Though his name evokes eternal childhood, legendary animator, filmmaker, businessman and visionary Walt Disney would have turned 110 on Monday, December 5th.
Born in Chicago, Disney and his family moved to Kansas City in 1911. After some world travel, Disney moved back to KC, where he soon met Ubbe Iwerks, who would become his longtime creative partner and colleague. He went from cartoonist to animator and soon began creating "Laugh-O-Grams" that ran locally in KC.
His small studio soon went bankrupt and he moved out to Hollywood. Good move, Uncle Walt. After the "Alice Comedies," he created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, which was promptly then stolen from him by Universal. Painful, yes, but it led to his masterwork.
In 1928, the world met Mickey Mouse (though he was almost named Mortimer - phew!). Walt (with help from Ubbe Iwerks) modeled the noble yet (at the time) scrappy mouse after himself, and after a couple of his shorts went undistributed, "Steamboat Willie" created a phenomenon. It helped that it used synchronized sound -- a rarity for the time -- and the rest was history. More shorts followed, and then, in 1937, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" proved doubters wrong and made animation a full-on respected art form.
After giving over most of his studio for the World War II effort (leading to some very memorable cartoons), by the 50s and 60s, Walt had moved on to a new passion for live action films, leading to adventures such as "Davy Crockett" and, in the 1964, "Mary Poppins."
From then, it was on to his real passion project: Disneyland.
Once again, Walt proved a visionary, creating a magical hub for all of his studio's work, as well as an industry in and of itself. It opened in 1955, and a decade and a half later, Walt Disney World, which he spent his last years planning, came to Florida. His vision for Epcot was especially forward-thinking, as he dreamed of a new, technologically advanced live-in community.
Disney died of cancer in 1966. It's hard to estimate -- or underestimate -- the man's impact on the entertainment industry. Animation became a full-fledged entertainment form, while he also spearheaded nature documentaries, built elaborate TV shows and created twin industries of merchandising.
He was not without his controversies, however. Disney was known as a virulent anti-Communist, testifying to the House Un-American Activities Committee and accusing a number of Hollywood bigwigs of being Communist sympathizers. He also had a falling out with his studio employees, leading to a massive strike that he never quite forgave, and which no doubt fueled his anti-Communism.
He also developed a reputation, which is largely unfounded, of being anti-semitic.And no, he's not frozen behind a ride in Disneyland, waiting to be brought back to life.