Walter Elias Disney

Chicago December 5, 1901 – December 15, 1966 Los Angeles

Walter Elias Disney was an American film producer, director, screenwriter, voice actor, animator, and philanthropist. He was the son of parents Flora and Elias Disney, and had three brothers and one sister. As the co-founder (with his brother Roy O. Disney) of Walt Disney Productions, Walt became one of the most well-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 US $30 billion.

Walt Disney is particularly noted for being a hands-on film producer, and a popular showman, as well as an innovator in animation and theme park design. Walt Disney and his staff received more than 950 honors from every nation in the world throughout his career. He was nominated for 48 Academy awards and 7 emmys, holding the record for most Oscar nominations. His brother Roy helped him tremendously with his work. He also had two daughters, Diane and Sharon. He and his staff created a number of the world's most popular animated properties, including the one many consider Disney's alter ego, Mickey Mouse. He is also well-known as the namesake of the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort theme parks in the United States.

Walt Disney died of lung cancer on December 15, 1966, a few years prior to the opening of his Walt Disney World dream project in Orlando, Florida.

1906-1937: The beginnings


Walt Disney's ancestors emigrated from Gowran, County Kilkenny in Ireland. Disney was born in Chicago. His father Elias Disney had moved to the United States after his parents failed at farming in Canada. As a child Elias moved with his family all around the United States, as his father chased various business ventures. He also worked as a mailman in Kissimmee (Orlando), Florida, future home of Walt Disney World. Elias moved to Chicago in the late 1800s soon after his marriage to Flora Call.

While in Marceline, Disney developed his love for drawing. One of their neighbors, a retired doctor named "Doc" Sherwood, paid him to draw pictures of Sherwood's horse, Rupert. He also developed his love for trains in Marceline. He would put his ear to the tracks in anticipation of the coming train. He would look for his uncle, engineer Michael Martin, running the train.

Kansas City

In 1909, Elias Disney suddenly came down with typhoid fever and was unable to work the farm, even with his older sons helping him. He sold the farm and lived in a rented house until 1910, when they moved to Kansas City.

When the family arrived in Kansas City, Elias Disney purchased a newspaper route for the Kansas City Star. Since Walt's older brothers Herbert and Raymond had left home, he had Walt and Roy help with the route. Working on the paper route required waking up at 3:00 in the morning every day. Disney later recalled that they would deliver the paper in the heat of summer and during the dead of winter.

According to the Kansas City Public School District records, Disney began attending the Benton Grammar School in 1910, and graduated on June 8, 1911, being held back a year so that Ruth could go with him. In 1915 Disney enrolled in weekend classes at the Kansas City Art Institute. Because of his early-morning paper runs, he had trouble concentrating and fell asleep in class often. He was also prone to daydreaming and he would rather doodle in class.


Disney as an ambulance driver during the war.

In 1917 Disney began his freshman year at McKinley High School in Chicago and began taking night courses at the Chicago Art Institute. Disney was the cartoonist for the school newspaper. His cartoons were very patriotic, focusing on World War I. Disney dropped out of high school at 16 so he could join the Army. But the army didn't take him because he was too young to enlist.

Instead, Walt and one of his friends decided to join the Red Cross. They were supposed to be 17, but Walt was only 16 at the time. Against his father's will, his mother forged his birth certificate so it said Walt was born in 1900 instead of 1901. The Red Cross sent him to France for a year. During that year, he drove an ambulance covered from top to bottom with his imaginitive Disney Characters.

He moved into Kansas City to begin his artistic career. His brother Roy worked at a bank in the area and got a job for him through a friend at the Pesemen-Rubin Art Studio. At Pesmen-Rubin, Disney made ads for newspapers, magazines, and movie theatres. It was also there that he met a shy cartoonist named Ubbe Iwerks. The two respected each other's work so much, they became fast friends and decided to start their own art business.

Disney and Iwerks (who now shortened his name to Ub Iwerks) formed a company called "Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists" in January 1920 (it was originally called Disney-Iwerks, but the two thought they would be confused with a shop that made eyeglasses). Unfortunately, few clients were willing to hire the inexperienced duo. Iwerks left temporarily to earn money at Kansas City Film Ad. Disney followed suit after the business venture went nowhere and collapsed.

Kansas City Film Ad

At Kansas City Film Ad, Disney and Iwerks worked on primitive animated advertisements for local movie houses. Disney was fascinated by the possibilities inherent in animation. He spent many days at the Kansas City Public Library reading over books on anatomy and mechanics. He also read a book by Edweard Muybridge about animation. He used his time at Film Ad wisely, experimenting with animation and film techniques. He even borrowed one of the film cameras and experimented at home.

