Walt Disney

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This article is about Walt Disney, the person. For the company he founded, see The Walt Disney Company. For other uses, see Walt Disney (disambiguation).
Walt Disney
Walt Disney 1946.JPG
Disney in 1946
Born Walter Elias Disney
(1901-12-05)December 5, 1901
Hermosa, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died December 15, 1966(1966-12-15) (aged 65)
Burbank, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Lung cancer
Resting place
Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California, U.S.
Residence Burbank, California, U.S.
Nationality American
Education McKinley High School, Chicago Academy of Fine Arts
Occupation Co-founder of The Walt Disney Company
Years active 1920–1966
Home town Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Religion Congregationist[1][2]
Spouse(s) Lillian Bounds (1925–66; his death)
Children
Parents Elias Disney
Flora Call Disney
Relatives
Awards 7 Emmy Awards
22 Academy Awards
Cecil B. DeMille Award
Signature Walt Disney 1942 signature.svg

Walter Elias "Walt" Disney (/ˈdɪzni/)[3] (December 5, 1901 – December 15, 1966) was an American business magnate, cartoonist, and filmmaker. As a prominent figure within the American animation industry and throughout the world, he is regarded as a cultural icon,[4] known for his influence and contributions to entertainment during the 20th century. As a Hollywood business mogul, he and his brother Roy O. Disney co-founded The Walt Disney Company.[5]

As an animator and entrepreneur, Disney was particularly noted as a filmmaker and a popular showman, as well as an innovator in animation and theme park design. He and his staff created various fictional characters including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. Disney himself was the original voice for Mickey. During his lifetime, he received four honorary Academy Awards and won 22 Academy Awards from a total of 59 nominations, including a record of four in one year,[6] giving him more awards and nominations than any other individual in history. Disney also won seven Emmy Awards and gave his name to the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort theme parks in the U.S., as well as the international resorts, Tokyo Disney Resort, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland.

He died on December 15, 1966, from lung cancer in Burbank, California. He left behind a vast legacy, including numerous animated shorts and feature films produced during his lifetime; the company, parks, and animation studio that bear his name; and the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).

1901–1920: Early life

Childhood

Walt's parents, Elias and Flora (Call) Disney

Disney was born on December 5, 1901, at 2156 North Tripp Avenue in Chicago's Hermosa community area to Elias Disney, who was Irish-Canadian and Flora Call Disney, who was of German and English descent.[7] His great-grandfather, Arundel Elias Disney, had emigrated from Gowran, County Kilkenny, Ireland where he was born in 1801. Arundel Disney was a descendant of Robert d'Isigny, a Frenchman who had travelled to England with William the Conqueror in 1066.[8] With the d'Isigny name anglicized as "Disney", the family settled in a village now known as Norton Disney, south of the city of Lincoln, in the county of Lincolnshire.[9]

In 1878 Disney's father Elias had moved from Huron County, Ontario, Canada to the United States, at first seeking gold in California before finally settling down to farm with his parents near Ellis, Kansas,[10][11] until 1884. Elias married Flora Call on January 1, 1888, in Acron, Florida, just 40 miles north of where Walt Disney World would ultimately be developed.[12] The family moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1890, hometown of Elias' brother Robert, who helped Elias financially for most of Walt's early life.[13] In 1906, when Walt was four, Elias and his family moved to a farm in Marceline, Missouri, where his elder brother Roy had recently purchased farmland.[14] In Marceline, Disney developed his love for drawing with one of the family's neighbors, a retired doctor named "Doc" Sherwood, paying him to draw pictures of Sherwood's horse, Rupert.[15] Elias was a subscriber to the Appeal to Reason newspaper and Walt copied the front-page cartoons of Ryan Walker.[11] His interest in trains originated in Marceline as well. There was a railway called Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway which passes near the neighbourhood. Upon hearing the train whistle, Walt and Roy would run to a clearing of high ground. Once recognised by their uncle, Mike Martin, who conducted the train, he would wave and produce a long whistle, followed by two short ones. That functioned as a signal to the brothers.[16]

10-year old Walt Disney (center right) at a gathering of Kansas City newsboys in 1912.

Walt attended the new Park School of Marceline in fall, 1909. He and his younger sister Ruth started school together. Before that he had no formal schooling.[17] The Disneys remained in Marceline for four years, until having to sell their farm on November 28, 1910. At that time, two of Walt's elder brothers, Herbert and Ray, had been fed up with the constant work and little or no spending money, and ran away in fall 1906. [18]Afterwards the family moved to Kansas City in 1911,[19] where Walt and Ruth attended the Benton Grammar School at 3004 Benton Boulevard, close to his new home. Disney had completed the second grade at Marceline but had to repeat the grade at Kansas City.[20] At school he met Walter Pfeiffer, who came from a family of theatre aficionados and introduced Walt to the world of vaudeville and motion pictures. Before long, Walt was spending more time at the Pfeiffers' than at home,[21] as well as attending Saturday courses at the Kansas City Art Institute,[22]

On July 1, 1911, Elias purchased a newspaper delivery route for The Kansas City Star. It extended from the Twenty-seventh Street to the Thirty-first Street, and from Prospect Avenue to Indiana Avenue. Roy and Walt were put to work delivering the newspapers. The Disneys delivered the morning newspaper Kansas City Times to about 700 customers and the evening and Sunday Star to more than 600. The number of customers they had increased with time. Walt woke up at 4:30 AM and worked delivering newspapers until the school bell rang. He resumed working the paper trail at 4PM and continued to supper time. He found the work exhausting and often received poor grades from dozing off in class. He continued his paper routine for more than six years.[23]

