Walt Disney

John Florens | Aug 11, 2022

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Walter Elias Disney known as Walt Disney is an American producer, director, writer and animator, born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago (Illinois) and died on December 15, 1966 in Burbank (California. He is one of the pioneers of animation and is an icon of the twentieth century.

In 1923 he founded the Walt Disney Company and gradually became one of the most famous film producers. Walt Disney was also the creator of the first "theme park", inventing the concept. Known as a storyteller and television star, he and his team created many of the world's most famous animated characters, one of which is considered by many journalists to be his alter ego: Mickey Mouse.

Five decades after his death, with a total of 22 awards for 59 nominations, he is still to this day the most Oscar-winning individual artist.

1901-1919 : childhood

Walt Disney was born in Chicago on December 5, 1901, the fourth son of Elias Disney, of Irish origin, and Flora Call. His father's name was his middle name and his father's close friend's first name was Walter Parr, a pastor at St. Paul's Congregational Church. Walt was baptized on June 8, 1902 in Reverend Parr's church and by him. In December 1903, Walt's sister Ruth Flora Disney was born. The family was living on Tripp Avenue at the time, on the income from Elias' construction business, which had been primarily a carpentry trade since he worked on the World Columbian Exposition construction sites in 1893. According to a biographical essay written by Elias Disney probably in 1939, the name Disney originates from an anglicization of the French name D'Isigny, which was borne by two Norman soldiers, Hughes d'Isigny and his son Robert, who went to conquer England with William the Conqueror and remained in the country after the 1066 victory. A branch of the Disney family emigrated to Ireland in the 17th century. Later, Arundel Elias Disney, great-grandfather of Walt, his brother Robert and their families embarked in 1834 for North America. They arrived in New York on October 3, 1834. Robert settled on a farm in the Midwest while Arundel decided to settle in Goderich Township in Huron County, Ontario, Canada.

In 1906, due to a crisis in the construction business, Elias could no longer conduct his building business. Walt's family moved in April to a 48-acre (19.4 ha) farm in Marceline, Missouri, purchased for $3,000 and close to Uncle Robert's. Walt had to wait until he was eight years old to attend elementary school in Marceline along with his sister, who was one year younger. Elias became ill and could no longer take on the farm work. He decided to sell the property in 1909 and the family had to live in a rented house. In 1910, the family moved to Kansas City to be with Walt's older brothers, Herbert and Raymond. The family moved to 3028 Bellefontaine. Walt was then nine years old and discovered a very active city far from the countryside that he idealized little by little. He also discovered the amusement parks through the Fairmont garden installed two blocks away.

Walt and his brother Roy work in their spare time in their father's newspaper business to make ends meet for the family. They get up at 4:30 in the morning to deliver the Kansas City Star. The two eldest had already left the family home to escape the violence of their father Elias, a sadistic autocrat who did not hesitate to use the martinet on Roy or Walt, who rebelled at fourteen. According to Kansas City Regional Public School records, Walt Disney attended Benton High School beginning in 1911, and graduated on June 8, 1917. There he met a young boy named Walt Pfeiffer, with whom he did a vaudeville duet. In September 1917, the family returned to Chicago. Walt Disney was enrolled at William McKinley High School and at the same time in one of the classes of the Chicago Art Institute where he learned the rudiments of drawing on Saturday mornings, thanks to one of his father's rare indulgences. While he returned to college with his sister, Roy had to work on Uncle Robert's farm and then in a bank to support his family. Walt found two small jobs at the time: substitute mailman and uniformed porter at the 35th Street subway station.

In 1917, the First World War raged in Europe and Elias decided to buy a jelly factory in Chicago. Walt preferred to stay in Kansas City with his brother Roy. On June 22, 1917 Roy was drafted into the Navy and because of his age Walt could not enlist. It seems that it is during this summer of 1917, thanks to Roy and his uncle Michael Martin, engineer in the railroads, that Walt finds a job as a salesman in trains, which allows him to "see the country". He took a job as a salesman on the Missouri Pacific Railroad trains and, dressed in a company uniform, offered passengers newspapers, candy, fruit and soda. Dave Smith and Steven Clack believe that it was during this time that he discovered his passion for steam trains.

In the fall, Walt moved to Chicago with his family on a transfer. He then entered McKinley High School where he illustrated the student magazine, The Voices. During the summer, he delivered newspapers and mail for the post office and went out with girls at night to the movies. He was obsessed with one subject: "winning the war. Walt left school at the age of sixteen and wanted to join the army.

Although he was 16 years old, he thought he could be older, but not old enough for the 18 years needed to enter the army. He then discovered that it was possible to join the Red Cross at the age of 17.

Not having the required age of 17 to enter the American Red Cross Volunteer Ambulance Driver Corps, he found a solution: forge his passport with the help of a friend to change his date of birth to 1900. He was accepted on September 16, 1918 and began training at Sound Beach, Connecticut.

Incorporated into the American Red Cross Ambulance Division in France, he entered the First World War the day after the armistice, on November 12, 1918. Disembarking at Le Havre, he was first installed near Saint-Cyr-l'École, then assigned to drive ambulances for Evacuation Hospital No. 5 in Paris and finally assigned to a Red Cross camp at Neufchâteau, a railroad junction located in the Vosges. On his way, he broke down and was lodged by a guard not far from Paris, a few kilometers from the future city of Marne-la-Vallée and the construction site of Disneyland Paris, inaugurated in 1992.

