Birth Date: December 5, 1901
Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Date of Death: December 15, 1966 / Age: 65
Location of Death: Los Angeles, California, USA
Cause of Death: cardiac arrest/lung cancer
Biography: Walter Elias "Walt" Disney (December 5, 1901 – December 15, 1966), was an American film producer, director, screenwriter, voice actor, and animator. One of the most well-known motion picture producers in the world, Disney was also the cartoon artist of comic books and newspaper comic strips, the creator of an American-based theme park called Disneyland, and is the co-founder with his brother Roy O. Disney of Walt Disney Productions, the profitable corporation now known as The Walt Disney Company.
Walt Disney is in particular noted for being a successful storyteller, a hands-on film producer, and a popular showman. 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.
Disney was born in Chicago, Illinois to Elias Disney and the former Flora Call. He was named after his father and after his father's close friend Walter Parr, the minister at St. Paul Congregational Church. In 1906, his family moved to a farm near Marceline, Missouri. The family sold the farm in 1909 and lived in a rented house until 1910, when they moved to Kansas City. Disney was nine years old at the time.
According to the Kansas City Public School District records, Disney began attending the Benton Grammar School in 1911, and graduated on June 8, 1917. During this time, Disney also enrolled in classes at the Chicago Art Institute. He left school at the age of sixteen and became a volunteer ambulance driver in World War I, after he changed his birth certificate to show his year of birth as 1900 in order to be able to enlist in the service. He served as a member of the American Red Cross Ambulance Force in France until 1919.
1920-1936: Early years in animation
Kansas City animation studios
Disney returned to the USA, moved to Kansas City and, with Ub Iwerks, formed a company called "Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists" in January 1920. The company faltered and Disney and Iwerks soon gained employment at the Kansas City Film Ad Corporation, working on primitive animated advertisements for local movie houses.
In 1922, Disney started Laugh-O-Grams, Inc., which produced short cartoons based on popular fairy tales and children’s stories. Among his employees were Iwerks, Hugh Harman, Rudolph Ising, Carmen Maxwell, and Friz Freleng. The shorts were popular in the local Kansas City area, but their costs exceeded their returns. After creating one last short, the live-action/animation Alice’s Wonderland, the studio declared bankruptcy in July 1923. Disney's brother Roy invited him to move to Hollywood, California, and Disney earned enough money for a one-way train ticket to California, leaving his staff behind, but taking the finished reel of Alice’s Wonderland with him.
Alice Comedies: Contract and new California studio
Disney set up shop with his brother Roy, started the Disney Brothers Studio in their Uncle Robert’s garage, and got a distribution deal for the Alice Comedies with New York City states-rights distributors Margaret Winkler and her fiancée Charles Mintz. Virginia Davis, the live-action star of Alice’s Wonderland, was sequestered from Kansas, as was Ub Iwerks. By 1926, the Disney Brothers Studio had been renamed as the Walt Disney Studio; the name Walt Disney Productions would be adopted in 1928. One of the studio’s employees, Lillian Bounds, became Walt Disney’s wife; they were married on July 13, 1925.
The Alice Comedies were 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.
The creation of Mickey Mouse
Walt Disney signing a Mickey Mouse drawingChristened by Lillian Disney, Mickey Mouse made his film debut in a short called 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 the Cinephone, a bootlegged 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 1947.
Joining the Mickey Mouse series in 1929 were a series of musical shorts called Silly Symphonies, which began with The Skeleton Dance. 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, leaving behind Powers and Ub Iwerks, who had been lured into an exclusive contract with Powers. After heading the only mildly successful Ub Iwerks Studio, Iwerks would return to Disney in 1940 and, in the studio's research and development department, pioneer a number of film processes and specialized animation technologies.
By 1932, Mickey Mouse became the most popular cartoon character on the screen, and many competing studios such as Van Beuren and Screen Gems created Mickey Mouse clones in hopes of cashing in on Disney’s success. After moving from Columbia to United Artists in 1932, Walt began producing the Silly Symphonies in the new 3-strip Technicolor process, making them the first commercial films presented in a true-color process. The first color Symphony was Flowers and Trees, which won the first Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons in 1932. The same year, 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.
Pinocchio and Fantasia followed Snow White into movie theatres 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.
Shortly after Dumbo was released in October 1941 and became a successful moneymaker, the United States entered World War II. The U.S. Army took over most of the Disney studio’s facilities and had the staff create training and instructional films for the military, as well as home-front propaganda such as Der Fuehrer's Face and the feature film Victory Through Air Power in 1943. The military films did not generate income, however, and Bambi underperformed when it was released in April 1942. Disney successfully re-issued Snow White in 1944, establishing the seven-year re-release tradition for Disney features.
Inexpensive package films, containing collections of cartoon shorts, were created and issued to theaters during this period as well. The most notable and successful of these were Saludos Amigos (1942), its sequel The Three Caballeros (1945), Song of the South (the first Disney feature to feature dramatic actors, 1946), Fun and Fancy Free (1947), and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949). The later had only two sections: the first based on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving and the second based on The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
By the late 1940s, the studio had recovered enough to continue production on the full-length features Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, which had been shelved during the war years and began work on Cinderella. The studio also began a series of live-action nature films, entitled True-Life Adventures, in 1948 with On Seal Island.
Testimony Before Congress
In 1947, during the early years of the Cold War, Walt Disney testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and he named several of his employees as Communist sympathizers. Some historians believe that the animosity from the 1941 strike of Disney Studio employees caused him to bear a grudge. His dislike and distrust of labor unions may have also led to his testimony. Despite his motivations, the fact remains that several of Disney's employees were said to be Communist sympathizers.
Death of Walt Disney
However, Disney’s involvement in Disney World ended in late 1966, when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in his left lung, after a life-long habit of chain smoking. He was checked into the St. Joseph's Hospital across the street from the Disney Studio lot and his health eventually deteriorated. He was pronounced dead at 3 AM PST on December 15, 1966, having just celebrated his sixty-fifth birthday two weeks earlier. Roy Disney carried out the Florida project, insisting that the name become Walt Disney World in honor of his brother. Roy O. Disney died three months after the Magic Kingdom opened for business in 1971.
Disney Animation today
Traditional hand-drawn animation, with which Walt Disney built the success of his company, no longer continues at the Walt Disney Feature Animation studio. After a stream of financially unsuccessful traditionally-animated features in the late-1990s and early 2000s, the two satellite studios in Paris and Orlando were closed, and the main studio in Burbank was converted to a computer animation production facility. In 2004, Disney released their final traditionally animated feature film for the foreseeable, Home on the Range. The DisneyToons studio in Australia continues to produce lower-budget traditionally animated films.