The Unstoppable Walt Disney

by Fabian Toulouse

One of the most identifiable names of the late Twentieth Century, Walt Disney was born on December 15, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois. The son of Elias and Flora Disney, who had moved from Ontario, Canada in 1890, the family moved from Chicago to Marceline, Missouri for four years to farm. One of their neighbors paid Walt to make pictures of his horse and a love of drawing was born.

The family moved back to Chicago shortly thereafter, where Walt attended high school and enrolled in night classes at the Chicago Art Institute. At sixteen, he decided to quit school all together and join the army and join the fight against the Kaiser. His stint was only as long as it took for the military authorities to find out he was too young to serve.

Walt volunteered for the Red Cross instead and was charged with driving an ambulance in France. When he returned, he left the family home and searched for work in Kansas City. He found work creating commercial ads and met Ub Iwerks. The two became the best of friends and in 1920, they struck out on their own, starting the Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists Company. Money was hard to come by and soon Disney was working for an ad company to make ends meet. While employed there, he took an interest in animation and soon defected to open his own animation company.

Due to the incompatible combination of high salaries and poor money management, the company eventually went bankrupt and Disney was soon looking westward. He and his brother, Roy, moved to Hollywood to start up a cartoon studio. Here, Iwerks and his family would rejoin Disney to help start Disney Brothers Studios.

Walt, in the meantime, had sent a print of a cartoon he was working on in Kansas City, called Alice Comedies, to Margret Mintz. Impressed, she was immediately interested in distributing more of Disney’s animated shorts through her husband’s company. In 1928, after the immense success of Disney’s Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt flew to New York to ask Charles Mintz for a larger production budget. To Disney’s dismay, Mintz not only declined to increase the production budget, but also informed him of the need to make sweeping budgetary cuts. Disney decided to not cave and subsequently lost the rights (which Mintz had procured) to the Oswald Rabbit character and the contracts to many of his animators.

Walt quickly rebounded with the help of his now signature character: Mickey Mouse. Drafted on a train ride and receiving only a tepid response from his wife, Mickey would go on to be featured in Disney’s first bona fide success: Steamboat Willie. This sound cartoon would propel Disney to creating the industry’s first animated feature, Snow White. The list of Disney movies that has come into being has changed not only popular culture, but world culture and is a testament to Disney’s will to succeed.

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