Five Incredible But True Facts about Walt Disney
Walt Disney turned the impossible into an everyday part of life.
First, the animator created unforgettable cartoon characters that enriched our lives.
Later, Uncle Walt built an entire theme park based on many of those characters and stories.
History remembers Walt Disney as the founder of the Happiest and Most Magical Places on Earth. Here are six incredible facts about him.
He Played Peter Pan
In 1953, Disney released its 14th feature-length animated movie, Peter Pan.
Two years later, Disneyland opened. One of its signature attractions, a ride that remains to this day, is Peter Pan’s Flight.
Disney has since emphasized Peter Pan characters at its theme parks, most notably Tinkerbell, who factors into every nightly fireworks presentation.
Similarly, the film studio continues to release new Peter Pan stories, most recently the 2023 Disney+ title, Peter Pan & Wendy.
Why does this character factor so heavily into Disney storytelling? That answer circles back to Walt Disney’s childhood.
When the J. M. Barrie story debuted, Disney was only three years old. At the time, local stage productions were exploding in popularity.
Coincidentally, a childhood classmate of Disney’s performed an elementary school version of Peter Pan…and Walt played the title role!
This production even foreshadowed future Disney Brothers productions, as older brother Roy Disney handled the backstage stuff while Walt told the story.
Disney Picked the Wrong Mouse Name
Walt Disney once picked the perfect name for an iconic character during the 1920s. Its name was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and everyone loved it.
Sadly, Uncle Walt lacked a legal claim for Oswald and lost the character in a Hollywood dispute.
Undeterred, the creative Disney imagined a new character, one his dear friend Ub Iwerks would animate to life.
That character’s name was…Mortimer Mouse.
No, I’m not joking. Walt Disney looked at the illustration on the paper and chose the name Mortimer.
His wife, Lillian, recognized what Walt failed to see. Oswald is an exceptional name for an animated character. Mortimer? Not so much. It was too formal.
Lillian suggested a different name for Walt’s new best friend. Thus, the world knows this happy lil dude as Mickey Mouse.
To his credit, Disney would pay tribute to his miscalculation by creating an antagonist for Mickey, one named Mortimer.
In a case of life imitating art, Mortimer made a play for Minnie Mouse. Like Lillian Disney, Minnie found nothing appealing in a mouse named Mortimer.
Disney Didn’t Name Mickey Mouse, But He Voiced the Character
Here’s one of my favorite Walt Disney anecdotes.
Walt Disney needed Mickey Mouse to work as a character. As mentioned, he’d already lost Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to a former business partner.
When Disney returned to Hollywood after that brutal turn of events, he put all his eggs in the Mickey Mouse basket.
While many of Disney’s former animators had defected to the competition to remain working on Oswald cartoons, the entrepreneur still had mouths to feed.
Specifically, his brother, Roy, his best friend, Ub Iwerks, and his new wife, Lillian, all relied on Disney animation to pay the bills.
Feeling a unique amount of pressure, Disney chose not to entrust the voice of Mickey Mouse to anyone else.
Well, he tried once, but it didn’t go well. In 1929, Mickey Mouse gained his first piece of dialogue, “Hot dog, hot dog.”
Disney actively disliked the would-be voice actor’s recitation of what seemed like a simple phrase.
Instead, Uncle Walt performed all of Mickey Mouse’s dialogue during the character’s early days and would do so through Mickey and the Beanstalk in 1947.
Disney Dominated the Academy Awards
At the 95th annual Academy Awards, Everything Everywhere All at Once won seven Oscars, a stunning feat.
However, that success pales in comparison to the storied career of Walt Disney.
While many think of the illustrator as a populist content creator, that’s only part of the story.
In terms of awards and accolades, Walt Disney remains without peers in Hollywood.
Consider that Steven Spielberg has won three Academy Awards throughout his illustrious career. Meryl Streep has claimed three as well.
By any reasonable standard, those two performers are among the most acclaimed performers in history…but they cannot touch Walt Disney.
During his inimitable career, Walt Disney earned an almost incomprehensible 59 Academy Awards nominations. More remarkably, Disney won 22!
To put those numbers in comparison, Disney claimed an Oscar nomination for nearly every year of his life (he died at 66) and won at a rate of every third year.
As far as unbreakable records go, Disney’s Academy Awards feat is waaaaay up there.
Walt Disney Nearly Went Broke…A Lot!
“I’d say it’s been my biggest problem all my life… it’s money. It takes a lot of money to make these dreams come true.”
“I don’t make pictures just to make money. I make money to make more pictures. I’d rather entertain and hope that people learn, than teach and hope that people are entertained.”
Those two quotes aptly encapsulate the career of Walt Disney. I already mentioned one time this nearly happened.
Somehow, the loss of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit represents only one of several instances wherein Walt Disney faced financial ruin.
Another famous example involves Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a project many labeled Walt’s Folly.
When the Disney Brothers decided to create the first feature-length animated movie ever, they budgeted for a $150,000 production.
No matter which source you believe, all of them indicate the Disneys spent at least ten times that amount…and likely much more.
For a time, the brothers faced uncertainty regarding whether they could finish the project.
Eventually, Walt and Roy had to screen an early edit of Snow White to a banker to persuade them to provide more funding.
If not for that quick loan, this film might not have ever seen the light of day.
Similarly, when Walt Disney built Disneyland, he borrowed so much money that he feared he would lose his home.
As a legal protection against bankruptcy, Walt and Lillian changed the names on the mortgage.
With Lillian as the owner, no lender could sue Walt to claim his home as part of bankruptcy liquidation.
Obviously, they wouldn’t have taken this step unless they were in legitimate danger of going broke.
Such was Walt Disney’s life. He dreamed big, and it cost him a lot of money.
Of course, he does have Mickey (NOT Mortimer) Mouse, Disney theme parks, and 22 Academy Awards as justification for his bravado.
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Feature Photo: Disney