Walter Elias Disney was born on the 5th of December 1901, in Hermosa, Illinois. Walter, (more commonly known as Walt) was one of five children; 4 boys and 1 girl to Elias and Flora Disney.
Walt lived most of his childhood in Marceline, Missouri where he first started drawing, painting and selling pictures to neighbours and family friends. In 1911 the family moved to Kansas City where Elias purchased newspaper delivery rounds for The Kansas City Star and Kansas City Times. Walt and his brother Roy would get up at 4.30 every morning to deliver the Kansas City Times and then would do the same run for The Kansas City Star after school. He done this job for more than 6 years while also attending Saturday classes at the Kansas City Art Institute and took a corresponding course in cartooning.
In 1917, Elias bought stock in a Chicago jelly producer, the O-Zell Company, and moved back to the city with his family. Walt enrolled at McKinley High School and became the cartoonist of the school newspaper, drawing patriotic pictures about World War I. At the age of 16, Walt dropped out of school to enlist in the army; he was rejected because of his age. Instead, he joined The Red Cross and was sent to France to drive an ambulance for a year. He returned to the USA in 1919.
In 1919, Walt moved to Kansas City to pursue a career as a newspaper artist. His brother Roy got him a job at the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio, where he met cartoonist Ubbe Eert Iwerks, better known as Ub Iwerks. From there, Walt worked at the Kansas City Film Ad Company, where he made commercials based on cut-out animation. Around this time, Walt began experimenting with a camera, doing hand-drawn cel animation and decided to open his own animation business. From the ad company, he recruited Fred Harman as his first employee.
Walt and Harman made a deal with a local Kansas City theatre to screen their cartoons, which they called Laugh-O-Grams. The cartoons were hugely popular, and Walt was able to acquire his own studio, upon which he bestowed the same name. Laugh-O-Gram hired several employees, including Harman’s brother Hugh and Iwerks. They did a series of seven-minute fairy tales that combined both live action and animation, which they called Alice in Cartoonland. By 1923, however, the studio had become burdened with debt, and Walt was forced to declare bankruptcy.
Walt and his brother Roy soon pooled their money together and moved to Hollywood. Iwerks also relocated to California, and there the three began the Disney Brothers’ Studio. Their first deal was with New York distributor Margaret Winkler, to distribute their Alice cartoons. They also invented a character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and contracted the shorts at $1,500 each.
A few years later Walt discovered that Margaret Winkler and her husband had stolen the rights to Oswald along with all of Walt’s Animators apart from Iwerks. As soon as Walt found this out, the three of them (Walt, Roy and Iwerks), produced 3 cartoons featuring a brand-new character by the name of Mickey Mouse. The first 2 animated shorts Mickey appeared in were; Plane Crazy and The Galloping Gaucho, both where silent films for which Walt failed to find distribution for. Walt then created a 3rd short that included sound and music called Steamboat Willie with Walt as the voice of Mickey. Steamboat Willie was an instant success.
In 1929, Walt created Silly Symphonies which featured Mickey and his new gang of friends; Minnie, Pluto, Donald and Goofy. The most popular of these cartoons was called Flowers and Trees, this was the first of Disney’s Cartoons that was produced in colour and to win an Oscar.
On the 21st December 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt’s first full-length feature film premiered in Los Angeles. Snow White produced an unimaginable $1.499 million, in spite of the depression that was taking place in the USA at the time. Snow White went on to win a total of 8 Oscars. During the next 5 years, Walt Disney Studios went on to produced more full-length feature films including; Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942).
In December 1939, Walt decided to build a brand-new animation studio in Burbank California which is still used to this day. In 1941 there was a huge set back for Walt and his company when the Disney animators decided to strike and many of them resigned. It would take a long time for the company to fully recover from this. A few months after the strike had ended, World War 2 arrived at the new Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.
During the mid-1940’s Walt decided to make packaged features. A group of animated shorts strung together to run at feature length. Some of these included; The Three Caballeros and The Songs of the South. It wasn’t until 1950 that Walt turned back to full length animated features. Over the next 20 years some of Disney’s best animated films where released; Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955), Sleeping Beauty (1959), One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), The Sword and the Stone (1963), Mary Poppins (1964), The Jungle Book (1967) and The Aristocats (1970). Walt didn’t get to see the production of the last two films as he passed away in 1966.
For several years Walt had been thinking about building a theme park. In March 1952 Walt received planning permission on an 8-acre lot next to the Burbank Studios but he soon found out that this plot wasn’t going to be big enough. They soon found a plot in Anaheim California where Disneyland was soon to be built. Before Walt decided on the name of Disneyland, the theme park was going to be called Mickey Mouse Village, but he then later decided on Disneyland. Construction started on the park in July 1954 and opened 1 year later in July 1955. Although there were some early teething problems when the park first opened, after just a month of opening Disneyland was getting 20,000 visitors a day and by the end of the first year, Disneyland had 3.6 million guests.
In late 1965, Walt Announced his 2nd theme park to be built called Disneyworld (now known as Walt Disney World). Disneyworld was to include Magic Kingdom: a bigger more elaborate version of Disneyland and EPCOT – Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Walt had visions that EPCOT was to be the main attraction to Disneyworld as the park of the future.
Walt never got to see Disneyworld finished as he sadly passed away in December 1966, 10 days after his 65th birthday. Walt died of circulatory collapse caused by lung cancer. Walt’s remains were cremated 2 days later and his ashes were put at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale California.
I hope you all enjoyed my piece on the man who invented the mouse, Walt Disney.
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