Happy Birthday To Walt Disney, My Hero


Dec. 5 is Walt Disney’s birthday, a day that I personally think should be a national holiday. If there was ever a person responsible for bringing more joy into the world, I would like to meet that person. Yet Walt Disney Day will probably never become a reality because Walt was not a political figure. He was merely the epitome of a successful capitalist. His was an American rags-to-riches story. He struggled and he prevailed — over and over again.

As a child, Walt delivered the Kansas City Star door-to-door and eventually got a job as a cartoonist there. He liked the job but was fired for “lack of creativity.” Undaunted, he opened a studio where he created cartoon “Laugh-O-Grams” and kept his caged pet mouse, “Mortimer,” the inspiration for Mickey Mouse.

Eventually, he moved to California where he created Snow White, one of North America’s top 10 money-earning movies of all time. But even that was a struggle. Walt had been doing short “Silly Symphonies” and the bank was accustomed to loaning him $150,000 to make each one. So when he came to them seeking 10 times that amount to do Snow White, the answer was a resounding “No!” (Banks only like to loan money on “sure bets” like housing. Ha ha.)

No one had made a full-length cartoon movie before and asking for $1.5 million to try seemed preposterous. His own brother (a former banker) begged him not to do it. But Walt persevered, and the movie earned $8 million during its initial release ($130 million in today’s dollars).

Another challenge Walt faced was the unionization of his studio workers. He didn’t see the need for it since he had been treating them like family. As everyone’s tempers flared, the U.S. State Department suggested Walt leave the country and go to Latin America as a goodwill ambassador. While he was gone, a mediator stepped in and decided the studio should become a union shop. By the time he returned, the “family atmosphere” was no more. Walt cut his staff from over 1,200 to 694.

The point is, every time Walt was beaten down, he got back up. He had faith in his own imagination. He refused to quit. And he had an awesome brother. Roy was single-handedly responsible for cajoling the banks into loaning Walt whatever he needed to go after his dreams. And when Walt died during the building of Walt Disney World, Roy postponed his retirement to oversee its completion. It must have taken a lot out of him, because Roy himself passed away three months after it opened.

What dedication! Everything those Disney boys accomplished has added to the joy of my own family’s lives — cartoons, movies, theme parks!

So here’s to, Walt (and Roy). I’d give you a day if I could, but I can’t. All I can do is say, “Thank you!” And mean it.