Be like Walt and Pat, positive and prolific


1976 @ Disney World with my parents

I grew up with happy, albeit vague, memories of Disney television programs and a definite love of Disney World which has survived puberty, parenting and my middle ages. So it is with a certain sense of relief that the more I have learned about its creator has reinforced what a great American he was. His creativity and stick-to-it-ivity are well chronicled in Pat Williams’ biography.

Williams himself has led a life worthy of biography-type attention. His experiences span from being mentored by Bill Veeck in sports management all the way to parenting 18 children, five biological and 14 adopted from four nations between 1983 and 1993. He has also authored [or co-authored] over 70 books, seven of which have followed the format of the “How to be like”–the subjects themselves having a wide span, from Jesus all the way [way] down to Michael Jordan.

This book about Walt Disney draws liberally from other Disney biographies and is not intended to resemble anyone’s dissertation.  In my case, the book accomplished all most books can hope for, someone purchased it and was inspired by it.

Book: How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life by Pat Williams

Method: E-book and audio

What I got from the book – recall the prolific warning in the blog post title:

  • Although Walt Disney’s childhood was difficult, partly due to a harsh father, leading to his decision to leave home at the age of 17–while forging papers to appear 18 and join a Red Cross unit to serve in World War I–he did not appear to resent his father or act embittered towards him
  • Walt met another teenager who also forged his name to join that Red Cross unit, Ray Kroc
  • In preparing for one of 18 year-old Walt’s first jobs he later said:
  •  Everyone has been remarkably influenced by a book, or books. In my case it was a book on cartoon animation [Eadweard Muybridge’s The Human Figure in Motion]. I discovered it in the Kansas City Library at the time I was preparing to make motion picture animation my life’s work. The book told me all I needed to know as a beginner— all about the arts and the mechanics of making drawings that move on the theater screen

  • Walt Disney was betrayed on more than one occasion by associates — e.g., Charles Mintz and Pat Powers — which ingrained in him and his brother Roy the need to retain creative and financial control at the expense of security
  • Financial difficulty was a constant issue for the Disney brothers until a few years after Disneyland opened
  • The first “person” ever to appear on television was Mickey Mouse. The television medium was invented on January 7, 1927, when a nineteen-year-old farmboy, Philo T. Farnsworth, filed a patent on an invention he called “television” (he named it after a fictional device he’d read about in a science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories)
  • On March 13, 1928 Walt Disney boarded a train leaving New York after losing the rights to his 1st cartoon success, Oswald the rabbit. Here’s how Disney describes the practical aspect of his idea on the train heading back home to Kansas City:
  • Why did I choose a mouse . . . ? Principally because I needed a small animal. I couldn’t use a rabbit, because there already was a rabbit on the screen [a reference to Oswald]. So I decided upon a mouse, as I have always thought they were very interesting little creatures. At first I decided to call him Mortimer Mouse, but changed his name to Mickey as the name has a more friendly sound. . . . While returning from a visit to New York, I plotted out the first story

