Before Mickey Mouse, came a hard-working and passionate man with an idea and a dream. Walt Disney aspired to be not only an employee but a boss and a creator. It’s no hidden feat that Walt Disney has far surpassed his dreams and will forever live on as one of the most iconic men of the 20th century. From Disney’s first film, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit—a black-and-white, 2-minute silent film—to the Disney movies we know and love today, it goes without saying that Disney shaped the world of animation and imagination.
And while much is known about this iconic Imagineer, there are quite a few Believe It or Not! facts hidden in the Disney vault. Get your ears on and let’s dive into some magic.
Walt Disney didn’t draw Mickey Mouse.
Many people believe that Walt Disney, himself, created and drew the iconic, Mickey Mouse, but the original creator and artist went by the name, Ubbe Eert “Ub” Iwerks. Ub and Walt became friends in 1919, where they worked together for many years while job hopping throughout the world of production. When Walt and his brother, Roy, created Disney Brothers Productions— later changed to Walt Disney Studios—they invited Ub out West to be a part of the company.
Ub thought of Mickey Mouse, a fresh and new style of character from those of Universal, while trying to come up with new ideas to get the studio rolling. That week alone, he created 600/700 frames per day and discovered the idea of synchronized sound— playing music and sound effects in time with the hand-drawn animations. As the first two Mickey Mouse short films were produced in silence, the exploration of synchronized sound was a milestone for future animated films everywhere, beginning with the iconic short, Steamboat Willy.
While Ub and Walt were meant to be partners, it wasn’t often that Ub was granted the credit for Mickey that he deserved. Once, at a child’s birthday party in Hollywood, Walt was asked to draw a picture of Mickey Mouse on a napkin for the birthday girl. According to one report, after regaling in his invention of Mickey, and passing on the job to Ub, Ub Iwerks left Disney to start his own animation company. Feeling used and underappreciated for his role at Disney’s studio, he no longer wanted to work with Walt.
The Iwerks Studio opened in 1930. To no surprise, though Ub was an extremely talented animator, the company struggled to compete with Walt Disney Studios. Eventually, in 1940, Iwerks Studio went under, and Ub returned to Disney. Instead of taking his old seat as an animator, Ub worked on developing special visual effects and technologies that would later be used in films like Mary Poppins, Song of the South, and many other classic movies. Ub brought new innovations to animation that are still used today in film and even attractions located at Walt Disney World.
Walt was the original voice of Mickey Mouse.
Believe It or Not!, Mickey Mouse’s famous falsetto voice we know and love today was actually that of Walt himself. Walt took great pride in being the original voice beginning in 1929 with the short film, Karnival Kid, where his only line was “Hot dog, hot dog.” With the Disney franchise rapidly growing, Walt soon became far too busy to continue playing the icon. So, in 1946, he handed the voice over to Jimmy MacDonald, a veteran Disney musician and actor.
Following Jimmy’s 31-year gig, he too gave up Mickey, handing the job over to Wayne Anthony Allwine, who voiced Mickey until his death in 2009. It was thanks to Mickey, in fact, that Allwine met his wife, Russi Taylor. She was the voice of Mickey’s leading lady, Minnie Mouse. This experience brought true love to each other while playing these magical love birds—or mice.
After Allwine’s death, Bret Iwan took over as head mouse. As the fourth and one of the current voices of Mickey, his work can be heard on Disney Cruise Lines, featured in Mickey toys and products, around Disney Theme Parks, throughout Disney on Ice, and on video games. The other current voice, Christopher Diamantopoulos, can be heard as Mickey in the comedy television series produced by Disney Television Animation.
Walt’s brother, Roy, started as a vacuum salesman.
Roy Disney—the man most noted for continuing his brother’s legacy following his death—began as a vacuum cleaner salesman, selling door-to-door to make ends financial ends meet. Roy had already been living in Los Angeles when Walt moved there. Roy suggested that his brother follow his lead and sell vacuums as well.
While Walt considered the advice, fate seemed to step in at just the right time. Margaret Winkler, a cartoon distributor from New York, remembered Walt’s earlier Alice in Cartoon Land pitch. Walt sent some of his footage to her in New York, and she agreed to make 12 Alice shorts. At $1500 a pop, he left the vacuum business to his brother.
