, the man who would one day lead the world in film animation
and children's entertainment, was born on December 5, 1901, in Chicago, Illinois
. After delivering newspapers while a schoolboy, Walt enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute at the age of 14. At 16 he volunteered his time to the Red Cross as an ambulance
driver in France
during World War I
Upon his return to America, he began working at a commercial art studio in Kansas City. It was here that he met Ub Iwerks, another young and promising artist, who was to become his lifelong partner. They joined the Kansas City Film Ad Company, where they produced animated commericals. They later turned out a series of satirical cartoons which they sold to a local theater under the name of "Laugh-O-Grams."
Motivated by this success, Disney formed a cartoon production company (also called "Laugh-O-Gram"), but it soon went bankrupt. He then headed for Hollywood, where he received help from his brother Roy. With the help of his brother and Iwerks, he began the production of "Alice in Cartoonland."
In 1928, they finally created the most famous of Disney characters, Mickey Mouse. Mickey was originally named "Mortimer," until Disney's wife made the comment that Mortimer was a bad name for a child-directed character. The first Mickey cartoon with sound was "Steamboat Willie," for which Disney himself provided the voice of Mickey. Other early cartoons of the Silly Symphony series included "The Skeleton Dance," and "The Three Little Pigs" (which introduced the song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf").
Soon, the Mickey craze caught on. Other characters such as Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy (originally Dippy Dawg), and Pluto were introduced. As early as 1931, some of the cartoons were made in two-strip color, and by the mid 30s, the entire studio output was in three-strip Technicolor. The Disney organization had grown into an animation factory with hundreds of employees merchandizing and array of products associated with the characters.
By 1934, Disney completed his life's dream: the production of a feature-length animated cartoon. This first feature was "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," which premiered in December of 1937. Other Disney feature cartoons followed, the most controversial of which was "Fantasia," an attempt to combine classical music with animation. It angered music purists and was not initially successful at the box office.
During World War II, the Disney company was asked to help in the propaganda effort and turned out many training and motivational films. It was a difficult period for the company because in 1941 a strike by animators against Disney's authoritive rule was the cuase of many resignations from the studio and the formation of the United Productions of America.
Success occured after combining live action with animation, so Disney decided to try out pure action films. The first of these was "Treasure Island," in 1950. Several followed, many of which won Academy Awards. Altogether, Disney collected 29 for his films.
By the 60s, Disney was the undisputed king of American family entertainment. He formed a subsidary, the Buena Vista Company as a distributing arm for Disney films. This freed him of dependence on other powers. In 1955, he opened Disneyland, a 160-acre fantasy amusement park in Anaheim, California. His successors opened an even larger and more elaborate amusement park known as Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, in 1971. Other parks such as EuroDisney and Tokyo Disneyland opened later. These two foreign parks, along with Epcot Center, the Magic Kingdom, MGM Studios, and Disneyland, currently occupy the six most visited amusement parks in the world.
Disney died on December 15, 1966, as a result of acute circulatory collapse during tumor removal surgery. Even though he's gone, his empire still continues to dominate the field.