principal creative executive but will remain the group's `ambassador.'

February 17, 2006|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

In a move that signals the end of an era at Walt Disney Co., Marty Sklar is giving up his mantle as the principal creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering, the company's storied theme park design and development arm.

In a memo to colleagues made public Thursday, the 72-year-old former speechwriter for Walt Disney said he was leaving his job to serve as an "ambassador" for the group he has led for the last three decades.

Sklar is one of the last remaining employees who once worked closely with the Burbank company's co-founder.

Reflecting on those deep ties, Sklar said in an interview that he had long planned to step down after reaching two milestones -- the 50th anniversary of Disneyland and his own half-century at the company.

Last year, he reached the former and this June will mark the latter.

"It's going to be hard for me to leave this building," said Sklar, who works out of an office in Glendale and is seen as a father figure by many of his colleagues.

"All my kids have grown up," he said. "I'll miss that day-to-day contact with them."

The move follows Disney's recent announcement that in the wake of its planned acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios this summer, Pixar's creative chief, John Lasseter, will help design rides for Disney's theme parks. Lasseter also will become chief creative officer of both animation studios.

Lasseter is expected to bring fresh ideas and new energy to the Imagineering group, which employs 1,100 people and has faced cutbacks in the last year amid a slowdown in new projects.

Disney officials said the timing of Sklar's decision was unrelated to Lasseter's pending arrival.

Sklar had largely scaled back his duties in recent years, allowing his protege Tom Fitzgerald to run the day-to-day operations.

"It is impossible to describe the breadth and depth of Marty's contributions," said theme parks chief Jay Rasulo, who has begun a search for someone to replace Sklar and assume added responsibilities.

Low-key and unimposing, Sklar is deeply revered by Imagineers for his mentoring and his links to the company's heritage. Sklar condensed Walt Disney's ideas into a widely circulated creed called "Mickey's Ten Commandments."

"He understands the Disney way because he learned it at Walt's knee," said Jim Cora, a former chairman of Disneyland International. "He is the keeper of the keys, the conscience, the Jiminy Cricket for the organization."

For years, Sklar headed the creative development of Disney's theme parks and led the company's ventures in the cruise business, interactive TV, housing development and the redesign of Times Square in New York.

Sklar was known as a survivor. He publicly defended former Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner when critics blasted his record, including the poor performance of Disney's California Adventure theme park in Anaheim.

In his new role, Sklar said he would recruit new talent, develop traveling exhibitions about the Imagineers and pass on Walt's ideas to a new generation.

"I'm probably the only person in the company that can do this," he said.

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Times staff writer Kim Christensen contributed to this report.

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