Walt DisneyOccupation / Title:
05/12/1901Date of death:
In 1919, Walt landed a job with the Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Art Studio making $50 a month. There, he met a young artist named Ubbe Iwwerks. The two became friends and formed their own company called Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists. Ubbe handled the illustrating and lettering while Walt handled the cartooning and sales. During their first month of business, Walt heard of an opening for a commercial artist at the Kansas City Slide Company. Ubbe told Walt to apply, and promised to keep up with Iwerks-Disney. Unfortunately, Ubbe was not the great salesperson that Walt was, and Iwerks-Disney soon failed.
In May 1922, Walt incorporated a new enterprise, Laugh-O-gram Films, Inc. He wanted to create New York-style animated shorts. Walt convinced 20 year old Ubbe to join the Laugh-O-gram studio. Walt also hired a business manager, an inker-painter, a salesman, and a secretary. Walt and Ubbe were 20 at the time, and the other employees were still in their teens. Two of them were Hugh Herman and Rudolf Ising, the first directors of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. The company threw out cartoons that gave an updated twist out classic fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Cinderella.
After six cartoon shorts, the company went bankrupt, and Walt had to lay off employees and cut artists’ pay in half. Ubbe returned to the Kansas City Film Ad Company, yet he still helped out at Laugh-O-gram several nights a week. Walt took Max Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell idea of a cartoon character jumping in the real world, and reversed it by making a real character jump into a cartoon world in the Alice Comedies. Alice was played by a 4 year old named Virginia Davis. Walt guided Virginia by making her do various movements in front of a plain background. The animation was later added by Walt, Ubbe, and other artists.
In early July 1923, Laugh-O-gram Films, Inc. filed for bankruptcy. The court allowed Walt to keep one camera and his unfinished Alice film. His other equipment was taken to pay off his creditors. Walt sent his unfinished Alice film to Margaret Winkler along with a letter stating that he was no longer with Laugh-O-gram Films, Inc. Margaret offered him a contract for six Alice films at $1,500 per film. Walt had no money, so he asked his brother Roy and their uncle Robert for some financial help. Roy jumped to the opportunity, and Robert hesitantly handed over the money. Margaret insisted on having the original Alice character, Virginia Davis, brought back.
Walt offered Virginia’s mother a one year contract if she would move to Hollywood. Within days, Virginia and her mother were aboard a train to California. Walt signed the contract for M.J. Winkler Productions on October 16, 1923. In February 1924, Walt moved to a storefront which had gold-leaf lettering on the window that read ‘Disney Bros. Studio’. In June, Walt convinced Ubbe to move to Hollywood and join the Disney studio. Margaret’s new husband, Charles Mintz, cut Walt’s income from $1,500 to $900 per film and told him to take it or leave it. Walt gritted his teeth and accepted the terms.
In 1923, Walt hired a woman named Lillian Bounds to be his inker-painter of his company. I was not love at first sight for either Lillian or Walt. However, as time passed on, Walt began giving Lillian long car rides home. He eventually asked Lillian if he bought a decent suit, would she invite him into the house to meet her sister. She answered yes. Walt rushed to Roy and told him he needed $40 to buy a suit. Roy, of course, gave it to him, and Walt was welcomed into the house. He won the favor of Lillian’s sister, Hazel, her daughter, Marjorie, and their mother. One night while sitting at a movie, Walt leaned over and asked Lillian if he should buy a new car or an engagement ring for her finger. Her response was ‘an engagement ring’.
On July 13, 1925, Walt and Lillian were married in Lewiston, Idaho. In 1927, Walt created another character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The distribution was entrusted to Mintz, and was supported by Carl Laemmle’s Universal. Mintz wanted the Oswald films to be completed at the cost of $1,800. When Walt replied that it was impossible to pull his request off, Mintz threw the bomb on him. Mintz replied that in order for Walt to stick with the Oswald cartoons, he would have to sign up under him as another employee, and most of Walt’s employee’s except for Ubbe, had already signed up. Walt was heartbroken, and refused to sign up under Mintz. Instead, he just walked away, and never looked back.
One day, while riding a train, Walt sketched a picture of a mouse and named him Mortimer. He showed the sketch to Lillian, and she requested that he change the name to Mickey. Walt then took the sketch to Ubbe who put the finishing design on the mouse. Mickey Mouse had just been born. Mickey’s first short film appearance was in Plane Crazy. The film had some good close-ups, but the quality level was still about the same. From a graphic viewpoint, Mickey was no more charismatic than Oswald. However, it did not take long for Mickey to become the most famous character of all time.
Mickey Mouse’s first cartoon, Plane Crazy, aired on May 15, 1928. The film was drawn in six weeks by Ubbe. Ubbe put out about 700 drawings per day, and Walt, Lillian, and Roy’s wife Edna hand-inked the scenes. It was a silent film. The audience fell in love with Mickey. Walt was still receiving rejection from critics. The critics stated that Mickey Mouse still resembled Felix the Cat and Oswald. So, Walt decided to set his character apart from all the other. He would teach his mouse how to talk. With the release of Steamboat Willie on November 18, 1928, there was music, dialog from the characters, comedic rhythms, and outstanding sound effects.
