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Walt Disney Biography

Posted On March 1st, 2016 By Celebrity Biographies

Walt Disney Biography

Walt Disney

Walt Disney was an American entrepreneur, motion picture and television producer, cartoonist, animator and a voice actor. His contributions to the entertainment industry, in the 20th century, is unparalleled. He is known throughout the world and is regarded as the cultural icon in the animation industry. He along with his brother co-founded the famous “The Walt Disney Company” and also created the “Disneyland”.

Walter Elias “Walt” Disney was born on December 5, 1901, at 2156 North Tripp Avenue in Hermosa section of Chicago, Illinois. He was born to Elias Charles Disney, who was Irish-Canadian, and Flora Call Disney, who was of German-English descent. Elias married Flora on January 1, 1888, in the place called Acron in Florida. It’s located roughly 40 miles from where Walt Disney World was later developed. Walter was one of five children. He had three brothers and a sister. He lived most of childhood in Marceline, Missouri. It was here that he developed an interest for drawings and paintings, mostly inspired by his neighbor’s horse called Rupert. Walter also developed an interest for trains soon after, as his uncle Mike Martin was an engineer with the railroad and his route included going through Marceline, where he would signal Walter and his brother, either by waving or by a long train whistle, followed by two short ones. Hearing the signal the two brothers would run to a high ground and watch the train go by.

Walt Disney and his younger sister Ruth joined the new Park School of Marceline in the year 1990. However, in the year 1911, the family had to move to Kansas City where Walt and sister Ruth joined the Benton Grammar School at 3004 Benton Boulevard. It was at this school that he met Walter Pfeiffer, who came from the family of theater experts. He introduced Walt to the world of vaudeville (which is a performance made up of a series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on a common bill, a popular genre from 1880 to 1930’s.) and to motion pictures. Soon Walter was spending a lot of time at Pfeiffer’s house and at Kansas City Art Institute. In July 1911, Walt’s father Elias bought a paper route for “The Kansas City Star”. Walt and his brother Roy took the responsibility of delivering the newspapers. The duo delivered the morning newspaper called the Kansas City Times to over 700 people and then delivered the evening edition to 600 people. Walt would wake up at 4:30 A.M. and would deliver the newspapers till the school bells rang. Then he would distribute the evening edition since 4 P.M. right up till supper. He used to get so exhausted that he often slept in his class and his grades dropped drastically. He continued delivering newspapers for nearly six years and then his family moved to Chicago in 1917. Here Walt attended the McKinley High School and took the night classes at Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He became a contributing cartoonist for his school paper, drawing patriotic subjects from World War I. When he was 16, he dropped school, in hopes of joining the army, but he was rejected on grounds of being underage. So Walt joined Red Cross instead, and soon he was sent to France where he drove an ambulance for a year. In 1919, Walt came back to Kansas in search of a job. But nobody hired him either as an ambulance driver or a cartoonist. His elder brother Roy, who was working at a local bank at that time, got him a temporary job at Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio. Here he met the cartoonist Ubbe Iwerks, and soon the idea of starting their own company came into being. They opened the company called “Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists” but it was short lived and soon Walt has to leave it, to temporarily work at Kansas City Film Ad Company, in order to earn some money. He started making cutout animation based commercials here and readily became interested in animation. He soon switched to cel animation from cutout animation as it proved to be more efficient for him and decided to open his own animation business from there.

Walt Disney recruited a co-worker from Film Ad Company, named Fred Harman, as his first employee. Together they created modernized fairy tale cartoons called Laugh-O-Grams. These cartoons became immensely popular because of which Walt was able to purchase his own studio which he named as Laugh-O-Grams. He hired few more artists and animators for the studio, including Fred Harman’s brother Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, and his previous business partner and now a close friend Ubbe Iwerks. They did great initially, with their seven minutes fairy tale acts called Alice in Cartoonland, which consisted of both live performances and animation. However, the studio’s profits were not high enough to pay the high salaries of the staff, leading to unpaid debts and eventual bankruptcy.

Walt and his brother Roy moved to Hollywood, and two months later, they pooled in their money and started a studio. Virginia Davis, who was the star of the Disney’s live-action performances, also moved to Hollywood with her family on special request of Walt Disney. So did his old partner Ubbe Iwerks and family. Here the three began the Disney Brother’s Studio. Walt hired an ink-and-celluloid-paint artist named Lillian Bounds in the year 1925. They fell in love and got married in the same year.

