Monday, February 16, 2009

The Hand That Rocked the Culture

By James Gilbert Pynn

In terms of sheer cultural impact, there are only a handful of animators that can boast affecting generations of viewers and laying the foundations of a truly modern, shared American identity. The man from Illinois was given the name Walter, but we all know and love him as Walt. Disney, that is. With the financial help of his brother Roy, the Disneys would lay the foundations for one of the most powerful companies in the world.

The son of Elias and Flora Disney of Ontario, Canada, Walt was born on 1890 in Chicago, Illinois. Soon after, Elias packed up his family moved them to a farm in Marceline, Missouri. This four-year sojourn concluded when the Disneys moved to Kansas City in 1911. Having bought controlling shares in O-Zell Jelly, Elias moved his family back to Second City in 1917. Walter soon began his high school studies at McKinley High School while attending night classes at the Chicago Art Institute.

Walt's doodles earned him a spot as the cartoonist for the school newspaper. What may have been the budding start of career in newspapers was cut short by the outbreak of World War I. At the tender age of sixteen, alter dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Army. Though ready and willing, he was bounced from the Army for being underage. He joined the Red Cross as an ambulance driver, ensuring he could serve the war effort in some capacity. He would see minimal combat while in France, but it is certain the carnage he witnessed had a profound effect on him.

Upon returning to the States, Walter moved to Kansas City to begin a career as a cartoonist. He landed a job, through his brother Roy, at the Pesman-Rubin Art Studio, where he met Ubbe Iwerks. The two cartoonist were kindred spirits ad soon they struck out o their own, determined to begin an independent commercial company. Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists Company did not last long.

With IDAC in ruins, Walter decided to head to California. He and his brother, Roy, moved to Hollywood to start up a cartoon studio. Disney hired his old colleague and friend, Iwerks, to the staff and soon on the appeal of a little mouse named Mickey the profits were rolling in. Disney animated a host of short films and would not begin to move towards the revolutionary idea of an animated feature film until Steamboat Willie. The rest, in essence, is American history. - 16651

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