In preparation for my trip to Disney World, I’ve been trying to inundate myself with as much insight as I can into the Disney Company, the Disney parks, and Walt Disney himself. Although I haven’t really gotten a start on the huge list of movies that I want to watch, I did get a chance to read a new 368-page memoir, Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdom, by Marty Sklar.
Honored at his retirement with a window inscription on Disney World’s Main Street, Sklar started working for Disneyland full-time in 1955 in a marketing and communications role. He had a hand in designing the Enchanted Tiki Room and It’s a Small World, among other notable experiences, He supervised the construction of several theme parks, including Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Tokyo DisneySea. He always worked personally with Walt Disney and wrote many of his speeches and press materials. In one of my favorite quotes from the book, Sklar describes the reverence for Walt Disney among his employees:
As Walt stood up to leave at the end of the first day, Joe Potter had the final say. ‘Walt,’ he gushed. ‘I’ve been in Florida as your representative for three or four months now, and everyone I talk to thinks that you can do anything and everything. They think you can walk on water!’
Without a word, Walt walked to the door and exited the door. We heard his footsteps, echoing down the hallway. Suddenly, they stopped, and we heard him returning in our direction. The door opened, and Walt Disney stuck his head back inside the room. ‘I’ve tried that,’ he said, before closing the door and leaving all of us to wonder: was he successful?
I doubt anyone in the room thought otherwise.
What I most enjoyed about this book was the insight that it provided into the state of affairs of the Walt Disney company during Disney’s time at its helm. It was eye-opening to see the creation of the parks and the development of some of its most iconic stories, such as the Carousel of Progress, through Sklar’s eyes and actually feel as though you were standing on the construction site with him. The memoir excelled in places where Sklar recalled experiences with coworkers and memories related to Disney projects, some of which have never been realized.
The one weakness I found: on every other page, it seemed as though he were congratulating himself for one design or another. I don’t fault him for recognizing his own major role in the success of many Disney initiatives, but something about his tone rubbed me the wrong way, and it really detracted from the reading experience. Despite this, I would recommend the book to anyone interested in getting a behind-the-scenes look into the Disney company and its theme parks.
At the end, Sklar’s memoir left me thinking about Walt Disney’s mission to create something new, to continually improve, and to always engage visitors on every level. Sklar touched on this in a recent interview with the Disney Parks blog, when he said, “We do stories, we do experiences, and we do adventures,” and “[Walt Disney] made it very clear to us that whatever we did yesterday was not going to be good enough again, because he was moving on. He always made it clear to us that we could do better the next time.”
Do you think the theme parks still uphold Walt Disney’s vision and dream today? I don’t doubt it at all.