Father of two daughters, as one might expect Disney was something of a work-a-holic, a chain smoker who liked to smoke his cigarrettes down to the butt. After Disney’s death, his wife Lillian remmarried and died in 1997 at 98 years of age. Lillian stated that Disney was a wonderful father and grandfather and that he was a good husband to her. Disney lived in pain the last years of his life, and died of cancer at the age of 65.
Disney’s mother and father, Flora and Elias Disney, had moved to Chicago in 1890. In 1906, when young Walt was four years old, the family made another move—this time to Marceline, Missouri, where they purchased a small farm. Life on the farm was tough and Elias struggled to raise his family.
After four years of back-breaking work, the family sold out their farm, barely breaking even on their initial investment. With four years’ hard work and nothing to show for it, the family then found themselves in Kansas City in early 1911. However, Walt’s experience living in Marceline had a profound effect on his later life. It was on the farm that he learnt to draw, copying pictures from the cover of his father’s favourite socialist magazine, Appeal to Reason.
In Kansas City young Walt, now a student at Benton Grammar School, had his first exposure to movies in a nearby theatre. In the early 1910s, movies were a nascent phenomenon. Largely the creation of Thomas Edison, working in New Jersey, motion pictures came into existence in the mid-1890s, but by the years 1904-1914, movie theatres proliferated throughout the United States and other parts of the world .
Millions in the United States attended movie theaters on a weekly basis by 1914. Disney became enamored with the movies and they became a regular part of his life. He courted his future-wife, Lillian, by taking her to the movies.
Vaudeville and burlesque were also influences on Disney’s early life; at Benton Grammar School his classmate Walter Pfeiffer’s family were avid theatre-goers and Disney began spending increasing amounts of time with them. Disney also continued his drawing and sketching, especially caricatures, which he created for 25-cents apiece in a local barber shop. For the better part of his childhood and into his teenage years he had an arduous newspaper route, for which he received only a small allowance, his father taking most of the money for family expenses.
In 1917, Elias Disney moved his family back to Chicago. Now 16, Walt briefly attended McKinley High School and took night classes in drawing at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. After a brief spell as the cartoonist for the school newspaper, Disney dropped out of school and began a stint working in France as an ambulance driver with the Red Cross. In 1919, the 17 year old Disney moved back to Kansas, where he began to develop his career as a cartoonist.
After working for several advertising agencies, including A. V. Cauger and the Kansas City Film Ad Company, Disney decided to establish his own animation company with Fred Harman, a former co-worker at the Ad Company. At this point Disney’s “Laugh O’Gram” cartoons became hugely popular in Kansas. His empire had begun.
Yet this early success was short-lived. Thwarted by financial concerns, Disney and Harman’s firm soon went bankrupt. Undeterred, in late 1923 Disney decided to set up another studio, this time in Hollywood, with his brother Roy O. Disney acting as his business partner.
Here, Disney continued work on the Alice Comedies he’d begun back in Kansas, as well as producing the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon series and beginning work on a new character: Mickey Mouse. It was at this point that another important event in Disney’s life took place. In early 1925, he had hired Lillian Bounds as a celluloid painter. The pair soon fell in love and married in July of that year.