He stayed in France for a year. It was during this period that he made his first known drawings on the theme of a small rodent that would make him famous. He draws in a humorous way, 2 "rats of the trenches" in a notebook recovered from the "Chicago Public Library" and called "A scrapbook made for our soldiers and sailors by Citizens of Chicago". Walt reunited with his family in the fall, in Chicago, then joined his brother Roy, discharged from the Navy, in Kansas City. It is there that he wishes to start a career as a commercial artist in spite of the job offered by his father in Chicago.

1920-1937 : first years of animation

When he returned to the United States, Disney was looking for a job and despite the one offered by his father, he preferred to apply for jobs in advertising design. As he always wanted to make films, he applied for many jobs, including one with Charlie Chaplin. He got his first job at the "Pesman-Rubin Commercial Art Studio" for 50 dollars a month. There he made the cover of the weekly program of the Newman Theater.

During this first engagement, he met a young animator of his own age, Ubbe Ert Iwerks (who later changed his name to Ub Iwerks), with whom he founded the company "Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists" in January 1920. The company floundered but the duo was soon hired by the Kansas City Film Ad Company, following a job offer in the Kansas City Star, and worked on primitive animated commercials for local theaters.

Animated commercials were no longer enough to satisfy Walt; in his spare time, he began to create his own films, which he sold in 1922 to the Newman Theater Company. These one-minute films, called Newman Laugh-O-Grams, were sometimes critical, dealt with local problems, and for this reason, appealed to the public.

On May 23, 1922, Disney launched Laugh-O-Gram, Inc. which produced animated shorts based on popular fairy tales and children's stories. Its employees included Iwerks, Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, Carman Maxwell and Friz Freleng. The young company's productions were well received in the Kansas City area, but the costs exceeded the revenues. A local company called the Pictorial Club offered them a contract for eleven thousand dollars for a few films. After making several films, Disney and his team were not paid by their partner.

After a last short film, the animated and live-action Alice's Wonderland, the studio filed for bankruptcy in July 1923. Roy Oliver, one of Walt's brothers, invited Walt to come to Hollywood. Disney worked as a freelance photographer and managed to raise enough money to buy a one-way train ticket to California and took Alice's Wonderland, which had just been completed, with him, leaving his crew behind. Christopher Finch reports that he left with only $40 in his pocket and promised to help the crew get to California.

In Hollywood, Disney sets up an animation "business" with his brother Roy. Thus began the Disney Brothers Studio in the garage of their uncle Robert. They obtained a distribution contract with Margaret J. Winkler, a rights distributor from New York, who was engaged to Charles B. Mintz. Winkler and Mintz were already distributing the Felix the Cat series. Virginia Davis, the star of the live-action Alice's Wonderland, was "extirpated" from Kansas, as well as Ub Iwerks at the request of Mintz and Winkler. On October 16, 1923 Disney signed a contract with them to make twelve films. This date marks the creation of the Disney Studios.

On July 6, 1925, Walt made a $400 down payment to purchase a lot at 2719 Hyperion Avenue to house all the animators. Shortly after, on July 13, 1925, Lillian Bounds, one of the studio's employees working as an interval painter and secretary, became Walt Disney's wife. Their romance began because Walt often drove the young woman home in the evening in his car. The newlyweds had a short honeymoon at Mount Rainier and in Seattle.

The Alice Comedies, which mixed animation and live action, were reasonably successful. Due to an unpaid check, Virginia Davis' parents remove her from the Alice series. She was replaced by Dawn O'Day and then by Margie Gay.

In 1926, the Disney Brothers Studio was renamed the Walt Disney Studio. Lois Hardwick also briefly assumed the role of Alice. Until the end of the series in 1927, the subjects are more focused on the animated characters, especially a cat named Julius who evokes Felix the Cat, rather than on the character of Alice. The series became more and more similar to other productions without live action.

Walt Disney was not a great cartoonist and often admitted to not having contributed a single drawing after 1926, devoting himself instead to the field of ideas.

In 1927, Charles Mintz married Margaret Winkler and took control of his wife's company. He decided to put into production a new cartoon series that would be distributed by Universal Pictures. The new series, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was a relative success, and the character of Oswald became a popular icon. Disney Studios expanded, and Walt hired Harman, Ising, Maxwell and Freleng from Kansas City.

In February 1928, Disney went to New York to negotiate a larger revenue share for each film with Mintz. But he was stunned when the businessman told him that not only was he reducing his share, but that he was also taking on most of his key animators, including Harman, Ising, Maxwell and Freleng. Mintz threatened Disney with the creation of his own studio if he did not agree to reduce his production costs. In addition, Universal, not Disney, had the trademark on Oswald the Rabbit from the previous contract, which meant that he could do without it to make these films.

Disney refuses and loses most of its animation team. He, Iwerks and a few of his followers then began to work secretly on a new character to replace Oswald the Rabbit. Walt will never forget this setback and will take care in the future to ensure his copyright on each creation. The name Walt Disney Productions was adopted that same year, 1928.

The animators who left Disney became the core of Winkler Studios, headed by Mintz and his brother-in-law George Winkler. Later, Winkler Studios disappeared after Universal decided to have the Oswald the Rabbit cartoons produced by an in-house division headed by Walter Lantz. Mintz focused his attention on the studios producing the Krazy Kat films, which later became Screen Gems. Harman, Ising, Maxwell and Freleng decided to go their own way and formed Arabian Nights Cartoon Studio and then Harman-Ising Studio. They sold an Oswald the Rabbit-like character named Bosko to Leon Schlesinger and Warner Bros. Then they started working on the first episodes of the Looney Tunes series.

