Society - People
By: - at October 24, 2013

15 Interesting Facts about Walt Disney

Walt Disney created the Walt Disney Company

There are not very many people in the world that don't recognize the name "Walt Disney" and throughout the 20th century, this name went from being unknown to one of the most popular as well as powerful brands around the globe. There have been many different myths and urban legends that have circulated throughout the media over the years when it comes to the actual man behind the brand. The story of Walt Disney's life, inspirations and accomplishments is much more impressive than many of the movies as well as cartoon series that were created by his company. Even though there are many different facts about his story that many people know, there are other interesting facts that most people don't.

15)  His Last Name Was Not Originally Disney

Flora and Elias Disney, Walt's parents
Flora and Elias Disney, Walt's parents

The last name of Walt Disney's family was actually "d'Isigny" and his ancestors originated in Isigny sur Mer, which was a commune that was located in the Calvados department within the Basse Normandie area of France. The Disney's were descendants of Normans that decided to settle in Normandy along with many other people during the 11th century; his original last name was pronounced "Deez-Nay" but was later changed to "Disney". The d'Isigny name was originally anglicized into "Disney" in 1066 by Walt's great grandfather, Arundel.

Walt's father originally moved to the United States of America in 1878 in search of gold in California but eventually ended up settling down in the early 1880s. He got married in 1888 and moved his new family to Chicago, Illinois in 1890. Then in 1901  Walter "Walt" Disney was born and they moved again to a farm in Marceline, Missouri shortly thereafter.

Isigny sur Mer
Walt Disney's family was actually "d'Isigny" and his ancestors originated in Isigny sur Mer
By Xfigpower, via Wikimedia Commons

14)  His Favorite Hobby was Building Trains
One of the things that Walt Disney loved to do in his spare time was build model trains; this personal passion started when he was just a child growing up on his family farm. He was captivated by the Santa Fe Railroad tracks that were laid across the countryside close to his family's land and he use to enjoy putting his ear against the railroad tracks so that he could hear the trains approaching.

Walt's uncle was a train engineer that helped him get a job with the railroad during the summers; he would make his money selling different items to the travelers, such as:  newspapers, soda and popcorn. He primarily enjoyed being able to see those beautiful trains every day and as an adult, Walt Disney built a complete 1/8-scale steam railroad in his own backyard called Lilly Belle. Years later, his work was moved to the Main Street Station in Disneyland and is still there to this day.

Old Santa Fe Railroad ad
Walt Disney loved the Santa Fe Railroad

Miniature model of Walt's first railroad, Lilly Belle
Miniature model of Walt's first railroad, Lilly Belle
By Janke, via Wikimedia Commons

13)  The Last Thing That He Wrote Was the Name of an Actor
Walt Disney died from lung cancer in 1966 and what he wrote on a sheet of paper shortly before he died became the subject of an unsolved mystery. Reports confirm that he scribbled down the name of actor Kurt Russell on a sheet of paper but he never explained why he wrote that specific name, which were the last words that he ever wrote. Even though this was originally thought of as being just a rumor, it was confirmed as being true by the actor during a late night talk show interview in 2007. The paper that was used to write his name can still be found on Disney's office desk along with many other notes and reports that Walt Disney personally wrote throughout his career.

Kurt Russell as a child
Kurt Russell was the last word that Disney wrote

12)  He Never Graduated from High School
Walt Disney went to McKinley High School as a teenager but decided that he no longer wanted to attend school at the age of 16. He had dreams of joining the Army and doing things that could help people instead of wasting away inside a classroom. He realized just how wrong he was as he grew older, so he started to encourage as many children as he could to appreciate the value of education and stay in school in order to have a better chance at fulfilling their dreams in the future. Walt never did receive a high school diploma but he was able to receive quite a few honorary degrees throughout his career from prestigious universities such as UCLA, Harvard and Yale.

