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- Walt before Mickey: Disney’s Early Years, 1919–1928 by Timothy Susanin (Forward by Diane Disney Miller)
- Walt Before Mickey – Wikipedia
- Walt Before Mickey (2015) – IMDb
- Book I Walt Before Mickey
- Ub Iwerks – Wikipedia
- Ub Iwerks – Knowledge Encyclopedia
- Roy O. Disney – Wikipedia
- Walter Parr – Wikipedia
- Walt Disney: The Early Years
- Walt Disney: The Birth of a Mouse
- Walt Disney, the Early Years
- Walt Disney A Short Biography – Just Disney
- Walt Disney Timeline – Just Disney
- Walt Disney Biography – life, family, children, name, story, death, history, wife, school, information, born, contract
- Walt Disney Biography -Biography Online
- Walt Disney – Producer, Entrepreneur – Biography.com
- Walter Elias Disney
- Walt Disney – Wikipedia
- Walt Disney: 7 Things You Didn’t Know About the Man & the Magic – Biography.com
- Walt Disney Biography – Childhood, Life Achievements & Timeline
- Walt Disney’s History (The Early Years) Disney (Unofficial) Families.com
- Walt Disney’s Young Adult Years Disney (Unofficial) Families.com
- The Birth of a Mouse | The Walt Disney Family Museum
- Mouseplanet – The Mickey Mouse Creation Myth by Jim Korkis
- A Brief History Of Mickey Mouse – TIME
- Mickey Mouse – Wikipedia
- The Very First Mickey Mouse Cartoon
- Walt Disney’s Barn | Disney Insider
- Walt’s Barn
- WALT’S BARN | Carolwood Society.
- A Cinderella story for Walt Disney’s childhood home – Chicago Tribune
- Walt Disney’s Carolwood Barn – Wikipedia
- About Marceline – WALT DISNEY HOMETOWN MUSEUM
- Yesterland Presents the Marceline Walt Disney Knew
- World War One Walt | The Walt Disney Family Museum
- Pull Over! It’s an Emergency!: World War I Ambulance Drivers | Folklife Today
- Office of Medical History
- World War I ends – Nov 11, 1918 – HISTORY.com
- Mouseplanet – The Forgotten Brother Who Built a Magic Kingdom by Jim Korkis
- Laugh-O-Gram Studio – Wikipedia
- Walt Disney’s Laugh-O-grams, 1921-1923 | Silent Film Festival
- Chronology of the Walt Disney Company
- The Home Where Walt Disney Founded His First Studio Is Set to be Demolished – Los Angeles Magazine
- Charlotte and Robert Disney House | Los Angeles Conservancy
- Margaret J. Winkler – Wikipedia
- Lillian Bounds-Disney 1899 – 1997
- Lillian Marie Disney (Bounds) (1899 – 1997) – Genealogy
- Lillian Disney – Wikipedia
- Rollin Hamilton – Wikipedia
- Flora Call Disney – Wikipedia
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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
The movie begins when Walt Disney is just a child in the small town of Marceline, Missouri. It talks about his father, although ever so briefly, and in no time at all it shows the Disney family moving from Marceline to Kansas City, Missouri.
This introduction is true, although it speeds up the timeline quite a bit. In truth, Walt Disney wasn’t born in Missouri. He was born in Chicago, Illinois on December 5th, 1901 to Elias and Flora Disney. In the movie Elias Disney is played by Donn Lamkin and Flora is played by Nancy Barber.
While the movie doesn’t really focus on Walt’s parents much, his mom’s given name was actually Call but in her adulthood, she went by Flora.
Another little tidbit the movie doesn’t mention is that Walt was named after a family friend, the local preacher at St. Paul’s Congregational Church named Walter Parr.
During 1901, both Elias Disney and Walter Parr were expecting children, and the two agreed to name their children after each other. So Walter Parr’s son was named Elias Parr and Elias Disney’s son was named Walter Disney.
At the age of four, Walt’s family moved from their Chicago home to Marceline, Missouri. While we don’t know exactly what the motivation was, many historians assume it had to do with Elias’ concern over rising criminal activity. So they moved to the country, onto a plot of land that Elias’ brother, Robert, had purchased.