The story goes that Walt drew, on the train taking him back from New York to Los Angeles, a character using Oswald's design, without the hanging ears, with round ears and a simple tail in one stroke of the pencil and therefore easier to draw. Later, he created a character close to a mouse. As for Ub Iwerks, he simply reworked the drawing to end up with the one we know. It seems, however, that it was Ub who developed the character's appearance, while Walt Disney was content to give it character.

The character was named Mortimer Mouse before being renamed Mickey Mouse by Lillian Disney. The character made his debut in a short film called Plane Crazy, which like all of Disney's previous works was a silent film. After failing to find a distributor interested in Plane Crazy or its sequel, The Gallopin' Gaucho, Disney notes that these films lack one thing.

The previous fall of 1927, Warner Bros. released a groundbreaking film, The Jazz Singer, the movies had stopped being silent. Disney launched the creation of a Mickey cartoon, with sound, called Steamboat Willie. Disney had to sell his car in order to get the money for his film. A businessman named Pat Powers provides Disney with the distribution and the Cinephone, a sound synchronization system obtained by smuggling. On November 18, 1928 at the Colony Theater in New York, Steamboat Willie was shown to the public, the first animated film with synchronized sound. This date marks the birth of Mickey Mouse, but also of Minnie Mouse and Pat Hibular. Steamboat Willie becomes a success.

Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho come out with sound and all subsequent Mickey cartoons have a soundtrack. Disney himself provided the vocal effects for the first cartoons. He was also the English voice of Mickey Mouse until 1947. In order not to have any more problems with the distributors, Walt files a trademark for Mickey Mouse with the logo visible in the films (from May 21, 1928) which will be accepted on September 18, 1928, other trademarks will be filed in 1933 for the drawing.

In 1929, after the success of the Mickey Mouse series, Walt decided to produce a new series. After recruiting the composer Carl W. Stalling, an old acquaintance from Kansas City, and due to his influence, the theme of the shorts changed to become musical cartoons called Silly Symphonies. This series begins with the Danse Macabre (The Skeleton Dance) inspired by Camille Saint-Saëns' piece. The same year Disney authorizes the use of its creations, mainly Mickey for derivative products including notepads. Walt Disney Enterprises is created to manage the derivative products. Although the two series were very successful, the Disney studios did not see their share of the profits collected by Pat Powers with the Mickey Mouse series increase, the Silly Symphonies being distributed by Columbia Pictures. It was the production of a second series of short films that differentiated Walt Disney from its competitors of the time, and opened up many new scripted possibilities.

In 1930, Disney abandons the distributor Powers and signs a new distribution contract with Columbia Pictures for the Mickey Mouse. But the divorce was quite difficult and Walt needed the help of a lawyer, it was Gunther Lessing, whom he hired as director of the legal department. As for derivative products, Walt hires Charlotte Clark, a young woman from Burbank who has just made a Mickey doll that Walt finds very successful. The doll was produced in series and presented at each promotional event. At the same time, Ub Iwerks left the studios after having been tempted by an exclusive contract with Powers. The latter thinks that the success of the studios is due in large part to the talent of Iwerks.

Iwerks took the helm of the Iwerks Studio financed by Powers and met with mixed success. After a stint at Columbia Pictures, he returned to Disney in 1940 to work in the studios' research and development department. In this department he pioneered a number of film processes and specialized animation technologies.

At the end of 1930, the character of Mickey became an international star under the name "Topolino" in Italy and "Miki Kuchi" in Japan, among others.

In 1931, Mickey appeared in twelve films, produced by a team of more than forty animators, including The Moose Hunt, where Pluto adopted his definitive name. As for the Silly Symphonies, we discover in The Wise Little Hen, the outline of the future Donald Duck. However, each 8-minute short film made by the Disney studios cost 13,000 dollars, whereas other studios rarely exceeded budgets of 2,500 dollars.

In 1932, Mickey Mouse became the most popular cartoon character on the screen and many competing studios such as Van Beuren Studios and Screen Gems created Mickey Mouse clones in hopes of riding the wave of Disney's success.

After moving from Columbia to United Artists in 1932, Walt began producing the Silly Symphonies with the newly developed Technicolor process, which allowed for the use of the full spectrum of the rainbow, transforming the commercials of the day into a colorful world. The first color cartoon was the newly completed Silly Symphony, Flowers and Trees, which was in black and white. Disney negotiated with Technicolor for a two-year exclusivity on its color process in order to be able, he hoped, to recoup his costs, which were very high due to the exorbitant cost of his productions, further increased by the new process.

Trees and Flowers won the first Oscar for best animated short in 1932. The same year, Disney received an honorary Oscar for the creation of Mickey Mouse, whose series would only go into color in 1935. In terms of sound, Parade of Oscar Nominees 1932 (November 18, 1932) was the first Disney short to use the RCA Photophone system, followed by Santa's Workshop (December 10, 1932, first Silly Symphony) and Building a Building (January 7, 1933, first Mickey Mouse).

Disney quickly launched other series, devoted to the characters of Donald Duck, Dingo or Pluto. Under the direction of Kay Kamen, an experienced salesman, he authorized the sale of numerous derivative products, including comic strips about Mickey, which became full-page spreads and then small newspapers. The first Mickey newspaper appeared in Italy at the end of 1932.

From 1930 on, Walt multiplied his cinematographic and commercial successes, but the need to resort to new techniques did not allow Walt and Roy Oliver to pay off their debts. It should be remembered that the studios had to expand from 150 to 2,000 m² between 1927 and 1931.

