Disney was a visionary filmmaker who brought his film library, his
love of technology, and his business sense to American television
in the mid-1950s. His ground-breaking television program, Disneyland,
helped establish fledgling network ABC, pointed the way toward that
network's increasing reliance on Hollywood-originated filmed programming,
and provided much needed financing for Disney's pioneering theme
the late 1920s, Disney had been a public figure, Hollywood's best
known independent studio head. He had first achieved success with
animated short subjects starring the character with whom he is best
associated, Mickey Mouse. In 1937, his studio had produced the first
full-length animated motion picture, Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs. In the late 1940s, beginning with Song of the South
(1946), the Disney studio had also branched out into live-action
films, but it was primarily associated, then as now, with animation.
many other studios, Disney's had not prospered during World War
II, when it had devoted much of its energies to producing films
for the U.S. government. Indeed, the Disney studio had never made
a great deal of money because of the time- and labor-intensive nature
of animation work. After the war, Disney hoped to expand his enterprises.
The key to this expansion, according to Christopher Anderson in
Hollywood TV (1994), was diversification. Disney was ready
to set his sights beyond the film industry.
flirted with the new medium in the early 1950s, producing a one-hour
special for NBC in 1950 and another in 1951. He discussed a possible
series with both NBC and CBS, but only third-place network ABC was
willing to give him what he wanted in exchange--funding for the
amusement park he dreamed of opening in Anaheim, California. ABC
executives were desperate to obtain programming that would enable
them to compete with their more established rivals and were particularly
interested in courting the growing family market in those baby-boom
Disney and his brother Roy convinced the network to put up $500,000
toward the construction costs for the park, to be called (like the
television program) Disneyland, and to guarantee its bank loans.
In exchange, ABC would obtain 35% of the park and would receive
profits from Disneyland concessions for ten years. Even more importantly
to the network, Disney would deliver them a weekly, hour-long television
program that would take advantage of his family-oriented film library.
program Disneyland debuted on 27 October 1954, and quickly
became ABC's first series to hit the top ten in ratings. A number
of early episodes showed old Disney films or promoted new ones.
(A documentary chronicling the filming of the upcoming 20,000
Leagues Under the Sea added to the audience for that film and
also earned Disney his first Emmy award, for best documentary.)
program's success was clinched in December 1954 with the introduction
of the first of three episodes focusing on Davy Crockett. The day
after the 15 December telecast of "Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter,"
Crockett mania swept through the country.
"Davy Crockett" episodes established another new Disney tradition.
Not only would Disney move his feature films to television; he would
also reverse the process. Although ABC broadcast only in black and
white, the Disney studio shot the Davy Crockett episodes in Technicolor.
After telecasting each of the three hours twice during the winter
and spring months of 1954-55, the studio edited them into a film,
which it released to theaters nationally and internationally in
the summer of 1955. The film's high attendance increased the visibility
of the Disneyland television program--and of all Disney's enterprises,
including his new park.
the park opened in July of 1955, ABC aired a live special honoring
America's new tourist mecca and its founder. Within a year, millions
of viewers whose amusement appetites had been whetted by Disney's
television program poured into Disneyland. In its first year, it
grossed $10 million. Walt Disney and his company had shaped two
new entertainment forms--and had made more money than ever before.
himself served as the affable host of his program. In light of its
success, his studio quickly generated other youth-oriented television
shows for ABC. The Mickey Mouse Club, a daily daytime program
featuring a likable group of youngsters known as the Mouseketeers,
premiered a year after Disneyland and lasted for four seasons.
Zorro, an adventure series about a masked, swashbuckling
Spaniard in 19th-century California, ran from 1957 to 1959.
continued to be best known, however, for the weekly program he hosted.
In 1959, this show changed its name to Walt Disney Presents.
In 1961, it moved to NBC and changed its name to Walt Disney's
Wonderful World of Color. NBC's parent company, RCA, offered
the Disney studios an appealing sponsorship deal, hoping that Disney's
colorful telefilms would help market color television receivers.
was still the host of this version of the program at the time of
his death in December 1966. His avuncular on-screen personality
had endeared him to viewers of all ages. And his re-creation of
American recreation through the dual marketing of the two Disneylands
had forged new patterns in American cultural history, inextricably
linking television to the film and amusement industries.
