Updated: Jul 24, 2020
What is the first visual that comes to your mind when you hear the name- Walt Disney? Mickey Mouse? Disneyland?
Well, Walt Disney's life has been nothing less than extra-ordinary!
The creative genius who laid the foundation of the animation industry was a super successful entrepreneur, animator, writer, voice actor and film producer.
Lets look at some key highlights of Walt's life in a 7 pointer approach. But before that, lets find a bit about Walt's beginnings.
Walt was born in Chicago on December 5, 1901 in a middle class family with Irish roots, His family’s original name was D’Isigny before being anglicized to Disney.
Walt dropped out of high school at 16 with the United States fighting World War I and joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps. He spent his time driving Red Cross officials and doing other tasks before being discharged in 1919.
Following his Red Cross service, Disney moved to Kansas City, hoping to become a newspaper cartoonist. Instead, he found work creating advertisements for magazines and movie theaters, and that’s how he became interested in animation.
Here are 7 things you did not know about Walt Disney:
1. He was the voice of Mickey Mouse.
Disney’s first famous cartoon creation was Oswald- the luck Rabbit. But since the rights to the character were owned by Universal, Disney went to search for his next cartoon star. The search ended with the character of Mickey mouse that was conceptualized by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. Mickey Mouse was originally named “Mortimer Mouse” until Disney’s wife convinced him to change it. She felt that the name Mortimer sounded too pompous, and suggested he use Mickey instead. The rodent quickly became a star, and soon there were Mickey Mouse Clubs for children as well as merchandise and a comic strip.
Disney later gave the name Mortimer to Mickey’s rival.
2. Nobody liked the dangerous amusement parks until Walt introduced Disneyland to the world.
Walt originally intended to build a small amusement park near his Burbank studio; however, his plans soon grew more ambitious. He envisioned a large scale comic themed park in California. But time in 1950s were different. People viewed amusement parks as being unsafe and kind of gross.
But Disney envisioned a park that could be as exciting and well-constructed as his animated creations. Problem was, nobody wanted to give him the money to build it.
Undeterred with his quest to build a world class theme park, Disney self-funded his Disneyland dream.
Construction began in July 1954 and Disneyland opened a year later on July 17 in Anaheim, California. Opening day did not go smoothly, though: People produced counterfeit tickets, leading to an over-capacity crowd of attendees. The day was so hot that women’s high heels were sticking to the asphalt, and none of the park’s drinking fountains were working due to a plumber’s strike, some parts of the park were unfinished and on top of all this, broken rides and a gas leak forced the fantasyland to be closed. Critics called the disastrous opening “Black Sunday.”
Nevertheless, Disneyland became an immediate success, and after just one month, the park had hosted more than half a million visitors. (Initially, it cost a dollar for adults and 50 cents for children to gain entry to the park, plus an extra 10 cents to 25 cents for every individual attraction.) Disney later said, “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you. ” Walt, who had been heavily involved in Disneyland’s development, enjoyed spending time at the park and even had an apartment there.
3. Disney had a huge affection for trains so much so that he built a track inside his house.
Walt Disney was fascinated by trains. His father and uncle had spent time working on railroads, and Disney briefly sold newspapers and snacks on trains. His theme park Disneyland reflects his interest in trains, which has been home to its own railroad since its opening in 1955. In 1940, he even constructed a 1/8 scale steam locomotive in the backyard of his new home in LA, with track spanning half a mile. He would dress up in a train engineer’s clothing and give visitors rides on his Carolwood Pacific Railroad, named for the street he lived on.
4. Disney was Anti-Nazi and even made propaganda films during world war 2
In the 1940s, Walt Disney produced a series of animated pro-American war propaganda videos for of the United States Military and government. the 1942 animated short, “The New Spirit,” commissioned by the Treasury Department to encourage people to pay their income taxes to support the war effort.
The film, which starred Donald Duck, was shown in thousands of movie theaters and even earned an Academy Award nomination.
Throughout the duration of WWII, he produced the equivalent of 68 hours of continuous film.
5. Disney has won more academy awards than anyone else
Between 1932 and 1969, Walt Disney won 22 Academy awards and was nominated 59 times. This is more than any other person has ever received in the history of the awards. Disney also received four honorary Oscars, including one (handed out in 1932) for creating Mickey Mouse, another (in 1939) for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”
6. Disney’s beginnings were full of failures
Before founding his studio, Disney secured a job as an artist for an ad agency, telling his Aunt Margaret, “Auntie, they’re paying me to draw!” However, he didn’t get to draw for long – young Walt was laid off a month later.
Walt then started an animation studio was called “Laugh-o-Gram” and told modernized versions of fairy tales based on Aesop’s Fables. The venture found itself struggling with money issues — things were so bad that at one point, Disney lived in his office, and took baths once a week at Union Station. Soon after, he was forced to file for bankruptcy.
In 1927, Disney signed his up-and-coming studio to a deal to make animations for Universal Studios. The star of these cartoons was Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, an optimistic but bumbling character who instantly became a huge success. However, when Disney left Universal, the studio kept his character and continued producing more Oswald cartoons, changing both his look and personality. Disney felt disappointed and burned by the whole situation.
Disney later said, “I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young.”
7. It’s a myth that Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen
In November 1966, doctors discovered that Disney, a long-time smoker, had lung cancer. He died at a Burbank hospital the following month, on December 15, at age 65. Not long after his death, stories began circulating in the tabloid press that the filmmaker had been cryogenically preserved—that is, he’d been frozen with the hope that science might one day make it possible for him to be brought back to life. Despite the persistent rumors regarding Disney and cryonics, he was, in fact, cremated and his ashes were interred in a mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.
Bonus fact: He did not like being called Mr Disney
Since you have read till the end, here is a bonus fact for you.
Walt Disney disliked being called “Mr.” and insisted that his employees refer to him by his first name. On rare occasions when someone did call him “Mr. Disney,” he’d supposedly say “Please, call me Walt. Because of this, even today, the employees at Disney companies only have their first names on their ID cards.
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“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”—Walt Disney
Written by Anubhav Gaur
Founder, Skyshot Media