MOTION PICTURE PIONEER, AMUSEMENT PARK DEVELOPER
“I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing—that it was all started by a mouse.”
Walt Disney was first and foremost a fantastic storyteller, but his ability to entertain and stretch our imaginations allowed him to build a multimedia empire that would change the way the world watches TV and movies. In fact, some historians point out that he developed an entire industry off of the idea of a talking mouse. Tens of millions of people watch his movies every year, and millions more make the trek to visit his theme parks, making the name Disney synonymous with entertainment.
THE EARLY YEARS
Walter Elias Disney was born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 5, 1901. He was named after his father, Elias, and his father’s good friend and minister Walter Parr. He became a Missourian when the family moved to the small town of Marceline, in north-central Missouri, when he was very young.
Disney was just nine years old when his father sold the family farm and moved the family to Kansas City. He attended the Benton Grammar School where he showed an early aptitude in the arts. He also took classes at an art school in Kansas City before the family moved back to Chicago where he graduated from high school. Disney returned to the Show Me State shortly after graduation and developed the basis of his animation.
RISE TO FAME
After serving in the Red Cross during World War I, Disney moved back to Kansas City where he worked as an advertising cartoonist. He had hoped to work at the local paper but was only able to find work at a commercial art studio. He bounced between jobs before he landed a job at the Kansas City Slide Company making animated commercials.
Animated art was still in its infancy, and Disney was intrigued by the opportunity to make an impact on such a new industry. At the age of nineteen, he helped develop the basis for animated films by combining live action and animation together on the screen. Disney left the Midwest for Hollywood in 1923, where he joined his brother Roy and borrowed money to construct a camera stand in their uncle’s garage so they could try and make a new type of movie.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
Walt and his brother now had the expertise, the tools, and the drive to make the Disney name famous around the world with this new form of entertainment. The first step on that quest was the release of an animated movie character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, which generated enough money for them to continue their movie-making enterprise. His quest hit a slight bump when Universal Pictures informed Walt that they owned the rights to Oswald. So Disney knew he had to come up with something new to keep his empire growing, and that’s when a mouse named Mickey was born.
Mickey Mouse made his screen debut in Steamboat Willie, which was the world’s first fully synchronized sound cartoon. The film premiered at the Colony Theatre in New York on November 18, 1928. By 1932, Mickey Mouse was the most popular cartoon character in the world and helped Walt win his first Academy Award. Disney used the success of Mickey Mouse to make bigger and better animations. The next step was producing films in the new Technicolor process, which made possible the first commercial films presented in true color.
His place in history as a filmmaker was already set in stone, but Disney dreamed of turning his creations into a different type of empire. In the late 1940s he began drawing up plans for an amusement park for his employees where staff members could relax with their children. That idea eventually expanded into the concept that became Disneyland in California. The theme park opened in 1955 and has been one of the top tourist attractions in the world since its grand opening.
The second Disney park, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, was his crowning achievement, although he never saw it to completion. Disney died in 1966, five years before it opened in 1971.
Walt Disney continues to win over new generations of fans even today. He also continues to rack up awards for his work, including a record forty-eight Academy Awards and seven Emmys during his lifetime, in addition to many
posthumous awards. His legend is cemented with the chain of Disney theme parks, movies, and cartoon characters that are famous the world over.
*Disney produced the first feature-length animated movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in 1937.
*Disney was once called “the most significant figure in graphic arts since Leonardo DaVinci.”
*Many historians claim that Marceline, Missouri, is the model city for his theme parks.
*Disney was the voice for Mickey Mouse until 1947.