Walt had a breakdown in 1931 and on the advice of a doctor, he went on a trip with Lilly, his wife. He returned rested after visiting Washington, D.C. and took a cruise through Havana and the Panama Canal. On his return he joined the Hollywood Athletic Club where he practiced horseback riding and golf. In 1932, he encouraged his colleagues to play baseball and some of them followed him in his passion, polo. Walt surrounded himself with his friends and employees to play matches often played at the Riviera Country Club. He also had a stud farm with seven ponies named June, Slim, Nava, Arrow, Pardner, Tacky and Tommy. He also spent several weekends a year with his daughters and wife at a cottage on Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs. He sold this second home in the 1950s to finance his theme park.

Co-creator and producer of Mickey, Disney is as famous as his famous mouse character, but his private life is less known. One of his greatest hopes was to have a child, a boy if possible, like his brother Roy Oliver and his wife Edna who gave birth to Roy Edward Disney on January 10, 1930. Lillian finally gave birth to a daughter, Diane Marie Disney, on December 19, 1933 and the couple decided to adopt a second, Sharon Mae Disney, born on December 21, 1936.

The studios continue to produce short films at a frantic pace, with the Mickey Mouse series and the Silly Symphonies being two of the best-known series in cinema. The income from these series remains just satisfactory for Disney. It can keep the studios going, but without generating any real profit.

In order to make his studios profitable, Walt decided to produce an animated feature film and one evening in 1934, he and his animators watched a silent film from 1916 that he had seen in his youth: Snow White with Marguerite Clark. His feature film would be based on this story. The film industry soon got wind of Disney's project. His competitors were quick to predict bankruptcy for what they called "Disney's folly". Lillian and Roy both try to get Walt to abandon his project, but he persists in working on it.

Between 1934 and 1937, Disney Studios used the Silly Symphonies primarily to test techniques for Snow White. The experiments concerned the realistic animation of human beings, the animation of distinct characters, special effects, and the use of specialized and particular processes for animation. The Old Mill was the first film to be made with the multi-panel camera invented by Bill Garity, a technician at the Disney studios, which gave a real depth effect to the cartoons. The teams normally working on the Silly Symphonies are the ones who work on Snow White, which forces them to devote less time to the series. In fact, it was not long before the series disappeared.

In order to help his animators, Walt launched several internal studio projects, aimed at refining the talents and inspirations of each one.

From 1931 on, Ben Sharpsteen and David Hand became the leaders of apprentice teams mainly on the Silly Symphonies and are concerned in this capacity as the first trainers of animators of the Disney studios. This allowed them to train the many animators recently hired. Seeing that some of them were meeting with the most experienced among them to improve their skills, Walt hired in 1932 a drawing teacher from the Chouinard Art Institute, Don Graham, who was going to supervise evening internal training sessions for the members of the studios.

At the same time, Walt collected numerous literary works and drawings from all over the world in the Disney Animation Library. In the summer of 1935, a trip to Europe purchased 350 additional books by European authors, expanding the sources of inspiration. This trip included a cruise aboard the Normandie on the way out and the Italian liner Rex on the way back. These developments and trainings help raise the quality of the studio and give the feature film the quality Walt wanted.

1937-1954: the feature films

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was produced between 1935 and the summer of 1937, when the studios ran out of money. In order to find funds to finish it, Disney had to present an unfinished clip of the film to the financial officers of the Bank of America. The money was obtained. The finished film premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater in Hollywood on December 21, 1937. At the end of the performance, the audience gave Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs a standing ovation.

The first animated feature film, Snow White was released in February 1938 under the new distribution contract with RKO Radio Pictures. The film became the highest grossing film of 1938, earning more than $8 million (now $98 million) in its initial run. It will be the most important success of the cinema until the release of Gone with the Wind (1939).

That same year, the first Disney-produced radio show, Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air, was broadcast on NBC with Mickey played by Walt.

According to Leonard Mosley, Walt Disney's brother, Roy Disney, who went to Germany to distribute Snow White, was received by Joseph Goebbels. The film was shown to Hitler in his private cinema in Obersalzberg. According to Roger Faligot, the film became Hitler's favorite animated film: "Isn't Snow White, adapted to the screen from the tale by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, from Hesse, the archetype of Nordic and Aryan beauty from German literature? And isn't the hook-nosed witch a symbol of the evil spirit, and therefore surely Jewish?" According to William Hakvaag, director of a Norwegian military museum, drawings signed A Hitler or A H seem to attest that Hitler, in the last moments of the war, was drawing Walt Disney characters.

The success of Snow White allows Disney to build a new complex in the form of a campus, for the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. The old Hyperion Avenue studios were sold and then demolished to make way for a supermarket. The animation team, which had just completed Pinocchio, continued work on Fantasia and Bambi, while the short film teams worked on the Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto series, as well as the latest Silly Symphonies.

Pinocchio and Fantasia succeeded Snow White in theaters in 1940. Both were financial disappointments (Pinocchio cost twice as much to produce as Snow White). The release of Pinocchio, on February 7 in New York, was very well received by the public. Nevertheless, the war in Europe and financial pressures on the American market did not allow for sufficient profits. Fantasia was released on November 13, 1940 at the Colony Theater on Broadway. Often described as the studio's masterpiece, it allowed the work of Disney Studios to gain artistic recognition.

In 1941, Disney was approached by the State Department, overseen by Nelson Rockefeller, to represent the United States in Latin America and "fight Nazism" through the Good Neighbor Policy. Disney did not really appreciate being asked to go on a diplomatic trip, "to go shake hands even for a good cause. But he agreed. He took off with a few of his artists on August 17, 1941 for a visit to Argentina, Brazil and Chile. This mission was an opportunity to maintain the activity of his artists and discover new sources of inspiration. The result of this trip can be seen in the compilations of short films Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944) as well as some "educational" short films. The success of these two compilations allowed Disney to refuse the financial compensation promised by the government before his departure.

