Mickey Mouse, originally a theater animation, appeared on the big screen for the first time on November 18, 1928. Here was not only of a delightful cartoon character but also the lead player in the first ever sound cartoon, at a time when silent films were still playing. This was all brand new and innovative, and Steamboat Willie took the public by storm. He was the first animated international personality, who laid the groundwork for the entire Disney empire. He symbolizes everything that Disney stands for in a positive and upbeat philosophy. When other cartoonists were experimenting with innuendo and sexuality, or stealing ideas from one another, the Walt Disney creations became original, enjoyable, and something for the entire family, regardless of age to enjoy together. The most delightful and the most enduring, and this is indicated by the strong demand for such items as Disney's Tinkerbell coloring pages and personal items like watches and lunch boxes, which display many of the Disney animated favorites.
A manager at the Colony Theater liked Walt and thought he would take a chance by showing the innovative talking cartoon. "Steamboat Willie" was a rousing success. Walt immediately added sound to his first two cartoons and offered all of his exhibitors a package of three short talkie cartoons. The creator supplied the voice for all Mickey Mouse cartoons up through World War Two. In 1946, when Walt became too busy to continue the job, an experienced Disney sound and vocal effects man by the name of Jim McDonald, inherited the task. McDonald was destined to continue his high-pitched duties until he retired in 1974 and the job passed on to Wayne Allwine.
Soon after his introduction to the local market, the mouse became famous beyond all expectations, to the point where people coming to the theater first asked if they were going to "run a Mickey" before they would consider buying admission. This was a few months before the 1929 stock market crash. Mickey's popularity continued strong throughout the Dirty Thirties. Theater managers got smarter and soon had to headline the charming mouse with large signs proclaiming, "Mickey Mouse playing today!" Patrons did what many movie goers were able to accomplish, until they started to clear out the theaters at the end of each feature, as they do today, by sitting through multiple showings of the feature just to see Mickey again. Cartoons were as popular for adults as they were for children, and there was no other way to view them. It was only when television arrived that the early cartoons could first be shown to home audiences on the small screen.
Walt Disney produced 87 cartoon shorts during the 1930s in which Mickey Mouse was employed as everything from a giant killer, to a cowboy, to a detective to an inventor. Other cartoons of the time were repetitive, boring musicals with dancing flowers and repeating images that lacked a storyline. An entire family of characters was created for the Disney stable including, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluto, Donald Duck, and some of the lesser knowns, Clarabelle Cow and the gruff Peg-Leg Pete. In 1932, four years after the world was introduced to the delightful rodent, Walt Disney received an Oscar for his creation.
The birth of Mickey Mouse occurred on a cross-country train ride (a four day journey) in early 1928. Walt was returning from a business meeting along with his wife. At age 26, and with an active cartoon studio in Hollywood, Walt had set out to arrange for a new contract for his creation, Oswald the Rabbit, but the backers turned him down. As they owned the copyright, they took control, leaving Walt with nothing. While preparing to announce the unpleasant news to his workers back home, Walt gave birth to a sympathetic mouse that he first named, "Mortimer". By the end of the ride, which concluded in Los Angeles, Lillian Disney suggested to her husband that the first name was too stuffy, so he was renamed, "Mickey." Walt and his head animator, Ub Iwerks, soon completed their first Mickey Mouse cartoon, "Plane Crazy," but no distributor would buy the film. Walt produced a second silent Mickey Mouse cartoon, called "Gallopin' Gaucho." It was less than a year since Warner Brothers had introduced the talkies with Al Jolson as the "Jazz Singer" (late 1927). In 1928, Walt Disney began work on his third Mickey Mouse cartoon, this time a talkie, entitled, "Steamboat Willie." To add sound to the film, Walt had to take the animated portion to New York since West Coast studios did not have the equipment. The young man invested everything he had into the film, and when it was completed, Walt screened it for New York exhibitors.
Youngsters of 1955-1959 will remember being introduced to television's most popular children's show, "The Mickey Mouse club", (premiering October 3, 1955) with its changing cast of real children characters, all sporting their trademark ears, and their first names on their t-shirts. Some were more popular than others (especially as the years went by and the t-shirts started to fill out). Lifelong careers began for such notables as Annette Funicello, and Bobby Burgess, later to become a popular dancer for the Lawrence Welk Show. The show was reborn successfully in 1977 and 1989, with new generations of stars and fans. It was in 1929 that the first Mickey Mouse Club was established, which consisted of a few million members meeting in the local theaters for Saturday afternoon games and cartoons. They had a special member greeting, a secret handshake, and a code of correct behavior. The first song was not the popular one of the 1950s, but a club song called "Minnie's Yoo Hoo." The high point at the beginning of the 1940s was the artistic achievement that reappears in theaters into modern times known as "Fantasia." (1940) In the movie a sequence occurs during which Mickey Mouse plays the Sorcerer's Apprentice. He borrows his employer's magical paraphernalia and gets into trouble when things get out of hand. He animates brooms to do his work, but is unable to control them. The tampering leads to disaster which is not corrected until the glowering Sorcerer reappears to chastise his disobedient apprentice and set things right. Years before its time, "Fantasia" introduced classical music to younger audiences with matching animation, all presented in the innovative stereophonic sound. Theater patrons of the time were silent and open-mouthed in astonishment at what they saw, many of whom would see the film dozens of times.
World War Two interrupted Mickey's career, as the Disney studio discontinued commercial production to manufacture war effort projects such as training films, posters, armed forces insignia designs, and goodwill tours. Mickey Mouse appeared on many of the posters as part of the War Bond drive. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the allies adopted a password on the beaches and trenches: the password was "Mickey Mouse." After the war, Mickey appeared in his second feature film, "Fun and Fancy Free" in 1947. He starred alongside Donald Duck and Goofy in a new version of "Jack and the Beanstalk." It was Mickey and his friends, stealing into the castle high in the sky, trying not to be discovered by the hungry and rather ominous giant. It was entitled, "Mickey and the Beanstalk."
Throughout the forties and fifties, Mickey continued to make cartoons, but did not appear in as many as Donald, Goofy, and Pluto. Because Mickey was the prime Disney symbol, with a typecast personality, it was difficult to create new stories for him. Fans did not appreciate seeing Mickey lose his temper or perform anything
underhanded. These were better left to the perturbed Donald Duck and the unwittingly silly and emotional Goofy. In 1955, Mickey Mouse moved to Disneyland to host his own theme park, sequences often advertised on the Mickey Club show. There, the bigger than life mouse welcomed visitors, posed for pictures, and led the big parades on national holidays. In 1971, he opened the Walt Disney World Resort. 1983 saw the opening of Tokyo Disneyland, and in 1992 Disneyland Paris was created in which Mickey wore a beret.
Mickey Mouse remains a popular and well-appreciated character who served a valuable purpose by bringing generations of children and adults through the difficult times of the Depression, the War Years, and into the future.