Disneyland at 60: Looking Back on the Man, the Mouse and the Myth

Walt Disney is a cultural icon. His influence on the entertainment industry is undeniable and will be forever commemorated through his feature films, animated shorts, and numerous theme parks worldwide. Come along as we take a behind-the-scenes look at the wonderful world of Walt Disney on the occasion of Disneyland's 60th anniversary. And be sure to tune in on Feb. 21 to watch ABC's two-hour special "The Wonderful World of Disney: Disneyland 60."

Early Years

Walt Disney was born in Chicago, Illinois, on Dec. 5, 1901. At age 4, Disney and his family moved to the farmland of Marceline, Missouri, where an interest in drawing first began to take root. By 1917, the Disneys had returned to Chicago where Walt developed a love for the theater and motion pictures and took over as the cartoonist for his high school's newspaper.

Disney & Iwerks

After dropping out of high school, Disney moved to Kansas City in 1919 to pursue an artistic career. He secured a low-level job creating ads for print publications at the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio. It's there that he met Ubbe Iwerks, a fellow cartoonist who would go on to become one of Disney's closest friends. Upon their departure from the studio, the pair decided to strike up a collaboration and develop a commercial company that would be called Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists.

The Beginnings of an Animation Career

In over his head, Disney left his own startup in 1920 to take a job as an animator at the Kansas City Film Ad Company. He honed his craft by experimenting with complex camerawork and studying industry-related literature. He eventually opened his own animation business and started creating cartoons that he called Laugh-O-Grams. This led to Disney eventually acquiring his own studio, also called Laugh-O-Gram, and hiring a number of additional animators, including his good friend and collaborator, Iwerks.

Move to Hollywood

Though Disney celebrated moderate success with his Laugh-O-Gram studio, mismanaged finances quickly lead him to bankruptcy. Disney opted to leave Kansas City behind and move out to Hollywood with his older brother, Roy E. Disney. The two developed their own cartoon studio in 1923, originally called Disney Brothers' Studio (later to be called The Walt Disney Company). The brothers shopped their cartoons around to several different distributors before striking a deal with New York-based Margaret Winkler to produce a live action series called Alice's Comedies.

Mickey Mouse

Disney's greatest contribution to the entertainment industry is undoubtedly his iconic Mickey Mouse character. Disney created Mickey Mouse in 1928, drawing inspiration from the pet mouse he'd adopted while working at the Laugh-O-Gram studio in Kansas City. That same year, Disney released a Mickey Mouse cartoon called Steamboat Willie that became an immediate success. Disney even received a special Academy Award in 1932 for the creation of Mickey Mouse. To this day, the character is the known as the universal mascot for The Walt Disney Company and has earned the title of most recognizable cartoon character in the world.

Disney Animators' Strike

With the massive success of Mickey Mouse and Disney's first animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney built a new campus for the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, in 1939. A shift in culture, a perceived hierarchy among the staff, and a slew of layoffs led to the animator's strike in 1941. The strike lasted five weeks, at which time Disney signed a contract that established the company as an official union shop.

WWII and the War Effort

By 1941, the U.S. had entered into World War II. Disney's studios contributed to the war effort by creating training and instructional films for the military. He also took it upon himself to make insignia for the soldiers abroad. It's said that the humorous logos and signage helped entertain the troops and boost morale overseas.

Disneyland & Walt Disney World

Disney opened Disneyland on July 17, 1955, in Anaheim, California. Since opening 60 years ago, Disneyland has gone through several expansions and renovations, which have resulted in many additional attractions. In 1965, Disney announced plans to open another theme park near Orlando, Florida, but due to his death the following year, this park wouldn't be developed until a few years later. Known as Walt Disney World, that resort opened on Oct. 1, 1971. It boasts an attendance of over 52 million annually, making it the most visited vacation spot in the world.

Disney Feature Films & Awards

Disney has more Academy Awards and nominations than any other individual in history. With a total of 59 nominations during his lifetime, Disney won 22 Academy Awards and received four additional honorary Academy Awards. He also won seven Emmy Awards. Some of his most notable feature films include Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Bambi, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.

Family Life

In 1925, Disney hired Lillian Bounds to ink and paint celluloid film for cartoons produced through the Disney Brothers' Studio. That same year, the two were married after a very brief courtship. In 1933, the Disneys welcomed their first daughter, Diane Marie Disney. A few years later, they adopted Sharon Mae Disney due to Lillian's previous birth complications. Diane went on to establish The Walt Disney Family Museum, while Sharon devoted her life to philanthropy.

The Death of a Legend

A lifelong chain smoker, Disney underwent surgery in November of 1966 to remove one of his lungs after x-rays discovered a tumor. Although he was told that he'd have six months to two years to live, he collapsed at his home in Burbank, California later that month and was rushed to the hospital. Just 10 days after his 65th birthday, Disney passed away on Dec. 15, 1966, of circulatory collapse caused by lung cancer.

Walt Disney's Legacy

Disney's contributions to film, television, and the entertainment industry as a whole are virtually infinite. He was a pioneer and cultural icon of the American animation industry, as well as an innovator in theme park development and design. Even after his death, Disney's feature films, animated shorts, and numerous amusement parks across the world have continued to warm the hearts of both children and adults. And the company keeps adding to its portfolio with acquisitions like the Star Wars franchise from the 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm.

Which Disney movie was your favorite growing up? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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