- Full Name: Walter Elias Disney
- Also Known As: Walt Disney, Uncle Walt
- Born On: 5 December 1901
- Place Of Birth: Chicago, Illinois, United States
- Died On: 15 December 1966
- Park School in Marceline
- Benton Grammar School
- McKinley High School
- Kansas City Art Institute
- Chicago Academy of Fine Arts
- Profession: Filmmaker, Animator, Writer, Entrepreneur
- Awards: 3 Honorary Academy Awards and an Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, 22 Oscars and more.
- Parents: Elias Disney (father) and Flora Disney (mother)
- Spouse: Lillian Bounds
- Children: Diane and Sharon (daughters)
- Siblings: Hebert, Raymond and Roy (brothers), Ruth (sister)
- Religion: Never went to Church, but respected religion
Most people grew up loving cartoons. Animations keep our kids entertained as well as educated. The big question is; who is the man behind all this amazing craft?
Early Life and Childhood
Walter Elias Disney or rather Walt Disney was born on 5th December 1901 in Chicago, Illinois. He was born as the fourth child to his father Elias Disney and Flora Disney. His father Mr. Disney had Irish parents, whereas his mother Flora was an American of German and English descent.
Walt Disney had elder siblings; namely Hebert, Raymond and Roy. He later had a fifth sibling, this time a girl by the name Ruth.
Walter Elias Disney spent a better part of his childhood in Marceline, Missouri. This was after his parents moved to the farm purchased by his uncle Robert. It was at Missouri where Young Disney developed his love for drawing and animals. One time the little boy was paid to draw a neighbour’s horse. Interesting right?
The hidden talent of Walt Disney could easily be noticed. From this point, his art for cartoons and animation was ignited.
Walter Disney loved the Appeal to Reason newspaper. It was because this particular newspaper could help him improve his drawing skills, this he did of course by copying the front page cartoons of Ryan Walker.
‘Practice makes perfect’ – Walter Disney got even better at his skill and began using watercolours and crayons.
Working at the farm had its setbacks and so the family had to relocate to Kansas City Missouri in 1911.
Walt Disney had an uncle who was a train engineer. Growing up Walter would work some jobs with the railroad such as selling snacks and newspapers to the passengers and travellers.
The train station was also a perfect spot to sell out his art. He drew, painted and then sold his arts to neighbors and family friends as well.
In the late 1909, Walt Disney together with his younger sister Ruth started their schooling at the Park School in Marceline. When the family relocated in 1911 to Kansas City, Walter Disney had to go to Benton Grammar School.
Working and Schooling
Walt Disney delivered newspapers for The Kansas City Star and Kansas City Times. Walter and his brother Roy had a role to play each day. The two brothers would wake up every morning at 4:30 to deliver the newspapers before heading to school. For school going kids the job was exhausting.
Walter Disney did not perform very well in school due to poor concentration in class caused by lack of enough sleep. For 6 years he was in the delivery business and going to school at the same time.
Walt Disney attended cartooning classes at the Kansas City Art Institute and this was very helpful in perfecting his skills.
Disney’s family later on moved to Chicago City. This time, Walter was joining high school and he enrolled at the McKinley High School. At his new school, he continued with his art work.
Walter Disney became the cartoonist of the school newspaper. He also drew patriotic pictures about World-War 1 that happened some months later.
Disney was very hardworking that despite his tight schedule with school, he made time for his passion and dreams. He took night courses at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts where he learned drawing and photography – skills that later made him great in the world history.
I want to be a Soldier
At the age of 16, Walt Disney dropped out of school so that he could join the army in readiness for the World-War 1. Unfortunately, he was underage. Instead he forged his birth certificate and participated in the war by joining the Red Cross in 1918.
His first job at Red Cross was driving an ambulance for the American Red Cross and Disney was sent to France until 1919 when he returned to the US.
When Disney came back to the US, he found occasional employment as a draftsman and inker in a commercial art studio where he met Ub Iwerks, one of the young artist who contributed greatly to the success of Disney’s future career.
