Walter Elias "Walt" Disney (December 5, 1901 – December 15, 1966) was an American film producer, di
Walter Elias "Walt" Disney (December 5, 1901 – December 15, 1966) was an American film producer, director, screenwriter, voice actor, animator, entrepreneur, entertainer, international icon and philanthropist. Disney is famous for his influence in the field of entertainment during the 20th century. As the co-founder (with his brother Roy O. Disney) of Walt Disney Productions, Disney became one of the best-known motion picture producers in the world. The corporation he co-founded, now known as The Walt Disney Company, today has annual revenues of approximately U.S. $35 billion.
Disney is particularly noted for being a film producer and a popular showman, as well as an innovator in animation and theme park design. He and his staff created a number of the world's most famous fictional characters including Mickey Mouse, a character for which Disney himself was the original voice. He has won 26 Academy Awards out of 59 nominations, including a record four in one year, giving him more awards and nominations than any other individual. He also won seven Emmy Awards. He is the namesake for Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort theme parks in the United States, as well as the international resorts in Japan, France, and China.
Disney died of lung cancer on December 15, 1966, in 1967 construction began on Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. His brother Roy Disney opened & dedicated The Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971. Epcot followed on October 1, 1982, Disney's Hollywood Studios formerly known as Disney MGM Studios on May 1, 1989, and Disney's Animal Kingdom on April 22, 1998. The resort also includes hotels, restaurants, golf courses, water parks, campsites, sports & auto racing complex, a wedding pavilion, and other shopping & entertainment complexes, making the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida the number one vacation destination in the world.
Laugh-O-Gram StudioPresented as "Newman Laugh-O-Grams", Disney's cartoons became widely popular in the Kansas City area. Through their success, Disney was able to acquire his own studio, also called Laugh-O-Gram, and hire a vast number of additional animators, including Fred Harman's brother Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, and his close friend Ubbe Iwerks. Unfortunately, with all his high employee salaries unable to make up for studio profits, Walt was unable to successfully manage money. As a result, the studio became loaded with debtand wound up bankrupt. Disney then set his sights on establishing a studio in the movie industry's capital city, Hollywood, California.
HollywoodDisney and his brother pooled their money to set up a cartoon studio in Hollywood. Needing to find a distributor for his new Alice Comedies — which he started making while in Kansas City, but never got to distribute — Disney sent an unfinished print to New York distributor Margaret Winkler, who promptly wrote back to him. She was keen on a distribution deal with Disney for more live-action/animated shorts based upon Alice's Wonderland.
Alice ComediesVirginia Davis (the live-action star of Alice’s Wonderland) and her family were relocated at Disney's request from Kansas City to Hollywood, as were Iwerks and his family. This was the beginning of the Disney Brothers' Studio. It was located on Hyperion Avenue in the Silver Lake district, where the studio remained until 1939. In 1925, Disney hired a young woman named Lillian Bounds to ink and paint celluloid. After a brief period of dating her, the two got married the same year.
The new series, Alice Comedies, was reasonably successful, and featured both Dawn O'Day and Margie Gay as Alice. Lois Hardwick also briefly assumed the role of Alice. By the time the series ended in 1927, the focus was more on the animated characters, in particular a cat named Julius who resembled Felix the Cat, rather than the live-action Alice.
Oswald the Lucky RabbitBy 1927, Charles B. Mintz had married Margaret Winkler and assumed control of her business, and ordered a new all-animated series to be put into production for distribution through Universal Pictures. The new series, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was an almost instant success, and the character, Oswald — drawn and created by Iwerks — became a popular figure. The Disney studio expanded, and Walt hired back Harman, Rudolph Ising, Carman Maxwell, and Friz Freleng from Kansas City.
In February 1928, Disney went to New York to negotiate a higher fee per short from Mintz. Disney was shocked when Mintz announced that not only he wanted to reduce the fee he paid Disney per short but also that he had most of his main animators, including Harman, Ising, Maxwell, and Freleng (notably, except Iwerks, who refused to leave Disney) under contract and would start his own studio if Disney did not accept the reduced production budgets. Universal, not Disney, owned the Oswald trademark, and could make the films without Disney. Disney declined Mintz's offer and lost most of his animation staff.
With most of his staff gone Disney now found himself on his own again. It took Disney's company 78 years to get back the rights to the Oswald character. The Walt Disney Company reacquired the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from NBC Universal in 2006, through a trade for longtime ABC sports commentator Al Michaels.
