It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, Walt Disney is that picture. On the outside we see a man who was able to create a mouse named Mickey and a park called Disneyland. On the inside, there’s a man who lived through struggle, the great highs and deep lows of life, and someone who created a groundings for all those who dared to dream as he did. Walt Disney’s success was not as easy as picking a pencil and choosing what to draw. Disney lived through multiple times of woe, not just for him but for the world, including both World Wars and the Great Depression. However, this never stopped the imagineer from trudging through and finding the end of the tunnel.
The Disney family was a very mobile family, they continuously moved which seemed to carry through the generations. Starting with those who came over from Ireland, Walt Disney’s ancestors relocated multiple times, for multiple reasons, and to multiple areas of the world. The lineage of the Disney’s travels practically stretched the entire East side of America including part of Canada and later stretched to California with Roy and Walt. Being born to a long line of Elias’, Walt joined the family in Chicago, Illinois and grew up there for a short period of his childhood in the South Side. Later, after the town began growing increasingly dangerous, the Disney’s packed up and moved to Marceline, Missouri where their father had bought a farm(Gabler 4-8).
I said “joined the family” because it is highly debated whether Walt was truly born from his mother Flora or adopted from Spain. The conspiracy comes from missing and/or un-aligning information during the time of Walt’s introduction into the family. Walter Elias Disney’s birth certificate is non-existent which caused many to assume he was not naturally born from the Disney bloodline. Another story claims Walt belonged to Spanish migrant workers who brought their son to America from Spain, then later the child was adopted by the Disney family who they worked for (Gabler 9).
Once in Marceline, the family settled on the plot of farmland just outside of the main town. While growing up here, Walt had the time of his life playing with his little sister and the friendly animals on the farm. He would often ride the family pig and their horse Charley. However, both instances usually ended with Walt being thrown off and into mud or on his back. Charley was especially said to go through the tree foliage and cause Walt and his brothers to nearly get their heads battered by the lower hanging branches (Stewart 5-6). Although having an array of fun animals found on a farm, Walt said his favorite was a dog that followed him around the farm until one day when the beloved Maltese Terrier never came back from following Roy, Walt’s brother, into town (Gabler 11).
Everyone helped with farm chores. With the whole family being busy, no one had time to take young Walt to his classes. By the time his education came into play, Walt was seven and his sister Ruth was five – also ready to be schooled. The result of this was the two of them attending school together despite the age difference, and Walt being completely embarrassed (Stewart 6). Growing up as a very cheerful, fun child, Walt always found ways to grab attention by making classmates or family members laugh (Stewart 1). He was very creative which gifted him the ability to only be bored for little amounts of time throughout his life. This imagination came in handy when he would come home from school. Disney and his friends would often venture to a pond near his house to fish and swim during warmer months. During Winter, the group of friends could skate and sled on the frozen surface of the pond (Stewart 6).
Walt’s true love for performers and art came to him when a group came to Marceline, acting out the timeless story of Peter Pan. Walt would later turn the play into an animated movie. His school eventually did their own version of the play with Disney cast as the main character Peter. From this moment on, Disney was hooked on drawing and coloring all types of little cartoons/illustrations he could think of. At one point he got in trouble for using tar for the drawings on the side of his family’s house (Stewart 8-10).
As great a life the Disney’s had in Marceline, the farm was not pulling enough money to satisfy the big family. Elias had to sell the farm to another local family and move everyone to another area of Missouri: Kansas City. The Disney’s considered their new conditions a step down from their wonderland in Marceline. The new house was located in what was classified as the working-class homes and contained no indoor plumbing. While there in Kansas City, the family owned and ran a newspaper route. Once again, the whole family was involved and Walt would still doodle to create a little fun in his life. According to his little sister Ruth, things were not as bad as they sounded. Ruth and Walt would go to the fences of the nearby amusement parks and look at all the fun and beauty of inside, however, they were not able to go in and enjoy it as others could (Gabler 19). It was in Kansas City where Walt developed a likeness of trains. His uncle who worked on the passing tracks got him a job selling candies and newspapers between the stops of Marceline, Kansas and Fort Madison, Iowa. Disney worked on the train during summers (“Walt Disney” Biography).
