The Image - Part Two
by David Johnson
This is part two of "The Image - Part One"
So much has been written about Walt Disney.
Yet paradoxically little attempt has been made to get at the genuine man behind the legend. Who exactly was this man who not only set the standard of cartoon animation but who would found a virtual
empire with his name a worldwide household word? We all know the image of the benevolent visionary painted in sharp colors. In this second of two articles, Disney the man is explored (utilizing unpublished
material along with lesser-known published accounts) in a manner that hopefully will bring this unique individual into the sharper focus of a much more complex reality.
Walt Disney was basically a mid-western country boy whose roots he would carry with him to the grave. Though his acquaintances later included Chaplin, Mary
Pickford, H.G. Wells and the like, he rarely would feel comfortable among intellectuals, preferring instead the more modest company of Will Rogers, whose home-spun philosophy and humor was much closer to his
heart. Certainly not a high-brow himself and suspicious of that particular scent even from a distance, he nevertheless was responsible more than anyone else for elevating the animated cartoon to a fine
art. He was christened Walter Elias - Walter after the Congregational minister who baptized him, Elias from his father - shortly after his birth in Chicago on December 5, 1901, The youngest of
four boys (preceded by Herbert, Raymond, and Roy - a sister, Ruth, would follow later), he would spend his first four years there, although his formative upbringing took place on a farm near the small town
of Marceline, Missouri and later, in Kansas City . In all locales the Disney family was far from prosperous and the young Walt often spent many idle hours on the farm pursuing his favorite
pastime: drawing. It is doubtful, however, if his obvious talent received much, if any, encouragement at home. Certainly not from his father.
Elias Disney, originally from Canada of
Anglo-French descent, would enjoy the only respect he ever knew solely through his youngest son's eventual fame. He was, by all accounts, an uninteresting, humorless, narrow-minded, apparently
religious man one would not want to meet at a party. At best, he was the mid-western Protestant work ethic personified who taught his family the virtues of hard work and honesty, something Walt would
never outgrow. Unfortunately, his lack of imagination and foresight was matched by a remoteness that rarely, if ever, took in the feelings and needs of those around him. Inept at business, he
would barely provide for a family from whom he expected more than a fair share of work. And, of course, he was a strong believer in corporeal punishment, all adding up to an environment with
potentially powerful consequences for any sensitive boy. Not surprisingly, Walt became a somewhat remote figure himself who rarely indulged in any introspection which might bring deeper conflicts
bubbling up from a place better left alone and undisturbed. In spite of a definite strain of sentimentality Walt would later prefer reticence at expressing deep emotion or indeed anything unpleasant, a
pattern that must also find its source in this sterile yet most likely common mid-western family atmosphere of the period. It is also probably true that Walt suffered a keen sense of shame all his life
for a father who seemed to fail so miserably in almost every way - for reasons of his own making.
As for his mother Flora Call, even less remains in printed accounts to provide little more than
a sketch. Born in Ohio of mixed-German ancestry, she was briefly a schoolteacher before she swapped that job for the far less lucrative one of Mrs. Disney. Walt's very first memories center
around his mother who "used to go out on a construction job and hammer and saw planks with the men" (Elias was then in the contracting business). Flora in all likelihood subordinated herself
to her willful though small-minded and incompetent husband and probably suffered in silence through all of Elias' (mostly) failed endeavors. That underlying her shadowy presence was a figure who loved
and cared for the welfare and future of her children there can be little doubt. There is even reason to believe that Walt was very close to his mother and that her conspicuous absence in the records is
the result of the little-known though tragic circumstances of her death, from which Walt never fully recovered.
Fortunately there was Roy. Roy Disney, his next older brother by eight years
and destined for the title of "his brother's keeper," was Walt's closest confidant and a man with a large heart. Though he left home when Walt was only ten, Roy's lasting imprint had already
fostered an uncomplicated confidence that Walt was unlikely to find on his own. Walt was not shy, and certainly had no fears in dealing with people face to face. But moodiness was a trait that
would give his future staff more than a few tense and uneasy moments while, at other times a wayward enthusiasm needed to be better grounded in reality (on this last point, however, Walt usually had his
way). Roy would always be the great stabilizer whose interest in his younger brother, even when very young (unusual for one so much older), had indeed provided Walt with a vital cornerstone for his own
development. That Walt's future empire could have been built without Roy's innate financial astuteness (he had no qualifications save some brief, prior accounting experiences) is impossible to
say. It is safer to claim that Roy nurtured the very ingredients Walt needed to develop in order to bring his dreams to reality.
By his eighteenth birthday and just beginning a career in
commercial art, Walt could look back on a life filled with the kind of experiences most youths of today would find difficult, if not impossible, to imagine. At ten, with Elias and family now in the
urban vitality of Kansas City on a new job, Walt soon learned what it was like to be awakened at 3:30 each morning to help deliver the papers of his father's newly purchased route. That itself was bad
enough but with three feet of snow on the ground, it was positively a nightmare the memories of which would descend upon an unwary and peaceful sleep with terrifying regularity the rest of his life.
As a student, Walt was slightly above average (according to Lillian, his future wife, he "hated school"), while art occupied most of his free time, in his case usually over before it
had barely begun. He did manage to take as many art correspondence courses as he could afford (Elias was not above "borrowing" from his son, rather than the other way around) and, in a moment
of rare indulgence, his father let him enroll in Saturday morning life drawing classes at the Kansas City Art Institute. These, as well as an occasional theatrical "stunt" he and his friend
Walt Pheiffer (of eventual "Pogo" fame) revelled in from time to time, would later be recalled as sources of immense pleasure to a boy growing old probably much too soon.
Just as Walt
was getting settled in to his home of five and a half years, his parents (i.e. Elias) decided it was time to move again, this time back to Chicago. Walt no doubt would have preferred to stay in Kansas
City indefinitely but decided instead to remain only long enough to first finish out his sophomore year and then find a job for the summer before joining his family up north. The job turned out to be
educational in more ways than one. Spent as a "news butcher" on the Santa Fe Railroad, it took him to sights unknown (in this case as far afield as Pueblo, Colorado) and provided some
unintended excitement by an inadvertent side trip (his first and probably last) to a local brothel.
Such experiences could not help but further dampen Walt's appetite, probably meager at
best, for learning within the confines of a boring school room. Sure enough, after returning to home town and parents that fall, he attended what would be his last (and junior) high school year.
The Great War was on, Roy was in the Navy and Walt itching to join him. Unfortunately the cut off age was 18 and suddenly, before he knew it, Armistice made any dreams of war and conquering heroes a
thing of the past. His mind still made up to somehow follow in Roy's footsteps, Walt heard that the Red Cross Ambulance Unit needed volunteers for duty overseas. As usual, his father objected but
his resigning mother intervened, signed the necessary papers and then gently looked the other way as her youngest son altered his own birth year by one in order to pass the age requirement. It was 17.
