Chapter Five: Almost There
Chapter Five: Almost There
Chapter Five: Almost There
The rest of the 1920s would be a transformative decade for Disney, the company, and the artists who worked at it. It would also be a big change for certain members of the family itself. The first big change would be the location of the young animator and his company. It was a big risk to move from New York. New York was the center of the cartoon industry. Yet Walt was not truly enjoying the laugh o grams. they made money and gained some popularity but they were far from groundbreaking. He saught to become a live-action film director instead that added to the fact his brother still suffered tuberculosis drove Disney to move to Los Angeles. Here coming back into full contact with his sister and brother once more.
Like pieces in a puzzle, things soon began coming together. Ub Iwerks soon followed in the move to continue working on the laugh o gram’s even though he knew Walt intended to move on he did believe he could continue without him with the other staff. Hugh Harman would choose not to follow the company and this would be the end of his short tenure with the company. There would be no hard feelings that existed between Hugh and the company. He would go on to found the just as important Harman-Ising Productions which in turn would go on to originate the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of animated short subjects in 1930 and 1931. Though Hugh left, his brother Fred Harman would remain. The three men (Walt, Ub, and Harman) began the foundation of what is today commonly known as the Merry folk of Disney or the wise old folk of Disney.
Yet it was more than animators that Disney needed and like the rest, it began to fall into place. Roy O. Disney had always been close to his brother yet they had not truly seen each other for years. Now they were both in the city while Roy recovered slowly from tuberculosis. He had worked as a banker while recuperating in the hospital but before that had worked as a businessman. When his banking job let him go as his illness seemed not to be clearing up, Roy jumped straight back into another job. He became the financial man behind the company, the boss of sorts. Handling the money and making sure Walt didn't do anything too crazy. There were clashes of cause but the group persisted. After tense meetings that nearly broke apart the new Hollywood venture before it could take root, the name Laugh-O-Gram Studio was dropped in favor of Disney Brothers Studio.
Roy would not be the only Disney now joining the fray at the newly named studio. Ruth had lived nearby Roy while he recovered and had taken up a job writing for a local newspaper. She had honed her skills by now and surprised Walt with what he considered impressive storytelling. Ruth and Walt had been much closer so the chance to bond again was a strong one. As Roy recovered, they established permanent roots in the city. The brothers ordered kit houses and built their homes adjacently on Lyric Avenue. Despite some reservations from the others, ruth became the first female at the studio and the next link in the chain that was Merry folk of Disney.
The company seemed to have it all it needed yet there was one more person to join who would be one of the most vital members. Walter Pfeiffer Walt’s old-time friend had broken the mold of his family as Walt had done and had successfully somehow become a lawyer. It had been a stressful time for Pfeiffer yet his love for the theatre had never died. He moved to Hollywood when he heard of the Disney studio. Work would never be dry here for the lawyer especially not as Hollywood began to grow around them. He would never officially work for or with Walt or his studio. Yet he offered advice from other things he had seen and heard. Vital advice on ownership and the courts. It was advice that would remain in Walt’s head even If he had yet the need for it.
With the crew in place, the laugh o grams continued. Still profitable but not yet complete money makers. Yet one of them was about to get the company noticed. Alice's Wonderland combined both live-action and animation to tell the tale of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It was a brave venture and Walt cast Virginia Davis in the title role. It was a gamble, a roll of the dice to see how far the studio could push its limitations. The result was the studio's longest production to date. At 12 and half minutes, it was a success for the studios yet if they couldn't find a buyer soon the company would drop into bankruptcy. Luckily for them, they had an interested party already and that person was impressed with the cartoon.
It would be a New York-based person that would latch onto Alice's Wonderland. New York film distributor Margaret J. Winkler was interested which surprised the studio. She was the first woman to produce and distribute animated films and continued to solidify Walt’s progressive views. Women had a place in animation was something he told anyone who asked, he pointed to Winkler and ruth as evidence. Life for Winkler at the time however was not easy. She was losing the rights to both the Out of the Inkwell and Felix the Cat cartoons and needed a new series. This lined up perfectly with Walt and his studio. She could have turned anywhere else yet she turned to the newer studio and soon they signed a contract for six Alice comedies, with an option for two further series of six episodes each. Virginia Davis, the child star of the Alice comedies was persuaded with her family to move to Hollywood. The Rise of the Studio had begun.
Two more key figures would soon join the studio. Les Clark was the first. Born in 1907 he began to work at Disney as a camera operator however he soon moved on to work under the guidance of Ub. He was the next link In the Merry folk of Disney. Yet another person caught Walt’s eye. Early in 1925, Disney hired an ink artist, Lillian Bounds. Lillian had been born in Idaho in 1899, making her one year older than Walt. She had been the youngest of ten children and family life was never easy for the young girl. She struggled financially while her father died when she just seventeen. After attending a year of business college, she moved to southern California in 1923 to live with her sister Hazel's family. It was here in 1925 she joined the studio as secretary. It was here she met Walt.
The romance burned bright straight away. They married in the July of 1925; a letter of happiness was sent by Walt’s mother but his father still refused to talk to the son. Their marriage was to be a happy one yet despite Walt’s pledge she could continue working if she wanted to Lillian chose not to. Lillian had little interest in films or the Hollywood social scene so she happily became a housewife tending to the home. This would be necessary as their first child would be born a year later in 1926 named Theodore Elias Disney. An attempt to keep his children away from the limelight would be in vain as the first child would begin following his father’s path as soon as he could walk. Their second child and last for the rest of the 1920s was Diane Disney, born December 1929.
Yet as Walt attended to family life. A big opportunity lay on the horizon. Tiering of the Alice comedies, one night over a meal at the Disney home. Disney and Iwerks created Oswald Rabbit. They did not have plans yet for the Rabbit nor did they know the fame it and its eventual counterpart would bring but for now Oswald laid in waiting. As time bled on Walt became more and more bored again and once again everyone around him could see it. yet this time he was not about to leave. By 1926, Margaret J. Winkler had handed over the distribution of the Alice series to her husband Charles Mintz. While Walt had enjoyed working with Margert, he hated Charles and the pair’s working relationship was strained from day one.
The Alice series ran until 1927. By now Walt wanted to move onto full animation. Luckily for the company, Mintz wanted new material. Oswald Rabbit was brought back out and spruced up. Oswald was to be preppy, saucy while also being neat and trim. Yet here is where Walt finally listened to the advice of his friend Walt er Pfeiffer. During a tense negotiation, which Mintz nearly walked out on, a new contracted was agreed. The studio would begin making Oswald shorts, a prototype for what was to come in the 1930s. by now the shorts were popular and so Walt moved to gain a larger free for producing the series. This action would destroy a man’s carer. Mintz wanted to reduce the payments and so a clash began. With Walt owning the rights to Oswald there was little Mintz could do. He attempted to steal many of the artists involved but they refused.
Disney and his would continue to make the Oswald shorts still released by universal for now but Mintz was out in the cold. The stress would cause him to suffer a fatal heart attack in 1929 and tragically pass away. For the studios, they seemed to be gaining popularity yet had not truly broken the beach. For Walt, Oswald was not enough. They needed something else. In Walt’s mind, Oswald needed a friend. He began talking to Ub who agreed. The conversations were short as Disney seemed ready to push for innovation again. yet one day, inspired by his childhood the lightbulb lit up. Soon Mortimer Mouse (later named Micky by Lillian) was born. Oswald had a friend now and together they were ready to strive forward. The Rabbit and the mouse were about to change the game once again.