Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Maybe you don't know this, but Walt Disney got his early start in Kansas City before he went to Hollywood and became a big, famous animator.  And you could say that Mickey Mouse got his start here, too, which I will explain later.

Okay, so here's how it all happened, way back in the beginning.  First, Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois.  His great-grandfather, Arundel Elias Disney, emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland.  But Disney is not an Irish name.  It actually came from the French name, d'Isigny.  Except that the English version of the name turned into Disney.

When little Walt Disney was four years old, his family moved to a farm in Marceline, Missouri, in the north central part of the state.  While he was living there, Walt started drawing lots of pictures because he really loved doing that.

In 1911, the Disneys moved to Kansas City, and they lived in a house on a street called Bellefontaine.  Mom found out where this house was, so she went there and took a couple of pictures of it.  You can tell that whoever lives there now really likes lawn ornaments because there are a whole bunch of them.  And guess what!  There is a bird bath that has Mickey Mouse in it!

Walt and his little sister Ruth used to go pretty often to the Electric Park, which was an amusement park with fun rides and attractions and stuff.  Later on, when Mr. Disney built Disneyland, he said he got many of his ideas from the old Electric Park in Kansas City.  Another thing that Walt did at this time was he took Saturday classes at the Kansas City Art Institute, and he went to see lots of movies and vaudeville shows.

The kid at right center is Walt.
The Disney family moved back to Chicago in 1917 because Walt Disney's father became part owner of a jelly factory.  Walt started high school and also took night classes at the Chicago Art Institute.  When he was 16, he  dropped out of school and tried to join the army, but they wouldn't take him because he was too young.  So he and a friend joined the Red Cross instead.  They went to France as ambulance drivers.

After the war was over, Mr. Disney moved back to Kansas City because he did not want to have to work in the jelly factory.  First he tried to get a job as a newspaper cartoonist, but no one would hire him.  So then he got work with a studio that made advertisements for newspapers, magazines, and movie theaters.

The Laugh-O-Gram studio was
on the 2nd floor of this building.
Mr. Disney became interested in animation, and he studied how to do cel animation.  He and another animator started making cartoons called "laugh-o-grams" for a local theater, and then Mr. Disney opened his own studio, which was called Laugh-O-Gram.  He hired a bunch of animators, but he couldn't make enough money with his cartoons to pay the salaries of all those people, so the studio went bankrupt.  That's when Mr. Disney decided to move to Hollywood and set up a studio there.

But while he was working in Kansas City, at the Laugh-O-Gram studio, Mr. Disney had some pet mice, and one of them was his favorite.  Here's what he said about the mice in an interview one time:

They used to fight for crumbs in my waste-basket when I worked alone late at night. I lifted them out and kept them in wire cages on my desk. I grew particularly fond of one brown house mouse. He was a timid little guy. By tapping him on the nose with my pencil, I trained him to run inside a black circle I drew on my drawing board. When I left Kansas to try my luck at Hollywood, I hated to leave him behind. So I carefully carried him to a backyard, making sure it was a nice neighborhood, and the tame little fellow scampered to freedom.

Later on, in Hollywood, when Mr. Disney's studio needed to come up with a new character, Mr. Disney thought of the little mouse in Kansas City, and he drew some sketches.  After that, one of the other animators worked more on the design of the mouse.  He drew him with lots of circles so that he would be easy to animate.

Mr. Disney named the mouse Mortimer.  But his wife, Lillian, told him that was not a good name for the mouse, and she said the name should be Mickey Mouse.  So that's what the name ended up being.  Mr. Disney was the original voice for Mickey, and one Disney employee said that "Walt gave him his soul."

Okay, so that's enough about Mickey Mouse and Hollywood.  Now I will show you a few more pictures of the old Laugh-O-Gram studio building on 31st Street.  For a while, it was almost totally falling apart, but then some people decided to try to save it.  The Disney family promised $450,000 in matching funds to fix the building.

Now the outside walls have been built back up, but nothing has been done to the inside.  There is a website where you can find out more about the building and what people are doing to save it.  And if you are interested in this project and feel even slightly rich, you can make a donation or buy some Laugh-O-Gram products to help with the fundraising.

There are many buildings in Kansas City that have more beautiful architecture, but this building has a lot of important history because of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse, so that is why I think it's a good thing that people are trying to save it.


  1. I've always found Walt Disney interesting. Marceline is a town I pass when I drive to see my daughter, so I've stopped there a couple of times!!
    Love, ap

  2. I am a retired architect and now doing cartoons. I will be giving a talk to a retiree group in December and the topic will be, The cartoon masters and I. Walt Disney will be one the masters in my talk and while doing research, I have the pleasure running into your amazing blog and I learned a lot about Waltz.

    Thank you so much, please visit my blog, Ling's Wacky Village: dickling.blogspot.com

    1. Dear Mr. Ling,
      I had a very nice time looking through your blog and seeing the fun photos and drawings from your trip to Spain and Italy. Thanks for sending me the link. I'm glad you liked what I wrote about Walt Disney. I think Mr. Disney would have liked your blog, too!
      Sincerely, Piper