Few people in history have ever been blessed with the vision that Walt Disney had. Even fewer have been equally blessed with the ability to follow that vision through. Disney’s determination and his innate business skills, combined with his artistic ability, have made him a household name through
Born in Chicago in 1901, Walt Disney moved to Missouri with his family a few years later. It was there that Walt developed a great interest in reading, as well as an even greater interest in drawing. At seven he was selling sketches to neighbors. When World War I came around, Walt was too young to join the armed forces. At sixteen, he enlisted in the Red Cross and ended up overseas driving an ambulance.
Returning to Kansas City, Missouri, Walt found work as an advertising cartoonist. It was during this period that Walt developed his first animated films. Together with longtime colleague Ub Iwerks he developed a technique for combining live action and animation. In 1922, Walt opened Laugh-O-Gram Studios and produced six cartoons, but the company was eventually forced to file for bankruptcy. Walt nevertheless knew that animation could be a solid art form and a way to make a living. He set out to join his brother Roy in California. Upon his arrival, the two pooled their resources and, with a little help, were able to set up a studio in an uncle’s garage.
Working with the combination of live action and animation he had been developing in Kansas City, Walt coined the concept of the Alice Comedies, in which a live-action human girl explored a cartoon world. On the strength of an Alice pilot short, Alice’s Wonderland (1923), the two brothers inked a contract with New York film distributor Margaret Winkler. Soon the Alice series was selling and Disney had to hire more staff.
In 1927, the popularity of the Alice Comedies began to fade. Initially, Disney developed the new star character of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, whose cartoons Disney spent a year producing for Universal Pictures. But when Universal, who was working through a go-between distributor named Charles Mintz, demanded that Disney accept a budget cut or cease to work on the series, Disney relinquished Oswald. With Ub Iwerks, he immediately developed Mickey Mouse.
Mickey’s success was the true beginning of the Disney entertainment empire. From there it was on to Academy Awards, feature-length cartoons, live-action movies, theme parks and merchandising opportunities that would make P. T. Barnum green with envy. A true genius and an American icon, Walt Disney worked ceaselessly and deserved every single bit of his success. When he passed away in 1966, the world lost a friend.