Disney worked as an artist at the Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Art Studio, where he drew commercial illustrations for advertisement, theatre programs and catalogs.
In January 1920, Walter Disney and his new friend Iwerks lost their jobs due to declined sales in the company.
The two friends decided to start their own company Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists. The company was short lived after it failed to attract customers. The two partners agreed to part ways in order to raise more money for their business.
Uncle Walt returned to Kansas City Film Ad Company which was run by A.V. Cauger. A month later, Iwerks unable to run the business alone decided to join Walter Disney again.
The company used cutout animation techniques to produce commercials. Although Disney preferred drawn cartoons such as Mutt and Jeff, his new job made him develop an interest in animation.
Uncle Walt began his little experiments at home with the help of a borrowed book and a camera. His new discovery was Cel animation that was way much better than the Cutout method.
The film industry was a spot for Walt Disney, and Kansas City Film Ad Company gave him the opportunity to work in the animation field. This was like a dream come true for him. His talent and skills learnt over the years as a cartoonist came in handy at his first job.
Cauger and Disney conflicted on the animation method. Unable to persuade Cauger to adopt the cel animation technique, Walt Disney decided to open his own business with his former co-worker Fred Harman.
Local Newman Theatre was their main client and all the cartoons produced by Walter Disney and Herman were sold as ‘Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams’.
His first job was so promising that he decided to set up his own studio which was called Laugh-O-Gram. Walt Disney hired more animators including Herman’s brother Hugh, Rudolf Ising and his former partner Iwerks.
Running a profitable business was not that easy since his cartoons were not so popular. This meant that Disney had to deal with high expenses especially labour. Walter Disney’s firm later became bankrupt.
Walt Disney produced Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which was a combination of live action with animation in effort to try and save his firm which was on the verge of collapsing. However, despite his efforts, Laugh-O-Gram could not be saved and it went into bankruptcy in 1923.
Moving to Hollywood
In July 1923, Walt Disney decided to move to Hollywood which was then home to the fast growing film industry in America. Disney partnered with his elder brother Roy and together they formed another company whose sole aim was to find a distributor for his new film Alice Comedies.
The partnership between the brothers gave rise to Disney Brothers Studio which later became The Walt Disney Company for film production.
In the early 1925, Walt Disney hired an ink artist Lillian Bounds. Lillian later got married to Walter Disney in July the same year. The two were married in Lewiston, Idaho.
Unlike her husband, Lilian had very little interest in films or Hollywood. The couple had two daughters Diane who was born in December 1933 and Sharon who the couple adopted in December 1936.
Is this really a Breakthrough?
In 1927, Disney studio successfully produced ‘Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’ distributed by Universal Pictures. With the distributors having the controlling rights, Walt Disney was not able to gain success.
Once again, Disney went back to working on his own after rejecting an offer from Universal Pictures.
“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
— Walt Disney
Birth of Mickey Mouse
After the frustrations from Universal Pictures, Walt Disney decided to operate like an island. At this point he created a character Mickey Mouse whose original name was Mortimer Mouse. His former partner Iwerks drew Mickey the mouse and Disney gave a voice to the character.
The Mickey Mouse cartoons became increasingly popular that they strengthened the reputation of Disney production. One thing that made Disney’s work stand out from the crowd was the fact that he always gave his cartoons real life characteristics.
His work captured the imagination of the audience and this was a very great deal especially through the uplifting stories and moral lessons depicted from the films.
Good Work Sells Itself
In 1932, Walt Disney received his first Academy Award for the Best Short Subject. He also won a Special Award for Mickey Mouse. The ‘Three Little Pigs’ developed in 1933 was the most successful cartoons of all time.
‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ was the most ambitious project started by Walter Disney in 1934. This time, Disney wanted to make a full-length animated feature film. It was because of the expectations that may thought of it becoming a commercial failure.