Mickey MouseAfter losing the rights to Oswald, Disney felt the need to develop a new character to replace him. He based the character on a mouse he had adopted as a pet while working in a Kansas City studio. Ub Iwerks reworked on the sketches made by Disney so that it was easier to animate it. However, Mickey's voice and personality was provided by Disney. In the words of a Disney employee, "Ub designed Mickey's physical appearance, but Walt gave him his soul." Besides Oswald and Mickey, a similar mouse-character is seen in Alice Comedies which featured a mouse named Ike the Mouse, and the first Flip the Frog cartoon called Fiddlesticks, which showed a Mickey Mouse look-alike playing fiddle. The initial films were animated by Iwerks, his name was prominently featured on the title cards. The mouse was originally named "Mortimer", but later christened "Mickey Mouse" by Lillian Disney who thought that the name Mortimer did not fit. Mortimer later became the name of Mickey's rival for Minnie, who was taller than his renowned adversary and had a Brooklyn accent.
The first animated short with Mickey in it was titled, Plane Crazy, which was, like all of Disney's previous works, a silent film. After failing to find a distributor for Plane Crazy or its follow-up, The Gallopin' Gaucho, Disney created a Mickey cartoon with sound called Steamboat Willie. A businessman named Pat Powers provided Disney with both distribution and Cinephone, a sound-synchronization process. Steamboat Willie became an instant success, and Plane Crazy, The Galloping Gaucho, and all future Mickey cartoons were released with soundtracks. Disney himself provided the vocal effects for the earliest cartoons and performed as the voice of Mickey Mouse until 1946. After the release of Steamboat Willie, Walt Disney would continue to successfully use sound in all of his future cartoons, and Cinephone became the new distributor for Disney's early sound cartoons as well. Mickey soon eclipsed Felix the Cat as the world's most popular cartoon character. By 1930, Felix, now in sound, had faded from the screen, as his sound cartoons failed to gain attention. Mickey's popularity would now skyrocket in the early 1930s.
Silly SymphoniesFollowing the footsteps of Mickey Mouse series, a series of musical shorts titled, Silly Symphonies was released in 1929. The first of these was titled The Skeleton Dance and was entirely drawn and animated by Iwerks, who was also responsible for drawing the majority of cartoons released by Disney in 1928 and 1929. Although both series were successful, the Disney studio was not seeing its rightful share of profits from Pat Powers, and in 1930, Disney signed a new distribution deal with Columbia Pictures. The original basis of the cartoons were musical novelty, and Carl Stalling wrote the score for the first Silly Symphony cartoons as well.
Iwerks was soon lured by Powers into opening his own studio with an exclusive contract. Later, Carl Stalling would also leave Disney to join Iwerks' new studio.Iwerks launched his Flip the Frog series with first voice cartoon in color, "Fiddlesticks," filmed in two-strip Technicolor. Iwerks also created two other series of cartoons, the Willie Whopper and the Comicolor. In 1936, Iwerks shut his studio to work on various projects dealing with animation technology. He would return to Disney in 1940 and, would go on to pioneer a number of film processes and specialized animation technologies in the studio's research and development department.
By 1932, Mickey Mouse had become quite a popular cinema character, but Silly Symphonies was not as successful. The same year also saw competition for Disney grow worse as Max Fleischer's flapper cartoon character, Betty Boop, would gain more popularity among theater audiences. Fleischer was considered to be Disney's main rival in the 1930s,and was also the father of Richard Fleischer, whom Disney would later hire to direct his 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Meanwhile, Columbia Pictures dropped the distribution of Disney cartoons and was replaced by United Artists. In late 1932, Herbert Kalmus, who had just completed work on the first three-strip technicolor camera,approached Walt and convinced him to redo Flowers and Trees, which was originally done in black and white, with three-strip Technicolor. Flowers and Trees would go on to be a phenomenal success and would also win the first Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons for 1932. After Flowers and Trees was released, all future Silly Symphony cartoons were done in color as well. Disney was also able to negotiate a two-year deal with Technicolor, giving him the sole right to use three-strip Technicolor, which would also eventually be extended to five years as well. Through Silly Symphonies, Disney would also create his most successful cartoon short of all time, The Three Little Pigs, in 1933. The cartoon ran in theaters for many months, and also featured the hit song that became the anthem of the Great Depression, "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf".
First Academy AwardIn 1932, Disney received a special Academy Award for the creation of "Mickey Mouse", whose series was made into color in 1935 and soon launched spin-off series for supporting characters such as Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto; Pluto and Donald would immediately get their individual cartoons in 1937,and Goofy would get solo cartoons in 1939 as well. Of all of Mickey's partners, Donald Duck—who first teamed with Mickey in the 1934 cartoon, Orphan's Benefit—was arguably the most popular, and went on to become Disney's second most successful cartoon character of all time.