McKinley High School
Disney dropped out of McKinley High School
Courtesy of

Disney Received an honorary degree from UCLA

Disney received an honorary degree from Harvard
By Daderot, via Wikimedia Common

Yale University
Disney received an honorary degree from Yale
By Ad Meskens, via Wikimedia Common

11)  His Apartment and Part-Time Office is Still Located in Disneyland
Walt Disney invested in a small efficient one bedroom apartment that was used as his primary work space directly on Main Street in Disneyland. Even though he had already acquired a massive fortune by this time in his career, he intentionally wanted to make sure that this apartment remained as modest in nature and décor as possible. The main purpose of the apartment was for him to be able to keep a close eye on the progress of Disneyland as it was literally being built right before his eyes.

He did not personalize this particular space by hanging up any pictures of his family members or friends because it was never his intention to become overly comfortable within that space. In addition to making sure that everything was built and developed according to his original vision, he was able to get a lot of work done. This apartment is still located on Main Street in Disneyland today but some of the furniture has been replaced since it was first used by Walt Disney himself, the papers that he wrote are still located on the desk.

Disney's apartment above the Fire Dept.
Disney lived in an apartment in the middle of Disney Land

10)  Walt Disney's Body Was Never Cryogenically Frozen
A major myth that has been circulating through the media for years is that the body of Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen and placed directly underneath one of the most popular attractions at Disneyland, the Pirates of the Caribbean. This is an urban legend that is not true and reports have confirmed over the years that this was a rumor that started when a few Disney animators made the joke that he wanted to be frozen after he died. Two days after Walt Disney passed away in December of 1966 from lung cancer his request to be cremated was granted. There is a burial plot that has a flourishing garden that holds his ashes in Glendale, California in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park. The first experiment and test of human cryogenic freezing did not occur until January 1967

Pirates of the Caribbean, Disneyland
It is a myth that Walt Disney was frozen under the Pirates of the Caribbean park in Disneyland

Disney's gravesite
Disney was creamated and his grave is in Glendale, California Forest Lawn Memorial Park

9)  Walt Disney Wanted to Join the Army As a Teenager
After dropping out of high school at the age of 16, Walt Disney wanted nothing more than to join the Army. He wanted to be able to serve his country and help other people in a major way by doing so. However, he was rejected by the recruiters because of being too young. He did not let this rejection deter him from finding a way to help people and he decided to join the Red Cross shortly afterward. One of his first big assignments was to be sent overseas to work in France as an ambulance driver that also occasionally chauffeured Red Cross officials; he kept this assignment for an entire year.

A major highlight and foreshadowing element of this time of Walt's life was that he did not want to cover the ambulance in the standard camouflage that was provided. Instead, he decided to cover it from bumper to bumper with cartoon characters that would eventually become a part of the expanding animated world of Disney.

Walt Disney and his Red Cross ambulance
Walt Disney worked for the Red Cross

8)  He Loved Creating and Using Alias Names Frequently
Throughout his career, Walt Disney was known for using an extensive list of different aliases for himself as well as his various projects. This was especially the case after his name had become a source of international notoriety and fame. In most cases he would use variations of his own name spelled backwards, for example:  "Retlaw Elias Yensid". He would keep his middle name intact while cleverly spelling his first and last names in reverse. There were also quite a few instances in which he left the middle name out completely and would just refer to himself as "Retlaw Yensid".

His habitual use of aliases were also reflected in his work through a variety of different projects. He decided to cleverly use the name "M.T. Lott" when he was searching for the perfect plot of land to use to build an amusement park. This was done so that potential sellers and realtors would not try to hike up the prices associated with that land just because Walt Disney was wealthy. The name of the sorcerer in the hit Disney movie "Fantasia" was "Yen Sid", which was a clever variation of Walt's last name reversed.

Ariel view of Disneyland
Disney used alias M.T. Lott to purchase Disneyland property lot
By Robert J. Boser, via Wikimedia Common

Walt Disney used the alias Yen Sid for the wizard in Fantasia

7)  Walt Disney Originally Named Mickey Mouse "Mortimer"
As Walt was traveling on a train with his wife back home from yet another failed business meeting in 1928, he began to create simple sketches of a cartoon mouse. With each individual sketch, the character started to develop and evolve more to the point where Walt knew that he may be on to something big. Many people might think that the first name that came to Walt's mind when it came to this soon to be famous mouse was "Mickey" or even "Minnie" but they are incorrect. The first name that popped into Walt's head was actually Mortimer Mouse.