It was here in Marceline, just like the movie indicates, that Walt developed his love of drawing. Although it’s hard to say he drew the animals we see him sketching on the barn wall, we do know Walt spoke fondly of the barn in his childhood as a major inspiration for him.
Oh, and in the movie, young Walt is played by Owen Teague.
In the movie, when the Disney family gets in the car to move to Kansas City, we see five people in the car. There’s Walt’s parents, Elias and Flora, and in the back seat there’s his brother Roy and a little girl. The movie doesn’t mention who the little girl is at this point, but that would’ve been Ruth Disney, who was born a couple years after Walt in 1903.
Something the movie doesn’t really mention is that there were more than five in the Disney family in 1910. Walt’s siblings were Herbert, Raymond, Roy and Ruth. Three brothers and a sister for a total of five children. Then with their parents, of course, that’d be seven people total.
Both Herbert and Raymond moved back to Chicago in 1907, though. So that’s why, as the movie shows, there are five in the Disney family who move to Kansas City.
But the movie is a little inaccurate here, because the Disney family didn’t move directly from the farm to Kansas City. In 1909, with Elias Disney’s declining health, the family sold their farm and rented a home in Marceline. But they decided not to stay in the rural town and less than a year later, in 1910, the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri.
So the family didn’t pack up from the farmhouse outside of town as the movie shows, but rather from a home in the small town of Marceline.
But then there are some of the tiny details the movie gets right. Like the brief mention during the opening credits of one of Walt’s friends, also named Walt, who introduced him to vaudeville. This was Walt Pfeiffer, and was one of Walt Disney’s childhood friends in Kansas City.
And yes, Walt Pfeiffer introduced Walt Disney to the wonderful world of vaudeville.
According to the movie, Walt’s voice over says that he dropped out of high school at the age of 16 as he tried to join the Navy. But that didn’t work; he was too young. So instead he joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps.
This is all true, although, again, the movie is speeding up the timeline a bit. So as you can probably guess, speeding up the timeline means there are quite a few things that get skipped.
Shortly after the United States officially joined in the Great War when they declared war on the German Empire on April 6th, 1917, there was an influx of Americans joining the military. Included in the new soldiers were Walt’s three older brothers.
Ray and Herbert served in the Army’s AEF, or the American Expeditionary Forces. Roy Disney, who’s played by Jon Heder in the movie, joined the U.S. Navy on June 22nd, 1917.
Too young to join himself, at home Walt would use his drawing skills to draw cartoons with a pro-American message at his high school. Then, in the fall of 1918, Walt decided to try and join his brother. He would later recall that he saw a photo of Roy in his Navy uniform and he looked so swell, Walt wanted to join him.
But he was still too young, with the minimum enlistment age being 17 at the time.
So instead, Walt forged the date on his birth certificate so he could join the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. He was one of about 4,800 drivers who would’ve been tasked with helping to deliver first aid to the front lines. Throughout the war, about 127 of those perished, so even as a driver Walt’s life would’ve been at risk.
However, Walt volunteered in September of 1918, and arrived in France a couple months later in November.
On November 11th, 1918, Germany signed an armistice agreement that ended the Great War. So Walt never saw any action.
As a quick side note, another ambulance driver for the Red Cross at the time was none other than Ernest Hemingway. Although it’s not likely Walt and Ernest met.
Back in the movie, after the war, Walt Disney moves in with Roy and Edna Francis, who’s played by Natasha Sherritt. While greeting each other, Roy starts coughing. Edna then breaks the news that Roy is sick, but quickly insists he’ll be fine.
Then, as Walt is moving in, Roy mentions he’s going to California in a week.
There’s no dates in the movie here, other than the assumption that this is right after Walt got back from his time in the Red Cross. We also don’t know if the conversation we see in the movie is one that took place. While there’s a few things that seem a bit off in the movie, the gist is fairly accurate.
Let’s start with something the movie implies that is true; Roy Disney had tuberculosis. When Jon Heder is coughing, it’s true he came back from the military rather ill.
