Walt Disney’s life was like a moving picture. Through his childhood tragedies, Disney began to draw and act. Later, he continues this passion of drawing in the army, and eventually, starts his own business to make movies. Even though Walt Disney had a bumpy beginning and witnessed an array of careers, he was still able to accomplish a profitable business empire creating both movies and theme parks before his death.
Walt Disney had a painful childhood. Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901, in Chicago, Illinois, to his father Elias Disney and his mother Flora Call Disney. He also had three brothers and one sister (Aldridge, “Biography”). In 1903, Walt’s father moved his family to Marceline, Missouri, because of the violence in the saloons and rising crime; he did not want it to affect his children’s early years (Eliot, 6). Walt’s father used to beat him and his older brother Roy with a belt or a switch to enforce what he thought was right and to also take out his anger on them (7). Because of these beatings, Walt would lay in bed at night and cry, while his older brother Roy would rub his sores. Since he was physically stronger, Roy would tell him that everything would be all right. Even though his father would beat him, it did not stop him from doing what he loved, which was being able to draw and act out his plays. When he was seven years old, Walt would sell small sketches and drawings to neighbors, and he would even sneak out at night to perform comical skits at local theaters in the neighboring towns (Aldridge, “Biography”). During his time in Chicago, Walt saw his very first movie in town, which was a black and white showing of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ which must have scared him. From that day forward, it inspired him to make movies that would be more pleasant for all to see. He also attended McKinley High School in Chicago, where he would take art classes at night to improve his drawing abilities, hoping to improve his chances to accomplish his passion. Eventually, on July 25, 1925, Walt married Lillian Bounds in Lewiston, Idaho, at her brother’s house, and shockingly, he did not even invite his parents (Eliot, 29-30). Lillian Bounds was one of Walt’s first employees in his business, and it took some time before he fell in love with her. Nearly eight years later, on December 19, 1933, his wife had a baby girl, who they named Diana Marie (80). “To commemorate the birth of his daughter, Walt declared that from now on, the first day any new Disney picture opened, orphans everywhere were to be admitted free (80).” Three years after the birth of his first daughter, they adopted Sharon Mae on December 31, 1936 (97-106). Walt and Lillian picked her because she was prettier than the other children that were eligible for adoption. A couple years later, his mother tragically died in 1938, from asphyxiation, which was carbon monoxide poisoning. This was due to a faulty furnace in the new house, which they had just moved into (Aldridge, “Biography”). The rumor is that she killed herself because of the pressure of her husband Elias Disney, who was very demanding. Walt blamed himself for the death of his mother because he had helped pick out the new house, and he was very close to her. Almost four years later, Walt is faced with the death of his father, who passed away in 1941 (Eliot 151). It was a huge shock since it was during a tough time in his business, and Walt was so frustrated that he was not able to make any movies at that time. After the death of his father, he moved his family to a better section in Los Angeles in 1942, where he thought it would be a better place for his children to grow up in (164). He spent a couple years there where he became very close to his daughters and would take them everywhere. One could say that he became their personal chauffeur and during this time, he became especially close to his adoptive daughter Sharon Mae, who he preferred because she was prettier. Throughout his family life he had some ups and downs, but he also had some difficult times in both the army and FBI.
In the same way, Walt Disney had some very tough choices to make in his adult life. Mr. Disney served in World War I as a medical personnel and would drive around in a special truck to care for wounded and sick. In his spare time he would paint cartoons on the sides of the Red Cross trucks because he was very bored (Eliot 13). However, Walt’s worst habit was yet to get started, and it all began on his birthday in France. “Walt spent his eighteenth birthday in Saint Cyr, in a chateau temporarily converted to a military hospital. That night, the boys in his unit threw a surprise party for him, during which he drank liquor and smoked for the first time, the start of two habits he would keep for the rest of his life” (13). As a result, Walt would have nervous breakdowns from working too hard, would start losing his hair, chewing his fingernails, washing his hands a lot, and would go up to smoking three packs of cigarettes a day (57-58). The only way to stop the nervous breakdowns was for Mr. Disney to go on a long vacation and get away from his work. A couple years later, on July of 1936, Herbert Hoover sent him a letter asking if he would join the FBI as a secret agent, to try to stop the communism that was growing in Hollywood (125). Finally, on November of 1940, Disney accepted the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s deal and became an FBI agent (125). Yet, in 1941 something terrible happened that changed his studio for at least nine months. It was the beginning of World War II and the U.S. Military decided to take over his studio because of the bombing of Pearl Harbor; they expected another attack. This enraged Disney since none of the other major studios had been used for this service (163). For example, Paramount and Universal were the two biggest movie companies, and they did not have their studios taken over. Despite all of the changes with his studio and the wars that had disrupted it there were other financial problems that could happen if one was not careful with studio management.