Teenage years

In 1917 Elias acquired shares in the O-Zell jelly factory in Chicago and moved his family back to the city.[24] In the fall Disney began his freshman year at McKinley High School and took night courses at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts under the tutelage of artist and educator Louis Grell (1887–1960).[25] He became the cartoonist for the school newspaper, drawing patriotic topics on World War I. With a hope to join the army, Disney dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen, but was rejected for being under-age.[26] Afterwards, Disney and a friend joined the Red Cross.[27] He was soon sent to France for a year, where he drove an ambulance, but only after the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.[28]

Disney as an ambulance driver immediately after World War I

Hoping to find work outside the Chicago O-Zell factory,[29] Walt moved back to Kansas City in 1919 to begin his artistic career.[30] He considered becoming an actor, but decided to draw political caricatures or comic strips for a newspaper. When nobody wanted to hire him as either an artist or as an ambulance driver, his brother Roy, then working in a local bank, got Walt a temporary job through a bank colleague at the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio,[30] where he created advertisements for newspapers, magazines, and movie theaters.[31] At Pesmen-Rubin he met cartoonist Ubbe Iwerks[32] and, when their time at the studio expired, they decided to start their own commercial company together.[33]

1920–1937: Start of animation career

In January 1920, Disney and Iwerks formed a short-lived company called "Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists". However, following a rough start, Disney left temporarily to earn money at the Kansas City Film Ad Company. He was soon joined by Iwerks, who was not able to run their business alone.[34] While working for the company, where he made commercials based on cutout animation, Disney became interested in animation and decided to become an animator.[35] The owner of the Ad Company, A.V. Cauger, allowed him to borrow a camera from work to experiment with at home. After reading the Edwin G. Lutz book Animated Cartoons: How They Are Made, Their Origin and Development, Disney considered cel animation to be much more promising than the cutout animation he was doing for Cauger. He eventually decided to open his own animation business and recruited a fellow co-worker at the Ad Company, Fred Harman, as his first employee.[36] Disney and Harman then started creating cartoons called Laugh-O-Grams.[37] Disney studied Aesop's Fables as a model. The first six of the new Laugh-O-Grams were modernized fairy tales.[38] They screened their cartoons at a local theater owned by Frank Newman, who was one of the most popular "showmen" in Kansas City.[37]

Laugh-O-Gram Studio

Newman Laugh-O-Gram (1921)

Presented as "Newman Laugh-O-Grams",[37] Disney's cartoons became widely popular in the Kansas City area.[39] Through their success, he was able to acquire his own studio, also called Laugh-O-Gram,[40] for which he hired a number of additional animators, including Fred Harman's brother Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, and his close friend Ubbe Iwerks.[41] It was opened on May 18, 1922.[42] However, studio profits were insufficient to cover the high salaries paid to employees. Unable to successfully manage money,[43] Disney's studio became loaded with debt and wound up bankrupt,[43][44] whereupon he decided to set up a studio in the movie industry's capital city, Hollywood, California.[45]

Career in Hollywood and marriage

Two months after their arrival in October 1923,[46] Disney and his brother Roy pooled their money and set up a cartoon studio in Hollywood.[47] Virginia Davis, the live-action star of Alice's Wonderland, and her family relocated from Kansas City to Hollywood at Disney's request, as did Iwerks and his family. This was the beginning of the Disney Brothers' Studio, located on Hyperion Avenue in the Silver Lake district, where it remained until 1939. In 1925 Disney hired a young woman named Lillian Bounds to ink and paint celluloid. After a brief courtship, the pair married that same year, on July 25, 1925.[48]

Alice Comedies

Disney and Roy needed to find a distributor for Walt's new Alice Comedies, which he had started making while in Kansas City but never got to distribute.[44] Disney sent an unfinished print to New York distributor Margaret Winkler, who promptly wrote back to him that she was keen on a distribution deal for more live-action/animated shorts based upon Alice's Wonderland.[49] Walt did the animation himself and directed the live-action scenes, while Roy took on the unfamiliar role of cameraman, photographing both the animation and the live action. The first of the new Alice Comedies, Alice’s Day at Sea, was delivered on December 26, 1923, and the Disney Brothers studio received their first earnings of $1,500. The new series, Alice Comedies, proved reasonably successful. It featured Virginia Davis, with other child actresses assuming the role later.[46] By the time the series ended in 1927,[50] it had lost popularity. Historian J.B. Kaufman said its focus was more on the animated characters rather than the live-action Alice, while its idea had exhausted itself.[51]

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

In 1926 producer Charles Mintz ordered a new, all-animated series to be put into production for distribution through Universal Pictures, and signed Disney's studio to produce it.[52] Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was an almost instant success, and was praised as "exceptionally clever" and showing "fine cartoon ingenuity". Its main character, Oswald—created and drawn by Iwerks—became a popular figure, with high merchandise performance.[53]

In February 1928 Disney went to New York to negotiate a higher fee for producing the Oswald series. He was shocked when Mintz proposed reducing Disney's compensation. Furthermore, most of Disney's animators—including Harman, Ising, Maxwell, and Freleng—were under contract to Mintz, and Universal owned the Oswald trademark; Mintz threatened to start his own studio and produce the series himself if Disney refused to accept the reductions. Disney declined Mintz's ultimatum, lost most of his animation staff—except Iwerks, who refused to switch allegiances—and found himself on his own again.[54]

In 2006 the Walt Disney Company finally acquired Oswald the Lucky Rabbit when its subsidiary ESPN purchased rights to the character, along with other properties, from NBC Universal, in return for relinquishing the services of longtime ABC sports commentator Al Michaels. “Oswald is definitely worth more than a fourth-round draft choice," quipped Michaels. "I'm going to be a trivia answer someday.”[55]

