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Before we start discussing the Academy Award and Snow White, I thought it would be nice to give some background on the man responsible for everything. If it wasn’t for Walt Disney, animation may not exist, or at least exist in the way we know it. Regardless, if you like or dislike Walt Disney, you must admit he was a very important man. His contributions can still be felt long after his death.
History of Walt Disney:
Walt Disney was born December 5, 1901 (Chicago, Illinois) and died December 15, 1966 (65) (Burbank, California). He was an entrepreneur, animator, voice actor, and film producer. He was involved in all the aspects of his business. He has received 22 Academy Awards, 3 Golden Globe Awards, and 1 Emmy. He has received 59 nominations and has won more individual Oscars than anyone else.
He was born to Elias and Flora Disney. He has four older brothers Herbert, Raymond, and Roy, and a younger sister, Ruth. In 1911, (10 yrs.) they lived in Missouri on a farm. His father bought a newspaper delivery route, and Disney and his brother from 4:30 am to deliver the newspapers before and after school. Disney would receive poor grades, because he would fall asleep in class. On Saturdays, he attended the Kansas City Art Institute.
In 1917, they moved back to the city, where Disney became the cartoonist of the school newspaper. He took night classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. In 1918, he wanted to join the army to fight the Germans, but was too young. He forged the date on his birth certificate and on September 1918, he was an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. He was sent to France. In 1919, he returned and worked as an apprentice artist at the Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Art Studio. This is where he met UB Iwerks.
Disney and Iwerks started their own business in January 1920. They didn’t make a lot of money, so Disney went to work in Kansas city, and worked at an Ad Company. “Disney opened a new business with a co-worker from the Film Ad Co, Fred Harman. Their main client was the local Newman Theater, and the short cartoons they produced were sold as “Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams” Disney studied Paul Terry’s Aesop’s Fables as a model, and the first six “Laugh-O-Grams” were modernized fairy tales.” (Wikipedia)
“Disney became interested in animation, although he preferred drawn cartoons such as Mutt and Jeff and Koko the Clown. With the assistance of a borrowed book on animation and a camera, he began experimenting at home.[c] He came to the conclusion that cel animation was more promising than the cutout method.[d] Unable to persuade Cauger to try cel animation at the company, Disney opened a new business with a co-worker from the Film Ad Co, Fred Harman. Their main client was the local Newman Theater, and the short cartoons they produced were sold as “Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams”.Disney studied Paul Terry’s Aesop’s Fables as a model, and the first six “Laugh-O-Grams” were modernized fairy tales. In May 1921, the success of the “Laugh-O-Grams” led to the establishment of Laugh-O-Gram Studio, for which he hired more animators, including Fred Harman’s brother Hugh, Rudolf Ising and Iwerks. The Laugh-O-Grams cartoons did not provide enough income to keep the company solvent, so Disney started production of Alice’s Wonderland—based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—which combined live action with animation; he cast Virginia Davis in the title role. The result, a 12-and-a-half-minute, one-reel film, was completed too late to save Laugh-O-Gram Studio, which went into bankruptcy in 1923.” (Wikipedia)
In July 1923, Disney moved to Hollywood. He signed a contract with Margaret J. Winkler to distribute six Alice comedies, with an option for more episodes. Disney and his brother Roy formed The Walt Disney Company which used to be called Disney Brothers Studio. In 1924, Disney hired Iwerks. In 1925, he hired an artist by the name of Lillian Bounds. If that name sounds familiar, that is because she is his wife. They married later that year. Lillian has said their marriage was generally happy. They had two daughters together, Diane (1933) and Sharon (1936, adopted 6 weeks after). Disney kept his family life for the most part private.
Winkler’s husband (Charles Mintz) handled the Alice series, and his relationship with Disney was not the greatest. The series ran until 1927, where Disney and Iwerks created Oswald the Lucky rabbit. (The character is pretty similar to Mickey Mouse.) “Disney wanted to be “peppy, alert, saucy and venturesome, keeping him also neat and trim” Wikipedia
“In February 1928, Disney hoped to negotiate a larger fee for producing the Oswald series, but found Mintz wanting to reduce the payments. Mintz had also persuaded many of the artists involved to work directly for him, including Harman, Ising, Carman Maxwell and Friz Freleng. Disney also found out that Universal owned the intellectual property rights to Oswald. Mintz threatened to start his own studio and produce the series himself if Disney refused to accept the reductions. Disney declined Mintz’s ultimatum and lost most of his animation staff, except Iwerks, who chose to remain with him.” (Wikipedia)
Disney and Iwerks developed Mickey Mouse. I’m pretty sure everyone has heard this story, but if you haven’t: Disney originally was going to use the name Mortimer (who eventually becomes one of Mickey’s foes) until his wife Lillian convinced him to use the name Mickey, because Mortimer sounded too pompous. “Mickey Mouse first appeared in May 1928 as a single test screening of the short Plane Crazy, but it, and the second feature, The Gallopin’ Gaucho, failed to find a distributor. Following the 1927 sensation The Jazz Singer, Disney used synchronized sound on the third short, Steamboat Willie, to create the first sound cartoon. After the animation was complete, Disney signed a contract with the former executive of Universal Pictures, Pat Powers, to use the “Powers Cinephone” recording system; Cinephone became the new distributor for Disney’s early sound cartoons, which soon became popular.” (Wikipedia)
Disney hired a professional composer, Carl Stalling, to work on the Silly Symphony series. The first of the series, The Skeleton Dance, was drawn and animated entirely by Iwerks. (1929) Disney hired local animators who became later known as The Nine Old Men. The Silly Symphony series became very popular. Disney urged Powers (the company) to give them more money for the cartoons, but the company refused. So, Disney and Roy went their separate ways, and Iwerks stayed with Powers. They had hoped without Iwerks that the Disney studio would close.