When he returned stateside, Walt was determined to pursue a career in commercial art, something Elias had taken a dim view of all along. A final rupture between father and son soon found
Walt heading back to Kansas City where at least Ray (another brother) and Edna (Roy's childhood sweetheart) would make life somewhat more tolerable (Roy himself had developed mild tuberculosis during the war
and would spend the next three years recuperating in hosptial, first in Tuscon, Arizona and then in Sawtelle, California, near Los Angeles). Over the years Walt had grown more intuitive by experience
and independent by choice and, while still a teenager by two years, seems not to have needed the kind of social contact most young adults his age find necessary for basic fulfillment. This would remain
characteristic of one whose growing aloofness shaped a personality of remarkable resilience needing few friends and having less, in any case being probably too busy to notice anyway.
found work at an advertising agency (Gray Advertising Company - for $50 a week) requiring skill at mechanicals, something his previous (and mostly fine) art training did not encompass. Within six
weeks, Walt not only taught himself, becoming more than merely proficient but, as work became sparse (though begun only in Oct., 1919, by Nov., with the Xmas rush over, he was obliged to work in a post
office), he typically decided to branch out on his own. So with the help of a few hundred dollars saved up from home (to buy equipment) and a newly-found fellow artist and future partner, Ubbe Iwwerks,
Walt Disney, aged eighteen, began in business for himself.
Of all the early contacts Walt made on his return to Kansas City, Ub Iwwerks (or Iwerks as he is more commonly known) would undoubtedly
have the greatest consequence on Walt's future. Because of his infectious enthusiasm and growing single-mindedness, Walt soon found himself surrounded with talent that later, when he moved to
California and at a loss for help, would pack up their bags to join him. Iwerks, a feisty son of Dutch immigrants, became Walt's first business associate in a venture that was a continuation of the
design and layout work they both had done at Gray's Ad Agency. His, and Walt's true calling, however, became evident a short time later when, in Feb., 1920 (and after $135 earned in their first month
of free lancing), Walt decided to change gears and answered a job advertisement for the Kansas City Film Ad Company which made animated lantern slides. He was hired for $40 a week.
first experiences behind an animation board was not the usual cartoon drawings with lines but paper cut-outs, whose joints moved by dowels. Not that it would have mattered anyway. At the time,
Walt's exposure to the animated cartoon, past or present, was severely limited, thanks in large part to his father's stern disapproval of "the movies," something no doubt Walt would have
loved. He had, in fact, seen his very first feature-length movie only four years before. Now, making up for lost time with a vengeance at something definitely love at first sight, the works of
Max Fleischer and Paul Terry became a staple diet devoured by Walt and Ub as well, who after only two months at trying (single-handed and unsuccessfully - Ub lacked Walt's drive or imagination) to keep their
little advertising company afloat, decided to join Walt at the film company. Within a year, Walt's passion for his new-found medium left little room for thoughts of commercial art (or anything else,
for that matter), and he was soon convincing Ub to join him in a brand new enterprise.
This proved to be no less than Walt's own animation company, a rather ambitious choice for someone with
less than twelve months experience. Nevertheless, it soon became obvious that in Ub, Walt had found not only a professional soul-mate but a virtuoso draughtsman, something he was not, nor interested in
becoming. Even at this early stage Walt's control and growing authority was beginning to assert itself. This was no problem for Iwerks who not only respected Walt's judgment but soon discovered
one day the true extent of his partner's drive: Iwerks distinctly remembers glancing over at a furiously busy yet secretive Walt on one idle afternoon writing his name over and over again - creating a new
signature to match an ever increasing ego and someone who obviously was "going to make it."
Walt was not only ambitious. He was likable and must have been an extremely hard
sell. After moving to larger quarters (he had been working in a small garage), he began recruiting anyone he could find and with typical enthusiasm and optimism, persuaded his young flock to work for
nothing (like himself), in return for a chance to learn a new profession in a newly-formed company. Within a short time, Walt somehow managed to find not only a New York distributor but backing for his
new studio at the not inconsiderable sum of $15,000, quite a feat for a man only just past twenty. Called "Laugh-O-Gram Corporation" (after his earlier efforts made for the local Newman
Theaters), Walt and crew produced updated versions of popular fairy tales like Puss-in-Boots and Grimm's Four Musicians of Bremen. For a time, a success of sorts seemed to be
materializing as Walt's crew began to savor their first pay ckecks and Walt himself his new position of President of Laugh-O-Gram Corporation. Destiny had other plans.
distribution, at the time, was governed by a principle known as "state's rights," in which prints were sent from a main distributor (usually in New York) to rental agencies that in turn sold them
to theaters in specified areas. Not adverse to making an extra dollar or two (illegally, of course), anyone involved from the distributor on down might make duplicates of the prints they handled,
keeping any such profits for themselves. And they did, routinely. Walt (who was still a minor, a fact not lost by the New York distributor), soon saw his profits, small to begin with, gradually
disappear entirely. After only five films, his staff was dissolved, along with everyone's initial capital as well, a fact that seemed to bother the investors less than Walt, whose spartan life style
(with its almost steady diet of canned beans) was rapidly elevating him to folk-hero status - checks from Roy, now in California, notwithstanding.
Searching for a gimmick that might still save
his foundering company, in a last-ditch effort he decided to combine live action with animation as Max Fleischer was now doing so successfully in his Out of the Inkwell
series, starring Koko the Clown. Only here, and characteristically, Walt would do something different: where Koko was a cartoon over a photographic live background, Walt's live "Alice" would preside over a cartoon landscape.
was Walt's last hope but with mounting debts and the only person he really loved hollering at him to forget it and join him out West, Walt soon found himself waiting on the platform at the Kansas CIty Station to board the Santa Fe California Limited. On him was $40 in cash, all that was left after having just sent the only print of his six-minute short to a New York agent where he thought, quite realistically, it would never be heard from again.
When Walt Disney first touched California soil in August of 1923 and inhaled that fabled aroma of orange blossoms
mixed with fresh salt-sea air, any former dreams of cartoon glory had been quietly laid to rest. He was obviously six years too late, he told himself, and that was all there was to it. The
cartoon studios were back East anyway but he was, after all, in Hollywood, and since he had some experience on both sides of the live-action camera, (he had done some live-action directing and a couple of
acting spots mostly to help pay off some of his debts in Kansas City), perhaps as a director he might just make it.