To satisfy the public's curiosity, Disney produced The Reluctant Dragon about the behind-the-scenes of its animated films. It is a documentary mixing real images and cartoons. It was also an opportunity to provide work to his teams in the United States. In 1941, Disney decided to participate in the war effort. In association with Lockheed Martin, the studios produced a cartoon on aircraft riveting methods for new factory employees, Four Methods of Flush Riveting, which was classified as top secret for a long time. The popularity of the studios continued to grow, and many American regiments and squadrons asked the studios to produce Disney characters to decorate the fuselage of their planes.

Dumbo, a low-cost film, was produced with the aim of making a quick profit. During the production of this new film, most of the members of the animation team made demands about their working conditions and began the first studio strike. Walt Disney, opposed to unionization in all its forms because he considered their activities subversive, suspected the American Communist Party of having fomented this strike and was therefore inflexible. Despite these difficulties, the production was completed and the film was released in October 1941. Dumbo was a success, but the United States entered the Second World War. The U.S. Army requisitioned most of the Disney studio buildings and asked the teams to create training and instructional films for the military, as well as propaganda films such as Der Fuehrer's Face or the feature film Victory Through Air Power, both released in 1943. However, military films did not bring in much money, and Bambi did not get the expected results when it was released in April 1942.

Disney revises its commercial strategy. He successfully re-released Snow White in 1944, establishing a tradition of re-releasing Disney films in the United States every seven years. He made compilations of short films. The most notable are those from the Latin American tour, Saludos Amigos (1942), its sequel The Three Caballeros (1945) and Melody of the South (the first Disney film with real actors, released in 1946). We can also add Danny, the little black sheep in 1948 and The Toad and the Schoolmaster (1949). The latter contains only two parts: the first based on the Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving and the second, entitled The Frog Pond, based on an extract from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

In 1947, during the dark early years of the Cold War, Walt Disney testified before the "House Un-American Activities Committee. On this occasion, he denounced three of his former employees to whom he attributed communist views: Herbert Sorrell, David Hilberman (en) and William Pomerance (en). The accusation is serious in the tense context of the post-war period. This mock trial was a precursor to the McCarthyism that, a few years later, would have a profound effect on American consciousness. Walt Disney took advantage of his testimony to boast of his patriotic virtues and to give himself the image of an irreproachable American (this gave more weight to his word and earned him the congratulations of the judge who heard him.

The three men implicated, all three unionists, would later deny their former boss's statements. It seems above all that this incriminating testimony is the consequence of their role in the 1941 strikes that affected the studios (some Disney biographers, including Dave Smith, believe that Disney's testimony is driven by a strong resentment dating from this episode). This chapter of Disney's life will be the source of several rumors or exaggerations concerning him.

As early as 1946, the Disney family doctor advised Walt to find a hobby, the most famous being the construction of model trains. Thus Walt allows himself more time for himself, devoting himself to hobbies, and for his family; with a thirteen week trip to Europe.

By the end of the 1940s, the company had enough money and animators to continue producing feature films such as Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, which had been interrupted during the war years. The studios resumed work on Cinderella and began a series of animal documentaries, entitled True-Life Adventures (first released in 1948), of which one episode, On Seal Island, was inspired to Walt during a trip to Alaska in August 1948. It was during this trip that he met Alfred Milotte, a camera store owner, and his schoolteacher wife Elma and they began a discussion about documentaries about Alaska that resulted in the position of photographer on the True-Life Adventures series. In December 1948, he went to Ireland and announced the production of Darby O'Gill and the Goblins (1959).

In 1949, he moved into a new house in Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, the Walt Disney Estate, a mansion of 527 m2, with seventeen rooms designed by James Dolena.

Between 1949 and 1955, many changes occurred for the studio and the Disney company in general. Kay Kermen's merchandising business was booming, but Kermen died in a plane crash in 1949. Walt Disney decided to create an in-house division to manage merchandising, Walt Disney Enterprises. The Walt Disney Music Company was also founded on October 1. One of the main remarks is that Walt Disney is gradually moving away from animation, he still participates in the work meetings of feature films until those of the film 101 Dalmatians (1961), but since 1952 with the production of Beauty and the Tramp (1955) it is, according to Marc Davis, "difficult to have him on hand.

In 1950, Disney launched a feature film after the few composite films (assembly of medium-length films): Cinderella. This film is followed in 1951 by Alice in Wonderland and in 1953 by Peter Pan.

Disney Studios, with some of the footage from wartime films such as the Composites and the Walt Disney series, realized that they could produce live-action films. In 1950, Treasure Island was their first live-action film shot entirely on film, quickly followed by such hits as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (in CinemaScope, 1954), The Shaggy Dog (1959), and Daddy's Bride (1960). Thanks to Cinderella and Treasure Island, among other films, the studio found financial success.

Walt Disney Studios was one of the first to realize the potential of the new medium of television. At the request of Coca-Cola, they produced their first One Hour in Wonderland program, which aired on Christmas in 1950. The studio's first daily television series, the popular Mickey Mouse Club, began in 1955 and continued in numerous versions until the 1990s. On ABC, Walt Disney himself presented a weekly anthology series, Disneyland, named after the park. In this program he showed clips from previous Disney productions, gave tours of the studios, and introduced the public to the Disneyland park under construction in Anaheim, California. After 1955, the television show was called Walt Disney Presents, and when black and white gave way to color in 1961, the name changed to Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color and evolved into what is known today as The Wonderful World of Disney. It continued to air on ABC until 2005.

