Nearly 60 years ago, UCLA alumnus Martin Sklar missed a phone call from a Disney representative ““ one that would later define his career.
While working as an editor for the Daily Bruin in the mid-1950s, Sklar said he almost didn’t return the call, but after Disney Enterprises pursued him a second time, he agreed to help the company create a 10-cent tabloid newspaper for Disneyland’s Main Street.
After working with Disney for many years, Sklar served as the vice chairman and principal creative executive at the company, now known as Walt Disney Imagineering, and has also been honored as an official Disney Legend.
“I still regard that (phone call) as the key moment in my career,” said Sklar, who graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1956, to a group of students and staff members at Bruin CafÃ© on Wednesday, as milk frothers from the small Coffee Bean bar whirred nearby.
The Bruin CafÃ© dining area was sectioned off for the event, and business went on as usual on the other side of the divider for Hill residents looking for their fill of Bruin CafÃ©.
The event was the first in a series of lectures, called True Bruin Live, that aim to give students the chance to meet successful alumni in person and learn from their experiences and accomplishments, said Jan Gonzales, associate director of UCLA Housing and Hospitality Services’ marketing and communication department.
Photos from prominent alumni ““ including Sklar and NASA astronaut Dr. Megan McArthur ““ are housed on the walls of Bruin CafÃ© as part of a True Bruin Wall of Fame.
Starting this year, UCLA Dining and the Office of Residential Life are collaborating to bring voices to the faces of the True Bruin Wall of Fame.
“Having the poster series is supposed to be an inspiration to students,” Gonzales said. “These people have been very successful in their fields … and are now in the community doing great things.”
UCLA chose Martin Sklar to be the series’ first speaker because of his success with a company that is dear to the residents of Los Angeles and Southern California, said Jeff Berman, senior dining manager at Bruin CafÃ©.
“I’m just a huge Disney fan, and I’ve been going to Disneyland my whole life,” said Stefanie Johnston, a second-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student who attended the event. “I had no idea we had a UCLA alumni who was an Imagineer, and I just couldn’t resist this event.”
Some audience members said they were surprised Sklar opted for a lengthy Q-and-A session instead of lecturing.
“It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I like how he let us ask questions,” said Claire Gorder, a second-year human biology and society student.
Sklar’s demeanor and humor made the event feel personal, Gorder said.
“This event was very intimate,” she said. “(The intimacy) was a neat experience, especially at a big school like UCLA.”
Sklar said he enjoyed the chance to speak with students and give back to UCLA.
Coming from a family tradition that celebrates the importance of education, Sklar said he wanted to share his story to encourage students considering “creative” careers.
“(ORL and UCLA Dining) asked me to kind of start a tradition to get a few more people on the wall to share their experience. You always want to give back when you have some experience that would benefit students,” Sklar said. “Teaching, mentoring ““ they’re very important.”
As the event came to a conclusion, Sklar advised students seeking a career in a creative field to continue seeking an education while at UCLA and afterward.
“Learn as much as you can about as many things as you can while you’re young,” said Sklar. “I think that’s the most important thing.”
UCLA Dining and ORL hope to continue the lecture series, but are unsure of the next speaker, Gonzales said.