This is going to be an ongoing thing on Wednesday’s. Every Wednesday I’ll either give some great Walt facts, a bit of history, suggest a book, something to do with Walt’s life or his visions. If it wasn’t for this man we’d not have Mickey Mouse, Disneyland, or anything else Disney related. Walt was a visionary and never accepted anything unless it was great.
week 1 July 15, 2015
Walter “Walt” Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago to Elias and Flora. Walt had three older brothers Herbert born in 1888, Raymond “Ray” born in 1890, and Roy born in 1893. Walt had one sister, Ruth born in 1903. When Walt was four this family moved to a farm in Marceline, Missouri. In Marceline Walt discovered a love for drawing and trains. In 1906 Herbert and Ray left the family. The family then moved to Kansas City in 1911. Walt began working for his father delivering newspapers. In 1917 the Disney family moved back to Chicago when Elias got a new job. Walt began drawing cartoons for his high school newspaper and took night classes at Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. In 1919 Walt moved back to Kansas City to begin work as an artist. Roy helped him a job a Pesmen-Rubin- Art Studio where he helped create ads. At the studio he met Ubbe Iwerks and they later left the studio to begin working together.
Week 2 July 22, 2015
In 1920 Walt and Ubbe started “Iweks-Disney Commercial Artist.” The company had a rough start and Walt left for a short time to work at Kansas City Film Ad Company. Ubbe followed since he could not run the company on his own. While at Kansas City Film Ad Company Walt worked on cutout animation commercials and became interested in animation. The owner Mr. Cauger allowed Walt to bring a camera home to experiment with. Walt then read Animated Cartoons:How They Are Made, Their Origin and Development by Edwin Lutz. Walt’s focus moved to cel animation. He hired Fred Harman as his first employee and they began working on Laugh-O-Grams. Walt used Aesop’s fables and they began creating modern fairytales. The cartoons were shown at a theater owned by Frank Newman. Walt started his own studio Laugh-O-Gram on May 18, 1922 and hired more employees including Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, and Ubbe Iwerks. Walt had money issues and was unable to keep the studio going, it was then he decided to move to California where most movies were made.
Week 3 July 29, 2015
Two months after arriving in California Walt and his brother Roy put their money together to start a studio in Hollywood. Ubbe Iwerks and his family traveled out to California as well. This was the start of the Disney Brother’s Studio on Hyperion Avenue and it remained there until 1939. In 1925 Walt hired a woman named Lillian Bounds to help ink and paint, after a short time they married on July 25, 1925. In 1926 Universal wanted a new animated series and signed the Disney Studio to do it. Oswald the lucky Rabbit was a big draw. He was created and drawn by Ubbe Iwerks. In 1928 Walt went to New York to negotiate a higher fee for the Oswald series and the producer Charles Mintz suggested that the studio get a lower rate. Most of the Disney animators were under contract with Mintz, he planned to start his own studio and he took all the animators except Iwerks who refused to leave Walt. The Walt Disney company got the rights to Oswald back in 2006.
Book suggestion- Walt Disney: An American Original By: Bob Thomas
Week 4 August 4, 2015
After loosing Oswald Walt wanted the next character to be a mouse, based on the pet he owned at Laugh-O-Gram Studios. Ubbe Iwerks drew the mouse and Walt was the voice. Lillian Disney helped come up with the name Mickey Mouse, Walt was going to call him Mortimer but Lillian thought Mickey sounded better. The first short to feature Mickey was silent called Plane Crazy and the next was Gallopin’ Gaucho. Walt was having trouble fining a distributor, he decided to add sound and Steamboat Willie was created. Pat Powers, a businessman, provided a distribution and Cinephone, a sound- synchronization system. Walt added a background to the first two Mickey shorts. Mickey was a success and Walt decided that all future shorts and features would have sound.
Week 5 August 12, 2015
In 1929 the first of the Silly Symphonies was released. The first two were successful but Walt felt that Pat Powers was not giving the company a fair share so he found a new distribution deal with Columbia Pictures in 1930. Due to the Silly Symphonies not being as successful as Mickey Mouse Columbia dropped Disney in 1931 and United Artists picked up the rights. In 1932 Disney started using Technicolor and reshot Flowers and Trees, this went on to win the first Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons in 1932. Due to the success Disney got a three year deal with Technicolor. Disney went on to complete more Silly Symphonies, the most successful bring The Three Little Pigs in 1933. “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” became a depression anthem.
Week 6 August 19, 2015
Walt and Lillian welcomed their daughter Diane Marie Disney on December 18, 1933. A few years later they adopted Sharon Mae Disney who was born on December 31, 1936. Diane went on to marry Ron Miller at the age of 20 and she was known as Diane Disney Miller. Diane and Ron had seven children: Christopher, Joanna, Tamara, Jennifer, Walter, Ronald, and Patrick. Diane and her children helped to cofound The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. Diane passed away November 19, 2013 from complications of a fall at home. Sharon Disney married Robert Brown in 1959, they had one child. They remained married till his dead in 1967. Sharon married William Lund in 1969 and had two children but they divorced. Sharon passed away at the age of 56 in 1993.