As the studio expanded and diversified into other media, Disney paid less and less attention to the animation department, leaving most of the work to the key animators, whom he dubbed The Nine Wise Men.

The production of short films maintained its pace until 1956, when the company liquidated the relevant division. Special short film projects continued to be produced for the remainder of the studio's life on an irregular basis. These productions were all distributed by Disney's new subsidiary, Buena Vista Distribution, which assumed the role from RKO in 1955.

1955-1966: the Disney empire

The year 1955 is a key date in the life of Walt Disney. The opening of Disneyland Park on July 17, 1955, changed Walt Disney's status from being just an animation man. Walt Disney Productions, a company founded by Walt and his brother Roy, became a media empire and succeeded in almost every field in which they were present. The success of the films, television, park and merchandising allows the company to be a business empire, but also allows Walt to carry out several projects.

Walt was a man of many passions and since the end of the war several projects diverted him from his original profession, animation. Here, in chronological order, are some of the projects that occupied Walt during the eleven years before his death.

In 1949, Disney and his family moved to a new home (designed by James Dolena) with a large parcel of land in the Holmby Hills district of Los Angeles. Disney was able to pursue one of his passions: model railroads. This passion stems from a medical advice to find a hobby to relieve work pressure. With the help of his friends Ward Kimball and his wife Betty, who owned their own train in their backyard, Walt Disney designed the plans and built a model train in his backyard. The name of the railroad, Carolwood Pacific Railroad, comes from Walt's former address on Carolwood Drive. He named the steam locomotive built by Roger E. Broggie, a member of the Disney studios, Lilly Belle in honor of his wife. This achievement undoubtedly foreshadows the new direction of the Disney Studios.

In the late 1940s, while on a business trip to Chicago, Disney sketched out an amusement park at the foot of the studios where he planned for his employees to spend time with their children. Mickey's Park began with a garden, a Wild West town and a fairground. The ideas he developed became a larger concept and were given the name Disneyland. On March 27, 1952, the Burbank newspaper announced the opening of Disneyland on the studio's property, but the ideas that came out of Walt's imagination were too numerous for this small space. Walt created a new subsidiary to his company, called WED Enterprises, to develop and build the park. This subsidiary was made up of a small group of Disney Studios employees who joined the Disneyland development project as engineers and planners, and were dubbed "Imagineers.

When Walt presented his plan to the Imagineers, he said, "I want Disneyland to be the most wonderful place on earth, and I want a train to go around it" - the Carolwood Pacific Railroad, which was a big hit with his daughters, inspired Disney to include a railroad in his plans for Disneyland, the Disneyland Railroad.

Disneyland, one of the world's first theme parks, finally opened on July 17, 1955 and quickly became a success. Visitors from all over the world come to visit Disneyland, which includes attractions adapted from many of Disney's successful movies and franchises. Numerous attractions have opened regularly in the park since its inauguration.

Beginning in the mid-1950s, Disney produced a large number of educational films about the U.S. space program with the collaboration of NASA rocket designer Wernher von Braun: Man in Space and Man and the Moon in 1955, and Mars and Beyond in 1957. These films attracted the attention not only of the public, but also of the Russian space program.

In 1957, Disney met with Muppet creator Jim Henson and they began creating the first Muppet characters, which bear many similarities to Mickey Mouse, including Kermit the Frog. The characters appeared with the Muppet Magic interlude on The Ed Sullivan Show between 1958 and 1962.

The end of the 1950s saw the continuation of family television productions, including Zorro broadcast on ABC from 1957 and the Mickey Mouse Club.

The company WED Entreprises is engaged in 1960 by the IOC to organize the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games of 1960.

By the early 1960s, the Disney empire, Walt Disney Productions, had become the world's leading producer of family entertainment. After decades of futile attempts, Disney finally obtained the rights to Pamela L. Travers' book about a magical nanny, and Mary Poppins was released in 1964, Disney's most successful film of the 1960s. Many people praised this skillful combination of animation and live-action that was achieved to the highest degree of perfection.

That same year, Disney opened four attractions in the pavilions of the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, including Audio-Animatronics, attractions that were later integrated into Disneyland. These attractions reinforced Disney's plans for a new park on the East Coast, which he had already considered shortly after the opening of Disneyland.

In 1964, Walt Disney Productions quietly began purchasing land in central Florida, southwest of Orlando in a largely rural orange grove area for its mysterious "Florida Project." The company acquires more than 11,000 ha (109 km2) of land under the guise of shell companies, and has state legislation favorably amended to give itself unprecedented quasi-governmental control over the area. The project was really developed in 1966, with the foundation of the Reed Creek Improvement District. Walt Disney and his brother Roy Oliver then announced plans for what would later be called the Walt Disney World Resort.

Disney World is to include a larger, more elaborate version of Disneyland to be called Magic Kingdom, as well as several golf courses and hotels. The heart of Disney World is to be the Experimental Prototype City (or Community) of Tomorrow (Epcot). EPCOT is envisioned as a working city where residents can live, work and interact using experimental or advanced technologies while scientists develop and test other new technologies to improve human life and health.

At the same time, Walt worked on the Disney's Mineral King Ski Resort project, which he revealed to the press on September 19, 1966. The man appeared pale and feverish during what was to be his last press conference.

Walt Disney's personal investment in Disney World ended the following fall when his health deteriorated. A cancerous tumor was diagnosed during the summer in the left lung of this heavy smoker who was followed at St. Joseph's Hospital located just across the street from the Disney Studios complex. Doctors at St. Joseph's Hospital pronounced him dead on December 15, 1966 at about 9:30 a.m., two weeks after celebrating his sixty-fifth birthday. He died of lung cancer and was cremated on December 16 and his ashes were laid to rest in the family crypt at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. The absence of a funeral ceremony worthy of such a personality and the burial in the strict privacy of the family have given rise to rumors in Hollywood, including that the filmmaker would have been cryogenically frozen, in accordance with his last wishes.

