The Man Behind The Mouse: Fascinating Facts On Walt Disney

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“If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney

In 1928, an illustrator named Walt Disney created a character named Mickey Mouse. Little did he know, this tiny mouse would soon become a cultural icon for family entertainment. Walt Disney’s talents grew and he began creating feature length films, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia. However, his dreams didn’t stop there. He envisioned a family-friendly amusement park, known as Disneyland, and later a new type of city, a place he called EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow). Unfortunately, he died before it was completed. But, his dream lived on as “imagineers” have now made some of the most “magical places on Earth.” However, what do you actually know about Disney, besides his fantastical creations. Meet the man behind the mouse, with these fascinating facts about Walt Disney.

High School Drop Out


During World War I, Walt Disney dropped out of high school in hopes of enlisting in the Army. Unfortunately, he was only 16-years-old and was rejected for being too young. He, instead, began working for the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. The Red Cross even sent him to work in France for a year. However, by the time he reached Europe the armistice agreement had been signed.

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Voice Of Mickey Mouse


Many people know that Walt was the creator behind Mickey Mouse. However, what most people do not realize is that he was also the voice of the mouse. From the time he created the character in 1928, all the way through 1947, Walt help create the personality behind the iconic character. The role was, then, given to actor Jimmy MacDonald. However, in 1955, Walt voiced Mickey for several shorts that were to be included on the TV show The Mickey Mouse Club.

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First Studio Went Bankrupt


While working at the Kansas City Film Ad Company, Walt began to dabble with camera work and doing hand-drawn cel animation. He decided to open his own animation business, and hired one employee from the ad company, Fred Harman. Harman and Disney made a deal with a local Kansas City theater to screen their cartoons, which they called Laugh-O-Grams. The cartoons were wildly success and he open a studio by the same name. Unfortunately, the studio had gained large amounts of debt and Disney had to declare bankruptcy in 1923.

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First Major Character Was Stolen From Him


After his first studio went under, Walt, his brother Roy, and cartoonist Ubbe Eert Iwwerks moved to California and open the Disney Brothers’ Studio. The studio’s first deal was with the New York distributor, Margaret Winkler, who bought their previous Alice cartoons from the Laugh-O-Gram studio. They also created a character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and sold their shorts for $1,500 each. However, the trio soon discovered Margaret and her husband stole the rights to Oswald (along with many of the studio’s cartoonists).

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Mickey’s Original Name Was Mortimer


In the first few shorts, featuring the famed mouse, the character was actually referred to as Mortimer Mouse, not Mickey. However, Lillian Disney, Walt’s wife, decided to take action and convince him that Mortimer was not the name for his mouse creation. She believed Mickey was much more marketable. Good thing Walt listened to his wife. Mortimer later became the name for Mickey’s rival, who also competed for Minnie Mouse’s love.

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Received The Most Academy Awards & Nominations


Walt Disney received more academy awards and nominations than any other person in history. Between 1932-1969, he won 22 Academy awards and was nominated for 59. However, he also received 3 special Oscars created specifically for his achievements. He received one for the creation of Mickey Mouse, one for his contribution of music in animation, and finally, one to honor Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

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Snow White Award


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was Walt Disney’s earliest full-length cel animated feature film. The film premiere in 1937, and was released nationwide in early 1938. The film grossed $8 million and, at the time, became the highest-grossing sound film. Therefore, it is no surprise Walt received a special award for this film. At the Oscars, the film was “recognized as a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field for the motion picture cartoon.” His Oscar featured a traditional statuette, and seven miniature versions alongside of it.

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Big Player In The Anti-Communist Movement


After WWII, people all across the United States had a fear that communists were infiltrating the country and would take over the government. In order to combat the Red Scare, Walt and other industry executives, formed the anti-communist Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPA). He served as the group’s Vice President. He also testified in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee in order to take down people he believed were communists in the industry (testify pictured).

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A Mother-Less Parallel


In many of the early Disney animated films, a mother is absent. However, this is something Walt, himself also dealt with. After the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt bought his parents a house in North Hollywood. Soon after moving in, his mother, Flora (pictured below with Walt and his sister, Ruth), began complaining about problems with the gas furnace. Sadly, the problem was never fixed, and Flora died of asphyxiation caused by the fumes at age 70. It was guilt that Walt carried throughout the rest of his life.

