Walt Disney's Biography

Walt Disney Walt Disney

Walt Disney

About

  • Born
    05 December 1901
  • Died
    15 December 1966
  • Sex
    Male
  • Nationality
    American
  • Citizen
    USA

Who is Walt Disney?

Walter Elias "Walt" Disney co-founded Walt Disney Productions with his brother Roy, which became one of the best-known motion-picture production companies in the world. Disney was an innovative animator and created the cartoon character Mickey Mouse. He won 22 Academy Awards during his lifetime, and was the founder of theme parks Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Parents and Siblings

Walt Disney’s father was Elias Disney, an Irish-Canadian. His mother, Flora Call Disney, was German-American. Walt was one of five children, four boys and a girl. 

Early Life and Education

Disney was born on December 5, 1901, in the Hermosa section of Chicago, Illinois. He lived most of his childhood in Marceline, Missouri, where he began drawing, painting and selling pictures to neighbors and family friends.

In 1911, his family moved to Kansas City, where Disney developed a love for trains. His uncle, Mike Martin, was a train engineer who worked the route between Fort Madison, Iowa and Marceline. Later, Disney would work a summer job with the railroad, selling snacks and newspapers to travelers.

Disney attended McKinley High School in Chicago, where he took drawing and photography classes and was a contributing cartoonist for the school paper. At night, he took courses at the Art Institute of Chicago.

When Disney was 16, he dropped out of school to join the Army but was rejected for being underage. Instead, he joined the Red Cross and was sent to France for a year to drive an ambulance. He moved back to the U.S. in 1919.

First Cartoons

In 1919, Disney moved to Kansas City to pursue a career as a newspaper artist. His brother Roy got him a job at the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio, where he met cartoonist Ubbe Eert Iwwerks, better known as Ub Iwerks. From there, Disney worked at the Kansas City Film Ad Company, where he made commercials based on cutout animation.

Around this time, Disney began experimenting with a camera, doing hand-drawn cel animation. He decided to open his own animation business. From the ad company, he recruited Fred Harman as his first employee.

Walt and Harman made a deal with a local Kansas City theater to screen their cartoons, which they called Laugh-O-Grams. The cartoons were hugely popular, and Disney was able to acquire his own studio, upon which he bestowed the same name.

Laugh-O-Gram hired a number of employees, including Iwerks and Harman's brother Hugh. They did a series of seven-minute fairy tales that combined both live action and animation, which they called Alice in Cartoonland.

By 1923, however, the studio had become burdened with debt, and Disney was forced to declare bankruptcy.

Walt Disney Animation Studios

Disney and his brother Roy moved to Hollywood with cartoonist Ub Iwerks in 1923, and there the three began the Disney Brothers' Cartoon Studio. The company soon changed its name to Walt Disney Studios, at Roy’s suggestion.

The Walt Disney Studios’ first deal was with New York distributor Margaret Winkler, to distribute their Alice cartoons. They also invented a character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and contracted the shorts at $1,500 each. In the late 1920s, the studios broke from their distributors and created cartoons featuring Mickey Mouse and his friends.

In December 1939, a new campus for Walt Disney Animation Studios was opened in Burbank. In 1941 a setback for the company occurred when Disney animators went on strike. Many of them resigned. It would be years before the company fully recovered.

One of Disney Studio’s most popular cartoons, Flowers and Trees (1932), was the first to be produced in color and to win an Oscar. In 1933, The Three Little Pigs and its title song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" became a theme for the country in the midst of the Great Depression.

Mickey Mouse and Other Characters

Disney’s first successful film starring Mickey Mouse was a sound-and-music-equipped animated short called Steamboat Willie. It opened at the Colony Theater in New York November 18, 1928. Sound had just made its way into film, and Walt was the voice of Mickey, a character he had developed and that was drawn by his chief animator, Ub Iwerks. The cartoon was an instant sensation.

The Disney brothers, their wives and Iwerks produced two earlier silent animated shorts starring Mickey Mouse, Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho, out of necessity. The team had discovered that Disney’s New York distributor, Margaret Winkler, and her husband, Charles Mintz, had stolen the rights to the character Oswald and all of Disney’s animators except for Iwerks. The two earliest Mickey Mouse films failed to find distribution, as sound was already revolutionizing the movie industry.

In 1929, Disney created Silly Symphonies, featuring Mickey's newly created friends, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto. 

Movies

Disney produced more than 100 feature films. His first full-length animated film was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which premiered in Los Angeles on December 21, 1937. It produced an unimaginable $1.499 million, in spite of the Great Depression, and won eight Oscars. This led Walt Disney Studios to complete another string of full-length animated films over the next five years.

During the mid-1940s, Disney created "packaged features," groups of shorts strung together to run at feature length. By 1950, he was once again focusing on animated features.

Disney's last major success that he produced himself was the motion picture Mary Poppins, which came out in 1964 and mixed live action and animation.

A few other of Disney's most famous movies include:Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940),Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942), Cinderella (1950), Treasure Island (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955), Sleeping Beauty (1959), 101 Dalmatians (1961) .

Disney’s Television Series

Disney was also among the first people to use television as an entertainment medium. The Zorro and Davy Crockett series were extremely popular with children, as was The Mickey Mouse Club, a variety show featuring a cast of teenagers known as the Mouseketeers. Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color was a popular Sunday night show, which Disney used to begin promoting his new theme park. Theme Parks Disneyland Disney's $17 million Disneyland theme park opened on July 17, 1955, in Anaheim, California, on what was once an orange grove. Actor (and future U.S. president) Ronald Reagan presided over the activities. After a tumultuous opening day involving several mishaps (including the distribution of thousands of counterfeit invitations), the site became known as a place where children and their families could explore, enjoy rides and meet the Disney characters. In a very short time, the park had increased its investment tenfold, and was entertaining tourists from around the world. The original site had attendance ups and downs over the years. Disneyland has expanded its rides over time and branched out globally with Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida, and parks in Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Sister property California Adventure opened in Los Angeles in 2001. Walt Disney World Within a few years of Disneyland ’s 1955 opening, Disney began plans for a new theme park and to develop Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) in Florida. It was still under construction when Disney died in 1966. After Walt’s death, his brother Roy carried on the plans to finish the Florida theme park, which opened in 1971 under the name Walt Disney World.

Death

He died on December 15, 1966 due to lung cancer. Two days later, he was cremated and his ashes were interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

Walter Elias' personal quotes:

1. “Laughter is America’s most important export.”

2. “There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.”

3. “The era we are living in today is a dream of coming true.”

4. “Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C s. They are curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy.”

5. “A man should never neglect his family for business.”

6. “The worst of us is not without innocence, although buried deeply it might be.”

7. “Leadership means that a group, large or small, is willing to entrust authority to a person who has shown judgment, wisdom, personal appeal, and proven competence.”

8. “Fantasy and reality often overlap.”

9. “The important thing is the family. If you can keep the family together — and that’s the backbone of our whole business, catering to families — that’s what we hope to do.”

10. “Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards – the things we live by and teach our children – are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings.”

11. “There’s nothing funnier than the human animal.”

12. “You reach a point where you don’t work for money.”

13. “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

14. “I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.”

15. “A person should set his goals as early as he can and devote all his energy and talent to getting there. With enough effort, he may achieve it. Or he may find something that is even more rewarding. But in the end, no matter what the outcome, he will know he has been alive.”

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