That Walt was in many ways a pragmatist is clearly demonstrated by his first days in a
place destined to be his final stop from wanderings, both real and symbolic. While still in Kansas City, Walt had filmed a smattering of newsreels under the aegis of Selznick News, then handled by
Universal Studios (again to pay back his creditors). Now in Hollywood, he had business cards printed (a habit learned early on) which read WALT DISNEY - Universal News and Selznick News Representative,
Kansas City, Missouri, and promptly proceeded to the Universal lot. There, with the aid of the business card telling the appropriate party just who and what he was, he was given that most coveted of
possessions: a studio pass. He aimed to observe a director's job first hand and learn whatever else he could about motion pictures. Observe he did, from nearly dawn until evening, over the course
of several visits, practically everything in sight.
Unfortunately, what he learned, among other things, was that no one wanted to hire a twenty-one year old novice director, a dilemma for someone with
Walt's sensibilities. As any artist, Walt also had a need for self expression, which could never be satisfied by merely earning a living at just any job. Luckily, any artistic aimlessness had
been tempered by the rigors of childhood discipline which, in this case, left no sober alternative than to return literally to the drawing board. Fame and success aside, Walt knew better than anyone
else that real satisfaction lay more in doing what you loved.
Since Walt was never the type to "wait for the big break," he quickly settled down to work, this time in his Uncle
Robert's garage at 4406 Kingswell Avenue, Hollywood. Uncle Robert, with whom he was living (at $5 a week for room and board - Roy was still in the Veteran's Hospital in nearby Sawtelle), was too close
in kind to his father for Walt's comfort, a man who viewed both his nephew and his ambitions with suspicion. Nevertheless, with a rented Pathé camera, Walt proceeded to sketch out his first project, a
proposed series of little animated cartoons illustrating popular jokes, when Fate intervened. A New York distributor, Margaret J. Winkler, had seen his one Alice
effort and, recognizing above average promise, was prepared to offer $1,500 apiece for a series. Walt was ecstatic and made a bee-line to tell Roy. In what would become the rule rather than the exception, Walt's enthusiasm found its match in the reservations of his more cautious brother - without the benefit of a prophetic oracle quite rightly intimidated by a twelve picture deal with no money up front and a "company" made up of two individuals, barely. However, and typical of what was to come, Walt prevailed and with $500 borrowed from a begrudging Robert, the two young men began to set the world on fire.
What proved to be Walt's real beginning was hardly an auspicious debut. Doing all the animation himself, the earliest Alices
were perhaps charming and inventive but also left much to be desired. Winkler had, in fact, grown rapidly disenchanted and planned to cancel the contract after number six, something Roy and Walt were not about to let happen. Persistent in holding her to the agreement, Walt wired Ub Iwerks back in Kansas City, himself pining away for just such a chance, and offered him $160 a month to join forces. The decision would prove providential: free from drawing, Walt's genius with story now became apparent, even to him. Needless to say, any of Margaret's remaining reservations were forthwith dispatched.
Ub Iwerks was the first of several transplanted "Kansas City Boys" who soon found themselves at the burgeoning Disney Bros. Studio, now a store-front space at 4649 Kingswell, just
down the road from Uncle Robert's rented house. With "Alice" becoming a modest success, by mid-year of 1925 Walt's studio was rapidly outgrowing its quarters, something that would happen
again and again (the store-front itself was a remedy for the original, cramped area at the rear of the adjacent office). So, with the heady confidence that only young married people can know (Roy had
married his childhood sweetheart Edna Francis in spring of that year; Walt his new secretary, Lillian Bounds, in July), the brothers located a vacant lot in the Silver Lake district of Hollywood, which they
purchased on July 6, with a $400 deposit. Almost immediately a small rectangular building began to take shape on the site whose address would in less than ten years be known as the mecca of world
animation: 2719 Hyperion Avenue.
At that time, Walt's presence in the industry was hardly a force to be reckoned with. The New York studios of Paul Terry, Pat Sullivan, Bray, and
especially Max Fleischer were producing cartoon shorts whose technical expertise were far superior to Disney's. Yet even then the Disney product was sowing the seeds of its greatness. Ub
Iwerks began teaching animation to new recruits, favoring a type known as "pose-to-pose", which he personally helped to develop. This technique, in which the key poses of an action are drawn
first and later filled out, was at variance with the studios back East, long known for "straight-ahead" or line-to-line" animation, with drawings done consecutively. Though both methods
had their own strengths, Iwerks' newer technique, coupled with the older, traditional one, gave Disney animators a leading edge and provided them with a format that allowed greater flexibility. Also,
Disney animators were trained to draw in a rough, free style, again at variance with other studios whose animators drew mostly tight, clean drawings, no doubt for economic reasons - something for which Walt
would never compromise.
Even at that time Disney wanted the best workplace for his staff and, as revenues increased, saw that they got it. Improvements and innovations became almost a
commonplace. One day, Iwerks remodelled an old projector transforming it into a "moviola". Now the staff could view their efforts in its rough, penciled form, criticizing and correcting
poor animation before any further work be attempted. Known as "pencil tests", this was an extravagance few other studios would even consider. For Walt it soon became a way of life as
each new animated scene was photographed and developed at night on the premises and viewed the next day as a negative print around the moviola. Such innovations were quietly laying the foundation for a
new cartoon with a freshness that, coupled with Walt's fabled perfectionism already in evidence, would soon have an unexpecting public well within its grasp.
This first became apparent with Walt's new Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
series. Inaugurated in 1927, after Alice was respectfully laid to rest, "Oswald" was Walt's first all-cartoon series and became an instant success. So much so, in fact, that it precipitated a crisis that directly would lead to the most important turning point in Walt's life - one which, after the dust settled, would leave him a changed man forever, in more ways than one.
As "Oswald's" contract was about to expire near mid-1928, both Walt and Roy were concerned why their share of Oswald's obvious extra profit was inexplicably not materializing.
Walt decided it best to meet the distributor, Charles Mintz (now husband to Margaret Winkler, Walt's original distributor) face to face in New York, while at the same time requesting a modest raise for the
next series, considering Oswald's runaway success. Arriving in New York and into the distributor's office, Mintz wasted no time beating around the bush. Not only was a raise out of the question,
he was going to lower
his original figure. If Walt wouldn't comply (and now he would obviously have to), he had already made arrangements to spirit away nearly all his artists who would themselves soon be drawing Walt's Oswald. No staff, no Oswald, no Disney. The reality was quite simple. Neither Roy nor Walt had been aware (in the very fine print) that, though Walt and his artists had created Oswald, it was, in fact, owned by Mintz - a right common to distributors at the time - who could do whatever he wanted with it. As Walt's blood turned first cold than steaming hot, he told Mintz just where he could go and to take all the men who wanted to go with him. He had no intention of working with a pack of Judases.