In fact, it was because of his tuberculosis that Roy was discharged from the Navy. This was sadly quite common during the Great War, as tuberculosis was the leading cause of discharge, accounting for over 13% of all discharges.
The part that seems off isn’t really because of inaccuracy, but more of just being a little confusing in how the movie portrays the scene. There’s no explanation as to where Walt meets with Roy and Edna. All we know is that Roy is going to California in a week.
Based on what we know in history, though, it’d be a pretty safe guess to assume this is in Kansas City. Why? Well, because after his time in the Red Cross, Walt Disney returned to Kansas City in October of 1919.
However, the movie shows Roy and Edna here in Kansas City.
So while we don’t know if Roy and Edna were there to greet Walt on his return to the States after the war, based on a few facts we do know it’s also pretty safe to assume the movie is a bit inaccurate here.
We know Roy Disney was discharged from the Navy in 1919. That’s about the time Walt, too, left the service. But Roy settled down in Los Angeles after leaving the Navy, where he worked as a banker.
So for the events in the movie to be accurate, Roy Disney would’ve had to have been discharged from the Navy and returned to Kansas City. Then, he would’ve had to have left for L.A. only a week after his brother, Walt, returned to Kansas City.
We also know Roy and Edna were married in 1925. Although the movie doesn’t mention they’re married at this point, so it’s possible they’re just dating. Did Roy and Edna date for six years before getting married? Maybe. Because there’s no official documentation for when you start dating someone like there is for marriage, we don’t really know for sure.
Could the movie be accurate here?
Possible, but there’s a lot of holes in the documentation so we just don’t know if it happened like that. So maybe this isn’t as much inaccuracy on the film’s part, but more filling in some of the details for the story’s sake.
However, if it is filling in some details, it’s filling them in with Occam’s razor. More on that in a moment.
In the movie, Walt goes to work in Kansas City for the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio. It’s here that he meets a man named Ub Iwerks, who’s played by one of the movie’s writers, Armando Gutierrez.
This is all true.
So before we didn’t really know if the scene with Roy and Edna in Kansas City was entirely accurate. Even if it’s not, it is an extremely plausible situation, and probably the most likely to be true.
Why? Because, just like the movie indicates, Roy was the one who managed to get Walt an interview at the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio in Kansas City.
So while it’s possible Roy could’ve made this connection from L.A., Occam’s razor would suggest that the events portrayed in the movie are the simplest answer. So they’re likely correct.
And as we just learned, it was at the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio that Walt made friends with another of the artists, Ub Iwerks.
As a side note, I should point out that Ub wasn’t his full name. His full name, which he signed to some of his earlier animations with Disney, was Ubbe Ert Iwwerks. Years after this point in the movie’s timeline, though, he’d simplify it as “Ub Iwerks” or sometimes “U.B. Iwerks.”
Just like the movie shows, Walt and Ub would become fast friends.
Oh, and as a quick side note, the movie messes up continuity here. In fact, that’s partially why I was a bit confused about the timeline with Roy, Edna and Walt when he arrived home from the Red Cross.
You see, in the movie, Walt mentions working at Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio for six weeks. After this happens, we see a shot of Roy and Edna walking Walt out of the house. It’s the same house they were in when Walt first arrived, supposedly six weeks before.
But in that earlier shot, Roy mentioned he was leaving in one week to go to California. Guess not.
Anyway, back in the movie, we find out Walt wasn’t alone in losing his job. Ub lost his, too. Then in a conversation between the two friends, Walt suggests going off on their own and starting their own studio.
This is true with one caveat: it wasn’t after leaving the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio that Walt and Ub started their own thing.
In truth, after being let go from Pesmen, both Walt and Ub found jobs at the Kansas City Film Ad Company in 1920. They were working as illustrators, but it was here that both of the artists got their first taste of professional animation.
It was while they were working for the ad company that Walt and Ub decided to try to start their own studio.
Just like the movie shows, though, the company name they went with was Laugh-O-Grams.
However, in the movie, they make it seem like Laugh-O-Grams was Walt and Ub’s full-time venture ever since getting let go from Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio. Since we know the Film Ad Company had squeezed in there, that’s not true.
