Inspiring people that followed their dreams: Walt Disney
I am going to write several blogs about people that I have found to be an inspiration. People that had a dream and never gave up, no matter what the challenges they faced. I hope by writing these blogs you too can see that dreams don't just happen. You don't go to bed with an idea and tadaa the next morning it is there waiting for you. I takes hard work, courage, motivation and not giving up. In this blog I will be speaking about Walt Disney and in his famous words:
'All dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them!' - Walt Disney
For Walt Disney it was no overnight success either! He worked very hard and even when things got though he did not give up and believed in his dream.
Walt Disney was born in 1901 in Chicago, and very shortly after they moved to a farm in Marceline, Missouri where they lived very happily. This is where Walt started drawing. He had a friend called Doc. Sherwood who had a beautiful stallion called Rupert, he drew a picture of this stallion and received nickel for this drawing. In 1911 the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri. Here in Kansas he met Walter Pfeiffer who introduced him to vaudeville and motion pictures. Walt's dad bought a paper round and Walt and his older brother Roy had to help out with the paper rounds. He was so young and yet working so hard. Already at this time he was working hard to fulfil his dream. He was doing the paper round before and after school and in the weekends he would attend courses to improve his drawing.
In 1917 the family moved again to Chicago and Disney enrolled at McKinley High School. He started to draw for the school newspaper and at night he took courses at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. This was around the time of World War 1 & Walt Disney was desperate to join the army to serve his country, however he was too young. He forged his birth date and was able to join the Red Cross in 1918 as an ambulance driver. He was shipped to France after armistice. When he came back in 1919 he started an apprenticeship at Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Art Studio and there he met Ub Iwerks.
The company Pesmen-Rubin was not doing very well in 1920 and Disney and Iwerks got fired. They started up their own company called ‘Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists’ however they did not manage to get many customers. Disney left and went to work at the ‘Kanas City Film Ad Company’. Iwerks was going to try and manage the business alone to see if what would work. However it didn’t work and Iwerks went to the Kansas City Film Ad Company. Walt got interested in cel animation but couldn’t persuade his boss to try it out, so he left and took a leap of faith again to follow his dream and started a business with Fred Harman. They were creating 'Newman's Laugh-O-Grams’ which became very successful and the started ‘Laugh-o-gram Studio’. He hired several animators including Iwerks. Unfortunately the company was not generating enough money to keep it going and he tried with Alice's Wonderland to save the company but it went bankrupt in 1923.
In that same year he moved to Hollywood to be closer to his brother Roy and started a company with him called ‘The Disney Brother Studio’ (Later called The Walt Disney Company). He was trying to sell Alice's wonderland and found a distributor in New York called Margaret J. Winkler that was interested. They signed a contract to create 6 Alice comedies.
In 1925 he hired Lillian Bounds as an ink artist and she became later his wife and they had 2 daughters together.
The distributor Margaret J. Winkler had handed over most of the responsibility to her husband, Charles Mintz. After a couple of years Disney get a bit tired of the Alice's Wonderland series and created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit instead. He was hoping to increase his prizes for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit but Mintz instead wanted to reduce payments and what Disney didn’t realize was that Charles Mintz Company Universal actually owned the intellectual property rights. Mintz had also very sneaky asked artists that worked for Disney to come and work for him instead. So Disney had a big set back here as he lost the Oswald series and most of his animation staff, except for Iwerks.
But when one door closes another one opens. After this set back he and Iwerks created the famous Micky Mouse. You see sometimes we need setback in our lives in order to be able to create something way better! Fun fact Walt actually provided the voice for Micky Mouse. At first it was difficult to find a distributor for Micky Mouse, but he signed a contract with Pat Powers and he became the distributor for the cartoons.
It was very successful but Walt and his brother felt they were not receiving enough share of the profits. Disney asked Powers for more money and this backfired. Powers refused to give him more money and he also convinced Iwerks to work for Powers directly. For Walt this was all a bit too much and he had a nervous breakdown in October 1931. He and his wife took a long holiday to Cuba and Panama to recover.
When they lost Powers as distributor for the films they decided to sign with Columbia pictures to distribute the Mickey Mouse cartoons. Disney won several academy awards with the Micky Mouse cartoons and ‘The tree little pigs’.
Disney had done a lot of short films and in 1934 they started a 4 year project of ‘Snow white and the seven dwarfs’ and everyone in the industry thought it was going to fail, it went 3 times over budget! Things Walt did to make this movie a success was to bring in live actors, real animals and sending his animators on courses to improve their skills. He was putting everything in this movie! Snow White finally premiered in 1937 and became the most successful motion picture of 1938 and by 1939 it had made over $6.5 million which makes it the most successful sound film made today!
After this they started making Pinocchio and Fantasia however these films did not perform as well as Snow White because they did not have the revenue from Europe. We are now in the 1940’s and Europe was facing World War 2. The movies created a loss and resulted to company to go in do debt. To combat the financial struggles they went to the stock market and made very heavy salary cuts. Which did not go down well with the workers and they went on strike.
When the United States entered world war II Walt Disney created training videos for the military, but these videos did not create enough revenue. When the movie Bambi was created it did not perform well at all when it was released in 1942 and with the poor earnings from Pinocchio and Fantasia the company resulted in a $4 million debt with the bank of America. Now wouldn’t that be enough for anyone to just give up? But guess what the chairman and founder of the Bank of America, told the bank to relax and give them time to market their product!
In 1950 he created the movie Cinderella which cost $2.2 million to produce but made nearly $8 million in its first year. Alice in Wonderland was released in 1951 and Peter Pan in 1953. Disney stepped back from the animation department to be able to focus on other ventures.
Guess what that venture was…Disneyland! They say Disneyland was inspired by Tivoli gardens In Copenhagen Denmark. I actually been to the Tivoli gardens and it is gorgeous! Disney send Imagineers to every amusement park in the US to see what worked well and what didn’t work and they started building in July 1954. Disneyland opened its doors in 1955. When television became more and more popular they had broadcasts with ABC called Walt Disney’s Disneyland and The Micky Mouse Club. All this helped to increase their revenues! Although he was focused on many other ventures he was involved in animation projects such as ‘The lady and the Tramp’, 1955, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ 1959, ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ 1961 and ‘The Sword in the Stone’ 1963.
Walt Disney was desperate to produce Mary Poppins and was trying to get the rights for this since 1940. When he finally got the rights in 1964 (24 years it took him!) the movie became the most successful Disney film of 1960’s.
Walt Disney had so many business ideas and didn’t give up. In 1965 he announced plans to create Walt Disney World including EPCOT. Unfortuanlty Walt Disney was a heavy smoker and in 1966 he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died on the 15th of December that same year.
Now image if Walt Disney had given up after:
- Getting fired from the company Pesmen-Rubin
- The company Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists did not take off
- His Laugh-o-gram Studio went bankrupt
- Realising Charles Mintz had the rights to Alice’s Wonderland and took away many of his animators
- Powers refused to give him more money and convinced Iwerks to work for Powers instead
- He had a nervous break down
- Some of his movies were not performing well
- They had a debt with the bank of America
- His workers went on strike
- Waiting 24 years to get the rights to produce Mary Poppins
Walt Disney is a true inspiration and I would say should motivate anyone not to give up! He believed in his dreams and went for it and never gave up. This just shows you again that Rome was not build in a day, success doesn’t happen overnight and even when you have success you encounter challenges that test you along the way.
If you love this story about Walt Disney, Netflix is featuring a lovely documentary called ‘Walt: The man behind the myth’