Walt and Roy needed a new distributor for their series called Alice Comedies. So they contacted New York’s distributor Margaret Winkler, who was really keen in this distribution deal. The first episode of the series was called “Alice’s Day At Sea” and was delivered on 26th December 1923. The Disney brothers earned $1500 for it and soon the series Alice Comedies was a reasonable success. However, the idea of live performance and animation started losing popularity and the series ended in 1927. A year before that, Charles Mintz, who was the husband of Margaret Winkler and also the producer, ordered a new series to be produced through Universal Studios through Disney’s Studio. This led to the birth of “Oswald, The Lucky Rabbit”, which was an instant success. Its main character was drawn by Iwerks and the character became a popular figure. In February 1928, Walt Disney went to New York to meet the distributors, in order to negotiate higher fees for producing the Oswald series, but he got shocked to learn that Winkler and husband Mintz stole the rights to Oswald series along with most of Disney’s animators except Iwerks, who refused to switch allegiance.

Disney brothers and Iwerks didn’t lose hope and right away, they started creating a new character, based on a pet mouse that Walt adopted while working in Laugh-O-Grams studio in Kansas City. Walt and Roy, and their wives and Iwerks soon produced three new cartoons with it’s the main character called “Mickey Mouse“. All of Disney’s shorts were silent movies and the first short featuring Mickey Mouse was no different. It was called “Plane Crazy”, but Disney was unable to get any distributor for this short. So he produced another one called “The Gallopin’ Gaucho”, however that suffered the same fate as well. Not disheartened, Disney produced third short featuring Mickey, which was called “Steamboat Willie”. This time, however, it was not a silent movie. A businessman, Pat Powers saw the potential and agreed on taking the distribution. He also provided Disney with a Cinephone, which is a sound synchronization process. Soon his short Steamboat Willie became a big success.Disney applied the same tricks to his previous two Mickey’s shorts and those two shorts became a success as well. In the early 1930’s, Mickey Mouse overtook Felix, The Cat, as the most beloved cartoon character.

Walt Disney released a new musical shorts series in the year 1929, called the Silly Symphonies. It was entirely drawn and animated by Iwerks and the series became successful as well. At this time, however, Walt thought that he was not getting a good share of profits from Pat Powers, so in 1930, he signed a new deal with production house “Columbia Pictures”. By the year 1932, Mickey Mouse became a very popular character but Silly Symphonies started witnessing downfall in popularity. It was also the time when Mickey Mouse had a rival competition in Max Fleischer’s cartoon character Betty Boop which was being admired by theater audiences. In April 1931, Columbia Pictures dropped the distribution of Disney’s shorts but “United Artists” took in that job soon. In 1932, Herbert Kalmus completed his work on the first three-strip Technicolor movie camera. He got Disney interested in technicolor and soon Disney re-shot a black and white short of his in technicolor called “Flowers and Trees”. It became a super hit and went on to get it’s Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons. Soon, all Silly Symphonies cartoons were in color. Walt struck a deal with Technicolor for five years that he would have the sole rights to use the three-strip Technicolor process. In 1933, Disney created his most successful cartoon short of all time, labeled “The Three Little Pigs”. It’s song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” went on to become the anthem during the Great Depression. The cartoon ran for months in the theaters and soon Disney realized that the reason behind such a big success was the strong, emotionally gripping storyline in the cartoon. So he opened a “story department” in his studio, separate from his animators, who focused on building and developing great stories for the shorts production.

In November 1932, Walt Disney was awarded a special award for the creation of Mickey Mouse. Soon, the series was switched to color and all the supporting characters in the series like Donald Duck, Goofy, Minnie Mouse, Pluto came into existence. Donald Duck went on to become Disney’s second most popular and successful cartoon. On 21st December 1937, Disney released “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” which was premiered in Los Angeles and was the first full length animated movie in America, made in color with Disney’s quality expectations. It instantly became a huge success in the theaters earning over $8 million on its release. The movie earned Walt Disney a total of 8 Oscars and thus began what people called “The Golden Age of Animation” for the studio.