Mickey Mouse

Main article: Mickey Mouse

After losing the rights to Oswald, Disney felt the need to develop a new character to replace him, which was based on a mouse he had adopted as a pet while working in his Laugh-O-Gram studio in Kansas City.[56] Iwerks reworked the sketches made by Disney to make the character easier to animate, although Mickey's voice and personality were provided by Disney himself until 1947. In the words of one Disney employee, "Ub designed Mickey's physical appearance, but Walt gave him his soul."[56] Besides Oswald and Mickey, a similar mouse-character is seen in the Alice Comedies, which featured "Ike the Mouse". Moreover, the first Flip the Frog cartoon called Fiddlesticks showed a Mickey Mouse look-alike playing fiddle. The initial films were animated by Iwerks, with his name prominently featured on the title cards. Originally named "Mortimer", the mouse was later renamed "Mickey" by Lillian Disney, who thought that the name Mortimer did not sound appealing.[57][58] Mortimer eventually became the name of Mickey's rival for Minnie—taller than his renowned adversary and speaking with a Brooklyn accent.[59]

The first animated short to feature Mickey, Plane Crazy, was a silent film like all of Disney's previous works. After failing to find a distributor for the short and its follow-up, The Gallopin' Gaucho, Disney created a Mickey cartoon with sound called Steamboat Willie. A businessperson named Pat Powers provided Disney with both distribution and Cinephone, a sound-synchronization process. Steamboat Willie became an instant success.[60] Plane Crazy, The Galloping Gaucho, and all subsequent Mickey cartoons were released with soundtracks. After the release of Steamboat Willie, Disney successfully used sound in all of his subsequent cartoons, and Cinephone also became the new distributor for Disney's early sound cartoons.[61] Mickey soon eclipsed Felix the Cat as the world's most popular cartoon character.[56] Mickey's popularity grew rapidly in the early 1930s.[56]

Silly Symphonies

Following in the footsteps of Mickey Mouse series, a series of musical shorts titled, Silly Symphonies, were released in 1929. The first, The Skeleton Dance, was entirely drawn and animated by Iwerks, who was also responsible for drawing the majority of cartoons released by Disney in 1928 and 1929. Although both series were successful, the Disney studio thought it was not receiving its rightful share of profits from Pat Powers.[62] In 1930 Disney signed a new distribution deal with Columbia Pictures. The original basis of the cartoons was their musical novelty, with the first Silly Symphony cartoons featuring scores by Carl Stalling.[63]

By 1932, although Mickey Mouse had become a relatively popular cinema character, Silly Symphonies was not as successful. The same year also saw competition increase as Max Fleischer's flapper cartoon character, Betty Boop, gained popularity among theater audiences.[64] Fleischer, considered Disney's main rival in the 1930s,[65] was also the father of Richard Fleischer, whom Disney would later hire to direct his 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Meanwhile, on April 13, 1931, Columbia Pictures dropped the distribution of Disney cartoons to be replaced by United Artists.[66] In late 1932, Herbert Kalmus, who had just completed work on the first three-strip technicolor camera,[67] approached Walt and convinced him to reshoot the black and white Flowers and Trees in three-strip Technicolor.[68] Flowers and Trees would go on to be a phenomenal success and would also win the first Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons in 1932. After the release of Flowers and Trees, all subsequent Silly Symphony cartoons were in color. Disney was also able to negotiate a two-year deal with Technicolor, giving him the sole right to use their three-strip process,[69][70] a period eventually extended to five years.[63] Through Silly Symphonies, Disney also created his most successful cartoon short of all time, The Three Little Pigs (1933).[71] The cartoon ran in theaters for many months, featuring the hit song that became the anthem of the Great Depression, "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf".[72] One reason for why Three Little Pigs was so successful was the strength of its story, in that Disney had realized the success of animated films depended upon telling emotionally gripping stories that would grab the audience and not let go.[73][74] This realization led to another of his innovations: a "story department," separate from the animators, with storyboard artists who would be dedicated to working on a "story development" phase of the production pipeline.[75]

One of two stars dedicated to Walt Disney on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

First Academy Award and subsequent spin-offs

On November 18, 1932, Disney received a special Academy Award for the creation of "Mickey Mouse".[76] The series, which switched to color in 1935, soon launched spin-offs for supporting characters such as Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto. Of all Mickey's partners, Donald Duck, who first teamed up with Mickey in the 1934 cartoon, Orphan's Benefit, was arguably the most popular, going on to become Disney's second most successful cartoon character of all time.[77]

Fatherhood

The Disneys' first attempt at pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Lillian became pregnant again and gave birth to a daughter, Diane Marie Disney, on December 18, 1933.[78] Later, the Disneys adopted Sharon Mae Disney (December 31, 1936 – February 16, 1993).[79]

Diane married Ron Miller at the age of 20 and is known as Diane Disney Miller. The Millers established a winery called Silverado Vineyards in California.[80] Diane and Ron Miller had seven children: Christopher, Joanna, Tamara, Jennifer, Walter, Ronald and Patrick.[81] Years later, Diane went on to become the cofounder of The Walt Disney Family Museum, with the aid of her children. Diane died November 19, 2013, of complications from a fall at home.[82]

Sharon Mae Disney was born December 31, 1936, in Los Angeles, California and was later adopted by the Disneys due to Lillian's several birth complications.[79] Sharon married Robert Brown on May 10, 1959,[83] with whom she had one child.[84] They remained married until his death in 1967. Sharon married William Lund in 1969 and had two children with him, but six years later they divorced.[85] Sharon was a philanthropist and had contributed to charities such as the Marianne Frostig Center of Educational Therapy and the Curtis School foundation.[86] In 1993, Sharon died at the age of 56.[85] After Sharon's death, her estate donated $11 million to the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where she was a member of the board of trustees for almost two decades.[87] Sharon's donation was commemorated by renaming the School of Dance the Sharon D. Lund School of Dance.[88]

1937–1941: Golden age of animation

"Disney's Folly": Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Walt Disney introduces each of the Seven Dwarfs in a scene from the original 1937 Snow White theatrical trailer.

