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The Beginning of Disney (Fall 2012)

            Walt Disney’s real name was Walter Elias Disney. He was born on December 5, 1901 in the Hermosa section of Chicago, Illinois to an Irish-Canadian father named Elias Disney and to a German-American mother named Flora Call Disney. Walt was the second youngest of five children. He had three older brothers and one younger sister. Throughout his childhood, Walt would live most of his childhood in Marceline, Missouri on a farm where he began to draw and paint in order to sell his pictures to neighbors and family friends. Walt was very happy on the farm and developed his love for animals while living there. His love of animals would later lead him to create the sensational character Mickey Mouse that launched the Disney Empire. As the two babies in the family, Walt and his younger sister Ruth had few tasks on the farm which allowed them to have more freedom than their three older brothers who helped out a lot on the farm. This freedom allowed Walt to use his time drawing or painting instead of working in the farm. In 1911 after the farm failed, Walt’s father Elias moved Walt and his family to Kansas City where Walt helped his father deliver newspapers as a source of income for the family. There in Kansas City, Walt developed his love for trains and led him to work during the summers on the railroad to make money by selling newspapers, candy and other various merchandise. 

            During Walt’s teenage years, he attended McKinley High School in Chicago where he paid most of his attention between drawing and photography as well as helping out with the school’s newspaper by drawing short comics. After school ended, he would attend the Academy of Fine Arts at night to better his drawing abilities. Although Walt was very interested and concentrated on drawing, he also spent his time acting and performing at school as well as the local theaters in his town. In class Walt would also tell stories to his classmates and teachers while drawing pictures on the school’s chalkboard to help illustrate his story to everyone.

            In the summer of 1918 when Walt was only 16 years old, he went to enlist in the military. However, he was too young and was denied to join the military. Not giving up, Walt decided to sign up and join the Red Cross Ambulance Corps when he heard that they were in need of ambulance drivers who were 17 years old and up. He lied that he was 17 years old and was accepted into the Red Cross Ambulance Corps. During his time in France as part of the Red Cross Ambulance Corp, Walt made money by painting helmets with different designs relating to the war on them and then selling them to Americans who wanted to bring back souvenirs when they went home after the war ended.

            When Walt returned to Kansas City from France in 1919, he went through a series of different jobs. His first job was being a cartoonist at the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio where his brother Roy helped him get the job. Walt drew horses, cows, and bags of feed for farm-equipment catalog for a pay of $50 a month. Walt was laid off from his job as a cartoonist at Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio because there wasn't enough business to keep him on the payroll. After getting laid off, he and another laid-off employee named Ubbe Iwerks decided to start their own business together called Iwerks-Disney. However, their business failed and Walt was hired by Kansas City Slide Company to make cut-out animations for commercials. While working there, he continued to study about animation and then started making his own cartoons. Walt would stay after at work late into the night to work on his animations. He began experimenting with doing hand-drawn cell animation which led him to open his own animation business where he successfully sold his animations called Laugh-O-Grams to the Newman Theater and began making his own business. Walt was able to raise around $15,000 from investors and was able to quit his job at Kansas City Slide Company to start his business. The animations that Walt drew became hugely popular and with the money from his popular animations, he bought his very own studio which he named Laugh-O-Grams. Walt then began to hire a number of employees to work for him including Ubbe Iwerks. Together, they created a series of fairy tales animations that were seven minutes long. The animations were live action and they named it “Alice in Cartoonland”. However, Walt’s business wouldn’t develop as smoothly as he had hoped when after six months of work, his first client who was supposed to pay $11,000 for Walt’s animations claimed bankruptcy. He was never paid the money and began to struggle with paying for his rent so he moved into live in his Laugh-O-gram office. Walt’s workers began to leave him because he had no money to pay them and he barely had enough money to support himself. After almost losing his business, Walt was offered $500 for a dental hygiene ad and poured all the money into making a new animation called “Alice's Wonderland”. By 1923, Walt was forced to declare bankruptcy on Laugh-O-Grams because the debts were increasing too much that he had trouble paying back all the money he owed.