Disney signed a contract with Colombia Pictures to distribute the Mickey Mouse cartoons. Disney filmed Flowers and Trees (1932) in full-color. All Silly Symphony cartoons were in color. Flowers and Trees won an Academy award for best short subject (Cartoon) in 1932. In that same category, he was also nominated for Mickey’s orphans, and received an Honorary Award for the creation of Mickey Mouse.
In 1933, Disney produced The Three Little Pigs. “A film described by the media historian Adrian Danks as “the most successful short animation of all time”. It won him another academy award in the short subject category. This success led to an increase in staff, which numbered nearly 200 at the end of the year. Disney invested in a storyboard department.
By 1934, Disney became dissatisfied with working on cartoons, and wanted to aim for more. He began a 4-year production of the movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I won’t discuss much about the film, except that it cost 1.5 million to produce. He also sent his animators to work at the Chouinard Art Institute. Snow White was a massive hit. The studio began working on Pinocchio and Fantasia, but because of the war, the films didn’t do as well, and the studio went into debt.
Disney had to cut in heavy salary cuts which resulted in a five week animators strike in 1941. “While a federal mediator from the National Labor Relations Board negotiated with the two sides, Disney accepted an offer from the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs to make a goodwill trip to South America, ensuring he was absent during a resolution he knew would be unfavorable to the studio. As a result of the strike—and the financial state of the company—several animators left the studio, and Disney’s relationship with other members of staff was permanently strained as a result. The strike temporarily interrupted the studio’s next production, Dumbo (1941), which Disney produced in a simple and inexpensive manner; the film received a positive reaction from audiences and critics alike.”
After Dumbo, the US entered the war. Disney formed the Walt Disney Training Films Unit, and the company produced instruction films for the military. Disney met with Henry Morgenthau Jr., the Secretary of the Treasury, and agreed to produce Donald Duck cartoons to promote war bonds. Disney produced propaganda productions. (Der Fuehrer’s Face and Victory through Air Power)
The military revenue only helped cover costs, and Bambi didn’t do so well. Disney was now $4 million in debt. In 1948, he started a live-action nature films, True-Life Adventures and Seal Island.
As he got older, he became more politically conservative. He was a Democratic supporter until 1940 where he then became a Republican. “In 1946 he was a founding member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, an organization who stated they “believed in, and like, the American Way of Life … we find ourselves in sharp revolt against a rising tide of Communism, Fascism and kindred beliefs, that seek by subversive means to undermine and change this way of life”. In 1947, during the Second Red Scare, Disney testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), where he branded Herbert Sorrell, David Hilberman and William Pomerance, former animators and labor union organizers, as Communist agitators; Disney stated that the 1941 strike led by them was part of an organized Communist effort to gain influence in Hollywood.” (Wikipedia) In 1949, Disney moved to LA. Disney began developing blueprints and working on building a miniature live steam railroad in his backyard.
In 1950, he produced Cinderella which contributed 8 million its first year, out of the 2 million it cost to make it. Disney was not as involved as his previous years, because he was invested in his first live-action feature, Treasure Island (1950) and The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men; (1952) along with many other films. He also contributed Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan.
In July of 1955, Disneyland opened. The opening ceremony, broadcast on ABC, reached 70 million viewers. “The park was designed as a series of themed lands, linked by the central Main Street, U.S.A.—a replica of the main street in his hometown of Marceline. The connected themed areas were Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The park also contained the narrow gauge Disneyland Railroad that linked the lands; around the outside of the park was a high berm to separate the park from the outside world. An editorial in The New York Times considered that Disney had “tastefully combined some of the pleasant things of yesterday with fantasy and dreams of tomorrow”. Although there were early minor problems with the park, it was a success, and after a month’s operation, Disneyland was receiving over 20,000 visitors a day; by the end of its first year, it attracted 3.6 million guests.” (Wikipedia)
(First children to enter Disneyland)
In 1954, ABC broadcast Walt Disney’s Disneyland, an animated/live-action cartoon series. It had great ratings which led to The Mickey Mouse Club (where some famous people got their start, for example Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, and Britney Spears to name a few.)