Following the creation of two cartoon series, in 1934 Disney began planning a full-length feature. When the film industry learned of Disney's plans to produce an animated feature-length version of Snow White, they were certain that the endeavor would destroy the Disney Studio and dubbed the project "Disney's Folly". Both Lillian and Roy tried to talk Disney out of the project, but he continued plans for the feature, employing Chouinard Art Institute professor Don Graham to start a training operation for the studio staff.[89] Disney then used the Silly Symphonies as a platform for experiments in realistic human animation, distinctive character animation, special effects, and the use of specialized processes and apparatus such as the multiplane camera – a new technique first used by Disney in the 1937 Silly Symphonies short The Old Mill.[90]

All of this development and training was used to increase quality at the studio and to ensure that the feature film would match Disney's quality expectations. Entitled Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the feature went into full production in 1934 and continued until mid-1937, when the studio ran out of money. To obtain the funding to complete Snow White, Disney had to show a rough cut of the motion picture to loan officers. The film premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater on December 21, 1937 and was praised by the audience. Snow White, the first animated feature in America made in Technicolor, was released in February 1938 under a new distribution deal with RKO Radio Pictures. RKO had been the distributor for Disney cartoons in 1936, after it closed down the Van Beuren Studios in exchange for distribution.[91] The film became the most successful motion picture of 1938 and earned over $8 million on its initial release, the equivalent of $134,033,100 today.[92]

Subsequent successes

Following the success of Snow White, for which Disney received one full-size and seven miniature Oscar statuettes, he was able to build a new campus for the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, which opened for business on December 24, 1939. Snow White began an era that would later be known as the 'Golden Age of Animation' for the studio.[93][94] Feature animation staff, having just completed Pinocchio, continued work on Fantasia and Bambi as well as the early production stages of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Wind in the Willows. The shorts staff carried on working on the Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto cartoon series. Animator Fred Moore had redesigned Mickey Mouse in the late 1930s after Donald Duck overtook him in popularity among theater audiences.[95]

Pinocchio and Fantasia followed Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs into the movie theaters in 1940, but both proved financial disappointments.[96][97] The inexpensive Dumbo was then planned as an income generator, but during production most of the animation staff went on strike, permanently straining relations between Disney and his artists.[98]

1941–1945: World War II era

Shortly after the release of Dumbo in October 1941, the US entered World War II. The U.S. Army and Navy Bureau of Aeronautics contracted most of the Disney studio's facilities where the staff created training and instruction films for the military like Aircraft Carrier Landing Signals, home-front morale-boosting shorts such as Der Fuehrer's Face,[99] which won an Academy Award,[100] and the 1943 feature film Victory Through Air Power.[101] Military films did not generate income, and the feature film Bambi underperformed on its release in April 1942.[102] Disney successfully re-issued Snow White in 1944, establishing a seven-year re-release tradition for his features.[102] In 1945, The Three Caballeros was the last animated feature released by the studio during the war.[103]

In 1941, the U.S. State Department sent Disney and a group of animators to South America as part of its Good Neighbor policy, at the same time guaranteeing financing for the resultant movie, Saludos Amigos.[104] In addition, Disney was asked by the US Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs to make an educational film about the Amazon Basin, which resulted in the 1944 animated short, The Amazon Awakens.[105][106][107]

Disney took up the work of making insignia for the soldiers as well. They were used to not only bring humor to military units but also be a way to boost morale. The first insignia was created as early as 1933 for a Naval Reserve Squadron stationed at Floyd Bennett Field in New York. Disney created his own insignia design unit with Hank Porter, at the helm, Roy Williams, Bill Justice, Van Kaufman, Ed Parks, and George Goepper. Together, these men created over 1200 unique insignia throughout the duration of World War II. All of the designs were created free-of-charge. "The insignia meant a lot to the men who were fighting ... I had to do it ... I owed it to them." said Disney.[99]

1945–1955: Post-war period

Walt Disney meets Wernher von Braun in 1954.

By the late 1940s, the studio had recovered enough to continue production on the full-length features Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, both of which had been shelved during the war years. Work also began on Cinderella, which became Disney's most successful film since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In 1948 the studio also initiated a series of live-action nature films, titled True-Life Adventures, with On Seal Island the first. Despite its resounding success with feature films, the studio's animation shorts were no longer as popular as they once were, with people paying more attention to Warner Bros. and their animation star Bugs Bunny. By 1942, Leon Schlesinger Productions, which produced the Warner Bros. cartoons, had become the country's most popular animation studio.[108] However, while Bugs Bunny's popularity rose in the 1940s, so did Donald Duck's,[109] a character who would replace Mickey Mouse as Disney's star character by 1949.[110]

Meanwhile, Disney studios created inexpensive package films, containing collections of cartoon shorts, and issued them to theaters during this period. These included Make Mine Music (1946), Melody Time (1948), Fun and Fancy Free (1947) and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949). The latter had only two sections, the first based on The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, and the second on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. During this period, Disney also ventured into full-length dramatic films that mixed live action and animated scenes, including Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart. After the war ended, Mickey's popularity faded again.[110]

During the mid-1950s, Disney produced educational films on the space program in collaboration with NASA rocket designer Wernher von Braun: Man in Space and Man and the Moon in 1955, and Mars and Beyond in 1957.[111] Man in Space was nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject – 1956 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[112]

Disney and the Second Red Scare

Disney was a founding member of the anti-communist group Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals.[113] In 1947, during the Second Red Scare,[114] Disney testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), where he branded Herbert Sorrell, David Hilberman and William Pomerance, former animators and labor union organizers as Communist agitators. All three men denied the allegations. (Sorrell also testified before the HUAC in 1946, when insufficient evidence was found to link him to the Communist Party.[115][116]) Disney also accused the Screen Cartoonists Guild of being a Communist front, and charged that the 1941 strike was part of an organized Communist effort to gain influence in Hollywood.[114] On January 12, 1955, Disney was approved from the Federal Bureau of Investigation as an official SAC (special agent in charge). The title was used in-house by the Bureau for a trusted person they could contact for information or further assistance. Memos indicate that he remained a source of information to his death.[117]

1955–1966: Theme parks and beyond

Carolwood Pacific Railroad

The Lilly Belle on display at Disneyland Main Station in 1993. The caboose's woodwork was done entirely by Walt himself.

