Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"Disney" by Rees Quinn

For today, I read a biography about Walt Disney. He was born to a poor but hardworking family in 1901. When Walt was young his family lived and worked on a modest farm in Kansas. When he was 7, his parents enrolled both Walt and his younger sister in school together. While he didn't mind waiting the extra 2 years before starting school (he really had no interest in education), like most kids he didn't enjoy being in the same grade as his little sister.

Early on Walt developed an interest in the performing arts. He auditioned for and won the role of Peter Pan in a school play. He also taught himself how to draw successive images to create a flip book (basic animation) and began to develop an interest in becoming an artist. It was an interest that would someday take him to great places.

When the family farm failed, Walt's family moved to Kansas City. Their father took a job delivering newspapers. With several thousand newspapers to deliver every day, Walt and his brother Roy were put to work helping their father deliver papers every morning. All their lives, hard work was one constant that they were familiar with. Growing up with such a willingness to work hard would be one of his strongest assets and would help to take Walt to a wonderful future.

When Walt was in high school, the family moved back to Chicago. Again, hard work was still a constant in their lives with the boys often working multiple jobs when they could find the extra work. In 1918, at the age of 16 and with the help of his mother, Walt enlisted in the Red Cross Ambulance Corps. But it wasn't until after the end of the war that he was sent to France to deliver relief supplies. There, he often used his artistic abilities to earn himself some extra cash.

When he returned to Chicago he took a job in a commercial art studio where he met first Ubbe Iwerks. In 1920 the two young men formed Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists. The partnership didn't last long at this point (though they would often work together again in the future), but it brought Walt to his first job creating animated shorts that ran in local theaters. Walt learned all he could, and as his skills improved, it led from the one job to others.

Walt began making quite a name for himself over the years. He started working with his brother Roy who focused more on the business they were growing whereas Walt was the creative force. It was a partnership that would work well for them and one that would continue during their lifetimes.

Walt & Roy moved to Hollywood, where they continued to learn and practice their craft of filmmaking. During this time, Walt would meet the love of his life, Lillian Bounds and the two were soon married. Although they desperately wanted to start a family, it would be some time and several miscarriages before Lillian finally gave birth to a daughter. Once he became famous enough that people began to recognize him wherever he went, Walt would do his best to keep his family out of the spotlight, having seen what can happen to the children of famous people in the world. (For those familiar with the story of the Lindburg baby, it was an example of what could happen and a good reason for him to keep his family out of the spotlight and his private life, private.)

After losing the rights to his main animated character Oswald, Walt Disney would ever afterwards be careful to retain control of his creations. It was a painful lesson, but one that would serve the Disney brothers well in later years.

Walt's next character would become his most famous and endearing: Mickey Mouse. He originally planned on naming him Mortimer Mouse, but Walt’s wife convinced him that the name Mortimer was too pompous sounding and suggested that he call the character Mickey Mouse instead.

Over the years they would continue to grow and expand, creating many new innovations and techniques that drastically improved filming of both live action and animated shorts until Walt felt it was time to make a full length animated film. Many would refer to it as "Disney's Folly" believing that no one would want to sit through a 90 minute animated film. That film, whose actual title was Snow White, went on to be the highest-grossing motion picture of 1938 and earned Walt Disney a number of awards. It also proved that audiences truly did enjoy full length animated films just as much as they did live action films. It was only the first of many feature animated films that Disney would go on to create.

There is so much more that I could say about Walt Disney, his life, and his family, but this entry is already becoming far too long. I have yet to get to so many of his other innovations and accomplishments, not the least of which includes what is often referred to as the “Happiest Place on Earth”: Disney World. He was a amazing man who lived a fascinating life. He did not always succeed in his goals, but he never gave up trying to achieve and accomplish more. He was one of the first who saw the value in creating a television show as a means of promoting his brand. Today, his name is one of the most recognizable names anywhere Ask anyone, and I doubt you would be able to find a single person who has not heard of Walt Disney. Ask any child about Disney World, and you will likely find a child who is begging a parent to take them to the park on their next family vacation.

I highly recommend reading this book to learn more about Walt Disney and his life, as honestly I have only managed to barely touch on it here. There is still so much more to learn about him. I know I enjoyed reading it and had a very hard time putting the book the down at night. My daughter was amazed at how quickly I finished reading it. Take a look at it for yourself. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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