True to his nature, Walt decided to spare his brother any grief, at least momentarily, and wired him a curt : COMING HOME - EVERYTHING OK. Nonetheless, a soberly withdrawn Walt was soon
boarding the 20th Century Limited back to California along with his wife Lilly herself helping to shoulder the luggage if not the burden. Theirs was not to be a restful trip home, however. In
fact, no traintracks ever conveyed a caravan of greater consequence: somewhere en route the rising phoenix became a mouse.
Few individuals are destined for the renown that awaited Walt Disney
shortly after the arrival of his most famous cartoon creation. And it is an interesting fact that, although Walt was the type to make his own opportunities, this one made him. How and why this
cartoon character quickly became the most popular and beloved ever created will be dealt with elsewhere in this volume. For although Mickey's appeal can be summed up in one word - charm, his world-wide
impact requires a more penetrating look at the complex sociological and psychological factors of the time to appreciate. What can be said here is that without him Disney's whole future certainly would
have been different and (barring a like phenomenon) hardly as successful financially or artistically. It is important, however, to recognize that whatever the Mouse had (and the same holds true for
most of Disney's work), it came from the creator himself (soon to be called "The Mousetro"); much less responsible were the men who drew him.
No better evidence of this can be shown
than from the events that came to a head nearly two years after Mickey's startling debut at the Colony Theater in New York on November 18, 1928. Shortly after that "vindication," Walt,
together with Carl Stalling, his new music director (and another Kansas City drop-out), decided upon an idea that, at the time, was basically a project to keep both men on speaking terms: a purely musical
cartoon telling a dramatic story with no dialogue. Between the two the title "Silly Symphony" was coined and its initial experiment a graveyard revelry called, appropriately,
The Skeleton Dance. The Golden Age of Animation was about to begin.
Although at first shunned by exhibitors as obviously too gruesome to even audition a screening (requiring all of
Walt's persuasive efforts), on its eventual release in 1929, The Skeleton Dance
became a smash hit, in New York being the first cartoon ever to be held over at the prestigious Roxy Theater. Nothing quite like it had ever been seen before and its instant acclaim set Walt's mind reeling with ideas for a totally new kind of cartoon experience - one in which music, atmosphere, emotion, and richness of invention would soon set unexpected new standards and parameters on a medium worn out by its own overworked clichés.
The artist behind all of this work (and the subsequent "Symphonies" as well) was Ub Iwerks. Fortunately for Walt, Iwerks was one of the few men who remained with him after the
Mintz exodus. He had animated virtually all of The Skeleton Dance himself, an amazing feat requiring several thousand drawings. The same prolific draughtsman had also been responsible for
Steamboat Willie, even helping to design the actual character of Mickey Mouse. Obviously indispensable. At least that was the opinion of Pat Powers, owner of the Cinephone Sound System
Walt was leasing as well as acting distributor for his films. He, like many others in the industry safely tucked away in New York, calmly surmised that in Iwerks' hands lay the real magic behind Walt
Disney, now unquestionably a rising star. To better advance his own sound system (a pirated one, at that), Powers persuaded Ub with a bait to head his own studio, backing guaranteed. Such a goad
had unfortunately been preceded by years of long-standing differences and irritations between Walt and his top animator who now was unable to resist such an opportunity. Outside of the
"family," one could hardly blame him. Walt, however - reportedly stunned by such disloyalty - never forgave his defector.
As for the cartoons themselves, they soon regained their
former momentum, the loss of their greatest exponent leaving hardly a noticeable dent. Iwerks' lone virtuosity was now placed in the hands of several new animators, most of them from New York, whom
Walt lost no time in recruiting. With a reputation now preceding him, the Disney Studios was fast becoming an embarrassment of riches. The best of these new artists would eventually find
themselves at work on the "Silly Symphonies," which by now had taken on a life of their own. Almost immediately diverting from the more slapstick-based "Mickeys" (as they came to be
called - Donald Duck and Goofy were yet to be christened), these little music dramas developed with rapid and remarkable sophistication into miniature masterpieces which gravitated the studio's highest
calibre of talent, providing them with a powerful incentive that would find its full flowering in Snow White and culminate in 1940 with Fantasia.
That Walt could succeed so
brilliantly after the defection of his most important single employee (and at a time when the studio was still relatively small (by April, 1930, the number of employees passed thirty), makes abundantly clear
something that outsiders would never appreciate, even to this day: Walt's guiding hand determined the course and success of almost everything, even the talent of someone like Iwerks.
the studio atmosphere and the stimulating environment it provided and nurtured was also a factor. Walt himself was outwardly one of the most easygoing of individuals. And with a lack of
sophistication that never bothered him he could also be unwittingly funny. Once, while introducing someone, he added with great energy: "He goes to Opera!", something Walt obviously thought
worthy of comment. But behind those starry eyes was a will of steel - a man who knew what he wanted and how to get it. Ruthless he might be, especially when threatened. Yet his real
destructiveness was far more subtle and the result of factors he himself probably had little awareness of.
Even before Iwerks' leave taking, space - more precisely the lack of it - had always
been a looming problem. Now, with a staff expanding in proportion to a growing fame that was becoming increasingly a mixed blessing, a radical solution was called for: an entirely new animation
building and sound stage built to state-of-the-art requirements, providing a total of 20,000 square feet of floor space. With major revenue from Ingersoll Mickey Mouse watches and Lionel trains still a
few years off, such an investment surely caused both brothers more than one sleepless night.
To be sure, one day with the paint barely dry on the new walls, Walt began to crack. As might be expected,
freed from the confining limitations of space and its problems, the drive to push even harder now became too tempting. Adding to that was the still-unfulfilled desire for a family which, on top of
everything else, was something even Walt now found too painful to deal with. Soon a string of unresolved tensions broke in a nervous collapse of major proportions. The prescribed remedy was a
long rest - away from his new dream factory.
Walt had always been obsessive. Early in his marriage it was golf, with him thinking nothing of getting up at 4:30 for a pre-studio round,
arriving at the course, wet with dew, just in time to greet the morning's first light. Even Lilly could resist no longer the rhapsodized glories of sunrise and finally joined him, if only to shut him
up. Poor Walt - he rarely hit the ball and a blind rage would un-do any therapeutic value, except perhaps for Lilly, now helpless with laughter, who made up for them both. This time, however,
required loving care and a distraction that would take the couple across the country and back via the Panama Canal. When they arrived in San Pedro Harbor that fall of 1931, Walt was a new man. He
was not quite thirty.
