Did You Wish Upon a Star for Some Walt Disney Facts?

September 22, 2020

The name (and work of) Walt Disney looms large over American pop culture. Dozens of movies, lots of TV shows, characters, and even amusement parks bearing the Disney name promise wholesome, satisfying entertainment. The life of Walt Disney is an inspiring one of gumption, hard work, and luck — and we decided to write it down in Walt Disney: The Magical Innovator, available now from Portable Press. Here are some other chestnuts about ol’ “Uncle Walt.”

Peter Pan is one of Disney’s most popular animated movies. But long before its 1953 release, it had special significance for Walt Disney. The property began as a 1904 stage play by J.M. Barrie, and Disney starred in a school production in the 1910s. (His brother and fellow Disney corporate executive Roy Disney operated the flying harness.)

Walt Disney achieved quite a bit, of course, despite not graduating high school. During World War I, he dropped out at age 16 in order to enlist. He lied on his application and said he was older, but was still found out. Nevertheless, he found a gig as an ambulance driver in Europe for the Red Cross.

After working as an artist at an advertising agency, Disney started a small Kansas City animation studio called Laugh-O-Gram, which went bankrupt in 1923. He headed to Los Angeles to work in the entertainment history, where in 1927 Universal Studios hired Disney and creative partner Ub Iwerks to make a signature cartoon character. They came up with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, which the company wrestled away from Disney in a contract dispute. On the way back to California from Universal’s New York offices, Disney and Iwerks conceived the character that became Mickey Mouse.

Walt Disney spent so much time on the Disneyland construction site in the 1950s that he built an apartment for himself on the premises — it’s above the faux Fire Department on Main Street. A lamp in the window would be left on as a clue to employees that Disney was at Disneyland. Today it stays on always, as an eternal flame.

Similarly, when Disney was doing business at the company’s animation studios, “man is in the forest” was secret staff code that he was headed down the hallway.

Disney met his wife at work. The former Lillian Bounds worked as an animation cel inker.

While Walt Disney was a pioneer in animation, entertainment, and media, he was not on the cutting edge of cryogenics. It’s one of the biggest — and most persistent — celebrity rumors of all time, that upon his death in 1966, Disney had his body (or head) placed in deep freeze, to be revived some day in the distant future (like when the stuff from Disneyland’s “Tomorrowland” became commonplace, perhaps). The rumor started in 1972, when Bob Nelson, president of the California Cryogenics Society, claimed that Disney had shown an intellectual interest in cryogenic freezing. Disney died two weeks before CCS froze its first customer, and thus the stories became conflated in the public consciousness. (Disney was actually cremated, and the ashes buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Southern California.)

The robot Wall-E in Wall-E, a film made by Disney subsidiary Pixar, got his name from the old boss. “Wall-E” is an abbreviation of “Walter Elias” Disney.

The Disney company’s logo is Walt Disney’s signature…except it’s not his real signature. It was created by a graphic artist and adopted as the official Disney branding in 1984, almost 20 years after Disney himself died.

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