10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Walt Disney

On the 90th anniversary of The Walt Disney Company, we present some little-known facts about its legendary founder

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Mondadori via Getty Images

Walt Disney smoking a cigarette. Italy, 1950s

There may be no entertainment industry figure more influential than Disney’s eponymous founder. In his 65 years, Walt Disney succeeded in moving animation from a black-and-white novelty to a highly respected genre that would produce Oscar-worrthy feature films. More than a few of his creations — including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy — are instantly recognizable global icons. And the small animation house he founded on October 16, 1923 is now valued at more than $42 billion.

Yet, despite his fame, Disney remains a relatively unknown figure. His story is overshadowed by his achievements, and, sometimes, by outright myth.  In honor of The Walt Disney Company’s 90th anniversary, here are ten things you probably didn’t know about the man behind Mickey Mouse.

1. He dropped out of high school to join the army

During the first World War, a 16-year-old Walt Disney left school and attempted to enlist in the army. He was rejected for being underage, but managed to find employment with the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. The organization sent Disney to France for a year, but by the time he arrived, the armistice agreement had already been signed.

2. Mickey Mouse’s original name was “Mortimer”

Mickey Mouse is virtually synonymous with Disney’s company, but if the animator’s wife hadn’t intervened, he might have been represented by Mortimer Mouse instead. In the mouse’s first few shorts, he was referred to as Mortimer Mouse, but Lillian Disney managed to convince her husband that Mickey would be a more marketable name. Mortimer later became Mickey’s Brooklyn-accented rival (below), vying for Minnie Mouse’s affection.

3. He was the original voice behind Mickey Mouse

While mostly known for his skills as an animator, director and producer (not to mention his business acumen), Disney also tried his hand at voice acting. From Mickey’s inception in 1928, all the way to 1947, the mouse’s voice was provided by Disney before being turned over to English voice actor Jimmy MacDonald. Disney loved the character so much that he returned to the studio in 1955 to voice Mickey Mouse shorts for his company’s television show The Mickey Mouse Club.

4. He was determined to produce a feature-length animated movie, even when everyone thought the idea was crazy

When word got out that Disney planned to turn Snow White into a feature film, industry insiders were convinced his efforts would fail, calling the project “Disney’s Folly.” His detractors were almost correct. Disney did in fact run out of funding during Snow White‘s production, and was forced to show loan officers a rough cut of the movie before he could secure additional financing. Luckily for both Disney and his creditors, Snow White turned out to be a smashing success. The film earned over $8 million during it’s initial release — about $130 million today.

5. He could be the US government’s best friend

Not only did a young Disney attempt to help America on the field of battle, but he also helped several federal agencies throughout his career with animation. He created training films for the US military, propaganda films urging Americans to pay their taxes, and multiple anti-Hitler shorts meant to boost US morale at home. Disney also helped the State Department improve relations with South America by making a 1941 goodwill tour (featuring a specially made movie entitled Saludos Amigos), and later aided NASA by developing documentaries about the space program.

6.  He contributed to anti-communist hysteria

After the second World War, many in the U.S. were gripped by an overwhelming fear of communist infiltration. Disney believed in the Red Menace, and in concert with other leading industry executives, formed the anti-communist Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPA). In addition to serving as the MPA’s vice president, he testified in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee against several labor organizers, who he accused of motivating his animators to strike. Disney also accused the Screen Actors Guild of being a communist front, and claimed their 1941 strike was a socialist plot.

7. He came close to building a major ski resort

After opening Disney Land in 1955, Walt set his sights on a ski resort in Mineral King Valley, near California’s Sequoia National Park. The plan was to build a vacation spot featuring six ski areas, all centered around a Swiss-style base village, with a total daily capacity of 20,000 skiers. The project came relatively close to development, with Disney winning approval from the Forest Service and forging a roads deal with the Governor of California. However, after Disney’s death in 1966, the company felt it could only handle one major project at a time. Wisely, they chose to complete Disney World instead.

8. He received more Academy Awards and nominations than any other person in history

Between 1932 and 1969, Disney won 22 Academy Awards and was nominated 59 times. Included amongst this trove of Oscars are three awards created specifically for him — one for creating Mickey Mouse, another recognizing his contribution of music in the field of animation, and a specially made prize honoring Snow White and the Seven Dwarves that featured a traditional statuette, and seven miniature versions alongside of it.

9. His last words remain a mystery

That is to say, no one knows what they were supposed to mean. Shortly before succumbing to lung cancer, Disney scribbled the words “Kurt Russell” on a piece of paper. According to Russell, best known for his performance in The Thing and Escape from New York, the reasons are mystery to him as well. At the time of Disney’s death, Russell was a child actor working for the studio and had yet to achieve widespread fame.