He returned to find the studio pretty much the way he left it. Everyone there was on a first name basis, including Walt, a simple enough tactic, which was actually a
clever (if unconscious strategy) that fostered a productive working ambiance from the top down. This easy-going atmosphere where animator's quotas (the bane of every other studio) and time clocks were
unnecessary evils also belied a nervous tension always just under the surface, especially as Walt could bring anyone to grief on a bad day. Such tension was largely due to everyone's desire to do his
or her best and, with the creative sparks necessary for one's survival (though Walt hated to fire anyone), small wonder that pranks became legendary. Such a competitive climate with its high artistic
standards was, of course, limited to the highly gifted, or at least to those willing to work. As one former Disney artist noted : "Life at a cartoon studio isn't fun and games. It's hard,
hard work." Gloriously hard, he might have added. For in spite of all the problems, no studio before or since has provided a richer or more stimulating environment. To work at Disney's
during this period was for the vast majority an exciting challenge and the opportunity of a lifetime. For many it was more than a job - it was a way of life whose satisfaction was its own reward.
Walt Disney Productions was by now fast becoming the pre-eminent cartoon studio in the world. Word spread of a new concept called the storyboard, recently invented there. Its use
would eventually far transcend any originally intended. Also was the rumor of an art school on the premises, something un-heard of. What next? Not to worry: in 1932, Walt Disney Studios
produced the first film ever released in the then new and totally revolutionary Three-Strip Technicolor process of Herbert Kalmus: the Silly Symphony Flowers and Trees. And if there could be any
vindication for Walt's hard work and the trials and tribulations of the last four years, it would be in his Academy Award in 1932 for the creation of Mickey Mouse. For Walt, having only recently
returned from his recuperative holiday, it couldn't have come at a better moment. Nor was this all. The following year, Flowers and Trees
was also acknowledged by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences to be worthy of an Oscar, the first time to any cartoon. The cartoon medium was beginning to be taken seriously.
very evening, driving home from the ceremonies in his prized Packard, Walt remembered the conversation he had a few years earlier when, like ships in the night, he was returning home by train with a fellow
passenger. The stranger had been surprisingly condescending upon discovering Walt's line of work - cartoons being in his mind hardly worth anyone's time. Walt's consuming passion to thwart any
further belittlement of his beloved cartoons, fed in large part by that humiliating experience, was now, at last, being realized. He, of course, had never doubted the value and possibilities - the
almost unlimited possibilities - of a medium about which he had known so little barely ten years before and now had risen indisputably to its summit.
It was also a personal triumph for Walt that
he would be expecting his first child later that year. The house he had built for $7,000 nearly five years before (a semi-prefabricated "Tudor") would finally become a home. Now even the
large Mickey Mouse poised over the studio's animation building directly above his office could roar with delight. And yet he was already preparing to burst the bounds of his own considerable
achievement, even for one known never to contemplate for long today's success. He had other plans than merely cartoon shorts, however brilliant. Within this realm built of dreams and sweat one
man could often be seen strolling the corridors late at night, contemplating a new "Feature Symphony."
. His sense of humor, in fact, would always have at least one foot still planted firmly on farm soil. "The sort of things that
tickled Walt were outhouse gags, goosing gags, bedpans and johnny pots, thinly disguised farts, and cows' udders." Jack Kinney, Walt Disney and Assorted Other Characters: An Unauthorized Account of
the Early Years at Disney's. New York, Harmony Books, p.158.
. Elias was apparently also a socialist, surprising for such a
conservative man who even disapproved of most forms of entertainment for his family. Walt clearly remembers his father regularly reading a socialist newspaper called "Appeal to Reason,"
whose very cartoons inspired Walt with some of his earliest efforts. Elias also consistently voted for Eugene Debs, the socialist candidate, for president. These facts tend to dispel
the myth of "genetic Republicanism" that Walt claimed as the reason he staunchly supported that party in later life. In fact, it is indeed curious that in one uncharacteristically intimate
moment with an employee (probably after a few stiff drinks), Walt admitted to being "molested" one day coming home from school by a
gang out to get him because his parents voted Republican! Because of this he said he hated Democrats and never would vote for them. See Schickel, op cit. p. .
. Flora Call Disney died by asphyxiation from a leaky gas valve not long after both she
and Mr. Disney moved into the house Walt had built for them in California in the early '40s. Walt no doubt felt partly responsible for the accident and once remarked to his
nurse Hazel George that such a thing was unjustified and "shouldn't have happened." Such resentment also unleashed a torrent of guilt that would have Walt often
wondering what he'd done to bring such a thing about.(Add here about alleged Spanish mother, etc. Conclude with noting similarity in physiognomy between young Flora and Walt.)
19. Former animator and director Jack Kinney gives this first-hand account: He had a way of giving you the evil eye, with his finger pointed at your chest, that was very
intimidating. He's punctuate his words with "y'know, y'know, y'know," until you were answering "yeah, yeah, yeah" - whether you knew what he was talking about or not. If
you didn't, you'd better damn well find out. Walt's scare tactics kept us on our toes. As I've said, he liked to play puppeteer -juggling people around, pushing, reaching.
Occasionally he would pat a guy on the back; the next day he'd ignore him. In the early days he referred to "our" pictures; later on, it was "my" pictures. op cit. p. 152.
. Roy seems to have had a great empathy for his younger brother and loved to have him included in any outing, especially a
lucrative one. Once, when a local fair was advertised, Roy lost no time in getting both involved. "Come on, kid, we've got a job
washing the town hearse. There's a carnival coming and we'll spend what we make at the carnival." Roy did most of the work however (and most likely willingly) while young Walt played dead
inside the hearse, occasionally defying death by popping up to peer out through the windows. It was Roy who would also give Walt the courage to defy this father in an incident that surely must
have been Walt's own early rite-of-passage. Walt's age is uncertain. Although Roy left home when Walt was ten, Walt claims
to have been "well grown" at the time so his brother's presence may be due to an inadvertent visit. According to published
accounts, Walt provoked his father by being "insolent" and was ordered to the basement for the usual thrashing. Roy, standing
by, told his brother, "He has no reason to do this to you, kid. Don't take it!" After his father descended to meet his awaiting
son and raised his hand with the familiar strap, Walt reached out and seized Elias' hand. After a moment his father realized he was helpless in his son's stronger grip and suddenly broke down and
cried. Needless to say, silence prevailed in the basement after that. Diane Disney Miller, op cit.