When he finally showed the drawings of Mortimer Mouse to his wife, she told him that the name was too pompous for that character and suggested that he change it. It was her idea to name this cute little mouse "Mickey", which would eventually become his defining character. That moment resulted in the birth of Mickey Mouse but the pompous Mortimer Mouse lived on to become Mickey's competitive rival in the courting of Minnie Mouse in a 1936 cartoon; he made another appearance in a sequel to that cartoon that was created over six decades later in 2000.

Original Mickey Mouse
Mickey Mouse was the first Disney Character created

Mortimer Mouse
Mortimer Mouse is Mickey's rival
Courtesy of

6)  He Started Selling His Drawings at the Age of Seven
Shortly after Walt Disney was born his family moved to Marceline, Missouri and purchased a farm; this is where Walt spent a majority of his childhood. Walt acquired a passion for visiting the nearby railroad tracks around the same time that he discovered that he enjoyed drawing and he was fairly decent at it. He was not just interested in drawing and basic sketches but in other types of art as well. He would spend countless hours working on a wide variety of different sketches of nature, animals, and other characters instead of doing his homework as well as other assigned school projects.

His love for art and creative talent also inspired him to persuade his sister to help him with a major painting project at a young age; he wanted to paint a side of their family home with nothing but tar. Walt was not the only person that enjoyed his artistic talents, he made a lot of money by selling many of his sketches to local neighbors and friends of the family that were also impressed by his work. They most likely didn't know that the value of those childhood drawings would skyrocket years later.

10 year old Walt Disney, center right
Disney sold pictures he drew since he was 7 years old

5)  He Produced Educational Films for American Schools
Walt Disney was primarily known for animating cartoons and feature films for the general public. However, he also produced a series of educational films that were specifically designed to be used for academic purposes within different grade schools throughout the country. This particular production project lasted for six years between 1945 and 1951; it covered such topics as learning how to properly bathe infants, avoid catching a cold, as well as the dangers of driving too fast on the road. Walt was able to cover these topics thoroughly within a series of educational shorts that were then included in the standard curriculum for many classrooms throughout America.

Due to the positive responses and reactions that were generated after these releases, Walt decided to tackle more mature topics that also affect young people in regards to biology and sexuality. The ten-minute film titled "The Story of Menstruation" was a clever combination of hygiene tips, scientific facts and captivating animation. It was produced by Walt Disney but was originally requested and financed by Kotex Products. Reports confirm that over 105 million students were able to watch this film as classroom instruction and it was commonly used as a part of the curriculum throughout the 1960s.

Disney collaborating with Dr. Wernher von Braun for educational films
Disney collaborating with Dr. Wernher von Braun for educational films

4)  He Was Fired from a Newspaper Job for a Lack of Creativity
Even as a young teenager, there were many different people that noticed a lot of potential in Walt Disney that offered him an opportunity to work for them. As mentioned earlier, he was able to sell many of his drawings and sketches to family friends as well as neighbors when he was seven years old. The Kansas City Star newspaper offered to hire Walt Disney to work for them while he was still rather young as well.

However, they were not impressed by what he had to offer and later made the decision to fire him. When asked about the reason for their decision, the official report was that Walt Disney was fired for his overall lack of creativity. The editor of the Kansas City Star newspaper that made the final choice to let him go stated that Walt "lacked imagination" and simply did not have any "good ideas". Walt probably started to feel as if the editor was right after he drove his next business venture, an animation studio named Laugh-O-Gram, into bankruptcy.

Fortunately, he turned this setback into a monumental comeback shortly after he teamed up with his brother after moving to California to produce a cartoon series that was the turning point of his success story. Ironically, when the Walt Disney Company purchased American Broadcasting Company (ABC) they acquired the Kansas City Star Newspaper.