Then there’s the scene were Walt walks into a doctor’s office and asks for thousands of dollars as seed money. The movie shows the scene where Walt gets his investment money as one minute and four seconds long from start to finish.
I counted it.
That’s how long the movie shows it took for Walt to convince someone to invest $2,500 in Laugh-O-Grams.
We don’t really know if that time is true, but I would highly doubt it. After all, $2,500 back then is the same as about $34,000 today. No one hands over that amount of money in a minute and four seconds.
Anyway, that’s a minor detail. The movie shows $2,500 as the investment amount from a single investor. While that may be true from a single investor, the truth is Walt managed to get multiple people to invest.
In truth, Laugh-O-Grams was more of a side gig for a while. Walt and Ub founded it in 1920 while they worked at the Film Ad Company.
Two years later, in 1922, Walt did indeed get $15,000 from local investors. That’s about $205,000 in today’s dollars. With that seed money, he decided to make Laugh-O-Grams his full-time job. It was then that he quit the Film Ad Company and, on May 23rd, 1922, Laugh-O-Gram Films was incorporated by Walt Disney. He also convinced Ub and another friend he’d made at the Film Ad Company, Fred Harman, to come work for him full-time.
In the movie, Fred Harman is played by Timothy Neil Williams.
Another little detail the movie got right was the contract with Frank Newman.
In the movie, Frank is played by Arthur Bernstein. Arthur, by the way, is the guy who teamed up with Armando to write the movie. So together the characters who play Frank Newman and Ub Iwerks are the two people who adapted the book into the film.
There really was a deal with Frank Newman’s theaters. The real Frank Newman owned three theaters and produced weekly news reels that he played in front of each movie.
Remember, this was 1922. There was no TV; that’s how you got the news. Either by newspaper or by the news reels that played before the movies. Today, that spot has been replaced by advertisements.
Walt’s deal was to produce some animations to be included in the weekly news reels for Frank’s three theaters. As the movie shows, the idea behind these animations was to be a mixture of both topical news as well as a bit of advertisement thrown in.
So maybe even then that spot was for advertisement.
According to the movie, another major source of income was a contract to deliver six animations for Pictorial, Inc. in exchange for $11,000.
Along with the substantial investment, these were some of the key drivers in Walt and Ub being OK with leaving their jobs at the Film Ad Company. After all, they had some money to start with and a couple contracts. Things seemed to be going well.
But were they?
Over the next few scenes in the movie, we see Laugh-O-Gram come crashing down. They’d only get paid after completing the animations, so in the mean time they had to stretch their money out as long as they could.
Or, as the movie shows, go without getting paid until they completed the deal. According to the movie, that’s not likely to happen as Pictorial, Inc. declares bankruptcy.
As you can probably guess, the specifics of how the movie depicts these events are made up, but the overall gist is pretty accurate.
After the investment, just like the movie indicates, Walt hired some animators to help him out with their first contracts. Among these were two men named Rudy Ising and Fred Harman’s brother, Hugh.
Hugh Harman is portrayed by Hunter Gomez in the film while Rudy Ising is played by David Henrie.
With this lineup, Walt’s company started to produce short animations they called Laugh-O-Grams. The first one was released on March 20th, 1921. It was simply called Newman Laugh-O-Grams and was mostly used as a proof-of-concept pilot of Walt’s teams work.
Laugh-O-Gram would create a total of eight films. Most of them animations, although one of those, called Tommy Tucker’s Tooth, was mostly live-action. The others were mostly fairy tales.
These were based off of the work of another cartoonist named Paul Terry. Just a few years earlier, Paul had started his own animation company called Fables Studios in which he took classic Aesop’s Fables and turned them into cartoons.
Walt Disney was so inspired by this, he decided to do the exact same thing.
The other seven animations created by Laugh-O-Gram Films in 1922 were Little Red Riding Hood, The Four Musicians of Bremen, Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Killer, Goldie Locks and the Three Bears, Puss in Boots and Cinderella.
But these shorts for Newman’s theaters weren’t making enough. They were desperate.