. In an interview published shortly before his death in December, 1966, Walt admitted being plagued by nightmares from this particularly unpleasant childhood memory: "The papers had to be
stuck behind the storm doors. You couldn't just toss them on the porch. And in the winters there'd be as much as three feet of
snow. I was a little guy and I'd be up to my nose in snow. I still have nightmares about it. What I really liked on those cold
mornings was getting to the apartment buildings. I'd drop off the papers and then lie down in the warm, apartment corridor and snooze a little and try to get warm. I still wake up with that on
my mind." He recalled at another time the same dream waking him up in a cold sweat because he had missed one of the customers' houses and would have to drag himself back before his father would
find out. Diane Disney Miller, op cit. Without explicitly saying so, Walt, at one point, was obviously terrified of his father or
at least terrified to let him down, the subsequent beating (of which there seems to have been many), perhaps less important than his own failure in his father's eyes. It should also be noted
that Walt, even at this young age, showed more than usual industry in trying to earn a few extra dollars for himself by peddling additional papers on the street corner after finishing his
father's job at 6:30 and before going to school (with a quick run home for breakfast inbetween). Elias asked Walt to turn over that
extra money "for safe keeping." Walt never saw it again, prompting him never to mention any further 'moonlighting' to his father.
. Walt's obvious gift for mimicry was later put on prominent, if limited display in one of his greatest performances when, one evening in 1936, he acted out his version of "Snow White" in its
entirety to a mesmerized group of artists.
. The memories of the plush first-class cabins and dining cars (likely one of his few exposures to luxury) once gave rise to a
nostalgic reminiscence spontaneously given to a rapt audience of employees much later. See Schickel, p. . Of his inadvertent
visit to the brothel, he later stated that, as reality to his predicament suddenly dawned on him (someone had given him a card to a certain `good hotel' he was certain to like in Pueblo), he
"broke into a run." Walt was never a ladies' man even at fifteen, prompting Art Babbitt to remark: "Walt likes strong women and weak
men" (Hazel George). Walt himself admitted that, although he "was normal," he was never interested in girls.
. Walt, like most teen-agers at the time, continued to work on the side and during the ensuing summer had two jobs each paying the going rate of 40 cents an hour. Even then Walt thought nothing of
putting in a 14 hour day.
. For a fuller account of Walt's overseas experiences, see Diane Disney Miller, op cit.
. Edna would occasionally invite Walt to dinner, learning of his spartan meals and life style. To her amazement, Walt more often than not became so involved in the work at hand that he didn't
appear before 10 or 11. This apparently happened at least once to Lillian Disney shortly after they were married: "When it came dinnertime he wandered out of the studio to the corner beanery for
a bowl of soup and then right back to the studio to continue with his idea. It wasn't until far into the night that he woke up to the fact he had a bride at home who had cooked dinner and was
waiting to throw it in his face when he turned up. However, I forgave him. You can't stay mad at Walt for very long. He is too
good at beguiling. I think the apology that time was a hatbox tied with a red ribbon. But don't think there was anything as prosaic as a hat in it! It held a chow puppy, with another red
ribbon around it's neck." Lillian Disney, op cit.
. Hazel George felt that Walt "was born one of those centrally
aloof characters" and that he "enjoyed his own company" to that of others. She added that, in her "analysis of him," relationships
would most likely be a nuisance and a hinderance to him. "`Don't ever get too close to Walt,'" Jack Kinney recalled as being
director Ben Sharpsteen's "sage advice," adding, "Ben practiced what he preached, and, as proof, while fallen heads littered the tarmac, Ben stayed on until he retired." op cit.,
. Walt's total formal art training was not lengthy but apparently broad. While a junior in high school he attended the Chicago
Institute of Fine Arts three nights a week under the tutelage of Carl Werntz. After that school year he took lessons from Leroy Gossett, an editorial cartoonist with a Chicago newspaper. Also,
as noted above, he had attended weekend art classes in Kansas City, something his father uncharacteristically acceded to. Walt later claimed that "Dad went in for anything that was
educational," a comment that must be read with caution considering Walt's later tendency for smoothing over many of the ruffles of his past as well as his father's noted narrow-mindedness.
. These would include Walter and Hugh Harmon, Rudy Ising (who later with Hugh Harmon co-founded Harmon-Ising, Warner Bros.' in-resident cartoon studio), Max Maxwell, and musician Carl Stalling.
. This was, of course, Snow White (1916 - Paramount/Lasky) starring Marguerite Clarke, then at the height of her popularity.
The screening itself was a prize awarded a few lucky newspaper boys, of whom Walt was one. It was shown in experimental fashion, on four different screens at the same time. Walt was sitting so
he could see two and was fascinated at the slight discrepancy in timing between them. The film would have a definite influence on Walt's own version.
. Walt had during that time not only been doing his regular job at the film company but had started to make his own films - shorts illustrating local items - at night in an empty garage borrowing
one of the company's camera. These efforts were sold to a Mr. Milton Feld, manager of a 3 movie-house chain of Newman Theaters and duly labled Newman Laugh-O-Grams. Unfortunately, though the
little series became popular, Walt had undersold his product, forgetting in his enthusiastic innocence to add his own time to the total figure on his initial cost quote. Such short term
setbacks rarely daunted Walt, who meanwhile was able to acquire new work from Feld while slowly learning the ropes of his future profession.
. Jack Kinney, op cit., p. 149.
. Roy was receiving about $85 a month in disability pension, $30 of which he normally sent to his needy brother. After the collapse of the Laugh-O-Gram Corporation, Walt did odd jobs like
house-to-house photography and even a solo animation job (Tommy Tucker's Tooth) in an attempt to repay some of his creditors. For a more detailed account of Walt's legendary poverty, see Diane
Disney Miller, op cit.
. By his own account, Walt "dreamed up the idea of selling joke reels to Mr. Alexander Pantages," owner of a string of Pacific
Coast theaters. He "hung around the Pantages office until he waylaid a junior executive in a corridor and told him about his
idea. The man was bored. `Mr. Pantages wouldn't be interested in this,' he said. A voice from a nearby office boomed, `How do you know I wouldn't?'" Pantages was
interested, it turned out and Walt was soon making up a sample reel. Diane D. Miller, op. cit.
. It was a representative of Lloyds Film Storage Co. who brought Alice
to the attention of Ms. Winkler. The Disney Brothers' first contract was signed on Oct. 16, 1923 and called for one "Alice"
per month, $1,500 paid upon receipt. Before the first film was completed, the original $500 had disappeared as Walt's perfectionism soon lead to unforeseen and added costs (in this
case about $250's worth), a precedent that would continue from then on and one that would drive Roy to distraction.
. About 300 feet of each 900-foot short was animation, the rest
live-action padding. One foot of film equals 16 frames. As most animated drawings are photographed twice for economy, one can calculate a minimum of about 2400 drawings by Walt per film.
Coordination of live-action and cartoon drawing was a problem with which Walt wrestled with varying success.
. Only when the studio moved to its new location (and building) at
2719 Hyperion Avenue would the official name become Walt Disney Studios. Roy himself, during the mid-late '20s, also had his own business leasing sound recording equipment.
