Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Learning About Walt Disney...

Did you get hit by the big March snowstorm? We sure did! I'd say we got at least 6 inches of new snow, on top of everything that froze from last night's rain, and it's still snowing and blowing like crazy! I'm still feeling under the weather, I just can't seem to shake this cold and it has worn me out. So with the weather and not feeling great, I decided to call in at work today.

I did venture out to the store to pick up a few things, and barely made it back down our road! My youngest son is the only other one who has to work today so the rest of us are just lounging around, reading and goofing around online. I decided to read a book I picked up at the library a week or so ago. It's called Walt Disney, a Biography by Louise Krasniewicz. I thought I'd share what I learned.

Walter Elias Disney was born to Elias (grandfather immigrated from Ireland even though the name Disney is of French origins)  and Flora (Call) on December 5, 1901. He was the fourth son after Herbert (1888), Raymond (1890), Roy (1893), and before Ruth (1903). When his parents were first married, they lived in central Florida, but between the births of Herbert and Raymond, they moved the family to Chicago where his father worked as a carpenter at the World's Fair.

In 1906 they moved to Marceline, Missouri where they decided to try farming. In 1911, they moved to Kansas City and Walt worked his father's paper route. In 1916, the family moved back to Chicago, but Walt stayed in Kansas City. In 1917 he took a summer job working on the railroad, but later joined his family in Chicago where he also took art lasses at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1918 while working at the Chicago post office, Walt narrowly missed being injured by a bomb, and that led to he and.a friend lying about their ages so they could join the Red Cross Ambulance Corp. After WWI ended, Walt was sent to Europe to be a driver for the Red Cross.  He sent his earnings (and gambling winnings) home to his mother to save for him, so by the time he returned to the states, he had enough money saved up to start his own business. He also spent time drawing cartoons and sent them back to the United States hoping to sell them but they were all rejected.

In 1919, while working for the Gray Advertising Company, Walt met Ub Iwerks. Their positions were only temporary,so after the holidays when they were both laid off, they decided to go into business together. They called their company Iwwerks-Disney Commercial Artists. Only a week into the new business venture, Walt found an ad for a job at Kansas City Film Ad Company, an couldn't resist the pull, so he left the business to Ub. Unfortunately, Iwwerks-Disney failed just two months later,

Walt was able to recommend Ub for a job at Kansas City Film Ad Company and he was hired. They worked together on animated advertisements that were shown in local movie houses. They were making around $40 a week. During that time, Walt studied a lot of different animation techniques and even tried his hand at filming a short film in his brother's garage. He was able to sell it, but he only made enough to cover his expenses. He made several political cartoons that he called Newman Laugh-O-Grams.

He tried to convince his bosses at KCFAC to incorporate cartoons in their offerings but the bosses weren't interested. So on his off time, Walt created a Little Red Riding Hood cartoon. When it was completed, he quit at KCFAC and got several investors to back him and decided to make Newman-Laugh-O-Grams his full time work, along with Ub Iwerks. They even got a big contract to produce seven fairy tales for a company in New York. Unfortunately, the deal fell through, and they never got paid.

At this time,Walt had no money and he had a growing list of people that he owed money to. He got a job that paid $500 to create and educational film for a dentist, called Tommy Tucker's Tooth. This was enough of a confidence boost that Walt started coming up with new ideas and concepts. He just couldn't get anyone to financially back him. At the urging of his brother Roy in 1923, Walt worked to earn enough money photographing babies (and selling his camera equipment) to buy a one way ticket to California (where Roy was already living trying to recover from TB).

He lived with his uncle Robert, but had a hard time finding work. He hung out around movie studio lots pretending to be looking for work, when he was actually watching and learning everything he could about the movie business. He got a role as an extra in a western and decided to set up another make shift studio to try to make some more animated movies. He tried again to sell his ideas to a cartoon distributor in New York (she had previously turned him down), and this time, she made a deal with him to make one film a month for $1500.

Walt convinced Roy to go into business with him and they created the Disney Brothers Studio. They started out on a shoestring of money they gathered from relatives. Walt's parents even mortgaged their house to support their sons endeavor.

In 1925 both Roy and Walt got married. Roy to Edna in April and Walt to Lillian in July. He met Lilly when She came to work for Walt and Roy as a receptionist. She earned $15 a week and ended up painting cells as well as secretarial work.

