Thursday, December 2, 2010

Everything I Know I Learned from Walt Disney

This weekend (December 5) marks the 109th anniversary of the birthday of Walt Disney.

I once gave a talk to a group of second graders in which I mentioned that I'd done a biography of Walt Disney. One little voice piped up, "You mean that was a real person?" Apparently the child knew the name only as that of the entertainment empire. All that just seemed too big for one man. Perhaps that is a testament to all that Walt accomplished.

But yes, kids, there was a real Walt Disney. To me and others of my generation, he was very real, and we invited him into our homes every Sunday night when we watched his TV show. Before each show he talked to us lovingly and patiently, and never ever condescendingly. Not for nothing was he known as "Uncle Walt."

When we look at the huge entertainment corporation that bears his name, it's hard to believe that for many years Walt was a failure. Oh sure, he had big dreams, but it took a while for those dreams to catch fire. When he left Kansas City for California in 1923, he was nearly penniless and homeless. Even after he'd made a name for himself with his own studio, he lost his star cartoon character--Oswald the Lucky Rabbit--to a crafty business associate. He had to start all over again and come up with a whole new character.

Walt would have been forgiven if he'd given up on his dreams then. Probably there were those who advised him to do just that. There always seems to be some well-meaning family member ready to tell dreamers to get a real job in a factory or a grocery store. But that wasn't Walt. He kept on dreaming and creating. And children today know his name because he did.

Oh, that new cartoon character he came up with? It was a little mouse.

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