After two years' experience at Film Ad, Disney felt he had enough experience to start another business venture.

Laugh-O-Gram Films

In 1922, he started a small company called Laugh-O-Grams which began by selling short animated films to local companies in Kansas City. By the time Walt had started to create The Alice Comedies, the company went bankrupt. Even though the company ended, Walt did not give up, he packed up what he had of his Alice Comedies and decided to move to Hollywood to try and start a new business.


When Disney arrived in Los Angeles, he had $40 in his pocket and an unfinished cartoon in his suitcase. Interestingly, he first wanted to break away from animation, thinking he could not compete with the studios in New York City. Disney said that his first ambition was to be a film director. He went to every studio in town looking for directing work; they all promptly turned him down.

Because of the lack of success in live-action film, Disney turned back to animation. His first Hollywood cartoon studio was a garage in his uncle Robert's house. Disney sent an unfinished print to New York distributor Margaret Winkler, who promptly wrote back to him. She wanted a distribution deal with Disney for more live-action/animated shorts based upon Alice's Wonderland.

Disney looked up his brother Roy, who was recovering from tuberculosis in a Los Angeles veteran's hospital. Disney pleaded with his brother to help him with his fledgling studio, saying that he could not keep his finances straight without him. Roy agreed and left the hospital with his brother. He never went back and never had a recurrence of tuberculosis. Virginia 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.

In 1925, Disney hired a young woman named Lillian Bounds to ink and paint celluloid. He was immediately taken with her. She began to pull double duty as secretary a few months later. Disney then began to take her out on dates, their first being the Broadway show, No, No, Nanette. He would also take her out on drives in the hills of Los Angeles. On one drive, he asked her if he should buy a new car or a ring for her finger. They were married on July 15, 1925. She later jokingly commented that he was disappointed that she did not tell him to buy the car. They honeymooned at Mount Rainier.

Alice Comedies

The new series, "Alice Comedies," was reasonably successful, and featured both Dawn O'Day and Margie Gay as Alice after Virginia Davis’ parents pulled her out of the series because of a pay cut. Lois Hardwick also briefly assumed the role. By the time the series ended in 1927, the focus was more on the animated characters, in particular a cat named Julius who recalled Felix the Cat, rather than the live-action Alice.

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

By 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 Oswald character, first drawn and created by Iwerks, became a popular property. The Disney studio expanded, and Walt hired back Harman, Ising, Maxwell, and Freleng from Kansas City.

In February of 1928, Disney went to New York to negotiate a higher fee per short from Mintz. Disney was shocked when Mintz announced that not only did he want to reduce the fee he paid Disney per short, but that he had most of his main animators, including Harman, Ising, Maxwell, and Freleng (notably excepting Iwerks) 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. The defectors became the nucleus of the Winkler Studio, run by Mintz and his brother-in-law George Winkler. When that studio went under after Universal assigned production of the Oswald shorts to an in-house division run by Walter Lantz, Mintz focused his attentions on the studio making the "Krazy Kat" shorts, which later became Screen Gems, and Harman, Ising, Maxwell, and Freleng marketed an Oswald-like character named Bosko to Leon Schlesinger and Warner Bros., and began work on the first entries in the Looney Tunes series.

It took Disney's company 78 years to get back the rights to the Oswald character. In a move that sent sports broadcaster Al Michaels to NBC Sports for their Sunday night NFL coverage, the Walt Disney Company reacquired the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from NBC Universal in 2006.

Mickey Mouse

The title card of Steamboat Willie credits both Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks

After having lost the rights to Oswald, Disney had to develop a new "star". Most Disney biographies state that Disney came up with a mouse character on his trip back from New York. It is debated whether it was he, or Iwerks who actually designed the mouse (which basically looked like Oswald, but with round instead of long ears). The first 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.

Mickey's first animated short produced was Plane Crazy, which was, like all of Disney's previous works, a silent film. After failing to find distributor interest in 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 a 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 1937. Disney believed Mickey would make it far into television.

Silly Symphonies

Joining the Mickey Mouse series in 1929 were a series of musical shorts called Silly Symphonies. The first of these was entitled 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.

Iwerks was growing tired of the temperamental Disney, especially as he was doing the majority of the work, and so was lured by Powers into opening his own studio with an exclusive contract. Disney desperately searched for someone who could replace Iwerks, as he was not able to draw as well or as quickly; Iwerks was reported to have drawn up to 700 drawings a day for the first Mickey shorts.