            After declaring bankruptcy on his first business Laugh-O-Grams, Walt turned to his brother Roy for help. Walt decided to bring along his animation “Alice’s Wonderland” and move to California after losing his business to continue his career in animations. When Walt got to California, he decided to set up a studio in his uncle’s small garage with his brother Roy, hoping to restart his animation business. After settling in California with his brother Roy, Walt wrote a letter to the New York distributor Margaret Winkler to tell her about his animation “Alice’s Wonderland”. It was a success and Margaret decided to produce Walt’s animation “Alice’s Wonderland”. In 1923, Walt's older brother Roy used the $200 he had saved, the $500 borrowed from their uncle and $2,500 from their parents to help Walt open their own studio called Disney Brothers Studio. They bought used cameras and hired a couple of assistants to help them in their small studio. Walt’s old employee Ubbe Iwerks also relocated to California where he came to work with Walt again in his studio. Although everything was going very well for Walt and his studio Disney Brothers Studio, things began to head in the wrong direction when Margaret Winkler had to turn over her company to her husband Charlie Mintz. Charlie did not quite enjoy or praise Walt’s animations as much as his wife Margaret did. He was tough on Walt and often criticized Walt’s animations although he had no real reasons to not like them. Unfortunately for Walt, the animation series “Alice’s Wonderland” were no longer popular and needed by Margaret’s company so Walt started to work on a new character which he named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. In 1927, Margaret arranged for Walt and his studio to create the animation series called "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit" to be distributed through Universal. This deal gave Walt an opportunity to show his short films and animations in the town’s theaters. He was able to earn $1,500 for each of his short animations of “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” that was produced by Margaret Winkler. As Walt’s new animated character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit grew more popular, Walt decided that he wanted to renew the contract rights for the cartoons at a better and higher price. Walt headed to New York City with his wife Lilly after his decision to renew the contract for his animated character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. However when Walt got to New York City and met with Charlie Mintz, Walt found out that Charlie Mintz had already offered the employees at Walt's studio Disney Brothers Studio more money and freedom if they came to work for Charlie Mintz’s company. Most of the staff working for Walt had accepted the deal already. Walt also found out in New York City that it was Charlie Mintz and Universal Pictures who really owned the legal rights to Oswald, not Walt himself. At the meeting between Walt and Charlie Mintz, Mintz tried to make a deal with Walt stating that Walt should give up his own business and work for Mintz’s company in New York City instead. Of course Mintz’s deal was rejected by Walt who left New York City after the meeting, losing most of his employees and losing his animated character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to Mintz’s company.

            Losing Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to Mintz, Walt knew he had to create a new character to replace Oswald. Walt then created his new character based on a mouse that would launch the Disney Empire and make the name Walt Disney famous. At first, Walt wanted to name his new animated character Mortimer the Mouse but his wife Lilly suggested him to name his new character Mickey Mouse. After creating Mickey Mouse, Walt wanted to look for a way to differentiate his new animated character from his old animated character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. He was able to make an agreement with Pat Powers who was the executive at Universal Pictures to animate Mickey Mouse using sound for the first time in his animations. In 1928, Mickey Mouse debuted in his own animated series called “Steamboat Willie”. Unlike his first animated character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt owned the copyright to his new animated character Mickey Mouse and thanks to Mickey Mouse’s popularity, he was able to ensured Walt a quick transition of distribution to Columbia Pictures. The invention of Mickey Mouse along with the technology of music and sound made the short animations of Walt a success all over the world in the 1930’s. The success of Walt’s creation Mickey Mouse and his friends such as Donald Duck became the beginning of Walt’s long journey to create what we would come to know as the Disney Empire.

            It is thanks to the vision and new ideas of animations from Walt Disney that the world today knows the name Disney. Walt opened the world to new ideas such as animations with sound. Technology played a big role in helping Walt become successful with promoting Mickey Mouse in his first film with sound. He made a huge difference in the world by creating Mickey Mouse and opening the world to the different Disney films that he created like “Cinderella” and “Snow White” which was probably two of the most famous films of Disney when they came out in theater. Without Walt Disney, the world would not be able to enjoy all the joy that Disney has brought to us whether in movies or amusement parks.

            Walt became the success that he was thanks to the help of technology. When Walt created his first famous animated character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, his animations were still silent without sound and without colors. To make his animations even better, Walt used the new technology of sound and made his new animated character Mickey Mouse famous by adding a voice and background music in the film “Steamboat Willie”. Walt had the honor of playing the voice of Mickey when Mickey came out in his first film “Steamboat Willie”. As technology continued to develop, Walt changed the way he did his animations and continued to perfect his animations so that it was always new and exciting for people to watch. The technology of being able to put sound and color in animations really changed the way Walt created his animations and opened the eyes of the world to the new animations of Walt Disney that would still bring joy to the world even today.  

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