Week 7 August 26, 2015
In 1934 following the success of the Silly Symphonies Walt decided that it was time for the studio to work on their first feature film. When the rest of the film industry heard of the project it was named “Disney’s Folly”. Walt decided that Snow White would be the first feature for the studio. The studio used the movements from Silly Symphonies and Walt hired professor Dan Graham from Chouinard Art Institute to start training the studio staff. A title of the film was suggested Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the feature went into production in 1934 and continued till 1937 when the studio ran out of money. To get more money Walt showed the film to far to loan officers. The film premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater on December 21, 1937 and the audience loved it. Snow White was the first American feature to be made in Technicolor and was released in February 1938 under a new deal with RKO Radio Pictures. The film earned over 8 million on its initial released which is equivalent to 134 million today. Disney received one full sided and seven miniature Oscar statuettes. Walt was able to build a new building for the studio in Burbank which opened on December 24, 1939. Snow White was the start of the “Golden Ave of Animation” for the studio. Pinocchio and Fantasia followed in theaters but neither was as successful. During this time Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Wind in the Willows were also in production. During the production of Dumbo most of the animation staff went on strike putting a lasting strain on relationships with Walt and his artists.
Week 8 September 2, 2015
A short time after Dumbo was released the US entered World War II. The US Army and Navy Bureau of Aeronautics had contracts with the studio to create training videos such as Aircraft Carrier Landing Signals and morale-boosting shorts like Der Fueher’s Face. The military was also working out of the studio. The work with the military did not bring in the necessary money to keep production quality high so Bambi did not do as well as expected when it was released. The studio did win an Academy Award for the 1943 feature Victory Through Air Power. In 1944 Snow White was re-released and this was the start of the studios 7 year re-release tradition for features. In 1941 the US State Department sent Walt and a group of animators to South America as part of the Good Neighbor policy. Walt used this time to help finance his two South American themed movies Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. The Three Caballeros was the last feature released by Disney during the war. During the war Walt worked on an insignia for the soldiers. Walt had wanted to fight during the first World War but was too young, he had worked as an ambulance driver during the end of the war in Europe. Walt did not take any money for the designs. Walt with the help of Hank Porter, Roy Williams, Bill Justice, Van Kaufman, Ed Parks, and George Goepper created over 1200 unique insignias.
Week 9 September 8, 2015
After the war ended the studio continued work on Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland which had been stopped because of funding. The studio also began work on Cinderella which would become the most successful movie since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Starting in 1948 the studio began working on live action nature films. The titles were True-Life Adventure and On Seal Island was the first. The studio had to now compete with Warner Brothers and Bugs Bunny. By 1949 Donald Duck was Disney’s new star taking over from Mickey Mouse. During this time the studio took to releasing collections of cartoon shorts with Make Mine Music, Melody Time, Fun and Fancy Free, and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The studio also started full length dramatic features with Song of the South andSo Dear to My Heart. In the 1950s Disney worked with NASA to create educational space films with Man in Space and Man and the Moon. During the Second Red Scare Walt testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee and names Herbert Sorrell, David Silberman, and William Pomerance as Communists but all three men denied this. Walt also went against the Screen Cartoonist Guild as being a Communist from and claimed that the 1941 strike was a way to gain support. In 1955 Walt was approved by the FBI as an official Special Agent in Charge a title he kept until his death.
Week 10 September 23, 2015
In 1949 the Disney family moved to a new house in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles. Walt wanted a backyard railroad and with the help of Ward and Betty Kimball he started working on the project. It was known as the Carolwood Pacific Railroad since the family lived on Carolwood Drive. The railroad was a half a mile long and the track had a bridge, overpasses, and a tunnel. He named the train Lilly Belle after his wife. A mini museum about the Carolwood Pacific Railroad can be viewed at the Wilderness Lodge. The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Fransisco also has materials from the railroad.
In the late 1940s Walt began to toy with the idea of creating a theme park. Originally he saw it as a place for his employees to use to spend time with their family. He was influenced after a visit to Children’s Fairyland in Oakland. Walt spent 5 years developing plans of what would be known as Disneyland. A new company called WED Enterprises was created to plan and create the park. The employees were known as Imagineers, this term is still used today. Walt an Roy were not in agreement over the park. Roy worried about the money while Walt knew that given time a park would help the brand. Eventually they were given funding and the park was soon being built. Walt wanted the park to feel like an escape but land was limited in Anaheim. He bought the land he could and on July 17, 1955 Disneyland opened. Walt spent a great deal of time in the park while it was being built. A suit for his family was built on Main Street so Walt could stay on property and be close by incase he was needed.