Walt had a private getaway on Main Street U.S.A.
As Disneyland was being built in California, Walt wanted his own private apartment hidden from the rest of the park. He built a small apartment—measuring no more than 500-square-feet—on the second floor of the fire station on Main Street U.S.A.
The day Disneyland opened, Walt watched from his apartment window as fans rushed through the gates. Mousketeer, Sharon Baird recalls the joyous occasion: “On the opening day of Disneyland, we (Mouseketeers) were in Walt Disney’s private apartment above the Main Street Fire Station when the gates of the park opened for the first time. I was standing next to him at the window, watching the guests come pouring through the gates. When I looked up at him, he had his hands behind his back, a grin from ear to ear, I could see a lump in his throat and a tear streaming down his cheek. He had realized his dream. I was only twelve years old at the time, so it didn’t mean as much to me then. But as the years go by, that image of him becomes more and more endearing.”
To this day nearly 70 years later, the apartment remains almost exactly the same. Now, a light is always kept on near the window to symbolize that Walt Disney’s spirit remains in the place where he created magic. (We’re not crying, you are.)
Walt Disney holds the Record for Most Academy Awards.
Walt Disney holds the record for the most individual Oscar wins (22) and nominations (59). History reported, in 1932, at the fifth Academy Awards ceremony, he earned his inaugural award, in the best short subject (cartoon) category, for Flowers and Trees, which used the new three-strip Technicolor process. Disney went on to win the same category at the next seven Oscar ceremonies.
He scored one best picture nomination, for 1964’s Mary Poppins, but lost to My Fair Lady. Mary Poppins did, however, rack up wins in five other Oscar categories, including best leading actress, given to Julie Andrews. Disney also received four honorary Oscars, including one, in 1932, for creating Mickey Mouse, another, in 1939, for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and a third, in 1942, for “Fantasia” and its contribution to sound design.
To sell the idea for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt performed it as a one-man show.
Knowing the original idea of Snow White would be hard to sell, Walt gathered his team and performed a one-man show. He acted out the entire movie himself, mimicking the physical statue, characteristics, and voice of each of the characters. In doing so, he captured the team’s imagination and hooked them on the idea. Art director Ken Anderson said, “We were spellbound. He was all by himself and he acted out this fantastic story.”
Following its production, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became the most well-known of Walt Disney’s numerous Oscar awards. In fact, a special award was given to him in 1939 in recognition of the genius behind this film. The Oscar’s called it, “a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field for the motion picture cartoon.” Presented by Shirley Temple, this award was quite unique. Walt Disney was given one normal-sized Oscar plus 7 “dwarf-sized” miniature Oscar statuettes.
The lack of mothers in Disney films symbolizes the loss of Walt’s own mother, Flora.
Ever notice how our favorite and beloved Disney movies–from Bambi to most recent princess films, like Frozen–have a common theme of either an absent mother or the death of a mother?
According to the Walt Disney biography “How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life,” Walt and his brother Roy both purchased a home for their parents in Los Angeles in 1937. After about a year, Walt’s mother called him one morning asking if the gas furnace leaking in the house could be fixed. Disney sent some employees over to fix a furnace, but they, unfortunately, made a mistake resulting in a leak, and his mother ended up passing due to the error.
Disney never talked about the loss publicly, but the pain can be seen and felt in Disney movies, past, and present. In an interview with Glamour, Disney executive producer, Don Hahn, suggested that Disney was haunted by his mother’s loss.
“The idea that he really contributed to his mom’s death was really tragic. If you dig, you can read about it,” he added. “It’s not a secret within their family, but it’s just a tragedy that is so difficult to even talk about. It helps to understand the man a little bit more.”
It took over 50 years to finish a concept that Salvador Dalí and Walt Disney thought of in the 40s.
Two of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Salvador Dalí and Walt Disney, met at a dinner party in the home of Jack Warner of Warner Brothers. At the time, Dalí was a huge fan of Disney who considered him the great American Surrealist. They became co-artists and remained great friends throughout the remainder of their lives.