During 1949, Disney and his family moved to a new home on a large piece of land in the Holmby Hills district of Los Angeles, California. With the help of his friends Ward and Betty Kimball, who already had their own backyard railroad, Disney developed blueprints and immediately set to work on creating a miniature live steam railroad for his backyard. The name of the railroad, Carolwood Pacific Railroad, came from his home's location on Carolwood Drive.[118] The railroad's half-mile long layout included a 46-foot (14 m) long trestle bridge, loops, overpasses, gradients, an elevated berm, and a 90-foot (27 m) tunnel underneath his wife's flowerbed.[119] He named the miniature working steam locomotive built by Disney Studios engineer Roger E. Broggie Lilly Belle in his wife's honor and had his attorney draw up right-of-way papers giving the railroad a permanent, legal easement through the garden areas, which his wife dutifully signed; however, there is no evidence of the documents ever recorded as a restriction on the property's title.[120]

Planning Disneyland

Main article: Disneyland
Disneyland: aerial view, August 1963, looking SE. New Melodyland Theater at top. Santa Ana Freeway (US 101 at the time, now I-5) upper left corner.

On a business trip to Chicago in the late-1940s, Disney drew sketches of his ideas for an amusement park where he envisioned his employees spending time with their children.[121] The idea for a children's theme park came after a visit to Children's Fairyland in Oakland, California.[122] It also said that Disney may have been inspired to create Disneyland in the park Republic of the Children located in Manuel B. Gonnet, La Plata, Argentina, and opened in 1951.[123] This plan was originally intended to be built on a plot located across the street to the south of the studio. These original ideas developed into a concept for a larger enterprise that would become Disneyland.[121][122] Disney spent five years developing Disneyland and created a new subsidiary company, WED Enterprises, to carry out planning and production of the park. A small group of Disney studio employees joined the Disneyland development project as engineers and planners, and were dubbed Imagineers.[124]

As Disney explained one of his earliest plans to Herbert Ryman, who created the first aerial drawing of Disneyland presented to the Bank of America during fund raising for the project, he said, "Herbie, I just want it to look like nothing else in the world. And it should be surrounded by a train."[125] According to Disney's own account, entertaining his daughters and their friends on the Carolwood Pacific Railroad inspired him to include a railroad in Disneyland.[126]

Disneyland grand opening

Walt Disney giving the dedication day speech July 17, 1955

On Sunday, July 17, 1955, Disneyland hosted a live TV preview, among the thousands of people in attendance were Ronald Reagan, Bob Cummings and Art Linkletter, who shared cohosting duties, as well as the mayor of Anaheim. Disney gave the following dedication day speech:

Disney patrolled around the place, introducing one land after another. At Fantasyland, he said, "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."[128]

Expansion into new areas

Walt Disney Productions began work on Disneyland, as well as expanding its other entertainment operations. In 1950, Treasure Island became the studio's first all-live-action feature,[129] soon followed by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (in CinemaScope, 1954), Old Yeller (1957), The Shaggy Dog (1959), Pollyanna (1960), Swiss Family Robinson (1960), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), and The Parent Trap (1961). The studio produced its first TV special, One Hour in Wonderland, in 1950.[130] Disney began hosting a weekly anthology series on ABC entitled Disneyland, after the park, on which he aired clips of past Disney productions, gave tours of his studio, and familiarized the public with Disneyland as it was being constructed in Anaheim.[131] The show also featured a Davy Crockett miniseries, which started the "Davy Crockett craze" among American youth, during which millions of coonskin caps and other Crockett memorabilia were sold across the country.[132] In 1955, the studio's first daily television show, Mickey Mouse Club debuted on ABC. It was a groundbreaking comedy/variety show catered specifically for children. Disney took a strong personal interest in the show and even returned to the animation studio to voice Mickey Mouse in its animated segments during its original 1955–59 production run.[133] The Mickey Mouse Club continued in various incarnations in syndication and on the Disney Channel into the 1990s.[134]

As the studio expanded and diversified into other media, Disney devoted less attention to the animation department, entrusting most of its operations to his key animators, whom he dubbed the Nine Old Men.[135] Although he was spending less time supervising the production of the animated films, he was always present at story meetings.[136] During Disney's lifetime, the animation department created the successful Lady and the Tramp (the first animated film in CinemaScope) in 1955,[137] Sleeping Beauty (the first animated film in Super Technirama 70mm) in 1959,[138] One Hundred and One Dalmatians (the first animated feature film to use Xerox cels) in 1961,[139] and The Sword in the Stone in 1963.[140]

Production of short cartoons kept pace until 1956, when Disney shut down the responsible division though special shorts projects continued for the remainder of the studio's duration on an irregular basis. These productions were all distributed by Disney's new subsidiary, Buena Vista Distribution, which had taken over all distribution duties for Disney films from RKO by 1955.[141] Disneyland, one of the world's first theme parks, finally opened on July 17, 1955, and was immediately successful. Visitors from around the world came to visit Disneyland, which contained attractions based on a number of successful Disney characters and films.[128]

