The Life of Walt Disney
Walt Disney turned entertaining children into a billion dollar business but barely had a childhood. As a kid, Disney woke up at 3:00 in the morning and went to work delivering papers for no pay, then napped before school. The boy who grew up without leisure made a business, a Magic Kingdom, and a career devoted to engineering joy for others.
Born in 1901, Disney grew up alongside the American heyday of the train, the automobile, and the airplane but died in 1966, too young to see Americans land on the Moon.
Disney quit high school to join the Army, told he was too young to fight, and drove an ambulance at the end of World War I, a mechanized nightmare so horrible that most assumed it would end war forever. He returned from war torn France to draw cartoons of funny animals.
Disney had his creations taken from him, failed in business, lost everything. And yet he looked toward the future with cheery optimism and gambled everything he had on one dream after another.
A teacher slapped Walt Disney the boy when he brought a mouse to school.
Walt Disney the man took a mouse around the world.
Photo Credit: Walt Disney before his cartoon-decorated Red Cross ambulance http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Walt01.jpg
Walt Disney’s Biggest Problem: Money
Born to a life of scrimping and working for pennies, Walt Disney amassed a fortune. But he cared little for money except for what it could build.
Disney considered money the biggest problem in his life. “From the very start it was a problem,” said Disney. “Getting the money to open Disneyland. About seventeen million it took. And we had everything mortgaged including my personal insurance.” His brother and studios business partner, Roy Disney, refused to help finance Disneyland.
Even as Disney gambled everything to build the Happiest Place on Earth, he was expected to fail.
“We did it (Disneyland), in the knowledge that most of the people I talked to thought it would be a financial disaster – closed and forgotten within the first year.”
Even Disneyland’s first scorching day, known as Black Sunday was a disaster. When plumbing problems meant closing the drinking fountains to run the toilets, Disney was accused of manufacturing the problem to sell soft drinks.
The Magic Kingdom began modestly, its tallest structure being the Rocket to the Moon until construction of the Matterhorn. Disney saw the park as a perpetually unfinished work. Disney said of Disneyland, “It’s something that will never be finished.”
When the film Mary Poppins became the #1 moneymaker of 1965, earning a net profit of $28.5 million, Disney plowed the proceeds into planning and building new Disneyland attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion.
Neal Gabler’s meticulously researched biography (Gabler is the first writer to gain complete access to the Disney archives).
“It is astonishing that Walt Disney was always–and I do mean always–in dire financial straits until the opening of Disneyland,” says author Neal Gabler. “But even as they were making money, the studio was losing money because Walt was constitutionally incapable of cutting corners, enforcing economies, laying off staff. The only thing about which Walt Disney cared was quality.”