Saturday, December 5, 2015

Born Today December 5: Walt Disney!


Born Walter Elias Disney in Chicago.  Obviously we are talking about a towering figure here, so for the purposes of this blog, I am sticking to the silent era stuff for the most part.  Disney was a multi-talented voice actor, animator, print cartoonist and producer.  His first interest in these arts seems to have come when he was in high school in Chicago, he began to take night courses at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts studying under artist Louis Grell.  However, at the age of 16 he dropped out of high school and tried to join the Army to fight in World War I, but, was, of course, rejected for being underage.  So he joined the Red Cross instead and he was sent to France as an ambulance driver, but this was only after armistice was signed.  Back in the United States, and in Kansas City, he decided in 1919 to start some sort of artistic career and briefly considered becoming an actor, but then changed his mind to drawing political cartoons and comic strips for newspapers; no was hiring him.  He did manage, through connections with brother Roy, to get temporary work at the Pesman-Rubin where he created advertisements for magazines, newspapers, and, I think, most importantly--movie theaters.  There he met one of my personal favorite cartoonists, Ubbe "Ub" Iwerks, who was also working there temporarily.  When both of their contracts ran out, they decided to start a commercial company together.  That company was the short lived Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists.  The company got off to a rocking start and Disney left, he thought temporarily, to find work at the Kansas City Film Ad Company; Iwerks, unable to run their company alone, soon joined him there.  There, Disney started to make ads by a method known as Cutout Animation; this is when he became intensely interested and decided to become a full time animator.  The owner of the company allowed him to borrow a camera to experiment with at night at home; after reading Edwin G. Lutz's book Animated Cartoons:  How They Are Made, Their Origin And Development, he decided that Cel animation (short for celluloid) was a much more promising approach to actual animation.  So effectively he was back in a kind night school situation, only he was teaching himself.  He then decided to open his own animation company and lured Fred Harman from the Ad Company to be his first employee.  There they started creating cartoons they called "Laugh-O-Grams."  After studying Asps Fables, they created modernized versions in 6 Laugh-o-Grams; they were then publicly screened at a local theater that was owned by the man known as the most popular showmen in Kansas City:  Frank Newman.  Disney was off and running!  He then created Laugh-O-Gram Studio, and the cartoons produced there were known as "Newman Laugh-O-Grams"--always with a "by Walt Disney" at the bottom of any poster.  The people working there grew by three, with Harman's brother Hugh, his partner Rudolf Ising, and Disney's old friend and colleague Ubbe Iwerks.  Disney, it turned out was a terrible money manager, and the profits the company was taking in didn't match the high pay to the employees, so the company wound up bankrupt.  It is with these "Laugh-O-Grams" that earns Disney his first film credits, the first coming in 1921 in the capacity as a director, with Kansas City Girls Are Rolling Their Own Now, it was all of 1 minute in length.  This was his first credit...and that is all that really matters.  When Disney died on 15 December 1965 of lung cancer, he had amassed a huge empire including theme parks that I personally grew up with.  There was a romour that he had been frozen and put under the pirates of the Caribbean ride in Los Angeles; thus the "Thaw Walt" campaign in the late 1960's.  The opposite is the truth, he was cremated and his ashes are interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

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