After 1955, the Disneyland TV show was renamed Walt Disney Presents. It switched from black-and-white to color in 1961 and changed its name to Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, at the same time moving from ABC to NBC,[142] and eventually evolving into its current form as The Wonderful World of Disney.Since then, it has aired on ABC,CBS, NBC, the Hallmark Channel and the Cartoon Network via separate broadcast rights deals. During its run, the Disney series offered some recurring characters, such as the newspaper reporter and sleuth "Gallegher" played by Roger Mobley with a plot based on the writings of Richard Harding Davis.[143]

Disney had already formed his own music publishing division in 1949 and in 1956. Partly inspired by the huge success of the television theme song The Ballad of Davy Crockett, he created a company-owned record production and distribution entity called Disneyland Records.[144]

Early 1960s successes

(Left to right) Robert B. Sherman, Richard M. Sherman, and Walt Disney sing "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" (1964)

By the early 1960s, the Disney empire had become a major success, and Walt Disney Productions had established itself as the world's leading producer of family entertainment. Walt Disney was the Head of Pageantry for the 1960 Winter Olympics.[145] After decades of pursuit, Disney acquired the rights to P. L. Travers' books about a magical nanny.[146] Mary Poppins, released in 1964, was the most successful Disney film of the 1960s and featured a song score written by Disney favorites, the Sherman Brothers.[147][148] The same year, Disney debuted a number of exhibits at the 1964 New York World's Fair,[149] including Audio-Animatronic figures, all of which were later integrated into attractions at Disneyland and a new theme park project which was to be established on the East Coast.[150]

Plans for Disney World and EPCOT

In late 1965, Disney announced plans to develop another theme park to be called Disney World a few miles southwest of Orlando.[151] Disney World was to include "the Magic Kingdom", a larger, more elaborate version of Disneyland. It would also feature a number of golf courses and resort hotels. The heart of Disney World, however, was to be the Experimental Prototype City (or Community) of Tomorrow, known as EPCOT for short.[152][153]

Mineral King Ski Resort

During the early to mid-1960s, Walt Disney developed plans for a ski resort in Mineral King, a glacial valley in California's Sierra Nevada mountain range. He brought in experts such as the renowned Olympic ski coach and ski-area designer Willy Schaeffler, who helped plan a visitor village, ski runs and ski lifts among the several bowls surrounding the valley. Plans finally moved into action in the mid-1960s, but Walt died before the actual work started. Disney's death and opposition from conservationists stopped the building of the resort.[154]

Illness and death

Walt Disney was a chain smoker his entire adult life, although he made sure he was not seen smoking around children.[155] In 1966, Disney was scheduled to undergo surgery to repair an old neck injury caused by many years of playing polo at the Riviera Club in Hollywood.[156][157] On November 2, during pre-operative X-rays, doctors at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, across the street from the Disney Studio, discovered a tumor in his left lung.[156] Five days later a biopsy showed the tumor to be malignant and to have spread throughout the entire left lung.[156] After removing the lung on November 11, the surgeons informed Disney that his life expectancy was six months to two years.[158] After several cobalt therapy sessions, Disney and his wife spent a short time in Palm Springs, California.[158] On November 30, Disney collapsed at his home. He was revived by fire department personnel and rushed to St. Joseph's. Disney's spokesperson said he was there for a "postoperative checkup."[159] Ten days after his 65th birthday, on December 15, 1966, at 9:30 a.m., Disney died of acute circulatory collapse, caused by lung cancer.[156]

The final productions in which Disney played an active role were the animated feature The Jungle Book and the live-action musical feature The Happiest Millionaire, both released in 1967, as well as the animated short Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, released in 1968. Songwriter Robert B. Sherman recalled of the last time he saw Disney:

Hibernation urban legend

A long-standing urban legend maintains that Disney was cryonically frozen, and that his frozen corpse was stored beneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland,[161] but Disney's remains were cremated on December 17, 1966, and his ashes interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.[162] The first known human cryonic freezing was in January 1967, more than a month after Disney's death.[161] According to "at least one Disney publicist", as reported in the French magazine Ici Paris in 1969, the source of the rumor was a group of Disney Studio animators with "a bizarre sense of humor" who were playing a final prank on their late boss. His daughter Diane wrote in 1972, "There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that my father, Walt Disney, wished to be frozen. I doubt that my father had ever heard of cryonics."[163]

Legacy

Continuing Disney Productions

Plaque at the entrance that embodies the intended spirit of Disneyland by Walt Disney: to leave reality and enter fantasy

After Walt Disney's death, Roy Disney returned from retirement to take full control of Walt Disney Productions and WED Enterprises. In October 1971, the families of Walt and Roy met in front of Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom to officially open the Walt Disney World Resort.[164] There he gave a speech about the park's dedication:

1968 US postage stamp

During the second phase of the "Walt Disney World" theme park, EPCOT was translated by Disney's successors into EPCOT Center, which opened in 1982. As it currently exists, EPCOT is essentially a living world's fair, different from the functional city that Disney had envisioned.[166] In 1992, Walt Disney Imagineering took the step closer to Disney's original ideas and dedicated Celebration, Florida, a town built by the Walt Disney Company adjacent to Walt Disney World, that hearkens back to the spirit of EPCOT.[167][168] EPCOT was also originally intended to be devoid of Disney characters which initially limited the appeal of the park to young children.[152] The company later changed this policy and Disney characters can now be found throughout the park, often dressed in costumes reflecting the different cultural origins.[169]

