Walt Disney was a one-time Missouri farm boy who for almost half a century created fantasies that made a troubled world laugh.
Over the course of his career, Disney created hundreds of characters out of ordinary barnyard animals, fashioned pure-hearted heroes and awesome villains that are instantly recognizable in the remotest corners of the world.
The creations of Disney and his artists, musicians and actors brought an unending stream of honors to the soft-spoken showman, who liked to be addressed simply as Walt. He won 31 Academy Awards and more than 900 other citations.
In the early 1920s Disney began experiments in filming animated cartoons. It was during these first experiments that he first met Mickey Mouse, recalling that he always liked mice and was amused by their antics in his workshop.
"The ultimate message of Walt's life is that he believed he could reinvent everything, on the screen, in amusement parks, in all aspects of his creative life," biographer Neal Gabler told The Times in 2006. "Everything he did was designed to perfect this new world. And the secret of his success is that his visions coincided with America's yearning for the same kind of escape and wish fulfillment."
Until he completed Disneyland in 1955, the mogul spent much of his career fighting off creditors and bankers. They told him that animated films were unprofitable. Later in his life, blessed with one triumph after another, Disney failed in his ultimate quest: He dreamed of building an idyllic, problem-free city, modeled after his films, to be filled with real people.
Disney was long-rumored to be anti-Semitic. Gabler concluded in his biography, "Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination," that he was not, even though he associated with members of the Motion Picture Alliance, a group whose leaders were known anti-Semites.
"Had he so chosen, he could have distanced himself from them. He did not do so until the 1950s. It took him an awfully long time to see the light."
But Disney was guilty of Red baiting during the anti-communist hysteria of the 1940s and 1950s. The roots were understandable, because Disney had good reason to believe that communists, among others, were behind a crippling 1941 strike that shut down his studio. "I think he was right ... it was communist-inspired," Gabler said.
Toward the end of Disney's life, when America was wacked with tensions over the Vietnam War and civil rights, some critics attacked him for being out of touch. His feel-good movies, his homespun parks filled with yearnings for simpler times seemed jarringly inappropriate.
"All of this offended Walt," Gabler said. "He went to his grave thinking: 'I have done everything I could to build my own world, and I don't see why I must conform to your idea of what art should be.' " As for the attacks on Disneyland, "Walt thought they were absurd. Was he supposed to build parks where real people shoot each other in the streets? 'A theme park is not a real-life experience,' he'd say. 'It's supposed to be a fabulous experience.' "
Points of interest
|1931||Special Award||Creation of Mickey Mouse||Win|
|1931||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Flowers and Trees||Win|
|1931||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Mickey's Orphans||Nomination|
|1932||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Building a Building||Nomination|
|1932||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||The Three Little Pigs||Win|
|1934||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||The Tortoise and the Hare||Win|
|1935||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Three Orphan Kittens||Win|
|1935||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Who Killed Cock Robin?||Nomination|
|1936||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||The Country Cousin||Win|
|1937||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||The Old Mill||Win|
|1938||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Brave Little Tailor||Nomination|
|1938||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Ferdinand the Bull||Win|
|1938||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Good Scouts||Nomination|
|1938||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Mother Goose Goes Hollywood||Nomination|
|1939||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||The Ugly Duckling||Win|
|1939||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||The Pointer||Nomination|
|1941||Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award||Win|
|1941||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Lend a Paw||Win|
|1941||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Truant Officer Donald||Nomination|
|1942||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Der Fuehrer's Face||Win|
|1942||Best Documentary||The Grain That Built a Hemisphere||Nomination|
|1942||Best Documentary||The New Spirit||Nomination|
|1943||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Reason and Emotion||Nomination|
|1943||Best Documentary - Short Subject||Water: Friend or Enemy||Nomination|
|1944||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||How to Play Football||Nomination|
|1945||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Donald's Crime||Nomination|
|1946||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Squatter's Rights||Nomination|
|1947||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Chip An' Dale||Nomination|
|1947||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Pluto's Blue Note||Nomination|
|1948||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Mickey and the Seal||Nomination|
|1948||Best Short Subject - Two Reel||Seal Island||Win|
|1948||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Tea for Two Hundred||Nomination|
|1949||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Toy Tinkers||Nomination|
|1950||Best Short Subject - Two Reel||In Beaver Valley||Win|
|1951||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Lambert, the Sheepish Lion||Nomination|
|1951||Best Short Subject - Two Reel||Nature's Half Acre||Win|
|1952||Best Short Subject - Two Reel||Water Birds||Win|
|1953||Best Short Subject - Two Reel||Bear Country||Win|
|1953||Best Short Subject - Two Reel||Ben and Me||Nomination|
|1953||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Rugged Bear||Nomination|
|1953||Best Documentary - Short Subject||The Alaskan Eskimo||Win|
|1953||Best Documentary - Feature||The Living Desert||Win|
|1953||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom||Win|
|1954||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Pigs Is Pigs||Nomination|
|1954||Best Short Subject - Two Reel||Siam||Nomination|
|1954||Best Documentary - Feature||The Vanishing Prairie||Win|
|1955||Best Documentary - Short Subject||Men Against the Artic||Win|
|1955||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||No Hunting||Nomination|
|1955||Best Short Subject - Two Reel||Switzerland||Nomination|
|1956||Best Short Subject - Two Reel||Samoa||Nomination|
|1957||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||The Truth About Mother Goose||Nomination|
|1958||Best Short Film - Live Action||Grand Canyon||Win|
|1958||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Paul Bunyan||Nomination|
|1959||Best Documentary - Short Subject||Donald in Mathmagic Land||Nomination|
|1959||Best Short Film - Live Action||Mysteries of the Deep||Nomination|
|1959||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Noah's Ark||Nomination|
|1960||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Goliath II||Nomination|
|1960||Best Short Film - Live Action||Islands of the Sea||Nomination|
|1961||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Aquamania||Nomination|
|1962||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Symposium on Popular Songs||Nomination|
|1964||Best Picture||Mary Poppins||Nomination*|
|1968||Best Short Subject - Cartoon||Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day||Win|