I always believe that we are put on earth to fulfill a purpose. Most of the time, we may not know what that purpose is for a while, or we think we know but are afraid to step out and take the risk. But if the passion inside boils so strong, there is no getting away from it. There are also people that are here to inspire us because of that passion that burned inside them. Showing us that no matter what circumstances come against us, if we keep moving forward, never giving up and doing it for the right reasons, we too can fulfill that purpose that we were destined for.
Today, December 5th is the birthday of one of those men, someone who has been such an inspiration to me in my life, Walt Elias Disney. Walt’s quote, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible” always resonates with me. Walt would have an idea, a vision, and no matter what the critics or naysayers had to say, if it was something that he believed in, he went for it. David Low, the late British political cartoonist, called Disney “the most significant figure in graphic arts since Leonardo.” A pioneer and innovator, and the possessor of one of the most fertile imaginations the world has ever known.
The man that created Mickey Mouse and built one of the most famous theme parks in the world, Disneyland, was born in Chicago, Illinios, one of five children to Elias and Flora Disney. He was then raised on a farm in Missouri and fell in love with drawing, selling his sketches to neighbors when he was only 7 years old. Later he divided that time between photography and drawing and later attended the Academy of Fine Arts.
From an early age, Walt wanted to do the right thing, serving his country and wanting to enlist in the service during the war. But, only being 16, he could not, so he joined the Red Cross and being sent overseas, he drove an ambulance which was Disney “customized” with drawings and cartoons. After the war, he became an advertising cartoonist and after creating and marketing his own animated cartoons, he perfected his method of combining animation and live action.
In August of 1923, Walt Disney took his first leap of fate, taking off for Hollywood with nothing but a few drawing materials, $40 in his pocket and a completed animated and live-action film. His brother, Roy O. Disney was already in California, giving Walt immense amount of sympathy and encouragement, and $250. Pooling their resources, they borrowed an additional $500 and constructed a camera stand in their uncle’s garage. Soon, they received an order from New York for the first “Alice Comedy” short, and the brothers began their production operation in the rear of a Hollywood real estate office two blocks away, Roy handling the business operations and Walt taking charge of the creative and animated productions.
On July 13, 1925, Walt married one of his first employees, Lillian Bounds, in Lewiston, Idaho. Lillian saw the passion and fire that drove Walt and she was not afraid of that entrepreneurial spirit that drove him so hard. She was a great encouragement to Walt and supported him throughout his endeavors while being the backbone of their family raising two children.
In 1928, things started to really take off with the creation of Mickey Mouse and his first appearance in Steamboat Willie when the burst of sound in motion pictures came onto the scene. With the introduction of Technicolor, Walt’s drive for perfection never ceased and he used it in the animated classic ‘Silly Symphonies’ and won his first of his 32 personal Academy Awards®. In 1937, he released The Old Mill, the first short subject to utilize the multiplane camera technique, always pushing boundaries and breaking barriers. On December 21st 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 of cost of $1,499,000 during the depths of the Great Depression, the film is still accounted as one of the greatest feats and imperishable monuments of the motion picture industry. During the next five years, Walt completed other well known, full-length animated classics as Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi that we all love still to this day. 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, 81 features were released by the studio during his lifetime, beginning through a studio in Burbank that was built in 1940 with over 1,000 animators, artists and story men who would later be known as “imagineers.” Donald Duck, Pluto and Goofy were also created during this time, products of Disney Studios.
Walt was also always learning and loved the outdoors and all things nature. His 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 Walt wanted to create an amusement park that could bring his characters to life and interact with visitors. He also wanted a park that catered to the entire family. The stereotypical American amusement park was not what Walt Disney had in mind, turned off by the vulgarity and grime that he found when he went to other amusement parks. Disney’s goal was to create a park where parents and children could have fun together. A typical amusement park in the early half of the twentieth century was a random assortment of roller coasters, merry-go-rounds, and Ferris wheels. Hot dog vendors littered the streets. Beer was sold and consumed in large quantities. Sanitation was never a priority at these parks. In short, they did not offer the best setting for a family outing. Disneyland was created with the intention of having no roller coasters. Main Street, USA, the hub of Disneyland was bordered not by hot dog stands, but by souvenir shops. Alcohol was not sold on the premises. Walt wanted his to park to be different in that it would lack the dirtiness and deterioration that was typically present at amusement parks. This concept would be critical in attracting large numbers of visitors.
The uniqueness of this concept was part of the reason that it was initially difficult for Walt to get support. He struggled to find a location and sufficient funding. His brother Roy had no interest in the park which led to an ugly split between the brothers. Disney once said, “I could never convince the financiers that Disneyland was feasible, because dreams offer too little collateral” (justdisney.com). With limited finances, Walt had to find affordable land. It was also important that his park be located near a major highway. In August of 1953, Disney and his partners selected a 160-acre orange grove in Anaheim, California to be the site of Disneyland. The construction of Disneyland began during the summer of 1954, with way more focus on how it would never be successful and it was much to “crazy” of an idea.
It was a new prototype of an amusement park, one where Walt envisioned visitors traveling down a reproduction of a typical old-fashioned version of Main Street USA on their way towards four distinct dreamlands. In each of his dreamlands guests were given the opportunity to temporarily escape the realities of daily life. In addition to building a family atmosphere, he created a sense of American euphoria. Although the opening of Disneyland was riddled with all sorts of roadblocks and outright missteps, Disneyland grew to be extremely successful. From people forging tickets, water fountains and sewer issues from a plumber’s strike that was taking place that time to gas leaks in Fantasyland and the near capsizing of the Mark Twain boat, critics and newspapers were extremely unflattering and even predicted that Disney was practically insane for taking on such a project. Disney put in all of his money, even putting up his home for collateral in making sure that Disneyland was built.
Through all the criticism and companies and people that turned away from not only the project but Walt Disney himself, Disneyland became extremely successful. It was unique. And in some ways it felt special to the American people. Walt Disney once said, “The one thing for me… the important thing… is the family, and keeping the family together with things. That’s been the backbone of our whole business, catering to families” (Bryman, 87). He created an atmosphere that catered to the entire family. “The park means a lot to me. It’s something that will never be finished, something I can keep developing.” With this motto in mind, Disney created the most significant amusement park in American history. On July 17, 1955, a 17 million dollar project called Disneyland was opened to the public. The park opened with 26 attractions. 12 more were added soon thereafter. Although Disney passed away over 30 years ago, his vision of a euphoric amusement park still lives on today.
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 on an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT, planned as a living showcase for the creativity of American industry. Walt said , “I don’t believe there is a challenge anywhere in the world that is more important to people everywhere than finding the solution 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.” Walt was a visionary, a pioneer, always believing in what he felt needed to be done and achieved not matter what others thought. He sought like minded people around him, those that also were not afraid to explore new things and take risks. Loyalty and devotion not only to his company and projects but to him where very important to Walt, which is why most of those that worked for him stayed with the company for decades.
It was because of this mind-set and support system that 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 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. Epcot Center opened on October 1, 1982. Today, Walt Disney World is still growing, changing, innovating and most of all, bringing magic to everyone that walks onto Main Street U.S.A.
Walt Disney is a legend, a folk hero of the 20th century. His worldwide popularity was based upon the ideas 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. I am extremely grateful and thankful to Walt Disney for his strength, tenacity and never give up spirit, embedded in a heart that was kind, giving and always striving to do the right thing. He is and will always be a driving inspirational force for me and in what I strive to create and accomplish in my lifetime.
“Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C s. They are curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy.”….Walt Disney
Spokesmayne; D23; Walt Disney Archives; Wikipedia