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When Marty Met Frank


In the good old summertime of 1955
Frank Schmidt appreciated Town Square—the clip clop of the horses pulling the street cars and other vehicles, the birds in the Brazilian peppertrees, the lack of railings or "Keep Off the Grass" signs, Vesey Walker and the Disneyland Band playing songs like "In the Good Old Summertime."

Frank was born in 1877 and he was a grown man before the turn of the century. Automobiles, flying machines, electric lights, the phonograph, and motion pictures had all happened more or less since then. He was now 78 and planning his 12-day vacation, and he couldn't think of anywhere he'd rather be than Walt Disney's brand new creation, Disneyland.

Vol. 1, No. 1
Monday, July 18 was way too crowded, but Frank arrived on Tuesday, waited in line, paid his one dollar admission, and fell in love with the place. A combination of nostalgia and a feeling that the real world was inhospitable, perhaps. Frank came to the park eight days in a row before anyone noticed that he'd been there the day before.

In the park's second week, Frank met a young employee named Martin who wanted to interview him for the Disneyland News. Martin was 21, with dark hair, bookish glasses and seemed Jewish. He was, in fact—his last name was Sklar—and he was smart, Frank could tell. Martin was a UCLA student, the son of a teacher, majoring in political science.

Frank tried to describe what he liked about the Magic Kingdom. Every twenty minutes, a booming, stentorian voice would emanate from the train station: "Your attention please. The Santa Fe and Disneyland railroad is now arriving..." The train would chuff slowly into the station, its bell clanging as it came. People were on their best behavior—they dressed nicely and seemed to treat each other with more consideration. Frank told Martin: "I can jaywalk here."

Martin—Marty to his friends—introduced Frank to Ed Ettinger, Marty's boss and the head of Public Relations. Ed posed with Frank for a photo in the Anaheim Bulletin and put some complimentary passes in Frank's hand.

Disneyland was just a summer job for Marty. He had hoped to visit India, but the trip fell through. In the fall, he would edit UCLA's Daily Bruin newspaper. In June 1955, he made a presentation to Walt Disney and it changed his life. He returned to work for Disney in Fall 1956 and stayed 53 years.

Some pioneer Disneyland employees in 1956. Marty Sklar is front row, center. Ed Ettinger stands behind Marty in dark suit. (Source: silive.com blog)
Marty Sklar described his summer job under the blazing sun almost an hour out of town for the Jewish Journal in 2013:

"Here we were, two weeks before Disneyland was scheduled to open, and it was total chaos. It was at that time that I was called in to have a meeting with Walt, the Walt Disney, to present my concept for the tabloid. Remember: I was 21; I’d never worked professionally, still a student at UCLA. …I was plainly scared as hell. If it was no good, I was out the door; they’d find some professional to do it.

“But Walt liked what I presented…if you have a turning point in life, that was mine. I’ll tell you what I learned from that meeting: First, I was shocked that Walt had time for this little thing: a 10-cent tabloid to be sold on Main Street. But, [as] with everything he did, there was always enormous attention to detail. And second, for Walt, Main Street was a real town. And every town, at the early part of the 20th century, had its own newspaper. So Disneyland, at that time, without its own newspaper, was not a complete story. That was what I learned: It’s the details that make the Disney parks work, that attention to detail. And you have to make it a complete story, which means striving to be accurate about whatever story you’re telling, down to the smallest details.”

Marty wrote "Walt Disney's Disneyland," the hardcover souvenir book sold at the park in 1964. He included Frank's comment, along with others he had overheard from guests. By then, Marty had thoroughly absorbed what Walt was trying to do. In writing for Walt, he expressed Walt's ideals, his inchoate concepts.

"What is Disneyland? It is the innocence of youth and the wisdom of age. It is a child examining the hitching posts that line an 1890 street and asking 'Mommy, what kind of parking meters are these?' It is an elderly gentleman on the same street, smiling happily as he tells a bystander what he likes best about Disneyland: 'I can jaywalk here.'"
Martin A. Sklar (1934-2017) Disney Legend 2005

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