Walt’s parents eventually had financial issues again and had to sell the paper route. The family relocated, moving back to Chicago where his father began business with fruit jellies (Stewart 18). Walt went to highschool back in Chicago and took multiple art involved classes at the local Chicago Academy of the Fine Arts. While in high school he drew cartoons for the town newspaper and the school paper. Walt was enthralled with being a cartoonist, and he must of been good at it because the McKinley Voice wrote an article just on Walt and his abilities to draw and create. At one point, the manager of the paper began pulling Walt out of class just to draw and get started on his creations for the paper’s next issues (Gabler 33).
About a year later, he dropped out of school and the paper companies. Attempting to join the US Army (he was a cadet at McKinley), he was turned away due to his in-eligible age of 16. however, Walt was able to join the Red Cross and spent a year in France where he drove an ambulance (“Walt Disney” Biography). Once in France, Disney didn’t get much experience in the field. Most of the battle had already been fought in the areas he came through so he was mainly tasked with chores such as driving important officers where they needed to go or running errands for those officers. Walt did not stop drawing during this journey, he found new places to cartoon and fun ways to spread the cheerful drawings. Walt would put his creations along the canvas coverings of his ambulance for all to see as he passed by (Stewart 21-22).
Once back in the United States, Disney was eighteen and prepared to try his own luck in life. He was not a fan of joining the jelly business. Walt choose to move back to Kansas City where he got a drawing job at a local art studio (Stewart 25). While at the studio Disney met a fellow artist named Ub Iwerks. He and Walt got along very well and eventually ended up at the Kansas City Film Ad Company together. It was at this company that Walt first began learning about animations and creating them. The company taught Walt many valuable lessons about animations and how to use a camera. From this point, Disney and another fellow worker Fred Harman created their own business where they intended to create and sell cartoon animations to local theatres (“Walt Disney” biography).
The new company would go on to create a short film called Laugh-O-Grams, they sold this to multiple theatres in the Kansas City area. Laugh-O-Grams was also the name of the new company. Disney and Harman needed help coming up and creating more ideas so they hired two artists: Hugh Harman and Ub Iwerks (“Walt Disney” Biography). Their first project as a group was a group of animated films that stepped into new territory. They combined real human filming with animations. These films were called Alice in Cartoonland. However, before finishing the films, the company went bankrupt and they had to abandon the films (Stewart 31). With the money left and what they could scrape together, the Disney brothers, Roy and Walt went to California in search of a fresh beginning, Hollywood to be exact.
Surrounded by major film companies, the brothers began to put together a new studio they would name the Disney Brothers’ Studio. Ub Iwerks also moved out to California and met up with Walt and Roy (“Walt Disney” Biography). The trio restarted the Alice cartoons but were missing one thing: Alice. Alice, a real girl named Virginia Davis, was still back in Missouri and someone had just hired Walt and company to create a brand new cartoon. Needing even more help, the Disneys had hired more people, including Walt’s future wife Lillian Bounds. Bounds was an illustrations painter who got to know Walt very well. Very short after, Walt convinced Virginia Davis’ family to move out to Hollywood so she could be a part in the animated series. These films went over well and the Disney Brothers’ Company was ready to create another story (Stewart 35).
Oswald Cartoons were the next creations produced by the company which had now changed to Walt Disney Studios, and were being shown all around the nation. However, another company wanted Oswald to themselves and hired away all of the Disney’s illustrators (Stewart 39-40). From this point, Walt did not trust many people with his next idea, the only ones were his brother, his wife, and Iwerks. Originally named Mortimer, the new cartoon was of a mouse that would have adventures and play tricks on some friends. Enjoying the name, Walt’s wife Lillian suggested Mickey, and the name stuck (Stewart 45).
From that moment on, Walt’s life would change forever. He would still go through challenges, such as losing his parents, but he would keeping working hard. Never slowing down, Disney’s visions set platform for hundreds of films and characters to come to life and be there for children when they needed a friend or something to relate to. Today, the Disney company is one of the biggest in the world. Walt wasn’t done when his time on Earth came but he left it up to us to continue his path, and he always reminded people: “It all started with a mouse.”
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