MICKEY MOUSE, Walt Disney's most famous character, made his screen debut on November 18, 1928, as star of the first sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie. Since his debut, Mickey Mouse has become an international personality whose success laid the financial foundation upon which Walt Disney built his creative organization. Besides being the personification of everything Disney, Mickey Mouse has become one of the most universal symbols of the Twentieth Century.
Mickey Mouse was born in Walt Disney's imagination early in 1928 on a train ride from New York to Los Angeles. Walt was returning with his wife from a business meeting at which his cartoon creation, Oswald the Rabbit, had been wrestled from him by his financial backers. Only 26 at the time and with an active cartoon studio in Hollywood, Walt had gone east to arrange for a new contract and more money to improve the quality of his Oswald pictures. The moneymen declined, and since the character was copyrighted under their name, they took control of it. " . . . So I was all alone and had nothing," Walt recalled later. "Mrs. Disney and I were coming back from New York on the train and I had to have something I could tell them. I've lost Oswald so, I had this mouse in the back of my head because a mouse is sort of a sympathetic character in spite of the fact that everybody's frightened of a mouse including myself" Walt spent the return train ride conjuring up a little mouse in red velvet pants and named him "Mortimer," but by the time the train screeched into the terminal station in Los Angeles, the new dream mouse had been rechristened. Walt's wife, Lillian, thought the name "Mortimer" was too pompous and suggested "Mickey." A star was born!
Upon returning to his studio, Walt and his head animator, Ub Iwerks, immediately began work on the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Plane Crazy. The enthusiasm with which his small staff completed the project faded when no distributor wanted to buy the film. Refusing to give...
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