December 5, 1901
Born In: Chicago, Illinois
Career: Film Producer, Voice Actor, Director, Animator, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist
Walter Elias Disney, fondly called 'Walt Disney', was a film producer, voice actor, director, animator, entrepreneur and philanthropist. He is accredited with revolutionizing animated movies and bringing about many changes in the way they were filmed. He played an influential role in the field of entertainment during the 20th century. A co-founder of the Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney is known to the whole world as the mastermind behind the very popular cartoon character - Mickey Mouse. He is also credited for designing the famous amusement park - Disneyland.
Walter Elias Disney was born on 5 December 1901 at Chicago, Illinois. His father, Elias Disney, was an Irish-Canadian and his mother, Flora Call Disney, was a German-American. Walter had four siblings. Roy was his brother and Ruth was his sister. Walter's ancestors belonged to Gowran, County Kilkenny (Ireland). Walter developed his love and passion for drawing at the tender age of four. During the time, he was living with his family in Marceline, Missouri. Drawing and sketching were the favorite hobbies of Walter Disney.
Walt Disney had the inherent talent to make beautiful drawings that were the works of his vivid imagination. At the age of seven, he even sold some of his best drawings to his neighbors. Recognizing the fact that the talent of drawing was inherent in him, he decided to fine-tune his art. Therefore, he joined an art academy in Chicago to sharpen his skills in drawing. He participated in several drawing competitions and started doing photography for the school paper.
The Disneys stayed in Marceline for the next four years until 1911, when they shifted their base to Kansas City. There, Walter and his sister Ruth were enrolled into Benton Grammar School. In Kansas City, he came across Walter Pfeiffer, the person responsible for developing Walt Disney's affinity towards the world of vaudeville and motion pictures. During this time, Disney spent most of the time at the Pfeiffer residence.
Elias Disney moved back to Chicago in 1917, when he obtained shares in the O-Zell jelly factory. Walt Disney attended the McKinley High School there and also joined night classes at Chicago Art Institute. Due to his talent, he was offered the position of a cartoonist for the school's newspaper. The cartoons made by him were highly patriotic and focused primarily on World War I. In order to join the military services, Disney dropped out of high school, at the age of sixteen. However, he faced rejection from the Army, because he was too young to be enrolled into the service.
Although he was rejected from the Army, Disney didn't give up on his mission to serve the people. He, along with one of his friends, joined the Red Cross Society. He acted as a volunteer, while working with the organization. In the meantime, he also practiced drawing and sketching and kept on developing new ways to represent ideas. He even decorated the ambulance of Red Cross Society, which he drove, with cartoons, sketches and drawings.
Since Walt Disney was interested in drawing, he decided to go back to Kansas City, in order to pursue a career in the art form. So, he left Chicago in the year 1919 and went back to Kansas City, where he decided to pursue his career as an artist, drawing political caricatures or comic strips in newspapers. After being rejected by professionals, who refused to hire him as an artist or as an ambulance driver, Walter approached his brother Roy, working at a bank in the area, to get him a job.
Walter worked with Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio. There, Disney assumed the position of an artist, who created advertisements for newspapers, movie theatres and magazines. However, his contract with Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio expired soon and he was thrown out of the job. Thereafter, Disney partnered with a cartoonist named Ubbe Iwerks (ex-employee of the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio), to start their own commercial company, in January 1920 and named it "Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists".
Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists" survived only for a short time. Disney left it on a temporary basis, to earn money at Kansas City Film Ad Company. However, he was soon joined by Iwerks, who failed to run the company all alone. While working with Kansas City Film Ad Company, Disney created commercials based on cutout animation. This generated an interest for animation in Disney. It was around this time only that he decided to become a professional animator.
At home, Disney experimented with a camera, which he had borrowed from A.V. Cauger, the owner of the Ad Company. During the period, Disney read a book on animation, named 'Animated Cartoons', written by Edwin G. Lutz. He learned a lot about how animated cartoons were made, their origin and development. After learning about cel animation, Disney realized that it was much more interesting than the cut out animation, which he created for the Ad Company. Soon, he decided to start animation business on his own.
The first employee hired by Walt Disney, in relation to his animation company, was his ex-colleague Fred Harman. Walt and Harman purchased air time from a local theater owner Frank L. Newman, to broadcast their cartoons at his local theatre. The cartoons were named 'Laugh-O-Grams'. With no time, the cartoons gained popularity in the Kansas City area. It was after the success of the 'Laugh-O-Grams' that Disney was able to hire more people in his own studio.
Walt Disney Company
The animators working in the studio of firm Walt Disney included Harman's brother Hugh Harman, Rudolph Isling and his old friend Ubbe Iwerks. However, high salaries of the employees cost Disney a lot. He was burdened with heavy debt, because he was unable to manage the finance. Eventually, the studio became bankrupt and its shutters were pulled down. Soon after the failure of his studio, Disney eyed the glamorous world of Hollywood, California, to set up his studio.
Disney managed to arrange finance, with the assistance of his brother Roy, to open a cartoon studio in Hollywood. Established on 16 October 1923, the studio came to be known as the 'Walt Disney Company' later on. Disney was still searching for a distributor for his new Alice Comedies, which he had already made in Kansas City. He got a positive response from New York distributor Margaret Winkler, who was interested in finalizing a distribution deal with Disney, for the animated shorts based upon Alice's Wonderland.