The movie shows Walt sleeping in the Laugh-O-Gram office, and this is very true. Not only did Walt live out of the office, but because the office didn’t have a bath or shower, he had to take a bath at Union Station in Kansas City. He could only afford to do that once a week.
So, on September 16th, 1922, Walt signed a deal to create six more animated shorts with a Tennessee-based company called Pictorial Clubs, Inc.
Just like the movie indicates, that deal was worth $11,000. That’s about $150,000 today.
As part of the deal, Pictorial paid $100 up front, or about $1,300 today, with the rest to be paid on delivery. And not just delivery of one or two shorts. Pictorial only had to pay once all six of the animations were delivered.
The deadline for the delivery was on New Year’s Day, 1924. So basically, Walt’s company had a year to create six animations. In the meantime, they had to live on $100 and whatever other money they had.
Seeing as Walt had already resorted to living in the office, as you can imagine, that didn’t work too well.
Sadly, it didn’t really matter.
Just like the movie indicates, Pictorial filed for bankruptcy only a few months after signing the deal with Laugh-O-Gram. Any money Walt had hoped to get was gone.
Everything seemed to be going wrong.
In the movie, this is compounded when Walt’s team starts to leave. Some of them are really upset. Others are understanding but they just need to go find work that pays. After this, Walt gets locked out of the studio for failing to pay rent. While he’s sitting there, wondering what to do next, a mouse comes up to him. He feeds it a piece of his sandwich.
Then, we see a scene where he decides to write a letter to a woman named Margaret J. Winkler in New York about an idea he has for Alice’s Wonderland.
Of course, we don’t know if the conversations went down like the movie shows them, but this is fairly accurate. But there’s some creative license here with the mouse. Maybe there was a mouse that Walt fed, but he never mentioned it. And I really doubt it.
Oh, and the timeline with the Alice story is a bit off, too.
As the movie shows, Laugh-O-Gram was in bad shape financially. But they managed to land a gig doing a short for the Missouri school system about dental hygiene. It was mostly live-action, but it paid $500, or about $7,000 in today’s dollars, so Walt took it. That was the short we learned about earlier, Tommy Tucker’s Tooth.
With this money, on April 23rd, 1923, Walt hired a little girl by the name of Virginia Davis. Well, she was too young to sign the contract. Her parents signed for her. The deal was that she’d make 5% of the profits from a new film that Walt’s team was working on called Alice’s Wonderland.
In the movie, the young Virginia Davis is portrayed by Beatrice Taveras.
About a month after this, on May 14th, Walt wrote his letter to Margaret Winkler about his Alice’s Wonderland project. So it wasn’t something that he just came up with while staring into the eyes of a mouse like the movie shows. It was actually a project they were already working on.
Regardless, the next part of the movie is pretty true when it shows Laugh-O-Gram getting served with a bankruptcy petition. We don’t know if it happened exactly like the movie shows, but in July of 1923, Laugh-O-Gram Films went bankrupt shortly after finishing their rough edits on Alice’s Wonderland.
Destitute, and kicked out of the office he was living in, Walt decided to move to California to stay with family.
Oh, and the movie shows that Walt used the money from a camera to buy his train ticket to L.A. That’s true. And he also brought along the rough edit of Alice’s Wonderland with him.
In the movie, after Walt moves to California he doesn’t move in with Roy like he did when he got back from the war. Instead, he rooms with his aunt and uncle, Charlotte and Robert.
Charlotte is portrayed by Jodie Sweetin while Robert is played by Randy Molnar.
Like most of the other details in the movie so far, this is true.
In July of 1923, the same month Laugh-O-Gram went bankrupt, Walt made his way to Los Angeles. It was here that he moved in with his aunt and uncle, Charlotte and Robert, into their two bedroom 1,458 square-foot home. He paid the rate the movie shows, $5 a week, in rent. That’s about $70 a week, or $280 a month, in today’s dollars.
In fact, the home is still there at 4406 Kingswell Avenue in Los Feliz. Although, in July of 2016, the current owners of the home put in a request to demolish the home so they can build a new one in its place.
But as of this recording, it’s still there and you can find it on Google Street View if you want to see what it looks like. I’ll make sure to put a link to it in the show notes.
