Walter Elias “Walt” Disney was born on December 5, 1901, in the Hermosa section of Chicago, Illinois. His father was Elias Disney, an Irish-Canadian, and his mother, Flora Call Disney, was German-American. Disney was one of five children, four boys and a girl. He lived most of his childhood in Marceline, Missouri, where he began drawing, painting and selling pictures to neighbors and family friends. In 1911, his family moved to Kansas City, where Disney developed a love for trains. His uncle, Mike Martin, was a train engineer who worked the route between Fort Madison, Iowa, and Marceline. Later, Disney would work a summer job with the railroad, selling snacks and newspapers to travelers.
Disney attended McKinley High School in Chicago, where he took drawing and photography classes and was a contributing cartoonist for the school paper. At night, he took courses at the Chicago Art Institute. When Disney was 16, he dropped out of school to join the army but was rejected for being underage. Instead, he joined the Red Cross and was sent to France for a year to drive an ambulance.Disney and his brother, Roy, soon pooled their money and moved to Hollywood. Iwerks also relocated to California, and there the three began the Disney Brothers’ Studio. Their first deal was with New York distributor Margaret Winkler, to distribute their Alice cartoons. They also invented a character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and contracted the shorts at $1,500 each.In 1929, Disney created Silly Symphonies, which featured Mickey’s newly created friends, including Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto. One of the most popular cartoons, Flowers and Trees, was the first to be produced in color and to win an Oscar. In 1933, The Three Little Pigs and its title song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” became a theme for the country in the midst of the Great Depression.
On December 21, 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length animated film, premiered in Los Angeles. It produced an unimaginable $1.499 million, in spite of the Depression, and won a total of eight Oscars. During the next five years, Walt Disney Studios completed another string of full-length animated films, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi.
In December 1939, a new campus for Walt Disney Studios was opened in Burbank. A setback for the company occurred in 1941, however, when there was a strike by Disney animators. Many of them resigned, and it would be years before the company fully recovered. During the mid-40s, Disney created “packaged features,” groups of shorts strung together to run at feature length, but by 1950, he was once again focusing on animated features. Cinderella was released in 1950, followed by Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), a live-action film called Treasure Island (1950), Lady in the Tramp (1955), Sleeping Beauty (1959) and 101 Dalmatians (1961). In all, more than 100 features were produced by his studio. Disney was also among the first to use television as an entertainment medium. The Zorro and Davy Crockett series were extremely popular with children, as was The Mickey Mouse Club, a variety show featuring a cast of teenagers known as the Mouseketeers. Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color was a popular Sunday night show, which Disney used to begin promoting his new theme park. Disney’s last majorsuccess that he produced himself was the motion picture Mary Poppins, which mixed live action and animation.Disney’s $17 million Disneyland theme park opened in 1955. It was a place where children and their families could explore, take rides and meet the Disney characters.Within a few years of the opening, Disney began plans for a new theme park and Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow in Florida. It was still under construction when, in 1966, Disney was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died on December 15, 1966, at the age of 65. Disney was cremated, and his ashes interred at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. After his brother’s death, Roy carried on the plans to finish the Florida theme park, which opened in 1971 under the name Walt Disney World.
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