Excerpt #21–Walt Disney’s Ultimate Inventor: The Genius of Ub Iwerks
By Disney Legend Don Iwerks and with a Foreword by Leonard Maltin

walt disney's ultimate inventor the genius of ub iwerks cover


It was a typical “winter” morning in Burbank, California, that Thursday, December 15, 1966. The weather had been cool overnight, but would warm to the low seventies by midday. The excitement and anticipation of the upcoming holiday was in the air, and over at The Walt Disney Studios on Buena Vista Street, cheery decorations and a festive atmosphere greeted the hundreds of staff as they arrived at work, as usual, beginning before dawn.

A big Technicolor musical, The Happiest Millionaire, was in postproduction, with high hopes and great optimism for an equal to the recent blockbuster Mary Poppins. A new “supernatural comedy,” Blackbeard’s Ghost, starring Dean Jones, Suzanne Pleshette, and Peter Ustinov, was shooting on the live-action soundstages, as was as an upcoming episode of the popular Disney television series. In the Animation Building, an all-new animated musical version of Kipling’s The Jungle Book was in full swing. Walt Disney Productions was an exciting place to be. For many, it was a place to call “home.”

Late in the morning, studio employees’ phones began to ring, and PA systems carried a heartbreaking announcement across the Disney studio lot. Walt Disney had died at 9:35 that morning. Just a few hundred feet across the street from his studio, at St. Joseph Hospital, the greatest showman of the century had succumbed to acute circulatory collapse related to lung cancer.

On the back lot, the usual buzz, noise, and activity of the busy Machine Shop came to a sudden stop. The announcement over the loudspeaker system sent the drills, lathes, and presses into silence, and the group of talented craftsmen into a collective shock. The studio was ordered closed: the employees were sent home.

Among the many staffers who were emotionally stunned by this announcement was my dad, Ub Iwerks. He came to my office in the Studio Machine Shop, and although it was clear he was personally devastated at the loss of his lifelong friend, we talked mostly about how Walt’s death would affect the future of the studio and all its projects. Could there be a “Walt Disney Productions” without Walt Disney? Ub was obviously and deeply saddened. At one point, he quietly and simply said, “This is the end of an era.”

For Ub, this was not pronouncement or hyperbole. He and Walt had truly spent a lifetime as friends and colleagues, companions and collaborators. They’d been boys together, going back to days in the 1920s when they played and worked together in Missouri. They broke new ground in the art of animation at Hollywood’s first animation studio, created Mickey Mouse, and in later years had worked together again, innovating all manner of honored and admired technical miracles.

Like many lifelong friends, they had a short-hand together, a way of communicating complex ideas and thoughts with few words. Walt would often say to Ub, “Here is what I want to do. Do you think it can be done?” No formality, just “Why don’t you look into it?” Ub’s joy was problem-solving, and his satisfaction came from Walt’s enthusiastic responses to his solutions and inventions.

Throughout their careers together, Walt was constantly coming up with new projects that presented problems to be solved. Ub’s enjoyment was inventing and solving technical problems, whether they were related to film, cameras, optics, laboratory processes, or electronics.

Walt’s brother Roy took charge after Walt’s death; he and Ub were also very good friends dating back to the Kansas City days. Roy asked Ub to continue with his work, knowing that he would continue solving problems and coming up with new developments. Ub returned to his efforts on projects for the parks, particularly in the new “Disney World” being created in Florida. If Walt’s longtime dream of The Hall of Presidents was to become a reality, Ub had to persevere in finding a solution to a vexing problem: how to film and project the majestic opening film on a screen two hundred feet wide. Walt didn’t live to see his vision of a new park in Florida. And sadly, Ub, too, passed away before he could see his last project completed.

These were two simple and sincere men from the heartland of the American Midwest, who were actually geniuses, each in their own manner. By coming together, their talents merged and complemented each other in phenomenal ways. A testimony to and legacy of their greatness is how their shared talents continue to bring so much joy to countless millions of people around the world, every single day. . . .