Walt Disney was able to open a new campus for the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank on December 24, 1939. While the Feature Animation staff worked on full-length feature projects like Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Wind in the Willows, the short staff kept working on shorts for Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto series. Disney’s animator, Fred Moore had to redesign Mickey Mouse during this period, as Donald Duck overtook Mickey in popularity charts. In 1940, they released Pinocchio and Fantasia, but both the movies failed and were financial setbacks for the studio. They tried to bounce back with an inexpensive feature called Dumbo, but during this period, Disney’s staff went on strike resulting in a major setback for the company. During the World War II, they released Bambi, but it also failed to perform. However, Disney re-issued Snow White in 1944 which was successful and resulted in his seven-year re-release tradition. After the war, Disney studio was able to recover enough to launch their feature animated movies Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. At this time though, Disney Studios shorts were losing popularity as people had a new favorite cartoon character called Bugs Bunny. But at the same time, Donald Duck’s popularity also rose making it replace Mickey Mouse as Disney’s star cartoon character.

Walt Disney once again paid attention on full length animated features and release Cinderella in the year 1950. At the same time, the also released a live-action film called Treasure Island. This was followed by the seven year reissue of “Alice in Wonderland” in 1951, “Peter Pan” in the year 1953, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” in 1954, “Lady and the Tramp” in 1955, “Old Yeller” in 1957, “The Shaggy Dog” and “Sleeping Beauty” in 1959, “Pollyanna” “Swiss Family Robinson” in 1960, “The Absent-Minded Professor” “The Parent Trap”, “Babes in Toyland” “101 Dalmatians” in 1961 and Son of Flubber in 1963. “Mary Poppins” in 1964 was last major success that he produced himself.

Walt Disney used television media to great extent as well. His miniseries on Davy Crockett was a big hit. In 1955, when they started airing a new daily show called “The Mickey Mouse Club”, it was an instant hit with the children of all age. The show aired in various formats on TV until the late 90’s.

On a business trip to Chicago in the 40’s, Walt Disney got inspired for an amusement park. He began drawing sketches of his concepts and ideas. He envisioned this park to be a place where children could meet Disney’s employees. This concept later developed into a larger concept that would become Disneyland. Walt Disney spent 5 years into developing his amusement park. Disneyland finally opened on July 17, 1955, in Anaheim, California and in his speech, Disney said “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 world”. He described the area of Fantasyland as “Fantasyland is dedicated to the young and the young in heart, to those who believe when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.”

Disneyland became a huge success. Children along with families would come, enjoy rides, explore the park and meet the Disney’s cartoon characters. The business boomed in a very short time as Disneyland became a tourist attraction site mesmerizing many from around the world. Disneyland spread its operations and new Disney World was opened up in Orlando, Florida. It was way bigger than Disneyland and again a success. Till date, Disneyland has branched out and opened it’s operations globally in major cities of Paris, Hong Kong, and Tokyo with Shanghai’s Disneyland to be launched in June 2016.

By the year 1960, Walt Disney and his empire was a major success. His company Walt Disney Productions was a household name and it became the major producer of family entertainment.

Walt Disney was a chain smoker throughout his adulthood, however, he made sure never to be seen smoking in front of children. He was working on his plans for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” (EPCOT, in short), which was to be built in heart of the Disney World in Orlando. It was then that he discovered that he had lung cancer. 10 days past his 65th birthday, on December 15, 1966, Walter Elias Disney, died of circulatory collapse which was caused by lung cancer. He was also working on “The Jungle Book” before his death.

After Walt Disney’s death, his elder brother Roy Disney came out of retirement and took control of Walt Disney Productions and The WED Enterprises. At the inauguration of Walt Disney World Resort in the year 1971, Roy Disney said in his speech “Walt Disney World is a tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney…and to the talents, the dedication, and the loyalty of the entire Disney organization that made Walt Disney’s dream come true. May Walt Disney World bring Joy and Inspiration and New Knowledge to all who come to this happy place… the Magic Kingdom where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn—together.”

Walt Disney left behind a colossal legacy including numerous shorts and feature films, theme parks, an animation company, California Institute of Arts (CalArts) and not to forget the inspirations for millions of people to follow.

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