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First Names Only


Walt Disney hated being called “Mr. Disney.” He would insist that everyone refer to him as Walt. It was reported that he had said the only “Mr.” at the Disney Studios was their lawyer, Mr. Lessing. This idea was later transcribed to Disney employees. Since the inception of Disneyland, cast members (park employees) have worn name tags. Their name tags only include the cast member’s first name, an ode to Walt’s preference.

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People Thought He Was Crazy


After creating many animated shorts, Disney decided he was going to create a feature-length animated film. However, people thought he was crazy, and industry insiders were sure he would fail and called his first project, Snow White “Disney’s Folly.” His nay-sayers were almost proven right when the film ran out of funding. Luckily, Disney was able to secure some extra funding and complete the film. The film earned over $8 million which is equivalent to $130 million today.

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Had An Apartment On Main Street In Disneyland


Main Street is the main roadway in the entrance of Disneyland. While it was being built, Walt decided he wanted to build an apartment on the street. It was constructed on the second floor of the Main Street Firehouse. The apartment was small, but was fully functional. It had a small bathroom, with a shower, along with a small kitchen unit. The day Disneyland opened, he watched visitors enter the park, from that apartment, with his family by his side. Below is one of the few pictures Walt allowed to be taken of him and his family in the apartment.

walt disney secret apartment

Mickey Mouse’s First Words


As stated previously, Mickey Mouse was voiced by the original imagineer himself, Walt Disney. However, what many don’t realize is that Mickey did not speak until his 9th film, 1929’s The Karnival Kid. The film discusses how Mickey set up a Hot Dog cart at a sideshow. Therefore, it should be no surprise that Mickey’s first line ever was “Hot dogs! Hot dogs!” (pictured below) To honor this idea, at the end of every episode of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, the characters sing and dance to “The Hot Dog Song.”

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History Behind The Underground Tunnels


Many Disney experts know about the tunnels located beneath the Disney Parks. Many people believe this was created so employees, especially costumed characters could get to one side of the park to the other without disturbing the “magic.” However, that was not what Walt actually had in mind for the tunnels. The “utilidor” tunnels were actually created for people to deal with urban problems. Disney envisioned his park “EPCOT” as a future city. Therefore, the city residents could use the tunnels to escape problems such as traffic and smog.

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His Housekeeper Earned Millions


In 1951, Thelma Howard began working as a live-in housekeeper and cook for the Disney family. Walt called her “The Real Life Mary Poppins,” as she did such a wonderful job. She worked for the Disney family for 30 years. She, sadly, died in 1994, but with her death, a fortune was discovered. It was found out that Walt had given her Disney stock every year for Christmas. At the time of her death, she had 193,000 shares, and a fortune worth over $9 million.

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Established A University


The Chouinard Art Institute (founded 1921) was run by Nelbert Chouinard and his wife Madam Chouinard. Madame Chouinard agreed to train some of Disney’s animators when he had no money. While his success grew he never forgot the generosity of the Chouinard family. Unfortunately, the Chouinard Art Institute began to see some financial troubles. Simultaneously, the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music was also struggling. Therefore, Disney swooped in and oversaw the merger of the two schools (the process was completed after his death in 1966). The school is now known as CalArts. The school now boasts many notable alumni such as Tim Burton, Don Cheadle, Alison Brie, Ed Harris, David Hasselhoff, and Sofia Coppola.

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Created Propaganda


Unfortunately, not everything Disney created was for the entertainment of families. It is well-known that Walt had strong nationalistic pride. As stated before, he dropped out of high school in order to join the army. However, not only did he want to help on the battlefront but he also helped with the psychological war. Using his talent of animation, he crated training film for the U.S. military, propaganda films to convince Americans to pay their taxes, and many anti-Hitler shorts meant to boost U.S. citizens’ morale.

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Almost Built A Ski Resort


After his success with the opening of Disneyland in 1955, Walt envisioned building a ski resort in Mineral King Valley, in California. He envisioned a swiss-style village surrounded by 6 ski areas. The resort could hold 20,000 skiers daily. Disney was on the verge of development, but, unfortunately, Walt passed before he could begin construction. After his death, the company felt as though they could only handle one large project at a time. They chose to focus and complete Disney World instead.

disney ski resort

Disliked Some Of His Films


Although very proud of most of his films, Walt disliked Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. He felt the main characters lacked “heart” and “warmth.” However, both films were wildly successful, as the public loved them. However, one film he loved, that was not so graciously accepted by the public was Fantasia. It was not until after his death, that Fantasia was re-released and the film actually turned a profit.