It was in this home, just like the movie shows, that Walt Disney started his new studio in the garage. And that’s how the Disney Brothers Studio was born.
Yet another fact the movie got right was the connection with Margaret Winker being the payoff for Walt.
The movie doesn’t really talk a lot about Margaret, but it implies that she’s sort of a big deal.
Margaret Winkler started her own career as a secretary for Harry Warner. If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because Harry is one of the founders of Warner Brothers.
It was here that Margaret learned the ins and outs of film distribution, since Warner Brothers were strictly distributors during the silent film era. She made her name in animation when she signed a deal with Pat Sullivan Productions to produce Felix the Cat.
This made Margaret the first woman in history to produce and distribute animated films. Felix was a hit. And that made anyone associated with Felix a hit, including Margaret.
Toward the end of 1923, though, Margaret was in a bit of a rough spot. Pat Sullivan’s contract was up in September and Pat Sullivan himself was, well, not a great guy. A horrible guy, actually, who spent a lifetime as a hardcore racist and nine months in prison for raping a 14-year-old girl.
So yeah, not a role model.
But with Pat’s contract coming up for renewal, he knew how much money he was helping Winkler Productions make. So he had some incredibly ridiculous demands to sign with them again.
We don’t know the specifics of those demands, but it was while she pondered this that Margaret happened to get the letter from Walt. So not only did she see Walt as a potential talent, but also a potential out from Pat’s unrealistic demands.
Meanwhile, as the movie shows, Walt recognized he needed some help on the financial side of things. He knew he wasn’t as astute as his brother, Roy, when it comes to all things financial. So Walt asked Roy to help out. Then, on October 16th, 1923, both Walt and Roy signed their first contract together with Margaret.
However, in the movie, there’s another character who seems to take charge after this. It’s Charles Mintz, who’s played by Conor Dubin. If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering why Charles seemed to take charge after the deal was signed. After all, wasn’t it Margaret who was the big deal?
Well, yes. But the movie is still correct here, it’s just that it doesn’t show everything on Margaret’s side of things.
So the deal between the new studio aptly named Disney Brothers and Winkler Productions was signed toward the end of 1923. In the beginning of 1924, while the Disney Brothers studio was hiring new animators to work on their new contract, Margaret had some big news of her own.
It was in 1924 that Margaret married Charles Mintz. Soon after this, Margaret and Charles had their first child together. It was because of this that Margaret decided to retire and stay at home with her child. Charles then took over.
So the movie doesn’t really talk about that, but that would be why the movie shows Charles Mintz being the big wig at Winkler Productions instead of Margaret.
Speaking of marriage, in the movie one of the people that Walt hires is a women named Miss Bounds. She’s played by Kate Katzman in the movie, and we find out a bit later in the film that Miss Bounds’ first name is Lillian.
And this is true as well, although there are some conflicting reports about how Lillian came to work at Walt’s studio.
Lillian Bounds was born on February 15th, 1899 in Spalding, Idaho. After her sister Hazel moved to Los Angeles, Lillian decided to move to California also. She did this in 1925.
The movie shows Lillian coming in to apply for a job with one of her friends, Bridgit, who’s played by Ayla Kell.
While some historians confirm this story to be accurate, still others suggest Bridgit already worked at Disney Brothers. Then, as they say, knowing Walt was looking to hire some ink artists and having a friend that just moved to town, Bridgit recommended Lillian apply for the job.
Regardless of which is true, the result is the same. Lillian began working at Disney Brothers in April of 1925. Oh, and in the movie there’s a brief moment where Roy mentions Walt can be his best man, implying he’s getting married. This is true. Roy and Edna were married the same month that Lillian started working at Disney, April of 1925.
Love was in the air as three months later, on July 13th, 1925, Walt and Lillian were married in Lewiston, Idaho.
That’s just along the Clearwater River, about 11 miles west of Lillian’s hometown of Spalding.
Years later, Walt would joke that he couldn’t afford to hire Lillian so he married her instead.
During the year between signing the deal with Winkler Productions and Walt and Lillian getting married, Disney Bros. Studio, as their small office window bore, had a few milestones.
