Hi all! I attended a great talk on Walt Disney and his childhood this past Sunday (12/6). It was held that the Central branch of the Kansas City Public Library. The talk was given by Robert W. Butler, a film critic and co-author of the book, Walt Disney’s Missouri. The talk drew a good and varied crowd all obviously Disney fans. My wife and I walked into the room and found some seats towards the back row as I knew I was going to tweet during it and I didn’t want to distract people. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Disney music playing softly in the background (“I Wanna Be Like You” from the Jungle Book, one of my favorites!) which created a nice environment as we waited for the program to begin. The Curator of Special collections came up and introduced Butler who came up to the podium with enthusiasm. Over the course of the program Butler described Walt’s early years and experiences and how Disney drew on these as inspiration for his animation and the eventual amusement parks. He was a very entertaining speaker as he was informative and funny so I wanted to share some of what was discussed during the talk as it was fascinating!
Butler told a great story about Walt growing up in Marceline, MO on the family far. He told of a pig that Walt would play with every day. Each day Walt would sneak up on this pig and jump on its back. The pig didn’t like this and would run around and buck until Walt was thrown off. Walt had a connection with this pig however. Whenever Walt was sick the pig would sit and wait outside his window until he could come out again. There was another animal that impacted Walt was a bull in a neighboring field. Walt and his sister would walk each day to school and use this field as a shortcut. To do so however, they had to outrun a territorial bull. These animals’ influence on Walt can be traced to the later cartoons, The Three Little Pigs, and Ferdinand the Bull.
Butler recounted Walt’s time in the military during WWI. He told a funny story where Walt and a friend took German soldier helmets and shot holes in them and painted them with red paint to look like blood and sold them as souvenirs to people. Quite the entrepreneur from the beginning!
Another couple fun facts presented by Butler: Walt’s brother Roy was working at a local bank, interestingly enough it is the First National Bank which today houses the Kansas City Public Library where the talk was being held! He gets Walt a job at an advertiser drawing ads. Here he meets a man named Ub Iwerks. This is truly an important meeting as Ub and Walt become close and decide to start an animation studio Disney-Iwerks Co. A quick funny aside, in the early days people would come in to their office to get their eye-glasses fixed because they thought the name was a play on words (i.e. “Eye works”). They changed the name to Iwerks-Disney Co but the venture was short lived.
Butler also discussed Walt’s animation studio in Kansas City, Laugh- O-Gram Studios. It was just Ub and another coworker, Fred Harman at first, but they quickly put out ads for new animators to join. Fred’s brother Hugh, Friz Freleng, and Rudolf Isling answered the call. A fascinating note on these animators. Fred Harman went on to animate the Red Ryder comic series. Hugh and Rudolf went on to form Warner Brothers and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer animation studios. They along with Freleng were also instrumental in the creation of the Looney Tunes, especially Freleng who developed characters such as Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, and even Bugs Bunny, among others. Ub along with Disney created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a huge hit at the time, and of course Mickey Mouse. Even as a native of Kansas City I was surprised to find out the incredible impact these animators had in creating some of the most beloved American characters!
Overall, a fascinating talk with Robert Butler who had a great deal of knowledge about Walt Disney and his childhood and influences. So glad that I could attend and so thankful the Kansas City Public Library hosted the event. If you are interested in learning more check out Butler’s book Walt Disney’s Missouri. You can also head on over to my twitter @historicdisney as I live tweeted facts and quotes from the talk. Also keep an eye out for more posts and activity on Twitter and Instagram, hisorydisney10. Feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions or suggestions on Disney topics you would like to know more about!