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Walt Disney Biography

Walt Disney was a film producer, media magnate, and co-founder of the
Walt Disney Company. He was an iconic figure in the Twentieth Century
media and entertainment industry, helping to produce many films. With
his staff, he created famous cartoon characters, such as Mickey Mouse
and Donald Duck; his name was also used for the successful Disney
Theme Parks. During his lifetime, he received a record 59 Nominations
for the Academy Awards, winning 22 Awards.

Walt Disney was born

on 5 December, 1901,
in Chicago. His parents were of German/English and Irish descent. As a
child, the Disney family moved between Marceline in Missouri, Kansas
City and back to Chicago. The young Walt Disney developed an interest
in art, and took lessons at the Kansas City Institute and later Chicago Art
Institute. He became the cartoonist for the school magazine.
When America joined the First World War, Walt dropped out of school and
tried to enlist in the army. He was rejected for being underage, but he
was later able to enlist in the Red Cross and in late 1918 was sent to
France to drive an ambulance.
In 1919, he moved back to Kansas City where he got a series of jobs,
before finding employment in his area of greatest interest the film
industry. It was working for the Kansas City Film Ad company that he
gained the opportunity to begin working in the relatively new field of
animation. Walt used his talent as a cartoonist and drawer to begin his
first work.
The success of his early cartoons enabled him to set up his own studio

called Laugh-O-Gram. However, the popularity of his cartoons was not

matched by his ability to run a profitable business. With high labour
costs, the firm went bankrupt. After his first failure, he decided to move
to Hollywood, California which was home to the growing film industry of
America. This ability to overcome adversity was a common feature of
Disneys career.
All the adversity Ive 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.
The Story of Walt Disney (1957)
With his brother, Roy, Walt set up another company and sought to find a
distributor for his new film Alice Comedies based on the adventures of
Alice in Wonderland.
In 1927, the Disney studio was involved in the successful production of
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, distributed through Universal Pictures.
However, with Universal Pictures controlling the rights to Oswald the
Lucky Rabbit, Walt was not able to profit from this success. He rejected
an offer from Universal and went back to working on his own.
It was at this point, that he created the character Mickey Mouse
(originally called Mortimer Mouse). Ub Iwerks drew Mickey Mouse, and
Walt gave a voice to the character.
The Mickey Mouse cartoons with sound tracks became very popular and
cemented the growing reputation and strength of Disney Productions.
The skill of Walt Disney was to give his cartoons believable real life
characteristics. They were well drawn and captured the imagination of
the audience through his pioneering use of uplifting stories and moral
In 1932, he received his first Academy Award for Best short subject:
Cartoons for the three coloured Flowers and Trees He also received a
special Academy Award for Mickey Mouse.
In 1933, he developed his most successful cartoon of all time The Three
Little Pigs (1933) with the famous song Whose afraid of the Big Bad
In 1924, Walt Disney began his most ambitious project to date. He

wished to make a full length animated feature film of Snow White and
the Seven Dwarfs. Many expected it to be a commercial failure. But,
using new techniques of filming, the production was met with glowing
reviews. It took nearly 3 years to film coming out in 1937, after Disney
had run out of money. But, the films strong critical reception, made it the
most successful film of 1938, earning $8 million on its first release. The
film had very high production values, but also captured the essence of a
fairy tale on film for the first time. Walt Disney would later write that he
never produced films for the critic, but the general public. Replying to
criticism that his productions were somewhat corny, he replied:
All right. Im corny. But I think theres just about a-hundredand-forty-million people in this country that are just as
corny as I am.
Disney always had a great ability to know what the public loved to see.
After the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs , the studio
produced several other successful animations, such as Pinocchio, Peter
Pan, Bambi and Wind in the Willows. After Americas entry into the
Second World War in 1941, this golden age of animation faded and the
studio struggled as it made unprofitable propaganda films.
Political and religious views
In 1941, Disney also had to deal with a major strike by his writers and
animators. This left a strong impression on Disney. He would later
become a member of leading anti-Communist organisation Motion
Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (the right-wing
organisation was also considered to be anti-semitic. At one point, he
(unsuccessfully) tried to brand his labour union organisers as Communist
However, in the 1950s, Disney distanced himself from the Motion Picture
Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. However, by associating
with the organisation he was often associated with the anti-labour and
anti-semitic philosophy it expressed. Disney was a Republican, though
was not really involved in politics. It is often asked whether Walt Disney
was anti-semitic.
His biographer, Neal Gabler stated:
And though Walt himself, in my estimation, was not anti-

semitic, nevertheless, he willingly allied himself with people

who were anti-semitic, and that reputation stuck. He was
never really able to expunge it throughout his life.
Walt Disney believed in the benefits of a religious approach to life,
though he never went to church and disliked sanctimonious teachers.
I believe firmly in the efficacy of religion, in its powerful
influence on a persons 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.
Ch. 15 : Walt Lives!, p. 379
He respected other religions and retained a firm faith in God.
Post war success
During the war, there was much less demand for cartoon animation. It
took until the late 1940s, for Disney to recover some of its lustre and
success. Disney finished production of Cinderella and also Peter Pan
(which had been shelved during the war) In the 1950s, Walt Disney
Productions also began expanding its operations into conventional action
films. They produced several successful films, such as Treasure Island
(1950), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and Pollyanna (1960)
In another innovation, the studio created one of the first specifically
childrens shows The Mickey Mouse Club. Walt Disney even returned to
the studio to provide the voice. In the 1960s, the Disney Empire
continued to successful expand. In 1964, they produced their most
successful ever film Mary Poppins
In the late 1940s, Walt Disney began building up plans for a massive
Theme park. Walt Disney wished the Theme Park to be like nothing ever
created on earth. In particular, he wished it to be a magical world for
children, and surrounded by a train. Disney had a great love of trains
since his childhood when he regularly saw trains pass near his home. It
was characteristic of Walt Disney that he was willing to take risks in
trying something new.
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
The Disney Way Fieldbook (2000) by Bill Capodagli
After several years in the planning and building, Disneyland was opened
on July 17, 1955. Disney spoke at the address.
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
The success of Disneyland encouraged Walt to consider another park in
Orlando, Florida. In 1965, another theme park was announced.
Walt Disney died from lung cancer on December 15, 1966. He had been a
chain smoker all his life. An internet myth suggest Walt Disney had his
body cryonically frozen, but this is untrue. It seems to have been spread
by his employers, looking for one last joke at the expense of their boss.
After his death, his brother Roy returned to lead Disney Company, but the
company missed the direction and genius of Walt Disney. The 1970s were
a relatively fallow period for the company, before a renaissance in the
1980s, with a new generation of films, such as Who Framed Roger
Rabbit (1988) and The Lion King (1994)