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He Was A Train Buff


From the time he was a child, Walt had a fascination with trains. Both his father and uncle had spent time working on railroads, and Walt joined them in his teens. He built elaborate train model sets, and once built a one-eighth scale steam locomotive. He even gave rides on that train, which he called his Carolwood Pacific Railroad, named for the street he lived on. You can see his love for trains in Disneyland, which also has its own railroad.

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Mickey Mouse Has A Star On The Walk Of Fame


On November 18, 1978, Mickey Mouse received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was given the star for his role in animated films, and it was dedicated on his 50th Anniversary. Mickey Mouse was the first animated character to ever receive a star on the Walk. But, don’t worry, Walt Disney had already received his star. Characters such as Donald Duck, Winnie the Pooh, Snow White and Tinker Bell also have stars on the Walk.

Mickey star

Disneyland Opening Day Was Disastrous


The “happiest place on Earth,” was not so happy when it opened its gates on July 17, 1955. The day was full of chaos. Only 15,000 invitations were given out, however, due to counterfeit tickets, close to 25,000 people entered the gates. Due to the high amount of people trying to get in, there was a seven-mile backup to Disneyland on the Santa Ana Freeway. Not to mention, it was 100-degrees outside, tar was melting onto people’s shoes, and the park had a food shortage and lack of water. The day was eventually dubbed by employees as “Black Sunday.”

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Didn’t Allow Women To Be Animators


For many years, Disney and his studio did not allow women into their training program for animators. They were instead allowed to work as “inkers” who corrected and filled-in animations. The women “inkers” were also kept separate from the male animators. Below, is a rejection letter with evidence of this happening. However, this discrimination and separation was not unheard of during this time. But, in 1941, the studio began training women animators. In a speech, Disney gave 3 reasons for this: to make the women more versatile, to fill in for the men while they are at war, and “girl artists have the right to expect the same chances for advancement as men.”

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Held A Legal Monopoly


It should come at no surprise that Disney was pioneer when it came to creating color films. However, what many do not realize is he once was the only one able to do so. Walt once held the sole contract to Technicolor. Technicolor held the patent from creating animated colored films. Therefore, all colored films had to be created through Disney. However, laws changed and that monopoly was eventually brought to an end.

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Disney Hated Beards


When Walt Disney envisioned Disneyland, he pictured a wholesome, clean, family-friendly park. In his mind, this meant no facial hair. Despite having a moustache himself, from 1957 onward, he decreed facial hair was not allowed by Disneyland employees. In 2000, the Disney board decided moustaches were allowed. Finally, in 2012, employees were allowed to have moustaches and beards. However, all facial hair must be trimmed to an inch long or less.

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His Wife Was A Disney Studio Employee


In 1925, Disney hired a an ink-and-paint artist named Lillian Bounds. Little did they know what would actually be created out of this hire. Walt and Lillian had an immediate connection and after a brief courtship, the two married. They got married in 1925, and remained together until Walt’s death in 1966. Together, they had 2 daughters, Diane and Sharon.

walt-disney's family

Asteroid Belt Named After Him


On February 21, 1980, Russian astrologist Lyudmila Georgievna Karatschkina discovered an unknown asteroid belt. The astrologist decided to name the belt (4017) Disneya, in honor of Walt Disney. However, unlike what many people think, the planet Pluto was not named after the Disney character. However, the character was named after the planet.

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He Originally Planned For Disneyland To Be Small


When Walt Disney originally envisioned his amusement park, he pictured something small, close to his Burbank studio. However, his dreams grew bigger and bigger. He hired a research firm to scout out an optimal Southern California location. The researchers chose Anaheim, on factors such as population growth, weather patterns, and transportation options. Disney ended up purchasing 160-acres.

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Last Words Are A Mystery


Although his last spoken words are unknown, TIME reports that his written words are documented. However, not quite understood. TIME says “Shortly before succumbing to lung cancer, Disney scribbled the words “Kurt Russell” on a piece of paper. According to Russell, best known for his performance in The Thing and Escape from New York, the reasons are mystery to him as well. At the time of Disney’s death, Russell was a child actor working for the studio and had yet to achieve widespread fame.”

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He Was NOT Cryogenically Frozen


After his death, rumors buzzed that Walt was cryogenically frozen and one day he could be brought back to life. However, this is not true, but an urban legend. Disney was actually cremated after his death. The first-every cryogenic freezing didn’t even take place until a month after his death. However, no matter what actually happened to his body after death, his dreams will forever live on.

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