Walt Disney with the use of new filming techniques turned things around and disappointed many. However, the production received lots of praises with high number of glowing reviews. It took close to 3 years after finally coming out in 1937.
Despite the fact that Disney was running out of money, his new project was a great hope. The film was the most successful on its release in 1938 earning close to $8 million on its first release.
The success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs paved way for the studio to produce several other successful animations, such as;
- Ferdinand the Bull – 1938
- Ugly Duckling – 1939
- Pinocchio – 1940
- Fantasia – 1940
- Lend a Paw – 1941
- Dumbo – 1941
- Bambi – 1942
- Der Fuehrer’s Face – 1942 and more.
The onset of the Second World War caused a major setback in the film industry as there was lesser demand for cartoon animation during the war.
In the late 1940s, Disney was back on its feet. The company finished production of Cinderella as well as Peter Pan.
The 1950s was a new beginning as Walter Disney started expanding its production into popular action films some of which include;
- Treasure Island – 1950,
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – 1954,
- and Pollyanna – 1960.
Walt Disney had the interest of kids at heart. He created the Mickey Mouse Club specifically for children. The Disney kingdom continued to expand into the 1960s and in 1964, Mary Poppins was one of the most successful ever production.
Disney always wanted to try out something new and was willing to take the risk involved.
“Courage is the main quality of leadership, in my opinion, no matter where it is exercised. Usually it implies some risk — especially in new undertakings. Courage to initiate something and to keep it going, pioneering and adventurous spirit to blaze new ways, often, in our land of opportunity.”
— Walt Disney
Disneyland – The Magical World for Children
This was a massive project. Walt Disney wanted to create something that had never existed before for the children. Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955.
Disneyland was the land where aged relived memories of the past and youths could look into the challenges and promises of the future.
Disneyland was designed to be a source of joy and inspiration not just to the people of America, but the entire world.
“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”
— Walt Disney
Walt Disney never really went to church, however, he believed in the benefits of being religious.
“I believe firmly in the efficacy of religion, in its powerful influence on a person’s whole life. It helps immeasurably to meet the storms and stress of life and keep you attuned to the Divine inspiration. Without inspiration, we would perish.’’
— Walt Disney
Walter Disney had great respect for other religions and firm faith in God.
Illness and Death
Walt Disney succumbed to lung cancer on December 15, 1966. He died in Burbank, California.
The Disney Company was now under the leadership of his brother Roy.
Walter Disney was so determined, despite failing many times as he tried to build a life for himself, he still got up and tried again.
He is remembered for his massive contribution to the film industry.
Lesser-Known Facts about Walt Disney
- He acted out the entire of Snow White movie by himself from the beginning to the end.
- Disney completely opposed the spread of communism.
- Walter Disney forged a birth certificate in order to join the war.
- Mickey Mouse had a terrible original name “Mortimer Mouse’’.
- Disney brought real animals in the studio to make Bambi (1942).
- Walter Disney loved playing with miniatures as a hobby.
Famous Quotes by Walt Disney
“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”
“For every laugh, there should be a tear.”
“A man should never neglect his family for business.”
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
“When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.”
“Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.”
“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
“If you can visualize it, if you can dream it, there’s some way to do it.”
“I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing — that it was all started by a mouse.”
“That’s the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up.”
“Happiness is a state of mind. It’s just according to the way you look at things.”
“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.”
“The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.”
“To the youngsters of today, I say believe in the future, the world is getting better; there still is plenty of opportunity.”
“A person should set his goals as early as he can and devote all his energy and talent to getting there.”
“The more you like yourself, the less you are like anyone else, which makes you unique.”
“When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.”
“I do not make films primarily for children. I make them for the child in all of us, whether we be six or sixty.”
“You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”
“Animation offers a medium of story telling and visual entertainment which can bring pleasure and information to people of all ages everywhere in the world.”
“We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
“Leadership means that a group, large or small, is willing to entrust authority to a person who has shown judgement, wisdom, personal appeal, and proven competence.”