Walt Disney is an intriguing character to study. When I was watching Walt: The Man Behind the Myth (which originally aired February 3, 2011, on CNBC) to receive information for this report, at times I forgot that I was researching, because I was so drawn in by the story of his life.
On December 5, 1901, Walter Elias Disney was born to Elias and Flora Call Disney. As a child, Walt loved drawing comics. Although he created them for fun, some were actually put in his school newspaper. He wanted to be an artist when he grew up, despite his mom telling him it did not pay much. However, for his first job, he delivered newspapers.
When Walt was sixteen, World War I was going on. Though he had not reached the required age of eighteen to enlist, he wanted badly to join the army. He found out that the Red Cross took volunteers that were seventeen and up. He signed up even though he was a year too young. After his mother read and signed the contract, Walt changed his birth year before turning it in, making him appear to be seventeen.
After returning from the war, Walt started writing comics professionally at his real age of seventeen. Later, he and his brother Roy opened Disney Brothers Studio. On July 13, 1925, in Lewiston, Idaho, Walt Disney married Lillian, one of his first employees. Eventually they had two daughters, Diana and Sharon. Their second child, Sharon was adopted since the doctors told Lily that she should not have any more children.
In 1927, Walt created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a character he would use for cartoons over the next couple of years. The rabbit was popular prior to World War II. However, a contractor who owned the rights to Oswald even though Walt had created him sold him and cut Walt’s paycheck. In turn, Disney quit.
Soon, Walt Disney thought of another character, a mouse named Mortimer. However, when he told his wife, she did not like the name and suggested that he call it Mickey. Mickey, who became popular fast, was more treasured by the public than Oswald. This time Walt established his own company, hiring his own employees in order to avoid contracting out production.
Later in his life, Walt Disney began to long for an amusement park. At the time, many parks had awful qualities and were not places for kids at all. Walt’s goal was to make his park clean and family friendly.
Soon, in 1954, he began construction on Disneyland in California, and on July 18, 1955, opened it to the public. He hoped to always improve and enlarge this amusement park. However, since other places were built around it, Disneyland could no longer expand.
Happy, but not completely satisfied, Walt wanted a second amusement park on the other side of the continent in Florida where he would never run out of room to grow. Therefore, he bought many acres of land. As he was getting older, he hoped to see it open before he died. However, a cancerous lump had formed on one of his lungs due to his bad habit of smoking.
On December 15, 1966, at the age of sixty-five, Walt Disney died. Although his partner and brother, Roy Disney, had been planning to retire, he decided to work a few more years to finish Disney World for his brother. On October 1, 1971, Roy completed Walt Disney World. He could have taken all the glory and named it after himself, but he chose to name it after his brother instead. Two months later, Roy Disney died too.
I highly enjoyed learning about Walt Disney. Many more facts about his life are available. I hope that everyone will find a way to learn more about him, whether through books, television, or the internet. A fascinating character to study, Walt Disney is one of my favorite historical characters from the twentieth century.
- Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse