How Walt Disney Sane Made His Fortune

"You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you" - Walt Disney

Walter Elias Disney sat at his drawing desk in a makeshift studio in his father’s garage, pondering where life had taken him. So far, it had given him a rough ride.

Walter begins following his dream to be an artist by cartooning for his High School newspaper, drawing patriotic cartoons focused on the war over in Europe. Fascinated with the war, he quits school to join the army, but is rejected because he is underage.

Determined to be involved in the war effort, Walter joins the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. But by the time he arrives in France, armistice had been declared. War is over.

A “Talentless” Artist

Back home in Kansas City, Walter decides to embark on a career as a newspaper artist. He goes to the Kansas City Star to ask for a job. The editor glances at Walter’s drawings, and tells the young cartoonist that he has no talent. The 18-year-old Walter is heart broken.

So Walter decides to be an ambulance driver instead. But still no one wants to hire him.

Eventually, he decides to set up his own animation company. He hires a team of animators, including his close friend, cartoonist Ubbe Iwerks, and their cartoons are a big hit in Kansas City. But the profits aren’t big enough to pay the team Walter has hired. Debts mount up, and eventually Walter declares himself bankrupt. He’s let down himself and his team, including one of his closest friends.

The Tame Mouse

As Walter sat at his desk, reflecting on his series of failed ventures, a mouse scuttled across the garage floor.  It looks at Walter with bold, curious eyes. Walter goes into the house, and brings out some crumbs to feed the little critter.

Over the next few days, the mouse becomes so tame that it will run across Disney’s drawing desk to collect scraps of food.

Failure Again – Betrayed In Hollywood

Five years on, Walter has made it to Hollywood. But again, he’s staring failure in the eyes, and this time, it’s left a bitter taste in his mouth.

The character he’s created with his team – Oswald the Lucky Rabbit – is a huge hit with the public. Buoyed by his success, Walter goes to his producer to ask for an increase in budget. With more money, he can create even better cartoons.

The producer refuses, and demands that Walter takes a budget cut of 20%. He reminds Walter that the studio owns all the rights for Oswald’s character. Worse, Walter finds that his team of animators – some of the best in the business – have already signed the new contract. The only one who stands by Walter is Ubbe Iwerks.

A Legend is Born

“Money doesn’t excite me – my ideas excite me.” – Walter Elias Disney

Feeling betrayed, Walter walks away from the producer and decides to start his own studio. He’s got to start from scratch, and he’s lost his team of some of the best talent in animation. What character can he and Ubbe come up with that will rival the success of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit? Ubbe Iwerks draws up sample sketches of a dog, a cat, a cow, a horse and a frog. None of them are good enough for Walter. They just aren’t quite right.

Racking his brains for inspiration, Walter suddenly remembers the friendly mouse in his Kansas studio. He grabs a pencil and draws up some sketches, handing them the Ubbe. Ubbe reworks the sketches so they can be animated..

With that, Mickey Mouse is created, and the legend of Walt Disney is born.

Action Points

  • Don’t take failure as an omen of your destiny. If you do, failure will become your destiny. Instead, take each knock-back as an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Cherish the small things that delight you – you never know when you will be able to return to them for inspiration.