This is going to be a long post. I could’ve easily summarised each point but I think people ought to know more about the man behind the animation.
A lot of critics and reporters have made up numerous rumours about Walt Disney. But these simply aren’t true. Over 200 employees, friends and family members have stated on record that Walt was a driven, loving and kind man who had time for anyone.
Of course, his films have touched the hearts of millions but what about the man behind the mouse?
Walt Disney was a very compassionate and generous man.
Even in his teens, Walt wanted to help people When the war started he joined to sign up but he was unable to because of his age. So, he joined the Red Cross, went overseas and became an ambulance driver.
He also went out of his way to memorise the names of his staff, by first name as well as their family so he could ask about them.
Not only did he have a great memory for names but he remembered how he met people. In one instance he met second-generation Disney employee who said, “You probably don’t remember my father but he was one of the musicians that recorded the soundtrack for Steamboat Willie.”
Walt responded, “I remember him. But it wasn’t Steamboat Willie. It was Plane Crazy.”
Walt also held Christmas parties for his employees and children at his home where he gave presents and played movies and cartoons. He loved seeing the look on their faces when they received new Disney merchandise, hand-wrapped. Many children felt as if he was Santa Claus himself.
Walt never did charitable works for publicity.
He even worked at charity events waiting tables and pouring drinks.
Before Disneyland had opened, a mother had written Walt a letter. The letter stated that her son has leukaemia and that his only wish was to ride the train that was coming to Disneyland. So Walt arranged it, even though the train hadn’t had its engine put in yet.
After their tour of what Disneyland would be, Walt gave the family a rare and authentic piece of Lady and the Tramp artwork. He insisted to everyone that knew about it that they tell no one. And it wasn’t until his death that the story came out.
The family came first even in hard times.
Walt would take his daughters, Sharon and Diane, to school every day and be home for dinner after a long day at work. He taught them how to swim and ride horses. It came as a shock when six-year-old Diane Disney discovered her father was THE Walt Disney. Walt kept them sheltered from fame. “He was Daddy. He was a man who went to work every morning and came home every night.”
Walt was disciplined with his children but through praising them for their good qualities rather than scolding them, as his father had done. Although Walt loved his father Elias. He was a strong worker who was kind to all those he met. However, it was hard for Walt growing up. He was one of five children and he worked hard through snowstorms to deliver his father’s newspaper in which Elias kept all the money. He was also beaten by his Dad. However, one day Walt put a stop to it when his father was going to strike him with a hammer handle. Walt stated, “I held both his hands. I was stronger than he was. I just held them and he cried. He never touched me after that.”
Walt’s mother, however, was a different tale. She encouraged Walt more so than his father. When Walt applied to work at the Red Cross, Flora stated that she didn’t want any more of her children to run away in the night. At least by pretending that Walt was old enough to join, she would know where he was. Elias refused so Flora forged his signature.
After buying his parents a house, it became apparent there was a gas leak. Ultimately it caused the death of his mother and knocked his father out. Walt was devastated and forever felt to blame. He barely ever mentioned the topic as it was too heartbreaking for him. All he wanted to do was to look after his family and he felt as if he failed.
Although he kept most of his family out of the spotlight, Walt’s business partner was his older brother Roy Disney. Roy, the one who encouraged Walt to stop the abuse Elias unleashed on Walt, took care of the financial side of things whilst Walt got creative. They would argue plenty over money but still loved each other.
One example of their troubles was when Walt and Roy had a huge row over Walt’s creation of WED Enterprises. Neither of them tolerated people trying to play them off against each other despite the fact they barely spoke. Later, Walt offered a Native American peace pipe to Roy which they smoked together and Roy had framed in his office.
You can find a statue of Roy Disney sat on a bench with Minnie Mouse in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
Failure wasn’t an option.
Ever since Walt was young he worked hard… but he also dreamt hard. His first studio went bankrupt and spent a huge majority of his early career in debt. Those who believed in him still lent him money, as they felt as if it would get somewhere. Those who doubted him could’ve been making millions today.
Walt was told countless times that something couldn’t be done. But he usually responded, “I’m sure you’ll make it work. I believe in you.”
An example of this was when Disney stated that one of the clocks in Pinocchio wouldn’t ever work in real life and that, “it’s a good thing this is a cartoon”.
So, to try and prove him wrong, the animators took on the challenge to make the same clock. When they eventually showed it to Walt he said, “I know you could do it. I just wanted to see how long it would take you.”
Saving Mr Banks, starring Tom Hanks as Walt, clearly shows the struggles he went through in order to get Mary Poppins off the ground. It took years for him to create something he had his heart set on and wouldn’t stop until he got it.