10. After his death, he was NOT cryogenically frozen

One fact that everyone thinks they know about Walt Disney is that his body has been preserved through cryogenics. However, as Snopes long ago revealed, there is no truth to this urban legend. All available documentation states that Disney was cremated after death —and the first-ever cryogenic freezings took place a month after Disney passed on.

20 comments
kaheanani
kaheanani

can anyone one help me cause im only 10 and need more facts and information about walt disney


kaheanani
kaheanani

i am looking for an article about facts and information about walt disney why? because im working on it for my project in school and i need information

tesmith47
tesmith47

and he was a anti Black racist

rodzambito
rodzambito

Jacob Davidson I have one more you can add to your list of unknown facts about Walt.  He had an illegitimate son via his secretary.  I worked with him back in the early 80s at an aircraft company in Texas.  We were friends and Robert Bangs was his name.  He told me all about what happened.  I have much more to tell and I have pictures from when Robert and his new wife visited our home in Texas.  More tomorrow... good night.

ThomasGraham1
ThomasGraham1

In the  1940s, we had serious problems in this  nation with Communists.  It is not all the hysteria that Time Magazine and other organs of the Liberal Establishment would have you believe.  Among other things, we now know anywhere from 200 to 300 people working in the US government were Soviet agents.   Please read  the book The Venona Secrets for more details.

JohnKeller
JohnKeller

How do we know for sure that Walt Disney wasn't frozen?They claim he was cremated, but maybe that's just a cover to hid the fact that he is in cryonic suspension deep beneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in New Orleans Square.


dennisju
dennisju

I do not know were they got the name Utley for the movie PUNKS because that's my name

mso88
mso88

Disney's anti-communist stance was anything but "hysterical." Communists had infiltrated the Treasury Department during the last days of the Roosevelt administration, later jettisoned by Truman, but not before  authoring the Soviet-friendly Morganthau Plan. Alger Hiss was a known State Department Russian operative in the 50s. Equally well-documented are the naive "Armchair Marxists" who infested Hollywood's writer/director/actor unions around the same time. Today, Reverse McCarthyism dominates Hollywood whereby outspoken Conservatives (without clout) are routinely "blacklisted." The quirky Mr. Disney was still a patriot.

marrier9999
marrier9999

@kaheanani Try a library. It has these things called "books". They're filled with pieces of paper called "pages". 

In all seriousness, go to a library and try to find an autobiography about him. You'll get much more reliable information than you can find on the internet. 

gailtoo
gailtoo

@rodzambito In the late 1970s in California I met a young man who claimed he was Walt Disney's illegitimate son. He also told me he was a pianist. I thought he was delusional until I picked him up at his very modest home for something. He invited me into the house and I met his Mom and brother. His brother suggested he play the piano for me. He played it like he belonged in Carnegie Hall. I then wondered if it was true about his being Disney's son. He said he used to go into Disney's office and say he was his illegitimate son and they'd call the police and have him removed from the office. He had very dark hair, possibly even black, as I understand Disney also had. I wish I could remember his name, but Robert sounds like a possibility. Does any of this sound like the person you know of? I have thought of him so many times over the years. Could he have moved to Texas a few years after I met him? Or maybe there is more than one illegitimate son?

RanKelvin
RanKelvin

@mso88 

You are most correct. Walt was merely trying to save the Republic from a horrible death. One that we unfortunately are now witnessing. My father worked for Disney in the early years of building the World. We grieved greatly when he died. So when my father had the opportunity to help build the World, he jumped at the chance. Before that my father spent years working at the Cape Canaveral Space Center. When he did pass on in 1985 I thought back to his time at Disney. How the men of that time, bold, sure, patriotic would always look after us. Those that are painting Walt as anything less than a good man are not only mistaken, they really wish to create mischief and deny to those of us that know better, Walt was a great American when America was great.

fakesmilefancycar
fakesmilefancycar

@marrier9999 @kaheanani Dude, Kaheanani is only 10. Chill out. Your reply was rude.


Anyway Kaheanani. Even though Wikipedia is not exactly a sound resource, you can still search the internet for resources, try looking for things like " Overview of Walt Disney's autobiography " - or even searching Wikipedia for  " Walt Disney " - they'll tell you more about him and his line of work as well. 


Just be careful about what you find, both books, and online pages, are often skewed and will tell you things that may not always be true. I hope you find what you're looking for, and do well on your project!

NicholeLorraineBurlingame
NicholeLorraineBurlingame

If Walt Disney was alive today he would be 113 years old I've never heard of anyone living for that long!!!!!