1937–1941: The Golden Age of AnimationThe success of Snow White, (for which Disney received one full-size, and seven miniature Oscar statuettes) allowed Disney to build a new campus for the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, which opened for business on December 24, 1939; Snow White was not only the peak of Disney's success, but it also ushered in a period that would later be known as the Golden Age of Animation for Disney. The feature animation staff, having just completed Pinocchio, continued work on Fantasia and Bambi and the early production stages of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan while the shorts staff continued work on the Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto cartoon series, ending the Silly Symphonies at this time. Animator Fred Moore had redesigned Mickey Mouse in the late 1930s, when Donald Duck began to gain more popularity among theater audiences than Mickey Mouse.
Pinocchio and Fantasia followed Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs into the movie theaters in 1940, but both were financial disappointments. The inexpensive Dumbo was planned as an income generator, but during production of the new film, most of the animation staff went on strike, permanently straining the relationship between Disney and his artists.
1955–1966: Theme parks and beyondOn a business trip to Chicago in the late-1940s, Disney drew sketches of his ideas for an amusement park where he envisioned his employees spending time with their children. He got his idea for a children's theme park after visiting Children's Fairyland in Oakland, California. This plan was originally meant for a plot located south of the Studio, across the street. The original ideas developed into a concept for a larger enterprise that was to become Disneyland. Disney spent five years of his life developing Disneyland and created a new subsidiary of his company, called WED Enterprises, to carry out the planning and production of the park. A small group of Disney studio employees joined the Disneyland development project as engineers and planners, and were dubbed Imagineers.
When describing one of his earliest plans to Herb Ryman (who created the first aerial drawing of Disneyland which was presented to the Bank of America while requesting for funds), Disney said, "Herbie, I just want it to look like nothing else in the world. And it should be surrounded by a train." Entertaining his daughters and their friends in his backyard and taking them for rides on his Carolwood Pacific Railroad had inspired Disney to include a railroad in the plans for Disneyland.
Disneyland grand opening Walt Disney giving the opening day speech July 17, 1955.Disneyland officially opened July 17, 1955. Among the thousands of people who came out for the opening were Ronald Reagan, Bob Cummings and Art Linkletter, who shared cohosting duties, as well as the mayor of Anaheim. Walt gave the following opening day speech:
“ To all who come to this happy place; welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past ... and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America ... with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world. ”
Plans for Disney World and EPCOTDisney World was to include a larger, more elaborate version of Disneyland which was to be called the Magic Kingdom. It would also feature a number of golf courses and resort hotels. The heart of Disney World, however, was to be the Experimental Prototype City (or Community) of Tomorrow, or EPCOT for short.
Mineral King Ski ResortWalt Disney had plans for a ski resort in Mineral King for a while, called Walt Disney Ski Resort. During the early to mid 1960s, Disney brought in experts like the renowned Olympic ski coach and ski-area designer Willy Schaeffler, who helped plan a visitor village, ski runs and ski lifts among the several bowls surrounding the valley. Plans finally moved into action in the mid 1960s, but Walt died before the actual work had started. Disney's death and the actions from preservationists made sure the resort was never built.
1967–present: legacyContinuing the vision Plaque at the entrance that embodies the intended spirit of Disneyland by Walt Disney: to leave reality and enter fantasyAfter Walt Disney's death, Roy Disney returned from retirement to take full control of Walt Disney Productions and WED Enterprises. In October that year, the families of Walt and Roy met in front of Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom to officially open the Walt Disney World Resort.
After giving his dedication for Walt Disney World, Roy asked Lillian Disney to join him. As the orchestra played "When You Wish Upon a Star", she stepped up to the podium accompanied by Mickey Mouse. He then said, "Lilly, you knew all of Walt's ideas and hopes as well as anybody; what would Walt think of it [Walt Disney World]?". "I think Walt would have approved," she replied.Roy died from a cerebral hemorrhage on December 20, 1971, the day he was due to open the Disneyland Christmas parade.
1968 US postage stampDuring the second phase of the "Walt Disney World" theme park, EPCOT was translated by Disney's successors into EPCOT Center, which opened in 1982. As it currently exists, EPCOT is essentially a living world's fair, different from the actual functional city that Disney had envisioned. In 1992, Walt Disney Imagineering took the step closer to Walt's vision and dedicated Celebration, Florida, a town built by the Walt Disney Company adjacent to Walt Disney World, that hearkens back to the spirit of EPCOT. EPCOT was also originally intended to be devoid of Disney characters which initially limited the appeal of the park to young children but the company later changed this policy.