Week 11 September 30, 2015
In 1950 Treasure Island became the studio’s first live action movie. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was released in 1954, Old Yeller in 1957, The Shaggy Dog in 1959, Pollyanna in 1960, Swiss Family Robinson in 1960, The Absent-Minded Professor in 1961, The Parent Trap in 1961, Babes in Toyland in 1961, and Son of Flubber in 1963. The studio also had their eyes set on TV. Their first special was called One Hour in Wonderland and it premiered in 1950. Walt began hosting a weekly series on ABC titled Disneyland where he aired clips, gave tours, and spoke about the park as it was being built. In 1954 and 1955 the show also featured the Davy Crocket miniseries, it was made up of 5 1 hour episodes about the frontiersman. Disneyland was renamed Walt Disney Presents in 1955. The show was upgraded from black and white to color in 1961 and the name was then changed to Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and the show moved to NBC. To this day she show is alive under the name The Wonderful World of Disney and shows periodically air on ABC, CBS, NBC, Hallmark Channel, and Cartoon Network. In 1955 the studio released it’s first daily tv show called The Mickey Mouse Club.It was a comedy and variety show. Walt took a huge interest in the show, he even did Mickey’s voice during the animated segments from 1955-59. The show continued in various forms until the 1990s.
Week 12 October 7, 2015
Walt was the Head of Pageantry for the 1960 Winter Olympics. Walt also acquired the rights to P.L. Travers books, he had been pursuing the books for decades. Mary Poppins was released in 164 and was the most successful Disney movie of the decade. In 1964 Disney had several exhibits at New York World’s Fair. Figures from It’s A Small World were featured as was Abraham Lincoln was part of great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Both of these exhibits became part of Disneyland. In 1865 Walt announced plans to open a second theme park called “Disney Land” outside Orlando, Florida. The Magic Kingdom was to be a larger version of Disneyland. This resort would also feature hotels, golf courses, and the main draw was to the EPCOT or “Experimental Prototype City/Community of Tomorrow.” Walt also had an idea to open a ski resort in Mineral King a glacial valley in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. Will Schaeffer was one of the experts he hired to help plan the resort. The resort was never built due to Walt’s illness and opposition from conservationists.
Week 13 October 13, 2015
Walt was a chain smoker his adult life but was always sure not to be seen smoking around children. In 1966 Walt was scheduled to have surgery to repair a neck injury caused by years of playing polo at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center which was right across the street from the Disney Studio. On November 2 during pre-operative x-rays doctors found a tumor in his left lung and day later a biopsy showed it to be cancerous and had spread to his entire left lung. Walt’s lung was removed on November 11 and Walt was told he had about six months to two years to live. On November 30 Walt collapsed at home and was rushed back to St. Joseph’s. Walt’s spokesperson said he was there for a check-up. On December 15 at 9:30am just 10 days after his 65th birthday Walt passed away. Walt was cremated on December 17, 1966 and his ashes were placed in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. The cause was listed as circulatory collapse caused by lung cancer. The last animated movies Walt was involved with were: The Jungle Book and the short Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. He was also involved with that live action musical Happiest Millionaire.
For years a urban legend has been circulating that Walt had been cryonically frozen and his corpse was stored beneath Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland. This could not have been possible since the first human cryonic freezing happens more then a month later. Disney publicists claimed this rumor started with Disney Animations who wanted to play one last joke on their boss. In 1972 Walt’s daughter, Diane, confirmed her father had not been frozen and doubted that he knew about the process.
Week 14 October 21, 2015
After Walt’s death Roy returned from retirement to run Walt Disney Productions and WED Enterprises. On October 1971 Roy and Walt’s families stood in front of Cinderella Castle as Walt Disney World was officially opened. In 1982 EPCOT was the second theme park to open. EPCOT is an ongoing world fair instead of the planned community that Walt envisioned. In 1992 Walt Disney Imagineering helped create Celebration, Florida a town similar to Walt’s original plan for EPCOT. Currently the Walt Disney Company owns 5 vacation resorts, 11 theme parks, 2 water parks, 8 movie studios, 6 record labels, 11 cable networks, and 1 network tv station. The parks segment of the company is the largest. In 2013 that company made over 45 billion and employed 175,000 people. The Disney Animation Studios continued making films after Walt’s death but it wasn’t until 1989 when they regained their confidence and former glory with the start of the Disney Renaissance. In the early 2000s the studio closed the two satellite studios in Paris and Orlando and the main studio was converted to computer animation. In 2004 Disney announced that Home on the Range would be the last film t use hand drawn animation. In 2009 The Princess and the Frog was the first hand drawn film in several years. Since 2009 they now employ both hand and computer artists. In 2009 the Walt Disney Family Museum opened in San Francisco. Diane Disney Miller and her children helped create the museum and since her passing her children run the facility. Recently artifacts on showcase in Hollywood Studios at Walt One Man’s Dream have been moved to the museum.