Only eight months after Charles Mintz stole Oswald from under Walt’s nose, Walt was at the top of the cartoon industry. In 1929, the first Mickey Mouse club was formed in Ocean Park, California. Mickey was considered to be Walt’s alter-ego. Walt and Lillian’s dreams were coming true. Mickey Mouse won the favor of most homes, they had money pouring out of their pockets, and the Disney business was going very well. There was just one little missing detail. They wanted a child of their own. Lillian already had two miscarriages, and the couple did not want to disappointed again. Walt did not care whether they had a boy or a girl, he just wanted a child of his own.
On December 18, 1933, Walt and Lillian became two proud parents of a baby girl. They named her Diane Marie Disney. Walt decided to attempt another obstacle. He wanted to create a full-length animated film entitled Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Since none of Walt’s animator’s were skilled at drawing people, he hired teachers for different art school’s to come and instruct his animator’s on different proportions and body movements.
On December 21, 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles. Walt won an Academy Award for the film on February 23, 1939 presented by Shirley Temple. Walt’s riskiest idea had yet to be created. Walt wanted to create his own fairy tale amusement park like the one’s he remembered from his childhood. It was first going to be called Mickey Mouse Park, but it was later renamed Disneyland. Disneyland opened in 1955. It is a magic kingdom that brings out the kid in everyone that visited then, now, and in the future years to come.
Although Walt died 10 days after his 65 birthday in the year 1966, his spirit still lives on. Walter Elias Disney was a very wise man with a vision that no one believed in but him. Walt brought a new revolution with each year. His films are poetic, his stories unforgettable, and his legacy still lives on. Walt’s life should be an inspiration to all to strive for the best, continue to learn, and remember that anything is possible.
Family and early life
Born Walter Elias Disney, he was one of five children to Elias and Flora Disney. He had three older brother and one younger sister. Elias Disney was an inflexible, unimaginative man. He was a hard worker and usually made a decent living. He always opened his own businesses, and when one would fail, he would move to another part of the country to start another one. He was a risk taker. Elias would offer a free meal and a place to sleep to strangers. He was very sociable, and knew how to connect to people. Flora was the daughter of a scholar. Being a school teacher, she taught her children how to read before they started attending school. She was good with finances and often helped Elias with business enterprises. Flora drew the plans for the Disney family home in Chicago, and Elias built the house and painted it.
In 1906, the Disney family moved to Marceline, Missouri to get away from the city influences. Unimpressed with the farm life, Walt’s two oldest brothers left home one night on a train back to Chicago. After their departure, Roy Oliver Disney took over the role of Walt’s protector. Walt loved the farm, and treated the animals as his friends. He named every animal and created stories about them.
In 1909, Elias fell very ill and had to sell the farm. Walt openly cried when every animal was auctioned off. They moved to Kansas City. Elias purchased a Kansas City Star distributorship and made Roy and Walt deliver papers every morning at 3:30 a.m. without pay. Sometimes the boys would have to work through the Kansas City blizzard against their will.
Walt’s characters were influenced from his childhood of living on a farm. His films always included an animal casting. Walt’s early drawings were ideas taken from Felix the Cat. Even Mickey Mouse included a mix of Felix the Cat and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit formations. Walt was never considered a great animator, however he was a great storyteller and had outstanding comedic timing.
Walt was greatly influenced by Dr. L. I. Sherwood who praised his drawing style, although it wasn’t that good at the time. Walt’s uncle Robert and aunt Margaret would bring pencils and Crayola paper tablets for him to draw on at a time when other grownups were not that interested or encouraging. He was influenced by two amusement parks in Kansas City. One was Fairmount Park, which had giant dipper rides, a nine-hole golf course, a zoo, and swimming and boating on a natural lake. Electric Park influenced Walt’s imagination. It was the largest amusement park in America at that time. It featured band concerts, thrill rides, and nighttime fireworks displays. It also had a steam-powered train that circled the park.
When Walt was 15, two Chicago newspaper cartoonists, Leroy Gossett and Carey Orr, mentored Walt and encouraged him to become a newspaper cartoonist. Two books altered the course of Walt’s life. The first was Eadweard Muybridge’s ‘The Human Figure in Motion’, which showed various actions like running, walking, and throwing a ball. The second book was ‘Animated Cartoons: How They are Made, Their Origins and Development’ by Carl Lutz. Walt admired Max Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell cartoons. This idea inspired the Alice cartoons. Charlie Chaplin was the inspiration for Mickey Mouse.
Honors and awards
Annie Award: Winsor McCay Award 1975 32 Academy Awards Best Animation Design, Cannes 1947 Special Prize, Venice 1950 Golden Bear, Berlin 1951
- Williams, Pat. How to be like Walt. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 2004
- Lenburg, Jeff. The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons. New York: Facts on File, 1991.
- Kanfer, Stefan. Serious Business. New York: Scribner, 1997.
- Bendazzi, Giannalberto. One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994.