Still More Walt Wordsby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
It’s been awhile since I have gone through old newspapers and magazines to find examples of quotes about Walt or articles credited to Walt. You can find several of these in the MousePlanet archives (link).
Sometimes, little oddball quotes will pop up unexpectedly. While researching an article about the Disney live-action film Toby Tyler, I ran across this quote. To publicize the film, Walt was asked if people had lost their sense of humor: “No. They certainly have not. Humor’s an essential part of life, always has been and always will be.”
Writer Richard H. Syring wrote an interesting article for Silver Screen magazine for the November 1932 issue. Titled “One of the Great Geniuses!” it was yet another in the flood of articles in the early 1930s about Walt Disney, but it had a significant difference. It was composed completely of quotes from Walt’s dad and mom, Elias and Flora, “sitting in the living room of their comfortable home in Portland, Oregon” reminiscing about Walt’s early days.
They told the famous story of young Walt using black tar to paint zigzag marks “some shaped like houses, others like people” on the side of their white frame farm house in Marceline, Mo.
“He was old enough to know better,” Flora said.
“But that was just like Walter,” Elias interrupted. “Whatever he wanted to do he did without ever thinking of the harm. He would always go ahead with any of his ideas whether he had the means or not. He never asked questions. I think that is the basis of his success. He has the courage of his convictions.
“When Walter was about 10 or 11, we were living in Kansas City. He used to hang around a neighborhood barber shop, drawing pictures for the amusement of a gang. They liked his comic sketches so well that the head barber contracted with Walter for a sketch a week, to be exhibited in the barber shop. When he didn’t need a haircut, he received 25 cents for each drawing. My, he was proud!
“In high school, Walter excelled in art much better than in his other studies. One time the art class had to draw the human body. Walter’s was so good that the teachers questioned it, so just to prove it was his work, he made another drawing before the whole class.”
Flora shared the following story: “Mr. Disney and I had just returned from church one Sunday. Walter, who was then about 16 and a good-sized boy, had been left home with his younger sister, Ruth. We hadn’t been in the house but a few minutes when the bell rang and I went to the door. There stood a fairly tall woman. The newcomer asked me a lot of foolish questions, but I didn’t recognize her. Then I happened to look at the dress. And bless my soul if there wasn’t one of my very best dresses. Walter had not only put on one of my dresses, but had borrowed a hat and wig as well. His make-up was perfect. But that’s just one of the many pranks he used to play." [The article has a photo of young Walt in a hat and dress that I have never seen reprinted anywhere else ever.]
“A man at the post office thought Walter was too young to trust with the task of driving a horse and collecting mail. But, of course, that didn’t stop Walter any. He went right after the job the next day. This time he wore a hat instead of a cap, and borrowed one of Dad’s long coats. And do you know, he talked the same man out of the job this time.”
(Sister Ruth said that young Walt’s ambition was to be another Charlie Chaplin. He’d swagger up and down the alley with bagging trousers, derby hat, floppy shoes and a cane while one of his pals turned the crank on a movie camera.)
About Walt joining the Red Cross during World War I, Flora said, “Dad wouldn’t sign for Walter. I signed after much coaxing, and for the date of birth I wrote 1901. But Walter fooled me. When the paper was turned in to the Red Cross, it read 1900. Walter had made a circle out of the one!”
After his time overseas, Walt joined the Kansas City Film Ad Company. Elias said, “It was Walter’s first big job. It also was his first contact with animated slides. And it was probably while on that job that Mickey Mouse was officially born. He was at least conceived at that time. Walter used to write letters to his niece, Dorothy, daughter of his oldest brother, Herbert, who carries mail in Los Angeles. In these letters he would tell about two little mice who visited him each day in his drawing room. Finally they became so tame that they ate out of his hands. In one letter, he declared ‘some day I’m going to make a fortune out of those mice’. And I guess his predictions are coming true, all right."
“The big showman in Kansas City at that time was a fellow named Newman. Walter completed a film in about a month, named it Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams, without ever talking to the man, and then went down to sell it. With shaking knees he talked to the big theater man. Newman admired Walter’s nerve, liked his picture and bought it for $150. He ordered some more. Some time after that the neighbors urged Walter to form an independent company, which he did. Stock was sold and Walter was made president. The animated cartoons were produced but the money failed to come from New York and the company went broke. Walter was broke. He was worse than broke. He borrowed money to go to Los Angeles. So in 1923, my two boys [Walt and Roy] were in Southern California and borrowed some money from my brother, Robert S. Disney, who lived in Los Angeles and who took care of him for awhile.” [In the article is another terrific photo of Walt and Mickey and it is inscribed: “To Mother and Dad from your ornery son and mischievous grandson. Walt and Mickey.”]
I’ve written about the Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air radio show before (link)
No matter how extensively I research a topic, sometimes for years, I usually find that five minutes after the article is in print, I run across even more information that should have been included. Recently, I ran across this article for the 1938 Radio Log magazine.
“The following exclusive story by Walt Disney was written especially for Radio Guide. In it he tells why he’s going to let Mickey go on the air over NBC Sunday.”
Here is that essay credited to Walt Disney:
“I’m letting Mickey, Minnie, Donald and the rest of my gang go on the air, although I’ve been advised against it.
“We consider this a good omen, for we were also strongly advised against ever creating Mickey, doing out pictures in sound, branching into Technicolor, making The Three Little Pigs and creating a feature length picture.
“People said Mickey would flop because women were afraid of mice that both sound and color were fads, and that audiences would never sit through 80 minutes of an animated feature. However, the reception accorded Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has convinced us that people will sit through it and like it.
