On this day, 110 years ago, one of the best known figures in the entertainment industry of the 20th century was born. Let us celebrate the life and work of American film animator, director, producer, and screenwriter Walt Disney!
If there’s anything or anyone that significantly shaped and influenced the entertainment industry of the 20th century, there’s no doubt that Walt Disney is one of them.
On December 5, 1901, Walter Elias Disney was born to an Irish-Canadian father and a German-American mother in Hermosa, Chicago. At four, he developed an interest and love for drawing, which was encouraged when one of their neighbors started paying him for drawing his horse. It was also during this time that he became interested in trains, having moved with his family to the town of Marceline, Missouri, where the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway passed.
In his teenage years, Disney became the cartoonist for the newspaper of his school, McKinley Higschool, while also taking night courses at the Chiacago Art Institute. He also dropped out of high school when he was sixteen and tried to join the army, but he was denied as he was underage. He then joined the Red Cross in 1918 and was sent to France. There, he worked as an ambulance driver during World War I.
When he returned to Kansas City a year later, Disney began seeking a career in art. He began as a newspaper artist tasked to draw comic strips and political caricatures. He also worked for Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio, creating various advertisements for magazines, newspapers, and movie houses. During this period, Disney met cartoonist Ubbe Iwerks, with whom he began a small, short-lived company called “Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists” after their employment in the art studio. After a challenging start, Disney had to leave their small company to work for Kansas City Film Ad Company and earn extra money. During this period, he became familiar with cutout animations, which made him decide to become an animator.
Soon, Disney tried his luck at starting another business of his own, this time focusing on animation. Laugh-O-Grams, his first cartoons which he created along with former colleague Fred Harman, became popular in Kansas. Despite this success and the chance to establish his own studio, the profits proved insufficient to pay high salaries and run the studio. Disney became debt-ridden and bankrupt, but it did not hinder him from starting again; he decided to establish another studio in the movie industry’s capital: Hollywood, California. And the rest, as they say, is history.
One of the memorable characters that became synonymous to Walt Disney and his company was Mickey Mouse, who was based on the animator’s own pet mouse. The preliminary sketches by Disney were reworked by Ubbe Iwerks to make them easier to animate, but according to a Disney employee, it was Walt himself who gave Mickey’s soul. As with all of Disney’s previous works, Mickey Mouse debuted in a short animated silent film called Plane Crazy in 1928. However, it wasn’t as successful as the following short film, Steamboat Willie, which was notable for being among the first animations with synchronized sound.
Aside from creating many other remarkable animated films, characters, and musical features, Walt Disney also conceptualized a children’s theme park that became the world-famous Disneyland. His theme park officially opened its doors to the young and the young at heart on July 18, 1955.
Walt Disney also liked to dabble on amateur photography and filmmaking, as evidenced by the following photos showing him filming and taking photos during a visit to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil:
Now, let’s say happy birthday to Walt Disney—the artist, luminary, and folk hero who worked to bring joy and inspiration to the world.