Disney entertainment empire

Main article: Walt Disney Company

Walt Disney's animation/motion picture studios and theme parks have developed into a multi-billion dollar television, motion picture, vacation destination and media corporation that carry his name. Among other assets The Walt Disney Company owns five vacation resorts, eleven theme parks, two water parks, thirty-nine hotels, eight motion picture studios, six record labels, eleven cable television networks, and one terrestrial television network. The company operates through five major business "segments." Its parks segment is by far the world's largest operator of theme parks in terms of guest attendance per year and its motion picture segment is one of the six major film studios in Hollywood. As of 2013, the company had annual revenues of over U.S. $45 billion and employed approximately 175,000 people.[170]:2,26

Disney Animation

Walt Disney was a pioneer in character animation. He was one of the first people to move animation away from basic cartoons with just "impossible outlandish gags" and crudely drawn characters, and towards elevating the field into an art form with heartwarming stories and characters the audience could connect to on an emotional level. As noted above, this culminated in his creation of a separate story department where storyboard artists would specialize in story development. The personality displayed in the characters of his films as well as the great technological advancements they represented remain influential today. He was considered by many of his colleagues to be a master storyteller and the animation department did not fully recover from his death until the period from 1989 to 1999 which is now known as the Disney Renaissance.[171] The most financially and critically successful films produced during this time include Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992) and The Lion King (1994). In 1995, Walt Disney Pictures distributed Pixar's Toy Story, the first computer animated feature film. Walt Disney's nephew Roy E. Disney claimed that Walt would have loved Toy Story and that it was "his kind of movie".[172]

With the rise of computer animated films a stream of financially unsuccessful traditional hand-drawn animated features in the early years of the 2000s (decade) emerged. This led to the company's controversial decision to close the traditional animation department. The two satellite studios in Paris and Orlando were closed, and the main studio in Burbank was converted to a computer animation production facility, firing hundreds of people in the process. In 2004, Disney released what was announced as their final "traditionally animated" feature film, Home on the Range. However, since the 2006 acquisition of Pixar, and the resulting rise of John Lasseter to chief creative officer at Disney Animation, that position has changed with the largely successful 2009 film The Princess and the Frog. This marked Disney's return to traditional hand-drawn animation, as the studio hired back staff who had been laid-off in the past. Today, Disney produces both traditional and computer animation.[173]

CalArts

In his later years, Disney devoted substantial time, money, and effort to the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). It was formed in 1961 through a merger of the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and the Chouinard Art Institute.[174] When Disney died, one-fourth of his estate went to CalArts, which helped in building its campus. In his will, Disney paved the way for the creation of several charitable trusts which included one for the California Institute of the Arts and another for the Disney Foundation.[175] He also donated 38 acres (0.154 km2) of the Golden Oaks ranch in Valencia for construction of the school. CalArts moved onto the Valencia campus in November, 1971.[176]

In an early admissions bulletin, Disney explained: "A hundred years ago, Wagner conceived of a perfect and all-embracing art, combining music, drama, painting, and the dance, but in his wildest imagination he had no hint what infinite possibilities were to become commonplace through the invention of recording, radio, cinema and television. There already have been geniuses combining the arts in the mass-communications media, and they have already given us powerful new art forms. The future holds bright promise for those who imaginations are trained to play on the vast orchestra of the art-in-combination. Such supermen will appear most certainly in those environments which provide contact with all the arts, but even those who devote themselves to a single phase of art will benefit from broadened horizons."[177]

Walt Disney Family Museum

In 2009, The Walt Disney Family Museum opened in the Presidio of San Francisco. Thousands of artifacts from Disney's life and career are on display, including 248 awards that he received.[178] Diane cofounded The Walt Disney Family Museum with the aid of her children.[179] The museum was created to preserve her father's image and reach out to millions of Disney fans worldwide. The museum displays a chronological view of Walt Disney's life through personal artifacts, interactive kiosks and various animations.[180]

Accusations of antisemitism and racism

Disney was long rumored to be antisemitic during his lifetime, dating principally from 1938, when he welcomed German filmmaker and Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl to Hollywood to promote her film Olympia.[181] Even after news of Kristallnacht reached America, Disney—unlike other studio heads—did not retract his invitation. In addition, animator Art Babbitt claimed to have seen Disney and his lawyer, Gunther Lessing, attending meetings of the German American Bund, a pro-Nazi organization, during the late 1930s.[182]

Animator and director David Swift, who was Jewish, told a biographer that when he informed Disney that he was leaving to take a job at Columbia Pictures in 1941, Disney responded—in a feigned Yiddish accent—"Okay, Davy boy, off you go to work for those Jews. It's where you belong, with those Jews."[183] Swift returned to Disney Studios in 1945, however, and later said that he "owed everything" to Disney. When he left the studio a second time in the early 1950s, Disney reportedly told him, "... there is still a candle burning in the window if you ever want to come back."[184]

Disney biographer Neal Gabler, the first writer to gain unrestricted access to the Disney archives, concluded in 2006 that available evidence did not support the accusations of antisemitism. In a CBS interview Gabler summarized his findings:

Disney eventually distanced himself from the Motion Picture Alliance in the 1950s.[186] Gabler wrote that three months after Riefenstahl's visit, Disney disavowed it, claiming that he did not know who she was when he issued the invitation.[187] Gabler also questioned Babbitt's story, on grounds that Disney had no time for political meetings and was "very apolitical" during the 1930s.[182]