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Company
WALT (WALTER) ELIAS DISNEY. Born in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.,
5 December 1901. Attended McKinley High School, Chicago; Kansas
City Art Institute, 1915. Married Lillian Bounds, 1925; children:
Diane and Sharon. Served in France with Red Cross Ambulance Corps,
1918. Became commercial art apprentice to Ub Iwerks, 1919; joined
Kansas City Film Advertising Company, producing, directing, and
animating commercials for local businesses, 1920; incorporated Laugh-o-Gram
Films, 1922; went bankrupt, 1923; moved to Hollywood and worked
on several animated series, including Alice in Cartoonland, 1923;
ended Alice series and began Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series, 1927;
formed Walt Disney Productions, 1927; created Steamboat Willie (first
cartoon to use synchronized sound and third to feature his creation
Mickey Mouse), 1928; began distributing through Columbia, 1930;
Flowers and Trees released through United Artists, first cartoon
to use Technicolor and first to win Academy Award, 1932; began work
on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, his first feature-length cartoon,
1934; Disney staff on strike, 1941; Disney developed several TV
programs, 1951-60; formed Buena Vista Distribution Co. for release
of Disney and occasionally other films, 1954; hosted Disneyland
TV series; opened Disneyland, Anaheim, California, 1955; premiered
numerous Walt Disney television shows including The Mickey Mouse
Club and Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color; Walt Disney World
opened, Orlando, Florida, 1971. Recipient: Special Academy Award,
1932; Special Academy Award for contributions to sound, with William
Garity and John N. A. Hawkins, 1941; Irving G. Thalberg Award, 1941;
Best Director (for his work as a whole), Cannes Film Festival, 1953.
Died in Los Angeles, California, 15 December 1966.
1955-59 The Mickey Mouse Club
1958-61 Walt Disney Presents
1961-66 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color
(director, animator, and producer)
Laugh-o-Grams series, 1920; Cinderella; The Four Musicians
of Bremen; Goldie Locks and the Three Bears; Jack and the Beanstalk;
Little Red Riding Hood; Puss in Boots, 1922; Alice's Wonderland;
Tommy Tucker's Tooth; Martha, 1923; Alice series (12
episodes), 1924; Alice series (18 episodes), 1925; Alice
series (9 episodes), 1926; Alice series (17 episodes),
1927; Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series (11 episodes), 1927;
(15 episodes), 1928.
FILMS (as head of Walt Disney Productions; co-produced with
Steamboat Willie, 1928; Mickey Mouse series (12 episodes),
1929; Mickey Mouse series (3 episodes), 1930; Silly Symphonies
series, 1929; Night, 1930; The Golden Touch, 1935.
(as head of Walt Disney Productions)
and Trees, 1932; Three Little Pigs, 1933; The Tortoise
and the Hare, 1934; Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,
1937; Ferdinand the Bull, 1938; Fantasia, 1940; Pinnochio,
1940; The Reluctant Dragon, 1941; Dumbo, 1941;
Bambi, 1942; Victory Through Air Power, 1943; The
Three Caballeros, 1944; Make Mine Music, 1946; Song
of the South, 1946; Fun and Fancy Free, 1947; Melody
Time, 1948; So Dear to My Heart, 1948; Ichabod and
Mr. Toad, 1949; Cinderella, 1950; Alice in Wonderland,
1951; The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, 1952; Peter
Pan, 1953; The Sword and the Rose, 1953; Rob Roy,
the Highland Rogue, 1953; Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Broom,
1953; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1954; The Littlest
Outlaw, 1954; Lady and the Tramp, 1955; Davy Crockett
and the River Pirates, 1955; The Great Locomotive Chase,
1956; Westward Ho the Wagons!, 1956; Johnny Tremain,
1957; Old Yeller, 1957; The Light in the Forest, 1958;
Sleeping Beauty, 1958; Tonka, 1958; The Shaggy
Dog, 1959; Darby O'Gil and the Little People, 1959; Third
Man on the Mountain, 1959; Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks With
a Circus, 1959; Kidnapped, 1960; Pollyanna, 196;
Ten Who Dared, 1960; Swiss Family Robinson, 1960;
One Hundred and One Dalmatians, 1960; The Absent-Minded
Professor, 1960; Moon Pilot, 1961; In Search of the
Castaways, 1961; Nikki, Wild Dog of the North, 1961;
The Parent Trap, 1961; Grayfriar's Bobby, 1961;
Babes in Toyland, 1961; Son of Flubber, 1962; The
Miracle of the White Stallions, 1962; Big Red, 1962;
Bon Voyage, 1962; Almost Angels, 1962; The Legend
of Lobo, 1962; Savage Sam, 1963; Summer Magic,
1963; The Incredible Journey, 1963; The Sword in the Stone,
1963; The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, 1963; The Three
Lives of Thomasina, 1963; A Tiger Walks, 1964; The
Moon-Spinners, 1964; Mary Poppins, 1964; Emil and
the Detectives, 1964; Those Calloways, 1964; The Monkey's
Uncle, 1964; That Darn Cat, 1965; The Ugly Dachshund,
1966; Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N., 1966; The Fighting
Prince of Donegal, 1966; Follow Me, Boys!, 1966; Monkeys,
Go Home!, 1966; The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin, 1966;
The Gnome-Mobile, 1966; The Jungle Book, 1967.
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Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.
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New York: SamHar, 1971.
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New York: Crown, 1984.
Richard. The Disney Version: The Life, Times, Art, and Commerce
of Walt Disney. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968.
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Jolla, California: Windsong, 1980.
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New York: Routledge, 1994.
Bob. Walt Disney: An American Original. New York: Simon and
"Mickey and His Walter Ego." Life (New York), November 1988.