  • On May 15, 1928, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Plane Crazy, was test-screened in Hollywood. It was shown as a silent film, accompanied by the theater’s organist
  • Animation scholars say that the key to Mickey’s popularity is his pleasing shape. There are no hard edges anywhere on Mickey’s body. His head, body, nose and eyes are all soft, flexible circles, giving him a soft, friendly feel
  • Feb 1929 – Inspired by the success of the 1927 release, The Jazz Singer, Walt knew that a talking mouse would be a sensation and wrote Roy; “Now is our chance to get a hold on the industry. So let’s take advantage of the situation!” Back in Hollywood, their studio was already animating the third Mickey Mouse cartoon, Steamboat Willie (a parody of a Buster Keaton comedy, Steamboat Bill Jr.)
  • The Steamboat Willie with sound film premiered on November 18, 1928, opening for a crime drama, Gang War. After the first showing, the audience gave Mickey a standing ovation. The Walt Disney Company observes that day as the official birthday of Mickey Mouse
  • In 1929 Farnsworth [Mr TV] transmitted that Mickey Mouse cartoon, Steamboat Willie, from his Philadelphia laboratory to a receiver in his home a few miles away
  • What is known today as the ‘storyboarding process’ in the movie business grew out of Walt badgering one of his story artists, Web Smith, for being messy back in 1931
  • Production began in 1934 for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which Walt estimated would cost $250,000, Roy estimated $500,000
  • In 1935, Walt was honored by the League of Nations for promoting global goodwill through the Mickey Mouse cartoons.  During the tour of Europe, Walt and Roy met author H. G. Wells, a Disney fan. Wells facilitated a meeting with another Disney fan, Charlie Chaplin
  • Later in 1935 … “Walt Disney was reading a contract when he stumbled upon an unfamiliar word: television. A clause in his renewal contract with United Artists would have granted the distribution company all television exhibition rights to Walt’s movies. At that time, no one—Walt included—had an inkling of how powerful and pervasive television would become. Yet, something told Walt that he should not surrender those rights” and he switched distributors to RKO Radio Pictures
  • Summer of 1937, when Snow White’s production costs exceeded $1 million, with an additional $5000,000 needed, a Bank of America banker named Joe Rosenberg saved the Disney studio by agreeing to finance the picture to completion based a private screening of the incomplete film
  • On December 21, 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered. As Snow White fell under the spell of the sleeping death potion, Walt was stunned to hear sobs of grief. The movie worked even more powerfully than he had hoped. At the end, the audience rose and gave Walt a standing ovation.
  • Six months after the film’s release, the formerly debt-ridden Disney studio had paid off its loans and had millions more in the bank. Snow White went on to earn over $ 8.5 million in its initial release, allowing construction of a new $ 3.8 million studio in Burbank which remains the hub of Disney animation today
  • Disney’s visit to the World’s Fair based in Chicago in 1948 fast-tracked his thoughts about creating an amusement park
  • After the Fair, Disney visited the Henry Ford Museum which featured a train and double-decker stern wheeler ship which circled the attractions
  • Art Linkletter was a friend and often was used by Disney to host televised events.
  • “In 1951 the Disneys and Linkletters visited Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. Built in 1843, Tivoli is known for its lush flower gardens, fine restaurants, nightly fireworks, and wholesome family atmosphere. … At night, Tivoli comes alight with over a hundred-thousand light bulbs … Walt later described Tivoli as “spotless, brightly colored, and priced within the reach of everyone”
  • In 1953 Disney company created its own film distribution arm, Buena Vista Pictures
  • In early 1954, the Disney company issued a press release announcing that a site had been located for the new Disney amusement park— in the San Fernando Valley. While the public’s attention was diverted fifty miles north of the actual site, Disney quietly bought up 160 acres of orange groves in Anaheim from 17 family farms
  • Construction began in July 1954 for Disneyland. The first task after groundbreaking was to clear the land of orange trees. Wanting to preserve as many mature trees as possible, WED landscapers spent days walking the site, tying colored ribbons around the trees. They explained the color codes to the bulldozer operator: blue ribbons on trees to be removed, red ribbons on trees to be spared. A few days later, almost every tree had been uprooted. It seems the bulldozer driver was colorblind
  • The Disneyland anthology series premiered on ABC on October 27, 1954, a great ratings success. The deal with ABC, including a 34.5% ownership in the company–which resulted in a 1,400% return on investment in 5 years for ABC—allowed Disney to afford completion of the Disneyland park
  • A December 1954 episode introduced Fess Parker as Davy Crockett, igniting a nationwide Crockett craze and producing a $ 100 million merchandising windfall— everything from Davy Crockett coonskin caps to 45 rpm records of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.”
  • Disneyland opened on July 17,1955 and Ronald Reagan [Walter Mitty ain’t got nothin’ on this guy], having been recommended by Linkletter, was there to help with the television hosting duties. It was watched by 90 million North American viewers. The recent Super Bowl attracted around 111 million
  • The opening had many problems and was referred to by Disneyland employees as ‘Black Sunday.’ One newspaper called Disneyland “the $ 17-million people trap that Mickey Mouse built”
  • “Because the park opened three years before the invention of credit cards, it was an all-cash business…. Ticket clerks dumped loose bills and change into metal fire buckets by their feet. When the buckets were full, they ran to the office and dumped out the cash on a big table. As the clerks ran back to their booths, the treasurer weighed the money”
  • As part of Disney’s TV anthology series, the “Man in Space” episode aired on March 9, 1955, and was seen by 42 million viewers. The show featured on-screen appearances by Walt, Ward Kimball and Wernher von Braun, who made a pitch for public support of an ambitious national space effort
  • Both Walt and Wernher von Braun were profoundly influenced by the science fiction writings of Jules Verne
  • Almost 14 years later, as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin approached the moon in Apollo 11, von Braun phoned Kimball and said, “Ward, have you been watching? NASA has been following your script for ‘Man and the Moon’!”
  • The Mickey Mouse Club debuted on October 3, 1955. During its 5pm time slot, it captured 75% of all TV viewers. At the height of the show’s popularity, the mouse ears sold at a rate of 20,000 per day
  • During the fall of 1958, ‘Disneyland’ anthology series changed its name to ‘Walt Disney Presents’
  • Walt was in charge of the opening and closing ceremonies at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California
  • Some of Walt’s best ideas came to him when he traveled. “Always, as you travel,” he said, “assimilate the sounds and sights of the world.” Walt’s friend Ray Bradbury compared Walt to a jackdaw, a bird noted for stealing shiny objects and carrying them to its nest. “Walt was a jackdaw in the meadows of the fields of the Lord,” Bradbury said, “He’d find a bright object and he’d think, ‘Oh my, that’s good!’ and he’d carry it back to the studio.”

About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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1 Response to Be like Walt and Pat, positive and prolific

  1. Luis N. Perez says:

    Nice “blarticle” (I made that up right now – Blog article)

    Luis N. Perez

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