While we Disney Divas and Devos love giving tips to help make your Disney experience magical, we also wanted to take the time to tell you about the man who started it all, Walt Disney.
Walter Elias Disney was born on 5th December 1901 to Elias Disney (an Irish-Canadian) and Flora Call Disney ( a German-American) in the Hermosa community of Chicago. He was one of five children, four boys and a girl. Shortly after his birth, the Disney family moved to Marceline where Walt spent most of his childhood. Walt’s early interest in art and drawing had him selling small sketches that he used to do in his spare time. Many of his activities revolved around some sort of art. He attended McKinley High School where he contributed his drawings to the school newspaper. In an effort to refine his art skills, Walt joined evening classes in the Academy of Arts.
In 1911, the Disney family moved to Kansas City, where Walt developed a love for trains. Walt would later work a summer job with the railroad where his uncle, Mike Martin, was a train engineer. Walt worked selling snacks and newspapers to travelers.
“I don’t believe in talking down to children. I don’t believe in talking down to any certain segment. I like to kind of just talk in a general way to the audience. Children are always reaching.” – Walt Disney
Walt dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to join the army, but was rejected for being underage. Instead, he joined the Red Cross and was sent to France for a year to drive an ambulance. Instead of covering the ambulance with stock camouflage, he covered it with cartoons!
In 1919, Walt returned to Kansas City to pursue a career as a newspaper artist. With help from his brother, Roy, Walt got a job at the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio. While there, he met cartoonist Ubbe Iwerks. From there, Walt went to work at the Kansas City Film Ad Company, where he would make commercials based on cutout animation. It was around this time when Walt began experimenting with a camera, doing hand-drawn animation, and he decided to open his own animation business. He recruited his first employee, Fred Harman, from the ad company.
Walt and Harman made a deal with a local Kansas City theater to screen their cartoons, Laugh-O-Grams. These cartoons were so popular, Walt was able to acquire his own studio which he named, Laugh-O-Gram. After hiring a number of employees, which included Harman’s brother and Ubbe Iwerks, they did a series of seven minute fairy tales that combined live action and animation. They called them Alice in Cartoonland. Unfortunately, by 1923, the studio had accumulated so much debt they were forced to declare bankruptcy.
“Money doesn’t excite me–my ideas excite me.” – Walt Disney
Walt and his brother, Roy, soon saved enough money to move to Hollywood. Iwerks also relocated to California. The Disney Brothers’ Studio was born. Their first deal was with New York distributor, Margaret Winkler. Winkler distributed their Alice cartoons. At this time, they also invented Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and contracted the shorts for $1,500 each.
In 1925, Walt hired Lillian Bound, an ink-and-paint artist, whom he married after a brief courtship. Walt and Lillian’s first attempt at pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Lillian became pregnant again and gave birth to a daughter, Diane Marie Disney on December 18, 1933. Three years later, the Disney’s adopted Sharon Mae Disney.
In 1927, Walt discovered that Winkler and her husband, Charles Mintz, had stolen the rights to Oswald. Iwerks was the only animator who refused to leave Disney. The Disney brothers, their wives and Iwerks immediately produced three cartoons featuring a new character, Mickey Mouse. Their first animated shorts featuring Mickey were silent films, Plane Crazy and The Gallopin’ Gaucho, for which they were unable to find distribution. When sound found it’s way into film, Walt created a third short which was equipped with sound and music called Steamboat Willie. Walt voiced Mickey, and the cartoon was an instant hit.
“I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I have ever known.” – Walt Disney
In 1929, Walt introduced Mickey Mouse’s friends: Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluto and Donald Duck. Walt’s journey to fame got even better in 1932 when he won his first Academy Award. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt’s first full length animated movie, came out in December 1937. It cost $1,499,000 to produce, an unimaginable amount amidst the Depression. Over the next five years, Walt Disney Studios released more full length feature films, including Pinocchio, Dumbo, Fantasia and Bambi. The 50’s brought more animated features including Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians. Walt was first to use TV for entertainment purposes and his shows, Mickey Mouse Club, Zorro and Davy Crockett were extremely popular.
“For years afterward, I hated Snow White because every time I’d make a feature after that, they’d always compare it with Snow White, and it wasn’t as good as Snow White.” – Walt Disney
Walt had always dreamed of starting a theme park where children could enjoy with their families, take fun rides and see their favorite Disney characters. His dream became a reality in 1955 when Disneyland Park opened and began entertaining worldwide tourists. Within a few years of the opening, Disney began plans for another theme park and Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) in Florida. In 1966, while the park was still under construction, Disney was diagnosed with lung cancer. He passed away on December 15, 1966 at the age of 65. Walt was cremated and his ashes were interred at Forest Lawn Cemetery in California.
“Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America…with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to the world.” – Walt Disney
After Walt died, Roy carried on the plans to finish the Florida theme park, which opened in 1971 under the name Walt Disney World.
“All our dreams can come true — if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney
Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams!