Try to imagine a world without Walt Disney. Without Disneyland, Disneyworld, and all things Disney. It would be pretty hard to do. For Disney was a man who transformed the entertainment industry, into what we know today. He pioneered the fields of animation, and found new ways to teach, and educate.
Walt’s optimism came from his unique ability to see the entire picture. His views and visions, came from the fond memory of yesteryear, and persistence for the future.
But early in Walt Disney’s career, he wasn’t always successful.
Check out these 10 setbacks that Walt Disney had, some were financial nightmares that lost him millions of dollars:
1) Walt formed his first animation company in Kansas City in 1921. He made a deal with a distribution company in New York, in which he would ship them his cartoons and get paid six months down the road. Flushed with success, he began to experiment with new storytelling techniques, his costs went up and then the distributor went bankrupt. He was forced to dissolve his company and at one point could not pay his rent and was surviving by eating dog food.
2) Walt created a mildly successful cartoon character in 1926 called Oswald the Rabbit. When he tried to negotiate with his distributor, Universal Studios, for better rates for each cartoon, he was informed that Universal had obtained ownership of the Oswald character and they had hired Disney’s artists out from under him.
4) The Three Little Pigs was rejected by distributors in 1933 because it only had four characters, it was felt at that time that cartoons should have as many figures on the screen as possible. It later became very successful and played at one theater so long that the poster outside featured the pigs with long white beards.
5) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was sneak previewed to College Students in 1937 who left halfway during the film causing Disney great despair. It turned out the students had to leave early because of dorm curfew.
6) Pinocchio in 1940 became extra expensive because Walt shut down the production to make the puppet more sympathetic than the lying juvenile delinquent as presented in the original Carlo Collodi story. He also resurrected a minor character, an unnamed cricket who tried to tell Pinocchio the difference between right and wrong until the puppet killed him with the mallet. Excited by the development of Jiminy Cricket plus the revamped, misguided rather than rotten Pinocchio, Walt poured extra money into the film’s special effects and it ended up losing a million dollars in its first release.
7) For the premiere of Pinocchio Walt hired 11 midgets, dressed them up like the little puppet and put them on top of Radio City Music Hall in New York with a full day’s supply of food and wine. The idea was they would wave hello to the little children entering into the theater. By the middle of the hot afternoon, there were 11 drunken naked midgets running around the top of the marquee, screaming obscenities at the crowd below. The most embarrassed people were the police who had to climb up ladders and take the little fellows off in pillowcases.
8) Walt never lived to see Fantasia become a success. 1940 audiences were put off by its lack of a story. Also the final scene, The Night On Bald Mountain sequence with the devil damning the souls of the dead, was considered unfit for children.
9) In 1942, Walt was in attendance for the premiere of Bambi. In the dramatic scene where Bambi’s mother died, Bambi was shown wandering through the meadow shouting,’ Mother! Where are you, Mother?’ A teenage girl seated in the balcony shouted out, ‘ Here I am Bambi!’ The audience broke into laughter except for the red-faced Walt who concluded correctly that war-time was not the best time to release a film about the love-life of a deer.
Walt was human, he suffered through many fits of anger and depression through his many trials. Yet he learned from each setback, and continued to take even bigger risks which combined with the wisdom that experiencing failure can provide, led to fabulous financial rewards.
One of his bigger risks would become known as Disneyland. Here is the story on how Walt Disney started to create in his mind the “Happiest Place on Earth”.
When they were little, Walt Disney would take his two young daughters, Diane and Sharon, to play at the carousel at Griffith Park in Los Angeles every Sunday. While his daughters enjoyed their repeated rides, Disney sat on park benches with the other parents who had nothing to do but watch. It was on these Sunday excursions that Walt Disney began to dream of an activity park that had things for both children and parents to do.
At first, Disney envisioned an 8-acre park which would be located near his Burbank studios and be called, “Mickey Mouse Park.” However, as Disney began to plan themed areas, he quickly realized that 8-acres would be way too small for his vision.
Although World War II and other projects put Disney’s theme park on the back burner for many years, Disney continued to dream about his future park. In 1953, Walt Disney was finally ready to start on what would become known as Disneyland.
The first part of the project was to find a location. Disney hired the Stanford Research Institute to find an appropriate location that consisted of at least 100-acres, was located near Los Angeles, and could be reached by a freeway. The company found for Disney a 160-acre orange orchard in Anaheim, California.
Next came finding funding. While Walt Disney put up much of his own money to make his dream a reality, he didn’t have enough personal money to complete the project. Disney then contacted financiers to help. But however much Walt Disney was enthralled with the theme park idea, the financiers he approached were not. Many of the financiers could not envision the monetary rewards of a place of dreams. To gain financial support for his project, Disney turned to the new medium of television. Disney made a plan with ABC: ABC would help finance the park if Disney would produce a television show on their channel. The program Walt created was called “Disneyland” and showed previews of the different themed areas in the new, upcoming park.
On July 21, 1954, construction on the park began. It was a momentous undertaking to build Main Street, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland in only one year. The total cost of building Disneyland would be $17 million.
On July 17, 1955, 6,000 by-invitation-only guests were invited for a special preview of Disneyland before it opened to the public the following day. Unfortunately, 22,000 extra people arrived with counterfeit tickets.
Besides the huge numbers of extra people on this first day, many other things went wrong. Included in the problems were a heat wave that made the temperature unusually and unbearably hot, a plumber’s strike meant only a few of the water fountains were functional, women’s shoes sunk into still soft asphalt which had been laid the night before, and a gas leak caused several of the themed areas to be closed temporarily.
Despite these initial setbacks, Disneyland opened to the public on July 18, 1955, with an entrance fee of $1. Over the decades, Disneyland has added attractions and opened the imaginations of millions of children.What was true when Walt Disney stated it during the opening ceremonies in 1995 still stands true today: “To all who come to this happy place – welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America… with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world. Thank you.”
And the place has been the source of much laughter, more than a few tears, shrieks of joy and knowing smiles for millions of people the world over.
I love the pure magical escapism of it. You arrive in a place that a Castle, pirates, haunted mansions and flying elephants exist that allow to escape reality and enter fantasy. The feeling of happiness inside make you feel like a kid again at any age. It makes me feel happy inside, this magical place where you can get excited to take your picture with Mickey.
Walt Disney is one of many inspirational stories from people who have achieved great things by following their dreams no matter what. Disney faced numerous rejections yet refused to listen to the negative people who said, “you can’t”. Thank you Walt Disney for believing in your dream and leaving us with a legacy that will last forever.