The first of the films featuring Alice hit theaters in March of 1924. Then, a few months later, Walt convinced Ub Iwerks to move out to California to work with him.
In the movie, just as things are going well for Walt, yet again there’s trouble brewing. This time, it’s from Charles Mintz, who steals some of Walt’s team out from under him. In addition, Charles takes the rights to Walt’s most popular character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
This is all true, as is the brief scene where we see Walt and Roy talking about the name of the studio. Well, we don’t really know if the scene itself is accurate, but we do know that in February of 1926, Disney Brothers renamed to Walt Disney Studio.
After the Disney brothers had signed a distribution deal with Winkler Productions, they created what they called The Alice Comedies. This was the mixture of live-action with animations that we see in the movie.
There were a total of seven of those. After these, Walt and Ub came up with a new character that would become Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Since they had a successful deal with the Alice shorts, they signed a similar deal for Oswald in 1927.
Just like the movie indicates, Charles Mintz was sort of a middle man as he distributed the Oswald cartoons through Universal Studios. So Walt’s company made the Oswald animations and sold them to Charles who, in turn, distributed them through Universal.
It didn’t take long for audiences to love the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. However, because of the line of companies ahead of Walt Disney Studios, there wasn’t a lot of money left over for the artists who actually made the cartoons. Instead, Universal and Charles Mintz profited more off of Walt’s work than Walt did.
Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say Ub’s work. Ub was the one who animated the first Oswald cartoon on his own.
While Oswald was gaining popularity for Disney, it wasn’t gaining them much money. The circumstances may have been different, but bankruptcy had to have been on Walt’s mind. For Walt, this scenario was all too familiar.
Things would get worse before they’d get better.
In the movie, there’s a scene where Walt meets with Charles Mintz. Charles smugly informs Walt that if he doesn’t sign a new deal with Winkler Productions, he’ll go bankrupt again. After all, according to the movie, Charles owns Oswald as well as convincing many of Walt’s team to leave Disney to work for him.
Sadly, this is true as well.
While they might’ve had a good working relationship to begin with, things had apparently turned sour. Charles Mintz essentially stole the character of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from Disney Brothers. At the same time, Charles also convinced most of Walt’s team to leave Disney.
It became clear that Charles’ plan was to take the success of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit along with as many of the artists who worked on it as he could and cut out Disney Brothers. I’m sure Charles would’ve let Walt come along, too, if he wanted to join the team as an employee.
But Walt didn’t want to work for Charles. And he wanted to get paid more for the Oswald cartoons so he could do crazy things like afford to put a roof over his head (that’s sarcasm, by the way).
Meanwhile, Charles didn’t want to keep paying Walt Disney Studios, even it was a measly sum. He wanted to create Oswald cartoons in his own, new studio that he could turn around and sell to Universal.
Walt didn’t like this idea, and instead ended his working relationship with Winkler Productions in 1928.
In the movie, it’s on the way back from this meeting with Charles Mintz that inspiration strikes Walt. He tells Lillian he wants to be his own boss, and then looks out the window to see a mouse-shaped cloud.
After this, according to the movie, Walt arrives back at the studio and gives Ub a sketch of Mortimer the Mouse.
The gist is true, but I think it’s pretty obvious the mouse-shaped cloud thing didn’t happen.
However, like the movie shows, it was on the train ride from New York to California that Walt came up with a sketch for a cartoon mouse.
Although, from New York to California is a long train ride, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he had quite a few sketches to pass the time. But that’s just my assumption, we don’t really know that.
When he returned to the studio, he gave the sketch of the mouse to Ub.
Ub Iwerks was the only animator who didn’t leave Walt for greener pastures with Charles Mintz. Ub took the sketch Walt gave him and cleaned it up to something that’d look more like what we now know as Mickey.
But the mouse sketch wasn’t the only one they had come up with. Together, Walt and Ub started working on new character ideas. Ub sketched a number of new characters. Cats, dogs, frogs, cows, horses.
None of them were quite right. Walt rejected all of them.
Although, as a side note here, two of the characters would end up making their way into Disney cartoons later. They were Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar.