Excerpt #22—Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms
By Disney Legend Marty Sklar and with Introductions by Ray Bradbury and Disney Legend Richard M. Sherman

dream it do it book cover


The paging system at WED was screaming my name. I picked up the nearest telephone. “Call Card Walker immediately,” my secretary said. I did and thirty seconds later, I was on my way to Card’s office at the Studio. The three-mile drive seemed to take forever.

It was a few minutes after 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, December 15, 1966, and E. Cardon Walker (who would become the chief executive of Walt Disney Productions, and was then head of marketing and publicity) needed to see me immediately. We had a close relationship: Card had hired me part time after my junior year at UCLA, just as I was about to become editor of

The Daily Bruin, the UCLA student newspaper. I did finish my senior year and graduate from UCLA in 1956, but starting my Disney career at Disneyland the month before the park opened in July 1955 would shape my entire professional life.

“Walt’s dead,” Card said the moment I entered his office. “Write the statement Roy will sign and we’ll distribute it to the press and our employees.”

I admit I was rather shocked. It seemed implausible that Roy O. Disney, Card, and Donn Tatum (board of directors member at the time, and later chief executive officer and chairman of the board) were telling me that no one had prepared an official statement about Walt’s death. It was no secret Walt was dying.

Card said, “You’ve got an hour.”

And so I wrote:

The death of Walt Disney is a loss to all the people of the world. In everything he did, Walt had an intuitive way of reaching out and touching the hearts and minds of young and old alike. His entertainment was an international language. For more than forty years people have looked to Walt Disney for the finest quality in family entertainment.

There is no way to replace Walt Disney. He was an extraordinary man. Perhaps there will never be another like him. I know that we who worked at his side for all these years will always cherish the years and the minutes we spent in helping Walt Disney entertain the people of the world. The world will always be a better place because Walt Disney was its master showman.

As President and Chairman of the Board of Walt Disney Productions, I want to assure the public, our stockholders, and each of our more than four thousand employees that we will continue to operate Walt Disney’s company in the way that he has established and guided it. Walt Disney spent his entire life and almost every waking hour in the creative planning of motion pictures, Disneyland, television shows, and all the other diversified activities that have carried his name through the years. Around him Walt Disney gathered the kind of creative people who understood his way of communicating with the public through entertainment. Walt’s ways were always unique and he built a unique organization. A team of creative people that he was justifiably proud of.

I think Walt would have wanted me to repeat his words to describe the organization he built over the years. Last October, when he accepted the “Showman of the World” award in New York, Walt said, “The Disney organization now has more than four thousand employees. Many have been with us for over thirty years. They take great pride in the organization, which they helped to build. Only through the talent, labor, and dedication of this staff could any Disney project get off the ground. We all think alike in the ultimate pattern.”

Much of Walt Disney’s energies had been directed to preparing for this day. It was Walt’s wish that when the time came he would have built an organization with the creative talents to carry on as he had established and directed it through the years. Today this organization has been built and we will carry out this wish.

Walt Disney’s preparation for the future has a solid, creative foundation. All of the plans for the future that Walt had begun—new motion pictures, the expansion of Disneyland, television production, and our Florida and Mineral King projects—will continue to move ahead. That is the way Walt wanted it to be.

It was signed, of course, by Roy O. Disney, president and chairman of the board of Walt Disney Productions, and distributed to the media and all Disney employees.

As CBS newsman Eric Sevareid would note a day later:

He probably did more to heal or at least to soothe troubled human spirits than all the psychiatrists in the world. There can’t be many adults in the allegedly civilized parts of the globe who did not inhabit Disney’s mind and imagination at least for a few hours and feel better for the visitation.