Disney continued to work on other projects. In 1955, he was involved in Man in Space (which was collaborated with NASA rocket designer Wernher von Braun.) He contributed Lady and the Tramp (first animated CinemaScope), Sleeping Beauty (first Technirama 70 mm), 101 Dalmatians (first Xerox cels), and The Sword in the Stone.
In 1964, Disney produced Mary Poppins. It was very difficult to obtain the rights to do the movie. Disney also wanted to expand CalArts (California Art Institute). In the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Disney provided four exhibits. “For PepsiCo, who planned to tribute UNICEF, Disney developed It’s a Small World, a boat ride with audio-animatronic dolls depicting children of the world; Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln contained an animatronic Abraham Lincoln giving excerpts from his speeches; Carousel of Progress promoted the importance of electricity; and Ford’s Magic Skyway portrayed the progress of mankind. Elements of all four exhibits—principally concepts and technology—were re-installed in Disneyland, although It’s a Small World is the ride that most closely resembles the original.”
In November 1966, Disney was diagnosed with lung cancer and died a little more than a year later. He was cremated two days later and his ashes at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. So, Disney was not cryogenically frozen. His estate included 14% holding in Walt Disney Productions (20 million.) 45 percent of his estate to his wife and children, and 10 percent to his sister, nieces, and nephews. The last 45 percent went to a charitable trust. 95 percent of that was for CalArts.
“The release of The Jungle Book and The Happiest Millionaire in 1967 raised the total number of feature films that Disney had been involved in to 81. When Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day was released in 1968, it earned Disney an Academy Award in the Short Subject (Cartoon) category, awarded posthumously. After Disney’s death, his studios continued to produce live-action films prolifically but largely abandoned animation until the late 1980s, after which there was what The New York Times describes as the “Disney Renaissance” that began with The Little Mermaid (1989). Disney’s companies continue to produce successful film, television and stage entertainment.” (Wikipedia)
Disney received 59 Academy award nominations, including 22 awards. He was nominated for three Golden Globe awards. He was presented with two Special Achievement awards- Bambi and The Living Desert- and the Cecil B. DeMille award. He received 4 Emmy nominations, winning one for Best Producer for the Disneyland television series. Several of his films are in the National Film Registry: Steamboat Willie, The Three Little Pigs, Snow White, Fantasia, Pinocchio, Bambi, and Mary Poppins. The American Film Institute in 1998 included the 100 greatest films, Snow White (49) and Fantasia (58.) In 1960, Disney was inducted in the Hollywood Walk of Fame with 2 stars, one for motion pictures and the other for television work. Mickey Mouse was given his own star also. He’s received a ton of other awards also.
Disney has been described as almost painfully shy and self-deprecating. “Critic Otis Ferguson, in The New Republic, called the private Disney: “common and every day, not inaccessible, not in a foreign language, not suppressed or sponsored or anything. Just Disney.” Many of those with whom Disney worked commented that he gave his staff little encouragement due to his exceptionally high expectations. Norman recalls that when Disney said “That’ll work”, it was an indication of high praise. Instead of direct approval, Disney gave high-performing staff financial bonuses, or recommended certain individuals to others, expecting that his praise would be passed on”
Disney has been accused of anti-Semitism, even though none of his animators Art Babbitt, who disliked him intensely ever accused him of making anti-Semitic slurs or taunts. Disney donated regularly to Jewish charities. In 1955, he was named Man of the Year. His studio employed a number of Jews, who some were in influential positions.
Disney has also been accused of racism. The feature film Song of the South was as we all know criticized for racism. But, Disney campaigned successfully for an Honorary Academy Award for the star, James Baskett, the first black actor honored. “Gabler argues that “Walt Disney was no racist. He never, either publicly or privately, made disparaging remarks about blacks or asserted white superiority. Like most white Americans of his generation, however, he was racially insensitive.” Floyd Norman, the studio’s first black animator who worked closely with Disney during the 1950s and 1960s, said, “Not once did I observe a hint of the racist behavior Walt Disney was often accused of after his death. His treatment of people—and by this I mean all people—can only be called exemplary.”(Wikipedia)
I think the one thing we can all learn from Disney is perseverance. No matter how many times he nearly went bankrupt or how tired he was, he would never give up. If he had given up, we would be missing out on a lot of things, and I’m glad that he always chose to endure. So, in the words of Cinderella “The dream that you wish will come true, no matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, The dream that you wish will come true.” And, I bid you Adieu till next time.