“So you can see why radio doesn’t hold too many terrors as a new venture for us. We have shied pretty clear of it until now. For several years many sponsors and advertising agencies have whispered the siren song of its riches in our ear.
“’If you are capable of devising a formula for translating Mickey into your medium’ we told them at first, ‘and if you can write and produce the show successfully without calling on us for help, take a shot at it.’
“Several tried, but none of them had the feeling for our characters. Then we realized that what we had begun to suspect was true: if Mickey went on the air we’d have to build the program ourselves. Up until recently, we didn’t have time to do this. We were working on Snow White day and night to get it into the theaters by the first of 1938, and were also turning out our usual quota of short subjects.
“A few months ago, my brother and business manager, Roy Disney, talked to the Pepsodent representatives in Chicago. Frankly, I rather hoped the deal would fall through. Most of us were too tired to think radio, let alone do anything about it. But Roy came back with a contract. We were to build most of the program ourselves, for Pepsodent realized that this was the only way our characters could be aired successfully.
“Minnie is training a woodland choir of song-birds, crickets, frogs, and tree-toads to sing a capella or with orchestra. Felix Mills, who will direct our Silly Symphony Orchestra, has been doing a grand job of whipping into shape a group of singing hens, roosters, donkeys, goats, horses, and sheep rounded up by Mickey’s talent scouts. However, the bee band still continues to get in his hair.
“Goofy is collaborating with the sound-effects department on a gadget band. Its instruments are a bit rudimentary—a frying-pan section, a hot hosophone, a concrete mixer, and so on.
“Seriously, though, we’re all glad of this opportunity to go on the air, now that it’s here. After all, we’re a pioneering bunch at heart and radio will give us new interests and points of view. It’s a rather logical direction in which we can expand.
“We are sure that Mickey’s many fans will welcome him to the air lanes but the whole thing is not entirely a giving proposition where we’re concerned. We are taking something ourselves. You see, out of this 13-week NBC series, we expect to develop new ideas and personalities we can use in our pictures.
“We look upon radio as a new stimulus, a challenge—something which will give us fresh ideas and a better perspective on our work.”
I am constantly amazed at how many lengthy letters Walt Disney wrote, especially when so many other things claimed his attention. Not only did he write letters, he had an extensive list of correspondents, including his seventh-grade teacher that he wrote to on a fairly regular basis.
In a letter dated February 18, 1931, Walt Disney wrote to the principal of Benton Grammar School about what he had been doing since he graduated seventh grade there in June 1917. This is filled with lots of little bits of information that haven’t appeared in the many Disney biographies.
"Dear Mr. Cottingham: I was very pleased to receive your kind letter of February 6. I have often thought of you and my former teachers at Benton and have always had a feeling that I should enjoy a little visit with you on one of my trips to New York. Quite a few of my classmates have dropped in to see me, from time to time, and I have enjoyed discussing with them our school days together.
”When I was in school, Benton had a record of winning the K.C.A.C. meet six years in succession. I have often wondered what sort of record the school has held since that time. I was graduated from Benton in June of 1917 and spent my last year under Miss Beck. I have often wondered about Miss Beck, and if she is still teaching in Kansas City. I would like you to extend to her my kindest regards.
”My high school career was very short. After I was graduated I worked during the summer as a News Butch on the railroad, and the following fall moved to Chicago. I spent my freshman year there. Following that I joined the Red Cross as an ambulance driver and went to France. I was in France one year. I met an old classmate from Benton while in France. I can’t seem to remember his name, but he was one of two brothers, who were on the track team in school. He told me that Walter Clayton was in a hospital in Toul, France, but by the time I arrived in Toul, Walter had been transferred. I returned from France in the fall of 1919.
”I went to Kansas City, and started to work for the Grey Advertising Company as an apprentice artist. I left that company to work for the Film Service Company of Kansas City, and it was there that I learned the work in which I am still engaged.
”While I was working with the Film Service Company I made a short weekly film for Frank Newman, and this led to the establishing of a studio of my own. I made cartoon versions of fairy tales, but this venture was not successful. I moved to California in 1923 and started in business with my brother Roy. Since that time we have built our business up to what it is today, and at the present time we have a Studio employing about 75 persons, both artists and technicians.
”Our products are shown all over the world and are meeting with great success. We have our own sound apparatus and produce the entire picture in our own Studio. In addition to the Mickey Mouse cartoons, we produce a series known as Silly Symphony cartoons. Several years ago I produced a series of educational films on Child Care of the Teeth, for Doctor McCrum, who conducts a dental clinic at the Linwood School. I thank you for your interest, and extend to you my best personal regards. It was good to know that I have not been forgotten by my alma mater. Kindly extend my kindest regards to all my friends and former teachers at Benton, and be assured that I am looking forward to the time when I can visit Benton again.
”My best personal regards to you, Walt Disney”
In the December 1933 edition of Good Housekeeping, reporter Dixie Willson asked several celebrities, "What do you want for Christmas?"
Walt Disney replied, "Well, this Christmas is different. You see, we’re waiting for the stork." In the article Disney said if the baby were a girl they would name her Diane, but if the baby were a boy he’d be known as Walt Junior. Diane was born on December 18.
"I suppose this year I’ll fix two Christmas trees," Walt said. "One at home and one to take to the hospital. And, when you ask me what I want for Christmas—Christmas is so much fun I hardly care, just so there’s something to open up from somebody...one thing I don’t want is shirts, but I’m shy on polo ponies. I wouldn’t mind a couple of those."