Roy Disney carried out the Florida project, insisting that the name be changed to Walt Disney World in honor of his brother. However, Roy died on December 20, 1971, three months after the opening of Magic Kingdom.

Walt Disney has been immortalized many times by his television shows, his projects, but also by a statue called Partners and exposed in several Disney parks.

A registered trademark

The name Walt Disney has become a registered trademark, bearing the reference 1141312 with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). It has been used since January 19, 1933, but was only registered by Walt Disney Productions in 1979 and validated by the USPTO on November 11, 1980. But a legal problem arose on July 8, 1981, which forced Walt Disney Productions to buy the rights to the name "Disney" from Retlaw Enterprises, a company owned by the Disney family (his widow and two daughters) for $46.2 million.

According to the trademark designation filed with the USPTO, the name Walt Disney is considered a standard character mark (code 4).

Walt Disney did not produce many animation drawings, yet many works include his signature. This one was entrusted to artists of the studio who thus realized cards, posters and other objects "dedicated". The first to be authorized was Hank Porter, then several others including Bob Moore.

The Disney entertainment and media empire

Walt Disney's animation and production studios and theme parks have grown into a multibillion-dollar, multinational television, film, vacation destination and other media company that bears his name. Today, the Walt Disney Company owns, among other things, four resorts, eleven theme parks, two water parks, thirty-two hotels, eight movie studios, six record labels, eleven cable television networks and one terrestrial television network.

Theme parks

What was originally known as the Florida Project is now the largest and most popular private tourist destination on earth. From the Partners statue at Magic Kingdom to the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney is still in the spotlight and his vision is still alive. His fascination with mass transportation comes to life in the monorail at Walt Disney World Resort, which operates between two theme parks and four hotels. His dream of the future comes to life at Epcot in state-of-the-art attractions and exhibits.

When the second phase of Walt Disney World was built, EPCOT was transformed by Walt Disney's heirs into a theme park, EPCOT Center, which opened in 1982. The Epcot park that still exists today is essentially an international fairground and only a small part of the functional city envisioned by Walt. However, the Celebration City built by the Walt Disney Company and adjacent to Walt Disney World Resort makes up for some of the EPCOT vision.

Disneyland has grown from a small theme park into a leisure resort with two theme parks, three hotels and a large shopping complex. Walt Disney World Resort is a favorite vacation destination for tourists from around the world, and Tokyo Disneyland is the most visited theme park in the world (Tokyo DisneySea in the same area is second). Disneyland Paris, despite various economic problems that have plagued the park since its opening, is still the most visited place in Europe. It also includes a second park, Walt Disney Studios, which opened on March 16, 2002. In September 2005, the Walt Disney Company also opened the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort in China.

For the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney's birth, Disney organized 100 Years of Magic, a ceremony centered on the Florida parks, but also with other initiatives from the group's various subsidiaries. On May 5, 2005, the Walt Disney Company begins the celebration of Return to the Happiest Land on Earth in front of Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle, designed by Walt, celebrating 50 years of the most famous theme park. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts parks are renowned around the world for their attention to detail, hygiene and standards, all of which Walt Disney set for Disneyland.

Disney animation

After Walt's death, the studio continued to produce animated films, mainly feature films. The short films were replaced in the 1980s by television series. In the mid-1990s, the studio teamed up with Pixar to produce CG feature films, continuing Walt's legacy of innovation.

Between 2000 and 2006, a dark period clouded the studio. Traditional hand-held animation, with which Walt Disney had built his company's success, was no longer to be found at Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios. At the end of the 20th century, after a period of traditional animated features with limited success, the two satellite studios in Paris and Orlando were closed and the main studio in Burbank was converted into a computer animation studio. In 2004, the Walt Disney Company announced the production of its last traditionally animated feature film: The Farm Rebel. DisneyToon Studios in Australia, however, continued to produce low-budget traditionally animated films, mainly sequels to past successes, before closing at the end of 2006.

Following the acquisition of Pixar by Disney, John Lasseter, promoted director of animation, decided to return to traditional animation and announced the release in 2010 of The Princess and the Frog.


Walt Disney spent a substantial amount of time in his last years founding the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), which was formed in 1961 through the merger of the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and the Chouinard Art Institute, which had helped train animation crews during the 1930s. When Walt died, CalArts inherited a quarter of his estate, a substantial windfall that was used to construct new buildings on his campus. Walt also bequeathed 38 acres (154,000 m2) of the Golden Oak Ranch in Valencia for the school to be built on. CalArts moved to the Valencia campus in 1971.

Lillian Disney, Walt's widow, devotes much of her time to following CalArts and organizing hundreds of fundraising events for the university out of respect for her husband's last wishes. She is also involved with the Walt Disney Symphony Hall in Los Angeles.) After Lillian's death in late 1997, the legacy of this tradition continues with her daughter Diane and her husband Ron. CalArts is now one of the largest independent universities in California, thanks in large part to the Disney contributions.

Walt Disney was involved in many productions, mainly animations from his own studios, mainly as a producer, but also as an actor, director or scriptwriter.

Main films cited:

For productions after Walt Disney's death, see Walt Disney Pictures.


Walt Disney holds the record for film Oscar awards with 22 in competing categories and 4 honoring his contributions:

Other awards

Walt Disney was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960.