It’s been nearly fifty years since that day in Card Walker’s office, but I can honestly say that I still resent being put in that position. The truth is they were all scared as hell. Disney without Walt Disney, its founder, leader, creative genius, and sole decision maker in the story, design, and invention business. Disney without “Uncle Walt” coming into your home on television every Sunday night to tell you what he was going to show your family that night, or open in a few months in movie theaters or Disneyland. Disney without the man with those thirty-two Academy Awards and more honors around the world than almost anyone.

In spite of my resentment, I know how I got there, and why it was me they called.

I had become the chief ghostwriter at Disney. It was pretty heady stuff for someone just closing in on his thirtieth birthday, and only six or seven years out of college, to be writing Walt’s and Roy’s messages in the company’s annual report; most of the publicity and marketing materials for Disneyland; presentations to the U.S. government (the Mineral King solicitation for a year-round resort in Central California); initiatives to obtain sponsors for new Disneyland developments; and, finally, the twenty-four-minute film I penned expressing Walt’s philosophy for the Walt Disney World project and Epcot.

The seven pages of notes I took at my meetings with Walt about Epcot are still among my treasures. When I re-read them occasionally, I realize how easy Walt made it for me to write the script for the film. This was Walt’s favorite method of communication with his mid-1960s audience: film not only allowed him to introduce his concepts and plans, but also gave him the last word. He asked me to write two endings. One was aimed directly at audiences in the state of Florida, because the state’s legislature was then debating passage of a law that would establish the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID)—a key to Walt’s plans for Epcot as an experimental community. The law would give the RCID the power to establish building codes and zoning regulations—and Disney would be controlling the RCID. The second ending for the film was aimed at potential corporate sponsors. Having just completed the presentation of four major attractions at the 1964–65 New York World’s Fair, Walt was keenly aware that his ability to communicate with family audiences was highly desirable. As Walt said in his ending for the film: “No one company can do this project [Epcot] alone.”

Walt’s segments were shot on a stage at the Disney Studios on October 27, 1966. It was the very last day he appeared on camera, just a few days before he entered St. Joseph Hospital directly across the street from his studio lot. To look at that film today is to wonder how that man we see selling his ideas could be so ill. Yet seven weeks later, lung cancer claimed the life of this heavy smoker, and I was in Card Walker’s office typing that statement. And then the Disney world we knew imploded.

Excerpt #23— Travels with Figment: On the Road in Search of Disney Dreams
By Disney Legend Marty Sklar and with a Preface by Bob Weis
1967 Book 23: Travels with Figment: ON the Road in Search of Disney Dreams

travels with figment book cover


Among the treasures retrieved from an Anaheim storage unit was this letter to the late Walt Disney, written in 1967 by Marty—in felt-tip pen on six pages from his pocket notebook and seen here for the first time. . . .

Sunday, Nov. 5—67 In Disney World
Dear Walt—

Today I flew over your World for about 2 hours, in a helicopter. Walt, words are always tough enough to come by, but this is really something else! You should see the view from 350 feet—the top of the EPCOT Hotel—the view out over Bay Lake, toward the new Disneyland, across the golf courses and the theme resorts. It’s one of the most exciting vistas in this land of breathtaking views over lakes and cypress and pines and oak.

I really can’t describe it, Walt. I know the view alone will pale before the excitement and world stature of EPCOT’s showplace and showcase for American free enterprise—people will come from everywhere in the world to see that. But the view alone—that’s magnificent too.

Right now, I’m sitting, alone, on top of a car (they tell me you don’t dare sit on the ground in this country)—about 100 yards from Bill Evans’ new tree farm (he’s got about three acres planted now and soon there’ll be 30), and about 3/4 of a mile from the new Disneyland and the whole “Vacation Kingdom.” Except for its location (a little farther north and east than you foresaw because of the swamp), this is the recreation-entertainment-vacation “way of life” that you planned. Now, we’re starting to carry it out in your name, and, we all hope and pray, in your way.

