Friday, April 18, 2014

Dream It! Do It! Book Review by Jeff ...

We have a departure from the usual daydreamings at Blue Sky.  Here's a Book Review of Dream It! Do It!

Dream It! Do It! - My Half Century Creating Disney's Magic Kingdoms by Marty Sklar, 1st ed., 368 pages

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If you're asking "Who is Marty Sklar?" simply obtain a copy of this book at your earliest convenience.  In the illustrations opposite page 304 of this edition, there is "Ripley's Believe it or Not" picture of Marty Sklar wearing mouse ears.  The caption reads "Marty Sklar, a Walt Disney Imagineer for more than 50 years is the only Disney employee who has attended the opening and has contributed to all 11 of Disney's major theme parks!"  Shanghai may force that to read "first 11" although that's another story.  

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Marty Sklar has been involved with far more than just the theme parks as the reader will discover.  The biographical and historical accounts here impress for a number of reasons.  Marty Sklar has worked as a writer, but he claims it hasn't been on his resume for the 40 years prior to the book's 2013 publication.  There is no "with (fill in the name of the actual writer)" on the cover after his name.  It is roughly chronological, but themed.  In that respect, it is self-exemplary of the work he did for decades.  

He holds back on little.  For example, anti-Semitism is confronted on page 44.  He states, "One thing I did know from personal experience: nothing in my relationship with Walt Disney or his brother was influenced either positively or negatively because I'm Jewish."  Both good and bad business decisions by the company are also detailed.

Probably least interesting is the compulsory early biographical material.  Fortunately, the author knows not to overload (Mickey's 6th Commandment, page 324).  Again, this is where the book isn't just about the various Imagineering processes, it is also an example of the result of those processes being applied to its content.

I have several favorite moments from the numerous accounts he gives from his long career.  On page 161, he speaks of how AT&T (or Bell System prior to its breakup) and not IBM became the sponsor of Spaceship Earth.  IBM had already decided to pass, but Marty Sklar and the people he was with called up AT&T and told them they had one last opportunity to beat IBM to the punch.  They went for it.

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Chapter 13 is dedicated to famous/infamous words that were spoken in an office conference room.  This reminded me of when a group of my friends used to keep a running "quote sheet" of funny things people in the group said like "let's split up into pairs of three."  It's good to know that others say things equally ridiculous like "This thing won't work unless it functions." - Jeffrey Katzenberg.

On page 204, there is an account of what Harry Gray of United Technologies, the original sponsor of The Living Seas, did to get a Disney team from UTC's Hartford headquarters to JFK airport to catch a commercial flight back to Disney's California offices.  If Homeland Security had been around back then, numerous arrests would have been made after a corporate helicopter landed next to an American Airlines jet.  

I'm glad he took time to mention some of the other smaller parks and projects such as Blizzard Beach.  We seem to agree that DisneyQuest, the indoor interactive theme park, should have been given more of a chance to succeed.  

Disney Concept Art - DisneyQuest
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There is no mention of the never-built Disney's America which was to have been constructed in Virginia even though other aborted projects like the Mineral King ski resort are.  

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In my opinion, Disney's America would have been done in by Virginia's weather.  75 degrees one day in April, 35 degrees the next.  A nine-month operating schedule was extremely optimistic.  Even an eight-month operating schedule would have been tight.   Actually, parts of Disney's America were incorporated into Disney California Adventure, but Sklar doesn't mention this either. 

There is heavy criticism of Paul Pressler's time overseeing Disneyland and the skimping on the initial version of Disney's California Adventure.  Apparently, he violated Mickey's 10th Commandment, "Keep it up! (maintain it)."  There is also much said of DCA's extensive and expensive recovery as Disney California Adventure.  A personal takeaway I must remember is the 10th item of the Leader's Bible (part 2) on page 326.  "Remember:  the last three letters of trend are E-N-D."  It seems Mr. Pressler didn't remember that either when buying off-the-shelf amusement park rides and overlaying a little California theming.  

To whom would I NOT recommend this book?  Perhaps the very young and people who don't want to know about the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing at a major entertainment firm.  If you think that castles just magically appear, then you might not want to read about all the nitty-gritty, hard work, and creative genius that goes into making it happen.  If, on the other hand, you are a Disney fan who can't get enough or an Imagineer wannabe, then go ahead and enjoy.  

I have another recommendation too.  If you work in customer service, especially in the entertainment area, you might want to take a look at Marty Sklar's practical advice in Chapter 18.  Finally, the photo opposite page 177 with Marty and the Matterhorn has a caption which sums up his advice well.  It reads, "If you're not having fun in the fun business, you're in the wrong business." 

- Jeff C.

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