He always wanted to learn.
Walt would watch and read anything, even if it was awful. He wanted to see how everything worked. He even bought several wind-up toys whilst in Paris and watched them as they moved. With one toy, a bird, he gave it to the studio technician and told him to find out how it worked. This later was what inspired Audio-Animatronics.
Disney never stopped experimenting with new ideas and concepts. Which is probably why it was Walt who created the first-ever animated feature film, Snow White.
This had never been done, and the methods of filming the animation were incredibly new. Snow White‘s costs were incredibly high and even on some occasions staff members weren’t paid. But they didn’t care. Disney workers loved working for Walt and did so out of their own heart.
Which is why it frustrates me that there are Facebook articles which state that the voice of Snow White, Adriana Caselotti, was paid a miserable amount of $970. It was the start of a huge risk for everyone involved and Walt could’ve lost everything if things went wrong.
Of course, it isn’t right that he wouldn’t let her voice anything else afterwards in order to protect the image and picture but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this was a brand new venture for the company. And to ensure it’s growth, Walt Disney had to keep investing in new pictures.
He valued other people’s opinions.
Walt often held a board meeting to discuss ideas for his pictures. He would ask his children what they thought of Disneyland, what they liked and didn’t like. And although he was very open to listening to the ideas and opinions of others, if he had his heart set on something, it was going to go his way.
He wasn’t afraid to dream and dream big.
As with the story with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt was always one step ahead. He created the world’s first theme park. He then wanted to create an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. This was Walt’s utopian vision. To have happiness and joy but no crime or pollution. An idealistic world in which Walt envisioned and believed to be possible.
Walt’s vision only made it halfway, unfortunately, as his plans for Epcot came to a standstill when he died. Walt had all of the ideas in his head. It was his dream. But with Walt gone, it felt as if the impossible was now just that. The park was still created in Florida but Roy Disney named it Walt Disney World in Walt’s memory. It contains to this day some of Walt’s creations including the Carousel of Progress (one of my absolute favourite attractions).
Walt loved animals.
As a vegan, I’m all hippy-dippy about people who love animals, even if they aren’t vegan. You’re bound to be a good person if you have the same fondness Walt had. He loved animals and always felt as if they had their own characters. It’s probably why they have so much personality in his films.
He wasn’t afraid to admit his faults.
Walt would often bring up the fact that he was stubborn, or difficult. But if he had done something wrong, he probably wouldn’t have said sorry for it. Instead, he would use his actions to apologise, just like with Roy’s peace pipe.
Walt helped develop the film industry and how we see animation today.
He helped popularise the:
- Combination of live-action with animation (Alice Comedies) in 1923;
- Use Technicolour in cartoons;
- Use of sound in cartoons;
- Animated full-length feature films;
- Use of multiplane cameras in animation filming;
- Use of stereophonic sound in films;
- And the use of television to promote his films and Disneyland.
Some of these things weren’t particularly new but he knew how to put it all to good use.
Money wasn’t important to him.
Walt may have made a lot of money and the company has done since he passed away. But when he created Disneyland, Walt decreed Disneyland would always offer a cup of coffee for ten-cents. And it was. Coffee in the park did cost only a dime until Walt’s death in 1966. I personally believe he would be horrified with what the parks have become in terms of money. The costs have increased dramatically over the years with the parks getting busier.
The first Disneyland ticket cost an adult $1 which is approximately $9 today. You could buy coupons which would allow you to go on selected rides. You can read more about those here. They phased out in the 1970s. Tickets became $6 which is $57 today. To by a single adult ticket in February 2020 is $117.
Although he hated to admit it, he was very sensitive in private.
Walt had occasionally been caught crying at scripts he was embarrassed by. He wasn’t an openly emotional person. At his daughter’s wedding, he was sobbing as he gave her away.
Any more reasons to love Walt?
- had a wonderful sense of humour;
- loved children, family and making people happy;
- Was optimistic about the future;
- Believed in everyone he met;
- Inspired so many of his workers that he brought out something in them they never knew existed;
- Was ambitious;
- Strove for greatness;
- Had no ego, even when he called himself a genius. He wasn’t wrong though!
- Had a childlike sensitivity.
His films have impacted my life since I was a young girl and have remained special to me and millions of others. We can learn a lot from Walt and should strive to be more like him.
“Now more than ever, we need people with the qualities Walt had: optimism, imagination, creativity, leadership, integrity, courage, boldness, perseverance, commitment to excellence, reverence for the past, hope for tomorrow and faith in God.”
All photos belong to their respective copyright owners.