In the movie, after Ub, Walt, Lillian, Roy and the other two inking artists decide the mouse is the one to move forward with, they have to come up with a name. Walt likes Mortimer the Mouse.
According to the movie, Lillian doesn’t like this name. She suggests a few more names. Finally, Walt picks one out of the names she suggests—Mickey.
While we don’t know if the conversation was exactly like that, the gist is accurate.
Although it’s worth pointing out there’s a lot of different tales about how the name Mickey came to be.
Some people claim after Walt suggested Mortimer that Lillian hated the name. Others claim Lillian simply thought the name was to pretentious. Still others that Lillian said it was too formal, too sissy or too pompous.
Because of these varied reports, it’s tough to know exactly what words were said.
What we do know, though, is that it was, as the movie shows, Lillian who suggested changing the name from Mortimer to Mickey.
The final scene in the movie is the small team sitting in the theater watching their first animation with the new mouse character in a new animation called Plane Crazy.
Like many of the other scenes we’ve learned about so far, the particulars of this scene were made up for the film but the gist is true.
Plane Crazy premiered in May of 1928 and was the first film to star the new character of Mickey.
Since the purpose of the film Walt Before Mickey was to tell the tale of Walt Disney’s life prior to coming up with the most popular mouse in the world, this is where the movie ends. But, of course, it’s not the end of the story for Walt Disney. Of course, the rest of the story could be an entire book itself. Or, really, entire volumes of books could be (and are) dedicated to telling the intimate details of Walt Disney’s story.
But let’s continue on just to get a brief look at what happened after what we see in the movie.
At the time, Plane Crazy didn’t make much money for Walt Disney Studios. In fact, not many saw it.
Walt’s fame started to rise later that year when Steamboat Willie opened at the Colon Theater in New York on November 18th, 1928. Audiences loved it and begged for more.
And they got it.
For the next decade, Walt Disney Studios created an array of animations. They were growing slowly and steadily.
There was a burst in growth they announced the first feature length animation. As Disney’s staff grew to nearly 200 employees, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released on December 21st, 1937.
It made $8 million gross at the box office. That’s the equivalent of over $131 million today. The Disney brothers used this money to pay off all of their loans and expand their studio even further as they began work on their second feature film, Pinocchio.
They also used the money to improve their family’s lives, moving their parents to Southern California. Finally, everything was going right.
That would change.
About a year later, the furnace in the home Walt and Roy bought for their parents stopped working properly. It was leaking gas into the home. So the Disney boys paid to have it repaired. But it wasn’t repaired well.
Sadly, on November 26th, 1938, the boys’ mother, Flora Disney, passed away after being asphyxiated from the leaking gas. It was something Walt would never forgive himself for.
With an impressively growing studio, Walt decided to expand into a new area: a theme park. Construction began in 1954, and only a year later on July 17th, 1955, Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California.
After the success of Disneyland, Walt decided to supplement the California-based theme park with another park in Florida. But this wasn’t going to be a new theme park, but instead an experimental community.
Meanwhile, Roy had decided he was going to retire to spend more time with his family. Roy had never really liked the limelight.
Throughout the movie, there’s something you’ll see Walt doing quite a bit. Smoking. This is true. Walt Disney was a heavy smoker ever since he returned from the war.
It caught up with him when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in November of 1966. A month later, on December 15th, 1966, Walt Disney passed away. That was ten days after his 65th birthday.
Roy was determined to build the park his brother wanted. So he postponed his retirement and took over as president of Walt Disney Productions so he could oversee the construction.
However, without Walt’s imagination, Roy couldn’t follow through with Walt’s planned community. So that plan was scrapped and instead plans for another park like Disneyland in California were put together.
Construction began on May 27th, 1969. It took a couple years, but on October 1st, 1971, the park opened in Orlando, Florida.
At the park’s opening ceremony, Roy revealed that Walt had planned on the name for the new community to be Disney World. With the vision for the community changed and his brother gone, Roy decided to name the new park Walt Disney World.
With the park completed, Roy Disney retired that very same month. Two months later, on December 20th, 1971, Roy Disney passed away from a seizure at the age of 78.