Alice Comedies ran successfully, featuring both Dawn O'Day and Margie Gay as Alice. Lois Hardwick was also given the chance to play the role of Alice, for a short period. During the time, animated characters, especially the cat named Julius, who resembled Felix the Cat, scored more than the live-action Alice, in terms of popularity. The comedy series ended in 1927.
The story behind the emergence of the very popular cartoon character - Mickey Mouse - is quite interesting. Developed in 1928, it was the brain child of Walt Disney. He kept it as the central character in his animated series and movies. The character was based on a pet that he adopted, while working in the Kansas City Studio. Iwerks contributed his part, by drawing easy sketches for Mickey, so that it could be animated effortlessly. Although Iwerks designed the sketches of Mickey Mouse, Disney gave the 'soul' to the character.
Disney was the one provided the voice and personality to Mickey Mouse. 'Plane Crazy' was his first cartoon movie, with Mickey Mouse playing the lead character. However, the movie was never released, mainly because it was a silent film. Disney soon released another cartoon movie, named 'Steamboat Willie' (with sound effects), with Mickey Mouse as the central character. It served as the debut movie of Mickey Mouse, which premiered at the Colony Theater in New York, in November 1928.
After the instant success of 'Steamboat Willie', 'Plane Crazy' and all other Mickey Mouse cartoons were released. However, this time, they had been equipped with the right sound effects. Disney was the one who provided the voice for Mickey Mouse (he continued to do so till 1946). In the early 1930s, Mickey Mouse replaced Felix the Cat, whose popularity had faded away, and soon became the most popular cartoon character of Disney.
Following the immense popularity of Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney launched another series of musical shorts, named 'Silly Symphonies', in the year 1929. This was his first Technicolor cartoon movie, which fetched him the Academy Awards as well. Iwerks continued to collaborate with Disney and also drew sketches for majority of the cartoons released by the former during 1928 and 1929.
- Walter Disney brought revolutionary changes to the cartoons created by him. He started releasing cartoon movies in Technicolor and added various effects as well.
- Mickey Mouse was redesigned by animator Fred Moore in the late 1930s. Other cartoon characters, including Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto, also emerged. Donald Duck gained instant popularity among theatre audiences, during the period.
- Multiple camera techniques were some of the most noted developments in the field of animation, adopted by Disney.
- Walter started producing big budget animated movies, including 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs', 'Fantasia', 'Pinocchio', 'Dumbo' etc.
- By the beginning of 1940s, Walt Disney Company had expanded manifold. It made special films for the US Armed Forces, apart from health-related films and short films with special messages.
- During the post world war period, stretching from 1945 to 1955, Disney Studios created package films, where were inexpensive. They featured the collections of cartoon shorts, run by theatres. Some of the most popular cartoon shorts during the period included Saludos Amigos (1942), its sequel The Three Caballeros (1945), Fun and Fancy Free (1947), and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949).
- Disney produced animated movies for educational and entertainment purposes. He collaborated with NASA rocket designer Wernher von Braun, to produce educational films on the space programs, in the mid 1950s. These include 'Man in Space' and 'Man and the Moon', in 1955, and 'Mars and Beyond', in 1957.
- By the beginning of 1950, Walt Disney established himself as one of the most promising and well known movie producers.
- In 1961, Disney extended his assistance in establishing the California Institute of Arts, to encourage the budding artists to nurture their talent in the field of art.
Walt Disney designed, built and opened a theme park in Anaheim, California. The amusement park was opened to public on 18 July 1955. The entire idea behind the construction of the theme park came in the mind of Disney when he visited the Griffith Park, with his daughters Diane and Sharon. The park is currently operated by the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company.
Walt Disney tied the wedding knot with Lillian Bounds in the year 1925, the same year he had met her. The couple had one daughter - Marie Disney and also adopted a boy - Sharon Mae Disney.
Walt Disney was diagnosed with lung cancer, after many years of chain smoking. He was given treatment at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, during the critical stages of his disease. He breathed his last on December 15, 1966, at Burbank, California.
1901: Walt Disney was born
1910: Moved to Kansas City - with his family, Attended Benton Grammar School, Met Walter Pfeiffer - who introduced him to motion pictures
1917: Migrated to Chicago - with his family, Started taking courses at Chicago Art Institute, Joined the Red Cross
1920: Founded Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists Company, with Ubbe Iwerks
1923: Moved to Hollywood, Signed a contract with M.J. Winkler - with Roy
1925: Married Lillian Bounds
1926: Renamed his studio as the Walt Disney Studio
1927: Created the series Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
1928: Created Mickey Mouse, Plane Crazy and Steamboat Willie (first animated cartoon with sound)
1930: Signed a distribution contract with Columbia Pictures
1932: Flowers and Trees won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons, Disney received a special award for Mickey Mouse
1933: ‘The Three Little Pigs’ cartoon became a phenomenal success
1934: Introduced Donald Duck into the Mickey Mouse world
1938: Released Snow White, bringing in the Golden Age of Animation for Disney
1940s: Introduced Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Cinderella
1949: Donald replaced Mickey as Disney’s star character
1950: Produced ‘Treasure Island’, ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ and ‘One Hour In Wonderland’
1955: ‘Mickey Mouse Club’ became the first daily television show, Established Disneyland
1960: Became Head of Pageantry, for the Winter Olympics of that year
1960s: ‘Mary Poppins’ became the most popular Disney film
1966: Disney admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital, later dying of lung cancer.