Sunday, November 18, 2012

It All Started With A Mouse

It All Started With A Mouse

We all have heard the story how Mickey Mouse jumped off the pages on a train ride back to California after a devastating business blow. Well there is more to the story. It is not exactly what everybody has been told. I had the pleasure of hearing this story while on the Disney Wonder, March 2011. Leslie Iwerks was on the ship and was speaking as part of the ‘edutainment’ on the ship.

The story has long been told that Walt and Lillian went to New York to talk to Charles Mintz about renewing the distribution contract for Oswald the Luck Rabbit. Oswald was a big hit at the time and Walt felt his studio deserved more for making these popular, whimsical cartoons. When he got to New York Mintz told Disney that not only was he refusing to pay more he was going to give even less to the studio! Walt declined the offer thinking he could continue to make and distribute them himself. Mintz told him that the contract he had signed give Mintz full rights to Oswald. Not only was Walt losing Oswald all of the animators at the Disney Studio were had agreed to go with Oswald to the new studio Mintz was starting!

Walt sent a telegram to his brother Roy and to his friend/partner Ub Iwerks. He told his brother they had lost Ozwald and not to worry. Ub he instructed to have several new characters designed for him to look at when he got back. Ub created several new characters there were frogs, dogs, cats, a female cow (later became Clarabelle Cow) and a male horse (later became Horace Horsecollar). Ub then saw a picture someone had drawn of Walt with some mice. That inspired Ub to draw a mouse! When Walt returned from New York he looked at all the pictures and chose the mouse. A simple character made of circles. Easy to draw making it simple to make a cartoon. Walt wanted to make the new character Mortimer but his wife, Lillian said the name was too stuffy for such a sweet little guy and suggested Mickey.

Ub did all the design work behind closed doors as the other animators at the studio finished up contracted work on Oswald and prepared to leave the studio. Only one apprentice animator/inker-painter, Les Clark stayed and worked with Ub, Ub, Ub’s wife (who was an ink-painter), Lillian Disney (ink-painter) and Walt Disney were the only people to work on the original two Mickey Mouse Cartoons, Plane Crazy (silent) and Steamboat Willie.

Ub reportedly drew 700 pictures a day for two weeks for Plane Crazy. Ub was knows as the fasts graphic artist in the world. The entire process took about six weeks to complete with inbetweening, ink-painting and finally filming.

Just as they were about to finish Plane Crazy the first Talkie film was released! Al Jolson’s the Jazz Singer came out! Walt decided that Plane Crazy was going to have to be scrapped and a new Talkie Mickey Mouse cartoon had to be made. The team, still consisting of the same five people, went onto create Steamboat Willie. Once again Ub did his amazing 700 drawings a day for two weeks and the film was complete in about six weeks.

At first Walt Disney gave Mickey his voice as well as his personality. In the 1946 Walt became too busy to devote time to doing the voice so he recruited Jimmie MacDonald, the head of the studio’s sound effects department to do Mickey’s voice. MacDonald did Mickey’s voice until he retired in 1977. That is when Wayne Allwine took over and did the voice until his death in 2009. (Allwine was married to Russi Taylor voice of Minnie Mouse since 1986.) After Alwine’s death Bret Iwan took over and is now doing Mickey’s voice.

Walt once said,
All we ever intended for him or expected of him was that he should continue to make people everywhere chuckle with him and at him. We didn’t burden him with any social symbolism, we made him no mouthpiece for frustrations or harsh satire. Mickey was simply a little personality assigned to the purposes of laughter.

He also said
The life and ventures of Mickey Mouse have been closely bound up with my own personal and professional life. It is understandable that I should have sentimental attachment for the little personage who played so big a part in the course of Disney Productions and has been so happily accepted as an amusing friend wherever films are shown around the world. He still speaks for me and I still speak for him.

I believe Mickey still speaks for Walt Disney keeping his optimistic view of life and America alive. Ub created the look of Mickey Mouse, Walt gave him his heart.


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