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Walt Disney

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During a 43-year Hollywood career, which spanned the development of the motion picture medium as a modern American art, Walter Elias Disney, a modern Aesop, established himself and his product as a genuine part of Americana. David Low, the late British political cartoonist, called Disney "the most significant figure in graphic arts since Leonardo DaVinci." A pioneer and innovator, and the possessor of one of the most fertile imaginations the world has ever known, Walt Disney, along with members of his staff, received more than 950 honors and citations from every nation in the world, including 48 Academy Awards and 7 Emmys in his lifetime. Walt Disney's personal awards included honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, the University of Southern California and UCLA; the Presidential Medal of Freedom; France's Legion of Honor and Officer d'Academie decorations; Thailand's Order of the Crown; Brazil's Order of the Southern Cross; Mexico's Order of the Aztec Eagle; and the Showman of the World Award from the National Association of Theatre Owners.

The creator of Mickey Mouse and founder of Disneyland and Walt Disney World was born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 5, 1901. His father, Elias Disney, was an Irish-Canadian. His mother, Flora Call Disney, was of German-American descent. Walt was one of five children, four boys and a girl.

Raised on a farm near Marceline, Missouri, Walt became interested in drawing at an early age, selling his first sketches to neighbors when he was only seven years old. At McKinley High School in Chicago, Disney divided his attention between drawing and photography, contributing both to the school paper. At night he attended the Academy of Fine Arts.

During the fall of 1918, Disney attempted to enlist for military service. Rejected because he was only 16 years of age, Walt joined the Red Cross and was sent overseas, where he spent a year driving an ambulance and chauffeuring Red Cross officials. His ambulance was covered from stem to stem, not with stock camouflage, but with drawings and cartoons.

After the war, Walt returned to Kansas City, where he began his career as an advertising cartoonist. Here, in 1920, he created and marketed his first original animated cartoons, and later perfected a new method for combining live-action and animation.

In August of 1923, Walt Disney left Kansas City for Hollywood with nothing but a few drawing materials, $40 in his pocket and a completed animated and live-action film. Walt's brother, Roy 0. Disney, was already in California, with an immense amount of sympathy and encouragement, and $250. Pooling their resources, they borrowed an additional $500, and constructed a camera stand in their uncle's garage. Soon, they received an order from New York for the first "Alice Comedy" featurette, and the brothers began their production operation in the rear of a Hollywood real estate office two blocks away.

On July 13, 1925, Walt married one of his first employees, Lillian Bounds, in Lewiston, Idaho. They were blessed with two daughters: Diane, married to Ron Miller, former president and chief executive officer of Walt Disney Productions; and Sharon Disney Lund, who served as a member of Disney's Board of Directors and passed away in 1993. The Millers have seven children and Mrs. Lund had three.

Mickey Mouse was created in 1928, and his talents were first used in a silent cartoon entitled "Plane Crazy." However, before the cartoon could be released, sound burst upon the motion picture screen. Thus Mickey made his screen debut in "Steamboat Willie," the world's first fully-synchronized sound cartoon, which premiered at the Colony Theatre in New York on November 18, 1928.

Walt's drive to perfect the art of animation was endless. Technicolor was introduced to animation during the production of his "Silly Symphonies." In 1932, the film entitled "Flowers and Trees" won Walt the first of his 32 personal Academy Awards. In 1937, he released "The Old Mill," the first short subject to utilize the multiplane camera technique.

On December 21 of that same year, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the first full-length animated musical feature, premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles. Produced at the unheard cost of $1,499,000 during the depths of the Depression, the film is still accounted as one of the great feats and imperishable monuments of the motion picture industry. During the next five years, Walt completed such other full-length animated classics as "Pinocchio," "Fantasia," "Dumbo," and "Bambi."

In 1940, construction was completed on Disney's Burbank studio. The staff swelled to more than 1,000 artists, animators, story men and technicians. During World War II, 94 percent of the Disney facilities were engaged in special government work, including the production of training and propaganda films for the armed services, as well as health films which are still shown throughout the world by the U.S. State Department. The remainder of his efforts were devoted to the production of comedy short subjects, deemed highly essential to civilian and military morale.

Disney's 1945 feature, the musical "The Three Caballeros," combined live action with the cartoon medium, a process he used successfully in such other features as "Song of the South" and the highly acclaimed "Mary Poppins." In all, 81 features were released by the studio during his lifetime.

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