Mickey, the immortal mouse
Walt Disney invented the lively, lovable rodent-gentleman in 1928 on a train journey. Mickey's screen debut brought global fame and he helped Disney build an empire, writes RANDOR GUY. Now the noted mouse turns 75.
SOME YEARS ago, certain futurists working on the concept of `One World One Country' went into the details of the idea. One of them would be the `President of the World.' Qualifications for the job were fed into a supercomputer and much to the surprise and delight of all, the `Numero Uno' choice was Mr. Mickey Mouse!
The man who invented that lively, loveable rodent-gentleman was the great genius, Walt Disney (1901-1966). He made millions happy around the world and left behind many immortal creations like Donald Duck, Goofy, Bambi, Pluto, and others. But Mickey Mouse is the most immortal of them all. How did it all begin? Mickey Mouse, Disney's most famous character, made his screen debut on November 18, 1928, as star of the first sound cartoon, "Steamboat Willie".
Mickey was born in Disney's imagination early in 1928 on a long train journey from New York to Los Angeles. He was returning with his wife Lillian from a meeting with his financiers. His cartoon creation, `Oswald the Rabbit', had been taken away from him by his financial backers.
Only 26, with an active animation-cartoon studio in Hollywood, he went to New York to arrange for a fresh contract and get more money to improve the quality of his Rabbit. The moneymen declined and took control of it under copyright laws. And Disney was out of work!
As the train chug-chugged its way to Los Angeles, Disney worked furiously on his new character a mouse. He showed Lillian his new character and told her he was going to call him `Mortimer Mouse'. Lillian did not like it and soon they came up with `Mickey Mouse' and ... the world was never the same again!
When the Disneys reached Hollywood with a whole new character and concept, all at the studio were bubbling enthusiastically.
Why a mouse? Thereby hangs a tale. The idea for Mickey Mouse came to Disney from a memory of a friendly mouse that begged for food in 1922 in his Kansas City art studio!
Disney wanted Mickey to look more human, so he gave him human hands and covered them with gloves. Four fingers were easier to draw than five, so Mickey had four fingers! As he worked on a couple of Mickey shorts, movies had begun to talk in 1927 and distributors showed no interest in silent cartoons. So Disney began work on the third Mickey Mouse cartoon, with sound. It was named "Steamboat Willie".
"Steamboat Willie" premiered in New York City on November 18, 1928. It was as an instant success and Mickey Mouse found himself famous the next morning! Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois. His father Elias Disney was an Irish-Canadian, and mother, Flora Call Disney, was of German-American descent. Disney was one of five children. Later the Disney family moved to Marceline, Missouri. Disney lived most of his childhood years here. Even as a lad he had interest in drawing, and art. When he was seven years old, he sold small sketches, and drawings to neighbours. Instead of doing his schoolwork, Disney drew pictures of animals, and nature.
Walt went to high school in Chicago. Here he was involved in drawing and photography, and contributing to the school paper. At night he attended the Academy of Fine Arts, to improve his talent. Then the Disney family relocated to Kansas City. Here he continued to develop his talent for artistic drawing and for acting. At school Walt told his classmates stories, illustrating them with chalk on the board.
During the First World War (1914-1918), Disney could not join the army because of his age but he joined the Red Cross and went to France, where he spent a year in 1917 driving an ambulance which he splashed with his cartoons!
His parents objected to a career in arts but he had his way and found a job with an advertising firm on a princely monthly salary of $ 50. Soon he was sent out because business became dull and as he was about to leave, he met Ube Iwerks, another young artist who had also been discharged! The two would create history in cartoon movies.
Soon the two started `Laugh-O-Gram Company.' And their cartoons became hits and a film distributor offered to screen them around the world! But the money guys played dirty and `LOG' went broke! Then Disney took off to Hollywood. He was only 22.
Atthe Mecca of Movies nobody was willing to take a chance with him. But he struggled and his elder brother Roy Disney joined him. They set up a studio in a small room and developed "Alice in Cartoonland". It scored and Disney asked Ube Iwerks to join him. He also hired a girl, Lillian Bounds. Soon love bloomed and before long she became his wife!
By 1927, Disney realised he needed a new character and created a long-eared rabbit. `Oswald the Rabbit' established Disney as a leading cartoon-maker in Hollywood. And then came the problems with the New York distributors.
The age of Mickey the Mouse was about to dawn ... Disney introduced Technicolor during the production of his "Silly Symphonies Cartoon Features." He held the patent for Technicolor for two years, allowing him to make colour cartoons.
In 1932, the short movie entitled "Flowers and Trees", won him the first of many Oscar Awards. In 1937, he made "The Old Mill", the first short subject to utilise the multi-plane camera technique.
In 1937, came his first classic "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", the first full-length animated musical feature. The movie is considered one of the great and monumental achievements of cinema. During the next five years, Walt Disney Studios completed other full-length animated classics such as "Pinocchio", "Fantasia", "Dumbo", and "Bambi".
What is the secret of Mickey's everlasting fame? A critic wrote, ``he was a little guy who satirised people's faults and follies and taught them to laugh. Most importantly, he was a character who dreamed big, and his dreams were universal.''
In one scene in "Steamboat Willie", Mickey Mouse plays on a cow's udders like a musical instrument! Purists and prudes objected but it raised the biggest laughs around the world! As Disney could not afford a professional voice for Mickey, he lent his own. The musical feature, "The Three Caballeros" (1945), combined live action with cartoon animation, a process he used successfully in other features, especially the classic, "Mary Poppins" (1964). The Disney Studio produced more than 100 features.
Soon Mickey Mouse became a cult figure, which made it more than difficult to create stories to suit his status! If he lost his temper or did anything sneaky, objections poured in from `devotees' around the world! In 1954 Disney created "The Mickey Mouse Club", which became the biggest ever children's TV show.
Mickey Mouse moved to Disneyland in 1955 to become chief host of the theme park, welcoming millions of visitors annually, shaking hands, posing for pictures, and leading the big parades on national holidays. (This writer had the pleasure of shaking hands with Mickey and takingphotographs with him in 1997!)
In 1971, he helped open the Walt Disney World Resort. In 1983 he donned a kimono for the dedication of `Tokyo Disneyland', and in 1992, he sported a beret for the opening of `Disneyland Paris'. His other activities include public appearance tours around the world for The Walt Disney Company.
Mickey Mouse helped Disney build an empire around the world. Movies, TV channels, hotels, stores, theme parks and much more.
After a life of struggle, stress, search, and then success, Walt Disney passed away on December 15,1966. He was only 65.
The best tribute to Mickey Mouse was paid by Disney at the opening of the Disneyland in Anaheim, near Los Angeles, when he said, ``I hope we never lose sight of one fact ... that this was all started by a Mouse!'' Of course, Mickey Mouse was too modest to roar...!
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