. Lillian Bounds, from Lewiston, Idaho (and the youngest of ten children), was visiting relatives in Hollywood when a friend of her sister who was a cell painter for the Disney Brothers said
they could use some extra help (the studio was at that time the original back office space at 44xx Kingswell Ave.). In time, Lillian worked her way up to being Walt's secretary when he
eventually popped the question. Before Roy's marriage the two brothers shared a tiny walk-up apartment with Roy doing the (meagre) cooking, where Walt briefly remained before tieing the
knot himself. Married in Idaho, Walt and Lilly spent their first night on the train travelling back to Los Angeles via Seattle where Walt, not unlike one of his own cartoon characters, did his
best to "cross the threshold" while coping with an abscessed tooth. In Hazel George's opinion, their's was not a good relationship and that, at one point later in life, he contemplated
divorce, confiding with his nurse (Hazel) who advised him against it.
. Construction began in late 1925. By spring, 1926, the new
quarters were ready for occupancy, containing x square feet of floor space. The property's total cost was $15,000. By 1929, they had increased the area to 1,600 sq. ft.
. And far more popular, especially Sullivan's Felix (see Chapter Two). In fact, it was barely a year before when, in early Summer
of 1925, Walt himself saw one of his own cartoons in a theater for the first time. Lillian Disney states [it was] "just before we
were married. My sister and I were visiting a friend that night, so Walt decided to go to the movies. A cartoon short by a competitor was advertised outside, but suddenly, as he sat in the
darkened theater, his own picture came on. Walt was so excited he rushed down to the manager's office. The manager, misunderstanding, began to apologize for not showing the
advertised film. Walt hurried over to my sister's house to break his exciting news, but we weren't home yet. Then he tried to find
Roy, but he was out too. Finally he went home alone. Every time we pass a theater where one of his films is advertised on the
marquee I can't help but think of that night." Lillian Disney, op cit. It is also an interesting but little-known fact that Max
Fleischer would later grow to hate Walt for his dominance in a field he himself helped pioneer, apparently reviling the Disney name even on his deathbed. See Richard Fleischer's memoirs, Just
Tell Me When To Cry, New York, Carroll & Graf.
. Drawing in clean, tight lines eliminated the necessity of "clean-ups", something the freer and looser drawings at Disney's
required. The added expenditure, however, was something Disney felt more than compensated by the advantages of rough, loose drawing which, only after the animation was polished to perfection
(rather than merely adequate as at virtually every other studio), was finally traced anew ("cleaned-up") in preparation to inking
and painting. See p. for a fuller description of the technique of animation.
. Thus "sweat-boxing" was born. Originally done in a cramped, hot
recess and later under a stairwell (when the 1931 animation building was erected), the name stuck long after more spacious surroundings and air conditioning did little to dispel temperature
of another sort: with Walt around, the heat was always on! (By the late '20s, the standard film-cutter's viewer made by the Moviola Company was purchased. This could be watched by two individuals
and would later be a ubiquitous addition to virtually every room.)
. Here one can say that Walt was at the right time, doing the
right thing. By 1925, cartoons had lost much of their former vitality and with it their public support. Shamus Culhane remembers having "often heard audiences hiss and boo when the main
title of an animated cartoon flashed on the screen." (op cit.). Walt's Oswald provided just enough originality to re-kindle at
least part of the earlier enthusiasm. Walt would receive $2,250 for each "Oswald."
. According to Lilly's account, Walt's original scenario for Plane Crazy
(as it would be called), was written during that homeward journey and featured a new character, Mortimer Mouse, a name she felt too pretentious and so galling she could not even get past it
and into the story. Mickey seems to be her suggestion. Apparently, by Walt's own later admission to his daughter Diane, he did have a few stray mice that kept him company during his lean
years at the drawing board in Kansas City and whom he fed regularly. He always felt mice were "clean" creatures as opposed
to rats. At any rate, upon arriving at the Pasadena station four days later, Walt was already designing his future star.
. Note that this was only four and a half months after the Mintz
debacle (with two additional Mickeys also already completed). Both Lillian and Edna "stopped being ladies of leisure" for the duration and pitched in to help get the films (four in all)
finished (this was prior to any work getting the soundtrack added, which was done in New York under absurdly difficult conditions and at the cost of unnecessary and additional hundreds of dollars[see
Diane Disney Miller, op cit.]. Mickey's phenomenal success was partly due to the shrewd publicity of Harry Reichenbach, then operating the Colony Theater for Universal Pictures but best known
for the notoriety he personally caused over a once-unknown painting by Maxfield Parrish called "September Morn". Disney had trotted Steamboat Willie
all over town (he had no distributor at this point) with no offers of a showing when Reichenbach happened to see one of the screened auditions. He liked what he saw,
offered to show it with t new feature he had planned for his theater and agreed to give Disney $500 a week, then the highest price ever paid for a cartoon.
. In an article from the now-defunct
Funny World magazine (Spring, 1971) director Wilfred Jackson spoke of the sometimes heated arguments between the two regarding action fitting the music and
vice versa. While he and the rest were glad to be in the safe haven of the adjoining room ("Walt could be pretty stiff"), the
two eventually hammered out a solution which gave the "Mickeys" action precedence over music while an entirely new series would be launched using action in service to the music. Stalling
(interviewed in the same issue), goes as far as to claim that the entire idea was his, with Walt's blessing. This may very well have been the case as it also seems highly likely that the series'
origin seems to be for practical reasons: with two types of cartoons, one purely comic, the other with a more sophisticated format, Walt could offer theaters a choice of type of cartoon,
heretofore unknown, and thus an added potential for revenues.
. Fred Miller, known as the West Coast Roxy and owner of Carthay
Circle Theater (where Snow White) would later premiere) was the eventual exhibitor of The Skeleton Dance. He finally agreed to
show this decidedly unusual cartoon only on condition that its title be preceded by a flash card reading "Mickey Mouse Presents a Silly Symphony."
