Walter Elias Disney, who founded Disneyland and Walt Disney World, was born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 5, 1901. His father, Elias Disney, was Irish-Canadian. His mother, Flora Disney, was German-American. Walt was one of five children, four boys and a girl. Raised on a farm near Marceline, Missouri, Walt early became interested in drawing, selling his first sketches to neighbors when he was only seven years old. At McKinley High School in Chicago, Disney divided his attention between drawing and photography, contributing to the school paper. At night he attended the Academy of Fine Arts.
During the fall of 1918, Disney attempted to enlist for military service. Rejected because he was only sixteen years of age, Walt joined the Red Cross and was sent overseas, where he spent a year driving an ambulance and chauffeuring Red Cross officials. His ambulance was covered from stem to stern, not with stock camouflage, but with Disney cartoons.
After the war, Walt returned to Kansas City, where he began his career as an advertising cartoonist. Here, in 1920, he created and marketed his first original animated cartoons, and later perfected a new method for combining live action and animation.
In August of 1923, Walt Disney left Kansas City for Hollywood with nothing but a few drawing materials, $40 in a well-worn suit, and a completed animated fairy tale subject. Walt's brother, Roy O. Disney, was already in California, with an immense amount of sympathy and encouragement, and $250. Pooling their resources, they borrowed an additional $500, and set up shop in their uncle's garage. Soon, they received an order from New York for the first "Alice in Cartoonland" featurette, and the brothers expanded their production operation to the rear of a Hollywood real estate office.
On July 13, 1925, Walt married one of his first employees, Lillian Bounds, in Lewiston, Idaho. They were blessed with two daughters, Diane, married to Ron Miller, former USC football star, and former Vice President - Executive Producer at the studio; and Sharon, wife of William S. Lund, an executive with Economics Research Associates, an international management consulting firm headquartered in Los Angeles. The Millers have seven children: Christopher, Joanna Sharon, Tamara, Jennifer, Walter Elias Disney, Ronald William, Jr., and Patrick. The Lunds have three children: Victoria Diane and twins, Bradford Disney and Michelle Ann.
Mickey Mouse was created in 1928, and his talents were first used in a silent cartoon entitled "Plane Crazy." However, before the cartoon could be released, sound burst upon the motion picture screen. Thus, Mickey made his screen debut in "Steamboat Willie," the world's first sound cartoon, which premiered at the Colony Theatre in New York on November 18, 1928.
Walt's drive to perfect the art of animation was endless. Technicolor was introduced to animation during the production of his "Silly Symphonies." In 1932, the production entitled "Flowers and Trees" won Walt the first of his 48 Academy Awards. In 1937, he released "The Old Mill," the first short subject to utilize the multi-plane camera technique.
On December 21 of that same year, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the first full-length animated musical feature, premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles. Produced at the unheard cost of $2 million during the depths of the depression, the film is still accounted as one of the great feats and imperishable monuments of the motion picture industry. During the next five years, Walt completed such other full-length animated classics as "Pinocchio," "Fantasia," "Dumbo" and "Bambi."
In 1940, construction was completed on the Burbank Studio, and Disney's staff swelled to more than 1000 artists, animators, story men and technicians. During World War II, 94 per cent of the Disney facilities were engaged in special government work, including the production of training and propaganda films for the armed services, as well as health films which are still shown throughout the world by the U.S. State Department. The remainder of his efforts were devoted to the production of comedy short subjects, deemed highly essential to civilian and military morale.
Disney's 1945 feature, the musical "The Three Caballeros" combined live action with the cartoon medium, a process he used successfully in such other features as "Song of the South" and the highly acclaimed "Mary Poppins." In all, over 100 features have been produced by his studio.
Walt's inquisitive mind and keen sense for education through entertainment resulted in the award-winning "True-Life Adventure" series. Through such films as "The Living Desert," "The Vanishing Prairie," "The African Lion," and "White Wilderness" Disney brought fascinating insights into the world of wild animals and taught the importance of conserving our nation's outdoor heritage.
Disneyland, launched in 1955 as a fabulous $17 million magic kingdom, soon increased its investment tenfold and entertained, by the middle of its second decade, more than 100 million people, including Presidents, Kings and Queens, and royalty from all over the globe.
A pioneer in the field of television programming, Disney began television production in 1954, and was among the first to present full-color programming with his "Wonderful World of Color" in 1961. "The Mickey Mouse Club" was a popular favorite in the 1950's.
But that was only the beginning. In 1965, Walt Disney turned his attention toward the problem of improving the quality of urban life in America. He personally directed the design of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, planned as a living showcase for the creativity of American industry.
aid Disney, "I don't believe there is a challenge anywhere in the world that is more important to people everywhere than finding the solutions to the problems of our cities. But where do we begin? Well, we're convinced we must start with the public need. And the need is not just for curing the old ills of old cities. We think the need is for starting from scratch on virgin land and building a community that will become a prototype for the future."
Thus, Disney directed the purchase of 43 square miles of virgin land - twice the size of Manhattan Island - in the center of the state of Florida. Here, he master planned a whole new Disney World of entertainment, to include a new amusement theme park, motel-hotel resort vacation center, an industrial complex, an airport of the future, and his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. After more than seven years of master planning and preparation, including 52 months of actual construction, Walt Disney World opened to the public as scheduled on October 1, 1971.
Prior to his death on December 15, 1966, Walt Disney took a deep interest in the establishment of California Institute of the Arts, a college level, professional school of all the creative and performing arts. Of Cal Arts, Walt once said: "It's the principal thing I hope to leave when I move on to greener pastures. If I can help provide a place to develop the talent of the future, I think I will have accomplished something."
California Institute of the Arts was founded in 1961 with the amalgamation of two schools, the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and Chouinard Art Institute. The new 60-acre campus is located in the city of Valencia, 32 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. Walt Disney conceived the new school as a place where all the performing and creative arts would be taught under one roof in a "community of the arts" as a completely new approach to professional arts training. In addition to the schools of music and art, the institute's new campus has schools of theatre, design and cinematographics, as well as sculpture, ceramics and fashion design.
Walt Disney is a legend, a folk hero of the 20th century. His worldwide popularity was based upon the ideals which his name represents: imagination, optimism, and self-made success in the American tradition. Walt Disney did more to touch the hearts, minds, and emotions of millions of Americans than any other man in the past century. Through his work he brought joy, happiness, and a universal means of communication to the people of every nation. Certainly, our world shall know but one Walt Disney.