Book Review: Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney's Magic Kingdoms

These days, a career that spans fifty-plus years at one company sounds like a pipe dream. The late John “Flossie Mae” Raiford delivered food to drive-in clients at The Varsity in Atlanta for 56 years. Earlier this year, one of Kroger’s executives retired after a half-century with the grocery chain. Google “50-year career” and you’ll find plenty of charming and inspiring stories of long careers with a single employer. And then there’s Marty Sklar.

Sklar was still a fresh-faced college student and editor of UCLA’s Daily Bruin when Disney hired him to create a souvenir newspaper for their new park, Disneyland. Following his graduation in 1956, he joined Disney full-time. He began writing speeches and articles for Walt Disney himself, and after Walt’s death, Sklar moved up the ranks in Imagineering until his retirement in 2009. Lucky for us, Sklar has finally told the story of his 53-year career at Disney in his new book Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms (also available for Kindle).

Dream It! Do It! reads as part memoir, part inspirational tome. Sklar writes in a conversational style – you can really imagine him telling the stories directly to you. He shares his memories of working with Walt Disney, including some stories most readers have never heard. He relates the ups and downs of working at Imagineering – the successes, the projects that required a second try, even the moments where language and cultural barriers presented challenges. In one particularly poignant moment, he expresses his anger at having to write Walt’s obituary the day he died rather than planning ahead when many at the studio knew Walt was terminally sick.

The book includes fascinating insights into Michael Eisner’s tenure at Disney. Sklar attributes Eisner’s business partner Frank Wells with helping Eisner achieve Disney’s renaissance of the ’80s and ’90s, and he credits Wells’ passing with the downhill slide under Eisner. Sklar’s inside perspective on the Eisner years is priceless.

Sklar does not skimp on mementos of his time at Imagineering. He includes three sections of photographs, along with excerpts from scripts, speeches, and promotional materials bearing his stamp. This access to historical information, much of it unavailable to the public, allows this book to stand head and shoulders above most memoirs. Sklar offers business inspiration and advice in the book as well. He goes into detail to explain his famous “Mickey’s Ten Commandments,” and shares the commandments he added afterward. I’m already looking at ways to use Sklar’s forty commandments (he does offer his apologies to God and Moses in the chapter) in my office.

Dream It! Do It! gives the reader a front row seat at Imagineering. Marty Sklar tells his story in a way that makes you feel like you were there. His book is essential reading for the die-hard Disney fan as well as for the newcomer to Disney culture.

(Author’s Note: The fine folks at Disney Publishing sent me an advance copy of the book in exchange for this review.)