Walt Disney enjoyed a tremendous amount of success with his character, Oswald the Rabbit. Oswald came at a time early in Walt’s career when he was not the world famous Hollywood name that he would become. He was a struggling artist, trying to provide entertainment to the world. Through some sneaky dealings, Walt’s producer, Charles Mintz, claimed the character and hired away most of Walt’s staff. Having lost Oswald while meeting with Mintz in New York and having no prospects for future income, Walt sent the following telegram back to his brother and partner, Roy:
LEAVING TONIGHT STOPPING OVER KC ARRIVE HOME SUNDAY MORNING SEVEN THIRTY DON’T WORRY EVERYTHING OK WILL GIVE DETAILS WHEN ARRIVE — WALT
On the train ride back, Walt told his wife Lillian about a new character he could make pictures with, Mortimer Mouse. Lillian suggested that “Mickey Mouse” would be a better name.
The details about which is Mickey’s first official cartoon are a little confusing…
Upon returning to Los Angeles, Walt and his chief animator, Ub Iwerks, began work on Mickey’s first animated short, Plane Crazy. A silent story about Mickey trying to impress Minnie with his airplane. It was shown to a test audience, but did not pick up a distributor.
Walt believed in his character and made another silent short, The Gallopin’ Gaucho; a parody of a Douglas Fairbanks film. Gaucho was not realsed right away because Disney had another idea… combing animation with this new-fangled movie invention… sound!
A third Mickey short was created, complete with a music and sparse dialogue synced up perfectly with the picture, Steamboat Willie. Walt provided the voice of Mickey and Minnie and made sure the sound matched up perfectly. When the first recording did not work properly, Walt had it re-recorded, at great personal cost. Mickey’s newest film was an immediate success! Walt easily got a distributor and history was made.
Steamboat Willie premiered November 18th, 1928, at Universal’s Colony Theater before the feature film Gang War. Steamboat Willie became Mickey’s first commercially released picture, with its release date becoming Mickey’s official birthday.
Mickey appeared in 124 shorts in Walt’s lifetime. He also appeared in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice portion of Fantasia. His image appears on watches, toys, games and hundreds of other merchandise. Mickey’s iconic three circle shaped head is hidden throughout the Disney Parks. On November 18th, 1978, for his 50th birthday, Mickey became the first animated character with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Walt understood the influence Mickey had over his company when he famously said:
I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was started by a mouse.
And we’re so glad that it was! Happy birthday, Mickey Mouse!
What’s your favorite Mickey moment? Let’s talk some Mickey!