In 1926 they moved their business into a larger facility and changed the name to Walt Disney Studios. Their biggest project to date was a series of Alice comedies, that they worked on through 1927. While on a train returning from New York (attempting to sort out some issues with his distributor) Walt came up with the idea to start a new series about a mouse, named Mortimer. Lilly didn't care for the name so Walt came up with Mickey. Mickey Mouse was trademarked in May of 1928, although his official birthday is November 18, 1928.

In 1930, Mickey was featured in a comic strip in a newspaper and was touted as "The World Famous Movie Character, Mickey Mouse". In 1940 Mickey was featured in his first comic book. By 1942, and World War II, there was a paper shortage, but that didn't stop them from producing and selling over a million copies a month. They were licensed and produced all over the world in many languages, and by the 1950's over three million comics were sold each month.

In the 1950's, Walt admitted to having had a mental breakdown in the 30's from the stress of always working, always striving to improve, and not making much money. He and Lilly took an extended trip during that time, that led them to Washington D.C., Florida and Cuba for some rest and relaxation. They called it their honeymoon, even though they had been married for ten years. They had their first child (a daughter), Diane in 1933 and adopted a daughter, Sharon Mae in 1937.

In 1938 Walt received three honorary Master's degrees and joined the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers. It would seem with all of the acknowledgements happening in his life that this would be pretty good year for Walt, but it turned out to be a very tragic year for him and his siblings. His parents, who had recently moved to California to live near Walt and Roy (in a house the boys had built for them) succumbed to carbon monoxide fumes from a furnace that was improperly installed. Flora didn't survive, but Elias did. He was said to never be the same as he was before the tragedy.

In 1939, Walt received a special academy award for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and some Disney artifacts were included in a tie capsule for the New York World's Fair. In 1940, Pinocchio was released and Walt and Roy made stock in the Disney Company open to the public. Later that year, Fantasia was released. In 1941 they won an academy award for Pinocchio for best song and best music score.

During the years of 1942 and 1952, many films were released and then re-released, and in 1952 Walt created WED Enterprises (his own company) to develop Disneyland. In 1953, Peter Pan was released and Walt and his team started researching locations in California to eventually place Disneyland. As a way to fund the building of Disneyland, Walt agreed to start a television series. It debuted in 1954 with over 30 million viewers. Within one year, the television show won an Emmy. The amusement park officially opened on July 18,1955. In 1958, the team started researching a location for the second Disney amusement park.

Mary Poppins was released in 1964. It was a combination of animation and live action, and a collaborative effort between Disney and P.L. Travers. It was a hard fought battle to get Mary Poppins to the screen, and the reason I decided to read Walt's biography, well, the new movie about the making of Mary Poppins called Saving Mr. Banks is what actually piqued my interest.

Walt passed away in 1966 from lung cancer, from a lifetime of smoking. He had already purchased 27,000 acres in Florida and had begun work on Disney World when he passed. His brother Roy continued working on it until its grand opening in 1971 and he passed soon after.

I found it interesting that even though he faced a lot of failure and opposition, he kept getting back up, dusting himself off and trying again and again. I was impressed with his family for sticking with him and supporting him every step of the way. Even going as far as mortgaging their home to raise money to help him start yet another project after many failed attempts.

It is also very interesting how one man could have such an influence on our culture. He died before I was born, but I very strongly remember sitting on the couch on Sunday night watching the Wonderful World of Disney. When my boys were little, we had every Disney VHS tape we could find and we watched them all over and over and over. My very favorite is Robin Hood. I even watched it when the boys were napping sometimes! What's your favorite, old or new Disney movie?

Things seem to have changed a lot from those days. People are busier, spending less and less time at home. Off to run kids to sports or clubs or groups. I wonder if any family with young kids actually has a set night where they all gather around the television for a specific show every week like we did when I was a kid. Back then, it wasn't just one night or one show, it evolved into several nights a week with several shows. Remember Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Dukes of Hazzard, and many more?

I hope you enjoyed reading about Walt Disney as much as I did, and as much as I enjoyed sharing it!



  1. Very much enjoyed this information. On Sunday night's at 6:00 it was time to watch The wonderful world of Disney, along with the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom. Such classic's and family time well spent watching on a black and white t.v. till our parents could afford a colour t.v.
    Those were the days.

  2. Interesting bio...
    I know from family members who work at DisneyWorld that the corp bought land around Orlando under assumed names, so that the prices didn't skyrocket. The names are a hoot, though -- M. Mouse, Donald Mallard and the like.

    The Wonderful World of Disney was one of the first shows I can remember being in color (yes, that's how old I am)!