The Walt Disney Family Museum acknowledges that Disney did have "difficult relationships" with some Jewish individuals, including Babbitt and David Hilberman; and that ethnic stereotypes common to films of the 1930s were included in some early cartoons, such as Three Little Pigs (in which the Big Bad Wolf comes to the door dressed as a Jewish peddler) and The Opry House (in which Mickey Mouse is dressed and dances as a Hasidic Jew); but both Gabler and the museum point out that he donated regularly to Jewish charities (the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, Yeshiva College, the Jewish Home for the Aged, and the American League for a Free Palestine), and was named "1955 Man of the Year" by the B'nai B'rith chapter in Beverly Hills.[183][188] Artist and story man Joe Grant noted that "some of the most influential people at the studio were Jewish"—including himself, production manager Harry Tytle, and Herman "Kay" Kamen, the head of marketing, who once joked that Disney's New York office "...had more Jews than the Book of Leviticus".[189] Songwriter Robert B. Sherman asserted in his autobiography that he saw no evidence of antisemitism during his seven years of close work with Disney;[190] and according to Gabler, none of Disney's employees—including Babbitt, who disliked Disney intensely—ever accused him of making antisemitic slurs or taunts.[184]

Disney has also been accused of racism, largely because of a number of productions released during the 1930s, '40s, and '50s containing racially insensitive material. Examples include Mickey's Mellerdrammer, in which Mickey Mouse dresses in blackface; the "black" bird in the short Who Killed Cock Robin; Sunflower, the half donkey/half black centaurette with a watermelon in Fantasia; the feature film Song of the South; the Indians in Peter Pan; and the crows in Dumbo (although the case has been made that the crows were sympathetic to Dumbo because they knew what it was like to be ostracized).[191]

In spite of this, "Walt Disney was no racist," Gabler wrote. "He never, either publicly or privately, made disparaging remarks about blacks or asserted white superiority. Like most white Americans of his generation, however, he was racially insensitive." For example, during a story meeting on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs he referred to the dwarfs piling on top of each other as a "nigger pile", and while casting Song of the South he used the term pickaninny.[191] Song of the South was roundly criticized by film critics, the NAACP, and others for its perpetuation of black stereotypes; but Disney later campaigned successfully for an Honorary Academy Award for its star, James Baskett, the first African American so honored.[192] Baskett died shortly afterward, and his widow wrote Disney a heartfelt letter of gratitude for his support.[193] Black animator Floyd Norman, who worked for Disney during the 1950s and '60s, said, "Not once did I observe a hint of the racist behavior that Walt Disney was often accused of after his death. His treatment of people—and by this I mean all people—can only be called exemplary."[194]

Academy Awards

This display case in the lobby of the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco shows many of the Academy Awards he won, including the distinctive special award at the bottom for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Walt Disney holds the record for both the most Academy Award nominations (59) and the number of Oscars awarded (22). He also earned four honorary Oscars. His last competitive Academy Award was posthumous.[195]

Some notable ones include:

  • 1932: Best Short Subject, Cartoons: Flowers and Trees (1932)[76]
  • 1932: Honorary Award for creation of Mickey Mouse [76]
  • 1939: Honorary Award for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) The citation read, "For Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, recognized as a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field." (The award, unique in the history of the Oscars, is one large statuette and seven miniature statuettes.)[6]
  • 1941: Honorary Award for Fantasia (1940), shared with: William E. Garity and J.N.A. Hawkins. The citation for the certificate of merit read, "For their outstanding contribution to the advancement of the use of sound in motion pictures through the production of Fantasia."[6]
  • 1943: Best Short Subject, Cartoons: Der Fuehrer's Face (1942)[100]
  • 1949: Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award (Honorary Award)
  • 1951: Best Short Subject, Two-reel: In Beaver Valley (1950)[196]
  • 1952: Best Short Subject, Two-reel: Nature's Half Acre (1951)[197]
  • 1954: Best Documentary, Features: The Living Desert (1953)[198]
  • 1954: Best Short Subject, Cartoons: Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom (1953)[198]
  • 1959: Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects: Grand Canyon (1958)[199]
  • 1969: Best Short Subject, Cartoons: Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968) (posthumous)[200]

Other honors

Walt Disney was the inaugural recipient of a star on the Anaheim walk of stars awarded in recognition of his significant contribution to the city of Anaheim and specifically Disneyland, which is now the Disneyland Resort. The star is located at the pedestrian entrance to the Disneyland Resort on Harbor Boulevard.[201] Disney was inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960 with two stars, one for motion pictures and the other for his television work.[164] Disney was posthumously inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1986.[202]

Walt Disney received the Congressional Gold Medal on May 24, 1968 (P.L. 90-316, 82 Stat. 130–131) and the Légion d'Honneur awarded by France in 1935.[203] In 1935, Walt received a special medal from the League of Nations for creation of Mickey Mouse, held to be Mickey Mouse award.[204] He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on September 14, 1964.[205] On December 6, 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver inducted Walt Disney into the California Hall of Fame located at The California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts.[206]

The National Audubon Society awarded Disney its highest honor, the Audubon Medal, in 1955 for promoting the "appreciation and understanding of nature" through his True-Life Adventures nature films.[207]

A minor planet, 4017 Disneya, discovered in 1980 by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Karachkina, is named after him.[208]

In 1993, HBO began development of a Walt Disney biographical film, directed by Frank Pierson and produced by Lawrence Turman, but the project never materialized and was soon abandoned.[209] However, Walt – The Man Behind the Myth, a biographical documentary about Disney, was later made.[210]

Actor Tom Hanks played Walt in the film Saving Mr. Banks (2013). It was the first instance of an actor portraying Walt Disney in film.[211]

Disney was also awarded honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, the University of Southern California, and UCLA; France's Legion of Honor and Officer d'Academie decorations; Thailand's Order of the Crown; Brazil’s Order of the Southern Cross; Mexico's Order of the Aztec Eagle; and the Showman of the World Award from the National Association of Theatre Owners.[212]

See also

Notes

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References

Further reading

External links

Preceded by
None
Voice of Mickey Mouse
1928–1947, 1955–1959
Succeeded by
Jimmy MacDonald