Bill Evans took off with a surveyor while I was top side in the chopper, looking over a cameraman’s shoulder. So I’m just sitting here on top of an Avis on a gorgeous, clear, sunny, Sunday afternoon in November. And just sitting here, seeing some of the cleared land, watching a few trucks roll by, and thinking back to what I have just seen from the air, I marvel at the strength and logic of it all. We flew up from the intersection of I-4 and 530, and everything just seemed to fall right into place. I guess that shouldn’t have surprised me. But I hadn’t, as you did, lived and died with this plan . . . lived with it in planning it, and died with it as you traced it over and over again on your hospital room ceiling. I’m told these were your last thoughts, and now I can understand why you would have chosen this particular thought as your last—over Mickey or Snow White or Mary Poppins or CalArts—yes, even Disneyland.

I’ve heard that every planner and architect who has seen it says this is THE master plan. But you really have to see—drive it and fly it and touch—to really feel Disney World as you must have. Please count me in.

Given 3 or 4 years for the vacation-entertainment area and a Disney World entrance of some kind at I-4 and 530, given another 10 years or so for EPCOT to evolve, and given the 10 to 15 million people who will come here by then to stay and play and live—Walt, this will be more than simply a world. This will be a legend’s golden kingdom. You are that legend, and here the legend will always live.

Thanks, Walt, for giving me the chance to dream this dream too, and the opportunity to play a small part on this great stage. Life is fleeting, but when it is lived for its challenge and achievement gained by reaching for the stars . . . for giving to the world before you receive from it . . . the rewards are golden indeed, and the legend will never die.

With all respect, forever, and confident that wherever you are, you are driving the devil himself, I remain your most affectionately,

Marty Sklar


So the Internet was supposed to make travel less necessary for conducting business? Well, of course it has—yet I still have several million-mile-plus airline certificates to prove the words of that Frank Sinatra song “Love and Marriage”: “You can’t have one without the other.”

Now that I’m retired from The Walt Disney Company (since 2009, after fifty-four years, including thirty as the creative leader of Walt Disney Imagineering), I’m often asked to “tell more stories” about Walt Disney; about my experiences in meeting, working with, and “selling” ideas (including that Purple Dragon) to major industry figures in various fields; and, of course, about the Disney Parks and Resorts—and the Imagineers who created them. And I’ve got lots of stories; after all, I’m the only Disney cast member to participate in the opening of all twelve Disney parks around the world (probably a tribute to a young start, and a long life).

In February 2017, I was invited to be the featured speaker at the first Epcot International Festival of the Arts at Walt Disney World. The fans I met there reminded me, in question and answer sessions after my talks, how hungry they were for “inside stories” about the world of Disney. I had already told many stories about my experiences in two popular books published by Disney Editions: Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms, and One Little Spark! Mickey’s Ten Commandments and The Road to Imagineering.

But that doesn’t seem to be enough for the legion of Disney fans around the globe (Dream It! Do It! has also been published in Japanese, Mandarin, and Portuguese). That point was driven home to me by a fan who drove 125 miles from Jacksonville, Florida, to Orlando and told me, “When we heard last night that you were going to be here, we drove down this morning to meet you and get our books autographed!”

I should not have been surprised. When I spoke at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry in 2014, the Kelley family told me that they drove all the way from Cleveland—six hours and 344 miles—so their teenager, Jacob, could meet me, ask questions, and get his books signed. (Jacob and I still correspond by e-mail.) And when I spoke at The Art of Disney store in Disney Springs at Walt Disney World, a couple in attendance from Lexington, Kentucky, informed me that they had driven all night—a distance of 832 miles—just to make sure they could say hello and get their books signed.

Wow! Twelve hours on the road! I don’t pretend to be some kind of rock star, but there is a definite cachet to being named a Disney Legend, an honor bestowed on me in 2001.

I really did not expect to write another book. But those Disney fans kept asking me whenever and wherever I spoke—from California to Florida and Chicago to Austin, Texas—for more. . . .

Want more? Be sure to check back here for additional excerpts from this amazing collection!