The Kansas City Star
Walt Disney was fired from The Kansas City Star then ended up buying it.
Courtesy of

The American Broadcasting Company
Walt Disney bought ABC

3)  Many People Hated His Idea to Adapt "Snow White" as an Animated Feature Film
Walt Disney had dreamed about creating a brand new animated version of the popular story "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" since he worked as a Kansas City newsboy at the age of fifteen. This childhood ambition originally occurred when he watched a silent film adaption of this popular fairy tale that starred critically acclaimed actress Marguerite Clark. He decided to go out on a major limb when it came to creating the very first full length feature film for the Walt Disney Company and it went down in history as the first full length animated color film as well. The working budget for this picture went over 400 percent of the original budget, reaching over $2 million.

Walt Disney had to mortgage his house and get approved for a loan just to have enough money to finish making this movie. There were also a lot of negative responses to the animated images of the enchanted forest and wicked witch because most people thought that they would be too scary for children. Contrary to popular opinion, the movie became an overnight success. Since its original release in December of 1937, it has been able to gross an inflation adjusted amount of over $1.6 billion.

Snow White and The Seven Dwarves 1937 screenshot
Many thought Walt Disney's Snow White would fail

2)  Charlie Chaplin Was a Major Influence on Disney in Many Ways

The Fire Fighters
The Fire Fighters was inspired by Charlie Chaplin

Along with his passion for drawing sketches and cartoon characters, Walt Disney also developed a talent for acting and performing at a young age. When he attended school he would spend a lot of time entertaining all of his friends by imitating one of his artistically talented idols on the big screen, Charlie Chaplin. Walt Disney was a big fan of Chaplin's silent films and would sneak out of the house late at night just so he could see them in local theaters without his parent's permission. He spent hours practicing the different routines and comical performances that he learned from watching them for his friends as well as family members.

Walt's appreciation of Chaplin's work on the big screen was also a major influence when it came to defining the personality and quirks of his leading cartoon character, Mickey Mouse. At the end of the 1915 movie "The Tramp", Chaplin walks away feeling absolutely dejected and defeated. Shortly afterward he stops and lifts up his head then strolls off with a positive outlook on life because he decided that life was not that bad after all; he was going to maintain a positive attitude about it. Walt decided that this would be the same type of attitude that Mickey would have when it came to reacting to different hardships. Walt created a version of the popular 1916 Chaplin short "The Fireman" in the 1930 animated cartoon "The Firefighters", which had Mickey Mouse as the lead character.

Charlie Chaplin in his Tramp persona
Walt Disney was inspired by Charlie Chaplin

1)  He Still Has the Record of Winning the Most Oscar Awards
To this day, Walt Disney has been able to maintain the record of having the highest number of Oscar Awards in the history of the industry. He was nominated 64 different times and won a record setting 32 of them as well as 48 Academy Awards. His very first Academy Award was won for the 1932 cartoon "Flowers and Trees". This cartoon made history by becoming the very first color cartoon and the first to win an Academy Award. He received seven different Emmy Awards, the Legion of Honor from France and the Presidential Freedom Medal in addition to these accolades.

He currently has two stars under his name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for his work in television and the other for his work on the big screen. He received the Congressional Gold Medal award in May of 1968 and received a special award from the League of Nations for creating Mickey Mouse. These are just a few of the many different accomplishments, achievements and prestigious awards that Walt Disney was able to acquire throughout his career as well as after his death.

Disney display case
Disney holds the record for the most Oscar Awards
By Cullen328, via Wikimedia Common

Final Words
Even four decades after his death, Walt Disney has still been able to inspire millions of people around the world with his work. Disney World continues to be one of the most popular attractions in the world and studies confirm that the Walt Disney Company was able to turn a $1.8 billion profit during the third quarter of the 2012 fiscal year alone. Walt Disney helped in making plans for Disney World and other projects that have solidified Disney as being a high quality brand with a reputation to match. Sadly, he was not able to live to see the day when many of those plans were put into action but he has been able to prove in more ways than one that even the most unrealistic dreams can still come true.





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