Walter Elias Disney / Walt Disney (1901 – 1966)

Born    : December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.

Died    : December 15, 1966 (aged 65) in Burbank, California, U.S.

Occupation      : Film producer, Co-founder of The Walt Disney Company, formerly known as Walt Disney Productions

Spouse(s)         : Lillian Bounds (1925-1966)

Walt Disney

Walt Disney was an American film producer, director, screenwriter, voice actor, and animator. One of the most well-known motion picture producers in the world, Disney was also the cartoon artist of comic books and newspaper-comic strips, the creator of an American-based theme park called Disneyland, and is the co-founder with his brother Roy O.Disney of Walt Disney Company. He created the most famous Mickey Mouse, wearing red shorts and yellow shoes, and the mouse has evolved from being simply a character in cartoons to become one of the most recognizable symbols in the world.

He became interested in personalizing animal’s character after carelessly killing a small owl as a young boy. He felt deeply sorry and guilty and vowed never again to kill a living creature. Disney worked as a paperboy as a youth.

At age 16, during World War I, he lied about his age to join the American Red Cross. He soon returned home, where he won a scholarship to the Kansas City Art Institute. There, he met a fellow animator, Ub Iwerks. The two soon set up their own company. In the early 20s, they made a series of animated shorts for the Newman theater chain, entitled “Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams’.’ Their company soon went bankrupt, however. The two then went to Hollywood in 1923.

They started work on a new series, about a live-action little girl who journeys to a world of animated characters. Entitled the “Alice Comedies”  they were distributed by Margaret Winkler. Walt was backed up financially by Winkler and his brother Roy. Hundreds of “Alice Comedies” were produced between 1923 and 1927, before they lost popularity.


Walt then started work on a series around a new animated character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. This series was successful, but in 1928, Walt discovered that Margaret Winkler and her husband, Charles Mintz, had stolen the rights to the character away from him. They’d also stolen all his animators, except for Ub Iwerks. While taking the train home, Walt started scribbling on a piece of paper. The result of these scribbles was a mouse named Mickey. With only Walt and Ub to animate, and Walt’s wife Lilly and Roy’s wife Edna to ink in the animation cells, three Mickey Mouse cartoons were quickly produced. The first two didn’t sell, so Walt added synchronized sound to the last one, Steamboat Willie (1928), and it was immediately picked up. It became the first cartoon to use synchronize sound. With Walt as the voice of Mickey, it premiered to great success.

Many more cartoons followed. Walt was now in the big time, but he didn’t stop creating new ideas. In 1929, he created the ‘Silly Symphonies, a cartoon series that didn’t have a continuous character. They were another success. One of them, Flowers and Trees (1932), was the first cartoon to be produced in color and the first cartoon to win an Oscar; another, Three Little Pigs. The Silly Symphonies stopped coming out in 1939, but Mickey and friends, (including Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, and plenty more), were still going strong and still very popular.

In 1934, Walt started work on another new idea: a cartoon that ran the length of a feature film. Everyone in Hollywood was calling it “Disney’s Folly; but Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) was anything but, winning critical raves, the adoration of the public, and one big and seven little special Oscars for Walt. Now Walt listed animated features among his ever-growing list of accomplishments.

While continuing to produce cartoon shorts, he also started producing more of the animated features. Pinnochio (1940), Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942) were all successes; In the mid-40s, he began producing “packaged features; essentially a group of shorts put together to run feature length, but by 1950 he was back with animated features that stuck to one story, with Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), and Peter Pan (1953). In 1950, he also started producing live-action films, with Treasure Island (1950). These began taking on greater importance throughout the 50s and 60s, but Walt continued to produce animated features, including Lady and the Tramp (1955), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961). In 1955, he even opened a theme park in southern California: Disneyland. It was a place where children and their parents could take rides, just explore, and meet the familiar animated characters, all in a clean, safe environment. It was another great success.

Walt also became one of the first producers of films to venture into television, with his series “Disneyland” (1954) which he began in 1954 to promote his theme park. He also produced “The Mickey Mouse Club” (1955) and “Zorro” (1957).To top it all off, Walt came out with the lavish musical fantasy Mary Poppins (1964), which mixed live-action with animation. It is considered by many to be his magnum opus. Even after that, Walt continued to forge onward, with plans to build a new theme park and an experimental prototype city in Florida. He never did finish those plans, however; in 1966, he contracted lung cancer. He died in December at age 65. But not even his death, it seemed, could stop him. Roy carried on plans to build the Florida theme park, and it premiered in 1971 under the name Walt Disney World. What’s more, his company continues to flourish, still producing animated and live-action films and overseeing the still-growing empire started by one man: Walt Disney, who will never be forgotten.

President Jimmy Carter once said, “Mickey Mouse is the symbol of goodwill, surpassing all languages and cultures. When one sees Mickey Mouse, they see happiness.” When Disney was in the fifth grade, he memorized the Gettysburg address (Abraham Lincoln’s greatest speech in the American history during the American civil war in 1863) and surprised everyone by arriving at school dressed as Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of United States. His costume consisted of his father’s old hat and a homemade beard. Little wonder that years later when his studio created the first fully functioning audio-animatronics human figure for the 1964 New York World Fair, the figure looked like Abraham Lincoln.

Walt Disney holds the record of winning the most Academy (Oscar) Awards: 32, a feat that is impossible to beat. The Mickey Mouse logo now identifies an institution whose $22 billion in annual sales make it the world’s largest media company. But it is important to remember what Walt Disney said once, “I hope we will never lose sight of one thing that it was all started by a mouse.”

Walter Elias Disney / Walt Disney (1901 – 1966)
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