Meanwhile, Iwerks launched his successful Flip the Frog series with the first sound cartoon in color, "Fiddlesticks," filmed in two-strip Technicolor. Iwerks also created two other series of cartoons, the Willie Whopper and the Comicolor cartoon series. Iwerks closed his studio in 1936 to work on various projects dealing with animation technology. Iwerks would return to Disney in 1940 and, in the studio's research and development department, would go on to pioneer a number of film processes and specialized animation technologies.

Eventually, Disney was able to find a number of people to replace Iwerks. By 1932, Mickey Mouse had become quite a popular cartoon character. The Van Beuren cartoon studio attempted to cash in on this success by creating a specific process, making these the first commercial films presented in this new process. The first color Symphony was Flowers and Trees, which won the first Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons in 1932.

First Academy Award

In 1932, Disney received a special Academy Award for the creation of Mickey Mouse, whose series was moved into color in 1935 and soon launched spin-off series for supporting characters such as Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto.

The family grows


As Mickey's co-creator and producer, Disney was almost as famous as his mouse cartoon character, but remained a largely private individual. His greatest hope was to be a father to many children. However, the Disney's first attempts at pregnancy ended in miscarriage. This, coupled with pressures at the studio, led to Disney having "a hell of a breakdown", as he called it. His doctors said that he had to get away for a while, so he and his wife went on a Caribbean cruise and then traveled to Washington, D.C.

When Lilly Disney became pregnant again, Disney told his sister in a letter that he did not care what gender the child was, just as long as they were not disappointed again. Lilly finally gave birth to a daughter, Diane Marie Disney, on December 18, 1933. Disney was excited to finally have a child. A few years later the Disney's adopted a second daughter, Sharon Mae Disney, born on December 21, 1936.

1937-1941: The Golden Age of Animation


"Disney's Folly": Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Disney introduces his popular creations: Mickey, Minnie Mouse and Pluto to Hansel and Gretel (Dorothy Rodin and Virginia Murray).

Although his studio produced the two most successful cartoon series in the industry, the returns were still dissatisfying to Disney, and he began plans for a full-length feature in 1934. When the rest of the film industry learned of Disney's plans to produce an animated feature-length version of Snow White, they dubbed the project "Disney's Folly" and were certain that the project would destroy the Disney studio. Both Lillian and Roy tried to talk Disney out of the project, but he continued plans for the feature. He employed Chouinard Art Institute professor Don Graham to start a training operation for the studio staff, and used the Silly Symphonies as a platform for experiments in realistic human animation, distinctive character animation, special effects, and the use of specialized processes and apparatus such as the multiplane camera.

All of this development and training was used to elevate the quality of the studio so that it would be able to give the feature the quality Disney desired. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as the feature was named, was in full production from 1935 until mid-1937, when the studio ran out of money. To acquire the funding to complete Snow White, Disney had to show a rough cut of the motion picture to loan officers at the Bank of America, who gave the studio the money to finish the picture. The finished film premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater on December 21, 1937; at the conclusion of the film the audience gave Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs a standing ovation. Snow White, the first animated feature in English and Technicolor, was released in February 1938 under a new distribution deal with RKO Radio Pictures. The film became the most successful motion picture of 1938 and earned over $8 million (today $98 million) in its original theatrical release, all the more amazing because children were only charged a dime to see it. The success of Snow White allowed Disney to build a new campus for the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, which opened for business on December 24, 1939. The feature animation staff, having just completed Pinocchio, continued work on Fantasia and Bambi, while the shorts staff continued work on the Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto cartoon series, ending the Silly Symphonies at this time.

During making " " Jungle Book" in 1966, Walt Disney died, to the impact of lung cancer. Employees have been spent extra attention for this reason on the finishing of that film.
Elias Disney died on 15 December 1966 at 09:30, ten days after its 65th anniversary. He has been cremated on 17 December 1966 in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California. Roy Disney finished the Florida project further, and stood on it, that the name changes in Walt Disney World, for the honorary of its brother. Roy O. Disney died in 1971, 3 months after the Magic Kingdom were opened for public.
Also after Walt Disney's dead its studio existence remained and produces still popular animation and movies.
Some employees of the Walt Disney studios in 1949, a Dixieland has set up orchestra, which up to in the sixties has made prerecording. This orchestra was called The Firehouse Five plus Two.

On the animated films of Walt Disney five attraction parks have been based. Disneyland in Anaheim near at loose Angeles, the Magic Kingdom in the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, Disneyland Tokyo in Tokyo, Japan and Disneyland Resort Paris near Paris in France. Disneyland opened its doors in 1955, Walt Disney World Resort followed in 1971, afterwards Tokyo came in 1983, Paris, in 1992, and Hong Kong in 2005.