Walt Disney was the first person to be honored with a star on the Anaheim Walk of Stars. The star was awarded in honor of Walt's significant contributions to the city of Anaheim where Disneyland Park, now the Disneyland Resort, was built. It is located at the pedestrian entrance to the Disneyland Resort on Harbor Boulevard.

Walt Disney received:

Because of Walt Disney's investment in Tahoe City's Sugar Bowl Resort, a mountain was renamed Disney Mountain.

On December 6, 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver inducted Walt Disney into the California Hall of Fame located in the Museum of California.

Walt Disney's work is perceived in different ways, from the "genius of entertainment" according to Judith Pinkerton Josephson to the artist of "bad taste" as Georges Sadoul and Émile Breton write in their Dictionnaire des cinéastes: "After the artistic failure of the very ambitious Fantasia, the creator declined, the technical brilliance no longer compensated for the abundance of bad taste (already latent in the Silly Symphonies)", passing through the "friend of the family" for Leonard Maltin.

Sociological impact

For Dave Smith, founder and head of the Walt Disney Archives, Walt was "a genius who knew what the public wanted in family entertainment," an "innovator (but) not a follower," he "fully embraced new concepts or processes that interested him and gave them a chance often to the detriment of his financial advisors, but time proved him right." The list of innovations is long: the first animated short film with synchronized sound, storyboarding, the Fantasound system (stereophonic cinema), CinemaScope, Circle-Vision 360°, the Xerox process, the series of animal documentaries, theme parks, the first television program in stereo...

The universe created by Walt Disney is known as a vehicle for American culture and many stereotypes. According to a study by Elena Gianini Belotti, "the original tales from which most Disney productions are drawn feature female characters who are unfit for anything. The fairies and magicians, for those who are not evil, only hold their power from higher powers and therefore outside of them. This magical universe thus constitutes a support of transmission to the children of the rules which will enclose later on a differentiated vision of the sexes, of their capacities and their roles... "

Jan Švankmajer, the Czech surrealist director known in particular for his animated films, said of him in an interview with Positif in 1995: "Walt Disney is one of the most important liquidators of European culture; the most important perhaps, because he destroyed it in the bud, that is to say in the souls of children. Walt Disney belongs to the decadent pop culture that embraces everything, and that, having won the "Third World War," is flooding the defeated world."

A museum, the Walt Disney Family Museum was opened on October 1, 2009 in the Presidio district of San Francisco.

Walt Disney's money

Richard Schickel lists some figures on Walt Disney's fortune. In 1961, Walt Disney paid himself a salary of $182,000 plus a weekly pension of $2,500 to pay for his house. Since 1953, he has had an option validated to purchase up to 25% of the interest in any feature film produced by the studio as long as it is done at the beginning of production. He exercised this option on almost all films, but with a rate of 10%, which allowed him to raise a million dollars in 1965 for Mary Poppins. A similar option with a 1% rate was granted to a few directors.

In 1966 at the death of Walt Disney, Walt held 262,941 shares of Walt Disney Productions or 13.4%, listed at $69. His wife held an additional 26,444 shares, his daughter Diane and son-in-law Ron Miller 43,977 shares, while Roy Disney held 99,881 shares directly and 50,573 through what would become Shamrock Holdings. A joint venture between Walt and Roy called the Disney Foundation held an additional 52,964 shares, while Sharon, Walt's second daughter, and some of the great-grandchildren held undetermined but smaller amounts, totalling nearly 34% of the company for the Disney family.

The majority of the money collected by Walt Disney was invested in his personal investment fund Retlaw Enterprises. The other function of this company was to collect a royalty on the use of the name "Walt Disney", $292,349 paid by Walt Disney Productions in 1965. The contract was that if the studio used the Walt Disney name, a royalty of 5% was due on the profits of derived products, up to 15% in the case of Retlaw's participation and 10% in other cases.


Several legends or rumors exist about Walt Disney. Most of them have been gathered by Marc Eliot in his book Hollywood's Dark Prince. Here are some of them:


  1. Walt Disney
  2. Walt Disney
  3. Prononciation en anglais américain retranscrite selon la méthode de l'alphabet phonétique international (API).
  4. Sa tombe se trouve également au cimetière Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
  5. ^ In 1909, in a renumbering exercise, the property's address changed to 2156 North Tripp Avenue.[3]
  6. ^ Disney was a descendant of Robert d'Isigny, a Frenchman who had traveled to England with William the Conqueror in 1066.[6] The family anglicized the d'Isigny name to "Disney" and settled in the English village now known as Norton Disney in the East Midlands.[7]
  7. ^ The book, Edwin G. Lutz's Animated Cartoons: How They Are Made, Their Origin and Development (1920), was the only one in the local library on the subject; the camera he borrowed from Cauger.[29]
  8. La animación con recorte es la técnica para crear dibujos animados con figuras recortadas de papel. Utilizando hojas semitransparentes (cel) en cada una se dibuja un movimiento incremental con respecto al anterior.[28]​
  9. ^ (EN) The 5th Academy Awards | 1933, su oscars.org. URL consultato il 18 settembre 2020.
  10. ^ (EN) The 11th Academy Awards | 1939, su oscars.org. URL consultato il 18 settembre 2020.
  11. ^ a b Look Closer Recap: Walt’s Honorary Oscars | The Walt Disney Family Museum, su waltdisney.org, 28 marzo 2015. URL consultato il 18 settembre 2020 (archiviato dall'url originale il 28 marzo 2015).
  12. ^ Nell'occasione gli fu conferita la classica statuetta degli Academy Awards, e in aggiunta sette statuette in miniatura.

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