. Since Mickey's initial success, Walt had been using the services of Pat Powers as distributor, a situation he viewed with mixed delight. Powers, a former partner of Carl Laemmle and co-founder
of Universal Pictures, was also (like Mintz) someone to keep a watchful eye on, a fact not un-noticed by a now more-than-observant Walt. (Powers once, in a dispute with his
then-partner Laemmle, threw out of his twelfth-story office window the account books Laemmle personally came in to see and, unknown to the latter, had a man parked in a truck on the street below to
retrieve them!) Nevertheless, Walt had little choice as every other distributor wanted, as Mintz had, control of the product, something Disney would not let happen again. Powers, who at the
time needed Disney about as much as he needed him (due to his new sound system), was the only one who agreed to a deal Walt found compatible with his desires, i.e. independence. Taking ten
percent of the gross, Powers handled all expenses involved in the selling of the product (see Chapter Ten for a fuller discussion of the "state's rights" method of distribution, then the common
practice). Distribution of a cartoon was a crucial factor in its success and revenue for its producers. After the ignominious end of Disney's relationship with Powers, Walt found himself first at
Columbia, then (in 1932) at United Artists, (Columbia had been perpetually balking at Disney's constantly increasing expenditures and requests for more money - after all, they were only cartoons!)
whose offer of $15,000 in advance of each film, with guaranteed financing and distribution, he could hardly refuse (This was no doubt due, in part, to Mary Pickford's own love for Mickey Mouse
which, though she was hardly alone, in this case was strategic, as she, along with soon-to-be ex-husband Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and D.W. Griffith, owned United Artists).
. Although Walt could be very giving, forgiving was another matter. The above-mentioned clashes between Walt and Ub apparently had their origin in Walt's habit of prowling his studio
at night and making changes in the artists' work. Ub resented this which, over the years, fueled the eventual rupture. Walt never gave up his nocturnal wanderings although he subsequently
laid off all artists' drawings - discreetly exchanging an edited pencil line for a comment on the offending work the next day. When Iwerks later returned after a decade's absence, he was hardly
greeted with open arms by some who viewed this prodigal son with contempt. Both tragically avoided each other like the plague, hardly saying a "Hello" when passing in the same corridor, in
spite of Ub's later renown and recognition in special effects (e.g. Academy Awards, etc.)
. Among the new recruits were animators Burton Gillett, Ben
Sharpsteen, Norman Ferguson, Freddie Moore, Dick Lundy followed by layout designers Charlie Philippi, Tom Codrick and Hugh Hennesy, animator-turned storyman Ted Sears, and soon-to-be-composer Frank
Churchill, originally hired only as a pianist - all between 1929 and 1932.
. Iwerks' own studio struggled for several years trying to turn his creation, "Flip the Frog" into a success. By mid-decade he had a studio staff of well over sixty, including
many who would later work at Disney's: Shamus Culhane, Al Eugster, Grim Natwick, Bernie Wolf, Robert Stokes. In spite of this talent, the Iwerks Studio is dimly
remembered today with Iwerks himself mainly for his association with Disney.
. Interview with animator Shamus Culhane, referring to animator
Dick Huemer, Sept., 1987.
. "A dreamer, but one who pursued his goals with clarity and an almost ferocious intensity. There was a divergence of opinion
about Walt among his `troops.' There were those who revered him and those who saw him simply as a person, with all the faults, frailties, and talents that make us human. There's no doubt that he
was one of a kind. Walt set his goals high and expected everyone around him to do the same. To say a thing was impossible
was un-Disney. Most of the hired hands at least respected Walt for his dedication and drive. Also, in the early days, Walt was
the one who gave them jobs when jobs were hard to find. We were all young, and so was Walt, but he was old enough to have an edge in experience, and that was what he gave us, experience,
a chance to experiment...so we were all grateful for the opportunity, even if we weren't likely to get rich quick. We were kindred souls,
all ambitious to become artists, cartoonists, painters - and at Disney's it was `cut the mustard or cut out.' Walt was competing and he expected everyone to help him. It was an exciting
challenge. Walt demanded respect and he got it. There was no mollycoddling." Jack Kinney, op cit., p. 148. Walt, like his
father, was not inclined to be sympathetic to things he could not understand, in this case the wide but subtle spectrum of human behavior and its needs. With such strong opinions and a penchant
for holding a grudge (though he himself claimed otherwise), it's not surprising clashes were inevitable, especially as Walt could be surprisingly un-empathetic to another artist's own ego or
private sufferings. The eventual dissatisfaction which culminated in the Studio strike of 1940-41 was something he would never understand, feeling forever like a betrayed father to a group of
ungrateful children. That he also helped to create a growing sense of insecurity around him, Hazel George commented: "He felt that many of them (his employees) had talent enough to be employed
elsewhere, you know. But he wanted to hang on to them for himself. I think that Walt, without realizing it, had a compulsive need to hang on to his talented people. And he didn't
want them to seek other places of employment."
. Both companies not only staved bankruptcy by the ingenious idea of a Mickey Mouse toy but Lionel, in fact, would soon take a
prominent place in its field, a position it enjoyed for decades. The Disneys took 3% of the gross profits.
. Lillian Disney, op. cit. I have not been able to verity if Mrs.
Disney herself wrote the article. In all events, the basic essence comes from her. Note Walt's bursts of rage mirror one of this most adored character: the inimitable Donald Duck, to be
unveiled (as a minor character) in 1934.
. I am indebted to animator Marc Davis (one of Disney's "Nine Old Men"), who pointed out this rationale.
. Maurice Noble, background painter, interview with author, Winter, 1990.
. Not that this was their only reward. Workers at Disney's were generally fairly, if not well, paid by the standards of the times.
. This invention made its first appearance at a story meeting one evening in 1932. Now used throughout the world in advertising, the entertainment media, even medical schools, it is an important
legacy of the work and achievement of the Walt Disney Studios.
. Originally begun in animator Art Babbitt's home, the Disney Art
School soon found its permanent residence at the Studio. Under the remarkable tutelage of Don Graham, a former engineering student at Stanford then teaching art at the Chouinard Art
Institute in Los Angeles and whose own contribution to the artistry of the Disney Studios remains incalculable, the most unique art school in the world would continue for nearly a decade.
. Disney had as early as 1930 experimented with color for a film called Night, photographed on blue stock with a fire scene on red
(Bill Cottrel in "Illusions," p.307) and was apparently the only producer at the time to foresee Technicolor's vast potential and
enormous appeal. He grabbed it as soon as it became available, ("When I saw those colors on the screen, I wanted to cheer!") having exclusive rights for its use until early 1935. (The
earlier Two-Strip method, while capable of atmosphere and used with fair regularity since its appearance in the early '20s, was limited in its renderings of natural color, something that was
quickly causing its initial charm to fade. Three-Strip, however, was an accurate representation of the full spectrum of color, and remains more subtle and vivid than any method used today.)
. The term "Oscar" was just beginning to gain common parlance. Walt would garner 48 during his lifetime alone, the most of any producer or studio.
. According to Hazel George, Walt had great "loyalty to his family," and added, "That's a thing I identify with him and so admire."
This article is Copyrighted © 1995 by David Johnson, and has beed printed here for the
first time in Animation Artist Magazine with Johnson's permission. David Johnson is a monthly columnist for Animation Artist Magazine, and we thank him for his insight
and willingness to contribute his knowledge and talent to the animation world