In the 1940s, the two came up with the idea to collaborate on the short film, Destino, which was released in 2003. Dalí began his work on the film in 1946, creating 22 paintings and more than 135 storyboards, drawings, and sketches. Disney’s studio then produced only about 20 seconds of original animation based on these ideas.
Financial pressures of World War II caused Disney to push Destino to the side, and it, unfortunately, was left untouched for decades. Roy Disney decided to finish the work on it in 1999 while completing the production of Fantasia 2000. He brought back John Hench, who was Dalí’s main collaborator during the production in 1946. He was credited as the film’s co-author alongside Dalí.
It took over 50 years to finish an animated film that is only 6 minutes and 40 seconds long.
Disney employees were once banned from wearing facial hair.
In 1957, Walt Disney banned Disney employees from wearing a moustache, which was ironic due to his staple mustache look. This rule was not dropped until 2000s. Rules now state, “For all male Cast Members a fully grown in, well-maintained mustache, beard, or goatee is permitted unless otherwise restricted by regulatory codes and standards. Facial hair must be neatly trimmed and may not present an unkempt appearance. Extreme styles are prohibited.”
And if you’ve ever been to a Disney Park, you might notice that all cast members are required to wear nametags, complete with their first name. Walt Disney loathed being called Mr. Disney and therefore instituted the comfortability of a first-name-basis amongst his employees using nametags.
Until 1936, Disney was the only animator allowed to make color-animated films.
Walt Disney had a two-year contract with Technicolor that gave him the exclusive filming rights to the three-strip technicolor system—no other film studio could release a technicolor film with this system until 1936! Flowers and Trees, a 1932 Silly Symphonies cartoon, produced by Walt Disney, was the first commercially released film to be produced in the full-color three-strip Technicolor process after years of two-color Technicolor films.
In May of 1932, the first three-strip Technicolor camera was complete. Herbert Kalmus, co-founder and president of the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation, wanted to test it in the animation field, but couldn’t find anyone interested. Finally, Walt agreed to it, against his brother’s advice, and experimented on Flowers and Trees, which was already in production in black and white. Developing this film in color was a huge financial burden on Disney, but the profits made up for it. Due to its success, all Silly Symphonies cartoons were produced in three-strip Technicolor.
Disney’s exclusive deal with Technicolor, left other animators such as Ub Iwerks and Max Fleisher to continue using a two-color process. However, Disney chose to keep the Mickey Mouse shorts in black-and-white, due to their great success, until The Band Concert in 1935.
Walt Disney has three college degrees but never went to college.
While still in high school, Walt started taking night courses at the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago. He then dropped out at the age of 16 in hopes of joining the army but was rejected due to his age. Instead, he forged a birth certificate, joined the Red Cross, and was sent to France for a year to drive an ambulance. He moved back to America in 1919 to pursue a career as a newspaper artist in Kansas City.
Due to Walt’s extraordinary accomplishments throughout his life, many of today’s prestigious universities have awarded him honorary degrees. In 1938, Walt received a Master of Science from the University of Southern California (USC) and two Masters of Arts degrees from Yale University and Harvard University.
Despite the Rumors, Disney Wasn’t Cryogenically Frozen.
“In November 1966, doctors discovered that Disney, a longtime smoker, had lung cancer. He died at a Burbank hospital the following month, on December 15, at age 65. Not long after his death, stories began circulating in the tabloid press that the filmmaker had been cryogenically preserved—that is, he’d been frozen with the hope that science might one day make it possible for him to be brought back to life. Despite the persistent rumors regarding Disney and cryonics, he was, in fact, cremated and his ashes were interred in a mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.”
The last film Disney personally oversaw before his death was The Junglebook. According to his IMDB facts, his favorite films produced were Bambi (1942) and Dumbo (1941), with Fantasia (1940) and Mary Poppins (1964) in close second.
Though we all wish we could use some of that Disney magic to bring him back and have him create more fairytale stories, we’re going to have to leave that to the Disney creators we know and love today.
And to leave you with some encourage words from Walt himself:
“The secrets of making dreams come true: curiosity, confidence, courage, consistency; and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way.” – Walt Disney.
By Michela Pantano, contributor for Ripleys.com