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Walt before Mickey

Walt before Mickey: Disney's Early Years, 1919-1928

Timothy S. Susanin
with a foreword by Diane Disney Miller
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Walt before Mickey
    Book Description:

    For ten years before the creation of Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney struggled with, failed at, and eventually mastered the art and business of animation. Most biographies of his career begin in 1928, when Steamboat Willie was released. That first Disney Studio cartoon with synchronized sound made its main character--Mickey Mouse-an icon for generations.

    But Steamboat Willie was neither Disney's first cartoon nor Mickey Mouse's first appearance. Prior to this groundbreaking achievement, Walt Disney worked in a variety of venues and studios, refining what would become known as the Disney style. In Walt Before Mickey, 1919-1928, Timothy Susanin creates a portrait of the artist from age seventeen to the cusp of his international renown.

    After serving in the Red Cross in France after World War I, Walt Disney worked for advertising and commercial art in Kansas City. Walt used these experiences to create four studios-Kaycee Studios, Laugh-O-gram Films, Disney Brothers Studio, and Walt Disney Studio. Using company documents, private correspondence between Walt and his brother Roy, contemporary newspaper accounts, and new interviews with Disney's associates, Susanin traces Disney's path. The author shows Disney to be a complicated, resourceful man, especially during his early career.Walt Before Mickey, a critical biography of a man at a crucial juncture, provides the "missing decade" that started Walt Disney's career and gave him the skills to become a name known worldwide.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-961-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Thanksgiving, 1966
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    During Thanksgiving week, 1966, Walt Disney, two weeks shy of his sixty-fifth birthday, returned to his studio in Burbank, California. He had been out for a while, and was looking forward to getting back to work. He had tried to run the studio even though he had not been there. One of his executives visited him to discuss upcoming projects, and one of his writers prepared a memorandum for him about the studio’s script selection process. He even had a secretary bring him his mail each day.

    On Monday, November 21, when he finally got back to the studio, and...

  5. Book One Kansas City

    • Prologue—The Road to the First Studios: COMMERCIAL ART, FILM ADS, AND “HOME EXPERIMENTING,” 1919–1921
      (pp. 3-21)

      “I was 18 years old when I actually started out on my career,” recalled Walt Disney. His “first job was with the Gray Advertising [C]ompany in Kansas City. I worked as an art apprentic[e].” Walt “started working with Gray’s the latter part of October, 1919[.]” Walt (who, despite his recollection, was still seventeen years old at the time) had returned to the United States on Friday, October 10, 1919, after working as a driver for the Red Cross Ambulance Corps in France after the end of World War I. After spending nearly a year overseas, Walt—described by his daughter...

    • Kaycee Studios 1921–1922
      (pp. 22-33)

      By the fall of 1921, Walt and his Film Ad friend and colleague Fred Harman decided to open a studio. They rented “this little shop” above a streetcar barn at 30th and Holmes Streets, and established what might have initially been called the Harman-Disney Studio. Walt and Fred continued working at Film Ad by day and spent their evenings at the studio. Their boss at Film Ad, Vern Cauger, claimed to have let Walt rent space in a vacant house a few steps up a hill from Film Ad, but the streetcar barn was not a few steps away; it...

    • Laugh-O-gram Films, Inc. 1922–1923
      (pp. 34-76)

      In spring 1922, about six or seven months after beginning his first animated fairy tales at Kaycee Studios, Walt Disney decided to leave Film Ad, and, he explained, “[d]uring the next few years, I expended several of my ideas trying to crack the animated cartoon field[.]” The forum through which he “expended” his ideas was another studio that he named Laugh-O-gram Films, Inc., presumably after his successfulNewman Laugh-O-Gramsof the previous year.

      Walt’s father gave an interview in which he suggested that the new studio came about due to local demand. “Some time after [theNewman Laugh-O-Grams],” said Elias...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  6. Book Two Los Angeles

    • Disney Brothers Studio 1923–1926
      (pp. 79-138)

      When twenty-one-year-old Walt arrived in Los Angeles, he was met by his brother, Roy, who recalled, “I met [Walt] at the station. He was carrying a cheap suitcase that contained all of his belongings.” Walt explained, “I landed in Hollywood in August, 1923, with a two-year-old suit of clothes, a sweater, a lot of drawing materials and $40. . . . Also in my suitcase was [Alice’s Wonderland,] the last of the fairy tale reels we had made [at Laugh-O-gram Films].” The print ofAlicemay not have been entirely finished.

      Walt seemed content with his decision to forgo a...

    • Walt Disney Studio 1926–1928
      (pp. 139-178)

      In mid-February 1926, twenty-four-year-old Walt Disney moved his studio one and one-half miles east to the Silver Lake district several miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, at the eastern border of Hollywood. The area, according to a longtime Disney employee, “was mainly a residential development, a section of town which [by the late 1920s] had been laid out with streets and curbs, but which had very few homes at that time. . . . [T]he grass and weeds were very tall and they were growing up through the sidewalk in places” and the main street in the area was not...

  7. Epilogue: After Mickey
    (pp. 179-212)

    In the wake of his disastrous meetings with Charlie Mintz in New York in February and March of 1928, Walt, with the assistance of Roy, Ubbe, and the remaining studio staff (supplemented by Lillian and Edna, who helped with the inking and painting, and a new animator), created the first Mickey Mouse reel.Plane Crazywas completed about two months after Walt and Lilly’s return from New York. Unable to find a distributor for the first two Mickey cartoons, Walt—providing Mickey’s voice—set the series’ third short,Steamboat Willie, to sound and in the process created one of the...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 213-214)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 215-314)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 315-324)
  11. Index
    (pp. 325-340)