Walt Disney – The Early Years

Walter “Walt” Elias Disney was born on December 5th 1901 in Chicago, Illinois. At age 4, Walt, his three older brothers (Herbert, Raymond and Roy), his younger sister Ruth, and his parents Elias and Flora packed up and moved to Marceline, Missouri where his father bought and ran a farm. Disney was too young to contribute, but his older brothers had to lend a hand on the ranch. In 1911, Walt, his sister and parents moved once again; this time to Kansas City, Missouri. He was 10 and soon found himself working for his father’s new company delivering newspapers.

Walt Disney and Ruth Disney

A Very Busy Childhood

Not only was Disney delivering papers, he also attended Benton Grammar School and developed a strong friendship with Walt Walt Disney with the Red CrossPfeiffer. It was during this time that Disney began to fall in love with art. He and Pfeiffer would study and memorize vaudeville acts and perform them in front of friends and family. His father saw potential in what his son was doing and paid for Walt to take art lessons at Kansas City Art Institute.

At fifteen, Walt Disney moved again, back to Chicago, where he got a job selling soda pop and newspapers on a train. It was during this time that he became fascinated with locomotives. Ironically, he also became fascinated with another “hobby”… drawing cartoons for his school newspaper. Many of his drawings were American Patriotic focused. His third job came shortly after, when he forged his birth certificate so that he could join the Red Cross. His division was sent into duty driving officers from place to place. When he wasn’t busy driving, he was busy drawing. Disney drew military/patriotic themed cartoons and sent them back to his hometown magazine companies; none of them were ever published.

 

The Animation Career Begins

After the military, Disney moved back to Kansas City. While looking for work he stumbled upon and answered an ad in the Walt Disney Laugh-O-Gramnewspaper looking for an artist for a film company. It was here that he was introduced to film. He created small cartoon videos which he called laugh-o-grams and sold his first one to Newman Theater in Kansas City. This was the beginning for Laugh-o-Gram Films, incorporated in 1922. Walt was only 20 years old. One of Disney’s brightest creations at Laugh-o-Gram was ‘Alice’s Wonderland’. This short film put live animation into cartoon animation, the first of its kind. Though ‘Alice’s Wonderland’ achieved critical acclaim, unfortunately, Laugh-o-Gram never really took off and Disney was broke three years later. He closed the doors, sold his camera and headed west to Hollywood to become a movie director.

When no directing opportunities arose, Disney once again turned back to animation. He and his brother Roy set up a studio in the garage of his landlord and continued work on the live action and animated blended  ‘Alice’s Wonderland’. A cartoon publicist, Margaret Winkler caught an eye for Disney’s films. This was the beginning of Disney Brothers Studio. Walt and Roy began creating what would become known as the ‘Alice Comedies’ series. Charles Mintz married Miss Winkler and took over the business. He wanted to venture away from Alice and asked Disney to come up with another idea. Enter, “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit”. Oswald, distributed by Universal, was very successful; so much so that Mintz stole the character from Walt and fired him.

Walt Disney Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

Once again, Walt Disney encountered a speed bump in the highway of life. On a train ride with his wife Lillian, he considered never drawing again. Suddenly, Walt realized for the first time to merge his two great passions: Drawing Cartoons and Trains. He began thinking about characters from his Alice series. Instantly, Ike the Mouse was a topic of discussion. Because he wanted to put Alice in his past, ideas came spewing from his mind for a new mouse type character who he originally wanted to call “Mortimer the Mouse”. It was his wife’s suggestion to change the mouse’s name to Mickey. It was at this point Mickey Mouse was born.

Walt released a few cartoons with Mickey Mouse and they instantly became a huge hit. However, Walt still felt something was missing: sound. Other companies were adding sound with animation but Disney out did them all. He hooked up with Pat Powers who supplied the sound equipment and also distributed the cartoon. ‘Steamboat Willie’ was released and was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon to include sound. Walt Disney himself decided to be the voice of Mickey and ended up doing so until 1947. Many people believe that Mickey was Walt’s alter ego. They think that Disney created the character to do things that he had missed out on while working during his childhood. He never could have dreamed that as time marched on, both he and his Mickey Mouse would become as famous and world renowned as they are today.

Walt Disney Steamboat Willie