It can be very easy to become bankrupt if one is not careful. To clarify, Mr. Disney found out that he could sell merchandise to keep his company from going out of business which helped extremely in keeping his business up and running. To start this new way of making money, he helped make a sixteen page Mickey Mouse book which in its first year sold more than 97,938 copies (65). He even saved a toy train company from going out of business with all of the merchandise that they were able to sell (66). Furthermore, Walt would come up with his cartoon ideas at the weirdest times and places. For example, he came up with one at 2:00 in the morning, scribbled it on a piece of paper, and wrote, The Three Little Pigs. Surprisingly, The Three Little Pigs proved to be a very successful cartoon, and “by the end of 1933, its first year in release, The Three Little Pigs had grossed more than $125,000, a previously unheard of amount of money for a cartoon short back then” (76). All of the money he was making off of his merchandise helped him to expand his operation which he did in 1939 by building the Burbank studio that he liked to call “the house that Snow White built” (108). However, what really shut Disney’s company down for a while was the strike that occurred in 1937 because of other companies, including Disney’s, not treating their employees right and not paying them as much as they should have been receiving. Additionally, it got so bad that the newspaper took out the weekly Mickey Mouse comic strip, and the Technicolor Corporation refused to show or process any Disney films until it had been resolved (147). To keep his company from going bankrupt from the strike, Disney let people buy stock in the company, and by 1939, they went public and were quickly back in business (117). With this in mind, Disney also released Dumbo on October of 1941 which saved his company from crashing again (162). To sum it up, animation is a very difficult field to achieve success in, but Disney achieved worldwide fame with the high quality movies that his company produced and the awards that he won with them.
Walt Disney’s movies are still loved today, and he also won many awards. Mr. Disney was responsible for making Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit, until a deal broke, and he ended up losing the rights to his own cartoon (33-34). It was very hard for him to lose one of his first productive money making characters. On the other hand, his disappointment was changed when he began to work on Mickey Mouse in 1928, and Disney was very happy and careful to not lose this cartoon. What upset Disney’s workers was that he did not like to give credit to anyone that helped in the process of creating the films that brought such joy to the world (37). So, when Ub Iwerks, who was a worker for Disney, actually drew and created Mickey Mouse, Walt did not give him any credit for it. Since he did not give Ub Iwerks credit, he ended leaving Disney’s business and became in charge of his own company (46-47). This greatly upset Mr. Disney because Iwerks was one of his most trusted workers. “On November 18, 1928, Steamboat Willie came out and for the first time, featuring a whistling Mickey Mouse,” which the spectators loved (44). Since the viewers liked “Steamboat Willie” so much, he created more “cartoon shorts” that were very big hits as well and continued to keep his business going. Also, in 1932, the “Flowers and Trees” production won Walt his first studios Academy Awards (Aldridge, “Biography”). This drove Disney to make more movies including Fantasia which was one of the most highly anticipated films of 1940 (Eliot 133). For this reason, the public was shocked by Fantasia when it came out on November 13, 1940, because of how it portrayed the evil in the world and showed the goodness and beauty as well (136). It was, however, the first movie to have sound put into it, and in some places, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, it ran for a year or more (Aldridge, “Biography”). Walt Disney’s dominance in the film industry continued as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on December 21, 1937, came out for the first time. It was the first full length animated musical, and it also produced an unheard cost of $1,499,000 (Aldridge, “Biography”). Truly, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a great movie, and on January 1937, he won the “Outstanding Young Man,” award which is given to men who have contributed greatly to their community (Eliot 97). Later, that same year, “The Three Little Pigs” took third prize at the Soviet International Film Festival in 1937; this was also one of Walt Disney’s most productive years in his business (100). Along with winning these awards, Mr. Disney won a full size Oscar and seven small ones in 1938 for Snow White and the Seven Dwarf’s significant film innovation at the Academy ceremonies (102). He also received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Harvard University and an honorary master of Fine Arts Degree from Yale (105). Walt won these for his hard work in both the arts and animation. In 1942, he received the prestigious Irving Thalberg Award by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for his consistent production and superb quality of his pictures (167). Universally, Walt Disney’s pictures were and are watched all over, but his theme parks have attracted millions from all over the world to witness and discover a place full of fun and creativity.
Walt Disney always dreamed of a place where kids could have fun and just be free. Mr. Disney got his wish as the Disneyland Park opened in 1955, and it cost $17 million to build. After almost sixty years, it has been visited by more than 200 million people (Aldridge, “Biography”). It is the first of two theme parks opened in Anaheim, California, and it is the only one that Walt Disney designed and supervised himself (Bennett, “Brief History”). Walt got his ideas from visiting theme parks in the 1930’s and 40’s with his two daughters (Bennett, “Brief History”). As a result, there are now eleven Disney theme parks in the world, and it is because of this legacy that he left behind, bringing these fun parks to the world (Bennett, “Brief History”). Walt Disney inspired the whole world with his theme parks, but his death will never be forgotten.
In spite of Walt Disney’s death, he left behind a future of fun-filled adventures. At age sixty-five, Mr. Disney died on December 15, 1966, when his circulatory system failed, and it was from all of the smoking and drinking that made him pass away (Bennett, “Brief History”). Everyone thought that he had been frozen and that one day he would be brought back to life. This is not true since cryogenics were not being used by people (Bennett, “Brief History”). Surprisingly, Walt had his funeral held in secret; the public was not informed of his death until the funeral had been done, and he had been buried. Walter Elias Disney had a lifetime of making other’s happy and was deeply missed.
Walter E. Disney had a challenging childhood and experienced some unique careers; he had a hard business life at times but was always able to work through them creating wonderful movies and parks for all. Along with his personal life and the time he served in the army, he even used some of those memories in his pictures. Even with the financial problems of his business, he was able to turn those problems into money making worldwide movies that would receive fame from all over the world. Besides this, he won many awards for his movies, creating a theme park for kids. Since then, there have been even more parks created, all over the world. What brought shock to the world was when Walt Disney died. But, his animated movies will remain as a wonder throughout the world. The imagination and enthusiasm that Walter E. Disney brought to his animated pictures every day, has shown that he was a very well respected person.
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