At one time or another, just about everyone in this country has been touched by a magical Disney moment. Walter Elias Disney started with a dream and turned it into a wondrous reality. Although he had some harsh setbacks, he never gave up on fulfilling these ideals, and today, his name is a household word, not only in this country but also around the world.
Walt Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois. When he was four, his family moved to his family farm in Marceline, Missouri. He and his family enjoyed their days on the farm. His father was Elias Disney, and he was of Irish-Canadian descent. His mother, Flora Call was German-American. He had three brothers, Raymond, Roy, and Herbert, and he had a little sister named Ruth. While living in Marceline, he began drawing cartoons. And the ambitious lad sold his paintings and his drawings to friends and neighbors.
“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” —Walt Disney
During his high school years, his family returned to Chicago. It was here that Disney began taking classes at the Chicago Art Institute. He also drew cartoons for his high school newspaper at McKinley High School.
When World War I started, he wanted to fight for his country, but he was too young. Still, he dropped out of school and joined the Red Cross. For about a year, he drove an ambulance for the Red Cross in France.
Once he returned to the states, he started his career as an artist in Kansas City. For a time, he worked for an art studio, and later, he worked for an advertising company. During this time he met a fellow artist, Ubbe Iwerks. His new friend taught him about animation.
In 1921, he started up his own company called Laugh-O-Gram because he wanted to make his own animated cartoons. He hired friends, including Ubbe Iwerks. Although the company’s cartoons were popular, his business failed, and he had to file for bankruptcy.
In 1923, Disney moved to Hollywood, California and opened the Disney Brothers Studio with his brother, Roy. They started their company on a shoestring budget and a mounted camera that was located in their uncle’s garage. He hired new workers, including his old friend Iwerks. In 1925, he hired Lillian Bounds. After a brief courtship, the two married.
With this new business endeavor, the group developed a new cartoon character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. This cartoon was very successful. However, Universal Studios took control of the Oswald trademark and took all of his workers except for Lillian and Iwerk.
Disney found himself starting over once again. He came up with a new creation, Mickey Mouse. He almost called the little mouse Mortimer; thankfully, his wife intervened and came up with the name Mickey.
His creation Steamboat Willie was the first animated cartoon that incorporated sound. The stars for this cartoon were Mickey and his gal pal, Minnie, and Disney was the original voice for the famous mouse. This show proved to be a huge success for the creative animator. In 1929, he created Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto and the trio starred in his next creation, Silly Symphonies. His first colored animated film was Flowers and Trees. This cartoon was the first cartoon to win an Oscar.
In 1932, Disney and his team began working on Snow White. Many people believed he was crazy for making a long cartoon, and many called this endeavor “Disney’s Folly.” This project took five long years to complete, and it was released in 1938. It was considered the top film for 1938, and it earned an astonishing 1.4 million even during the depression. His next cartoon features included Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942), Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1959), and 101 Dalmatians (1961). In 1950, Disney released his first action film, Treasure Island. Mary Poppins appeared in 1964.
In the 1950s, new advancements were made in television technology and Disney wanted to be apart of this new adventure. He came up with his own television programs. Some of his programs included Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, The Davy Crockett Show, The Mickey Mouse Club, and The Wonderful World of Disney.
When Disneyland was created, it was the first theme park with rides and entertainment based on movies. The park opened in 1955, and it cost 17 million to build. Today, it has continued to be successful, and it is one of the most popular vacation destinations. Later, he began planning Walt Disney World, a larger park on about 27,000 acres near Orlando, Florida. Although he worked on the plans, he died before the park opened in 1971. On December 15, 1966, Disney died in Burbank, California.
On the Side:
My childhood was surrounded with Disney moments; our home was filled with Disney toys and décor. Mom painted Disney characters on our sheets. Mickey Mouse curtains and bedspreads adorned the room that my three brothers shared. Each child in our home even had special Disney dinnerware; mine was Cinderella. Sunday nights were the best! Mom would pop Jiffy Pop popcorn, or dad would scoop up some ice cream treats, and we would all grab our pillows and blankets and head to the living room. That was our family night as we all sat together and watched The Wonderful World of Disney.
One year when I was about five or six, I was even Mary Poppins for Halloween! To this day, I can remember my dad taking my mom and me to Macy’s Department Store in Oakland, California. Mom and I both wore our best dresses, and I even had a purse that matched my outfit. When mom found the outfit, I can still remember how excited I was, for it had everything I needed: the hat, the nanny uniform, the umbrella, and the wonderful carpetbag. Wish I could find pictures from that Halloween! It was a dream come true. We also went out to lunch that day which was also a special treat, but I was so excited I could hardly finish eating!
My dad used to tease my mom that she should have married Walt Disney because she was a kid at heart too, and she thought Mickey Mouse was adorable. Wish she were still alive today, so I could tell her that she was related to this man because my mom was one of his biggest fans!
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- “Walter Elias Disney.” Entrepreneur, Entrepreneur, Media, 7 Oct. 2008, http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/197528. Accessed 24 Apr. 2017.
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