Walt Disney: when dreams come true

by Tolovaj

Amazing facts about Walt Disney, animator, producer, actor, businessman and above all - a dreamer.

We all heard about Walt Disney, the man behind Micky Mouse and Disneyland. But most people don't know how interesting his private and business life really was. So here is the top 10 list of amazing facts about amazing man and his dreams!

(Photo credit: Wikipedia.org, PD licence)

Top 10 interesting facts about Walt Disney

Disney's childhood

1. Surname Disney is of Irish origin. It came from D'Isney and it was changed after his ancestors arrived to USA. Full name of Walt Disney was Walter Elias Disney. Middle name Elias was his father's first name.

2. Walt was youngest of four brothers in the family. He also had younger sister, but Walt stayed in touch only with one of his siblings through his life. With his brother Roy he eventually established now famous Disney Company.

3. Walt's father Elias Charles Disney tried his luck at very different professions. He was gold miner, building contractor, farmer, newspaper publisher and owner of jam factory, all without real success.  He was hard working and religious man who regularly physically abused his kids and his first three sons left family as soon as they can. Walt did the same at tender age of seventeen when he tried to join American forces in Europe. They rejected him but he became an ambulance driver for Red Cross.

Mother Flora and father Elias

Childhood determined Walt's adult life in many ways
Walt Disney's mother Flora and father Elias
Walt Disney's mother Flora and father...
Wikipedia.org, PD licence
Walt's drawing ambitions

4. Young Walter enjoyed drawing scenes from nature and redrawing caricatures from newspapers. He sold his first drawing (picture of a horse) to family doctor for five cents. When family moved from Kansas to Chicago, he took drawing lessons, experimented with photography and studied cartooning. After return from World War he got his first job (his brother Roy helped him) as commercial illustrator in art studios in Kansas City.

5. Most important achievement of Walt's first job was friendship with Ub Iwerks, very talented illustrator who accompanied Walt through most of his career. They established their first studio in 1922 but only one year later filed for bankruptcy mainly because of lack of experience. Walt tried his luck as director in Hollywood after that but nobody wanted to hire him. Eventually one of his earlier projects (Alice in Cartoonland with animated settings and real actress Virginia Davis) got him a contract with Universal Studios and a chance to open new company, this time together with more experienced brother Roy and again with Ubbe Iwerks.

6. Walt and Ubbe created character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and for short time it looked like a winner. Business was expanding, they hired more animators and they needed some additional money from their main business partner Winkler Pictures. Instead of raise Walt got devastating information: Winkler Pictures who already had copyright for the character Oswald hired all Disney's animators with the exception of Iwerks who refused to leave his long time friend. So Walt and Ubbe faced the financial breakdown once again. They desperately needed new character and his name was Mickey. Mickey Mouse.

It all started with a mouse!

His name was Mortimer at first but Walt's wife insisted on name Mickey.
Disney as a pioneer and a dreamer

7. Mickey Mouse was not instant success. It looked more like a catastrophe from the very beginning. Nobody wanted to invest in Plane Crazy, inspired with historic flight across Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh. Response to second Mickey Mouse movie Gallopin' Gaucho wasn't better either. Walt decided to try one more time but with one important difference: synchronization.

Due to enormous costs Steamboat Willie was probably last chance for Disney. Luckily the talking mouse (with Walt's voice!) was instant hit and masses were more than willing to pay to see Mickey in cinema.

Disney Company was back in the saddle!

8. Another major success came with first full length animated and synchronized movie (in color of course). Snow White and seven dwarfs from 1937 is still a quality standard for all professionals in movie industry. With huge budget of two million dollars it pushed the company once again on the verge of survival but proved profitable in the first weekend after release. It earned six millions in only three days!

Snow White was first in Disney Animated Classics and a starter of now probably most profitable Disney's brand: Disney Princess.

9. Walt Disney always had new big projects in his mind. He established Mickey Mouse Club for fans in 1929 to connect kids with his characters even more. He initiated several TV shows, including one named Mickey Mose Club (surprise, surprise) who paved the road to success to numerous pop stars (ever hear about Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera or Justin Timberlake?). His biggest lifetime project was indisputably Disneyland, followed by Walt Disney World, Epcot, Euro Disney and other thematic parks made of his dreams and for kids' pleasure.

What do you think about Walt Disney?

Disney's private life

10. Walt Disney married one of his animators Lilian Bounds after very short acquaintances. They had two daughters: one biological, one adopted. Walt wasn't typical Hollywood star. He wasn't showing off in numerous parties like many of his contemporaries did. Instead he liked to spend his spare time (which was rarity) with his family.

Walt was a chain smoker for many years. He explained this and some of his other habits as a response to too rigid education in his childhood. Walt Disney died of lung cancer on December 15 1966. The legend about his body frozen with cryogenics techniques waiting for better cures is not true. But through his tremendous opus Walt Disney is still alive!

Walt Disney on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

A star for the star
One of two stars dedidacet to the great master on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
One of two stars dedidacet to the gre...
Wikipedia.org, PD licence

My main resources

(they are written in Slovene language)

Walt Disney
The man, his dream and the story behind one of most successful businesses in entertainment industry: Walter Elias Disney.

Mickey Mouse
The story about most popular mouse in the world: Mickey Mouse, with whom apparently all started.

Updated: 01/14/2013, Tolovaj
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Tolovaj on 07/07/2019

Thanks DerdriuMarriner for your interesting thoughts. It would probably make an interesting book about Walt's genealogy only. You already offered a few great starting points!

DerdriuMarriner on 07/06/2019

Tolovaj, It's interesting about the number of French and German families that ended up long enough in Ireland to be considered almost part of the woodwork. Genealogical resources online offer the original name from northern France as Isigny. They reveal the family motto as Vincit qui patitur. Wouldn't it seem that the winner is the one that endures describes Walt Disney's professional life?

Tolovaj on 05/06/2015

Yes, that's true, Walt's father demanded a lot from his children and Walt especially disliked the fact he took all the money from them - to finance his not so successful business projects. But later Walt acquired similar philosophy - he was always thinking about investment opportunities and lost all his money more than once before the empire, now known as Disney Studios was built. Thank you, Mira, for stopping by!

Mira on 05/06/2015

I recently saw the movie Saving Mr. Banks, with Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks is Walt Disney. Both give very good performances, and the movie is entertaining. I missed it when it was in town, and saw it now on a DVD from the British library. Since you mention Walt Disney's father, Tom Hanks as Walt said that his father forced them to sell newspapers twice a day, so he was always on the streets doing that when he was not in school.

Tolovaj on 05/21/2013

He really was one of a kind, WriterArtist:)

WriterArtist on 05/20/2013

I cannot imagine any other visionary and artist than Walt Disney. He tried something creative and it was difficult even in those times to get accepted. I have to say, I love Mickey Mouse cartoons and all of his animation, movies and stories.

Tolovaj on 08/13/2012

I agree with that, Rose. They were made by different standards in different times, but they are in many aspects superb to today's Disney's movies. There was much more creativity involved!

Rose on 08/11/2012

The early Disney movies were quite dark and scary. I still remember being terrified as a child by the Queen in Snow White! None of the modern Disney movies even come close in complexity.

Tolovaj on 07/30/2012

Thank you very much, SeanMac, for your kind words:)

SeanMac on 07/29/2012

What a superb article about the interesting facts concerning Walt Disney, his life and his creations. Excellent!

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