This post is a continuation of the previous episode about the timeline of Walt Disney’s history:
This timeline page corresponds with the third podcast episode, which you can find here:
1919 (Kansas City)
–Walt Disney took the train from his parent’s home in Chicago to Kansas City, to the home on Bellefontaine Street.
-At the time, Roy Disney working as teller at First National Bank of Kansas City ($90/month).
-Next day, Walt applied at Kansas City Star, but turned down because too young.
-Next day, Walt applied in his Red Cross uniform to be a copy boy. Advertising manager turned him down because looked too old in his uniform, even though he was just 17 years old.
-Advertising manager suggested Walt apply for the transportation department since he had been driving an ambulance in France, but there weren’t any job openings.
-One of Roy’s friends mentioned that a local studio, owned by Louis Pesmen and William Rubin, was looking to hire an apprentice.
–Few days later, Walt got job at Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Arts Studio (hired on the spot, but with the caviat that his pay would be determined after a one-week test period).
-Studio was located in downtown Kansas City in the Gray Advertising Building.
-During his first week, Walt stayed at his art desk all morning out of fear and anxiety about losing the job (no bathroom breaks).
-After one-week trial period ended, William Rubin offered Walt $50/month (Walt said he would’ve accepted the job for much less pay).
-Walt felt he was “making a great success,” illustrating advertisements and catalogs at a commercial art studio, mostly doing rough drafts, fixed by Pesmen and Rubin.
-Walt was trained previously in his art classes to draw with attention to detail, but Pesmen and Rubin taught Walt how to be more efficient, using whatever tools he could to crank out drawings as quickly as possible (taught him to scratch drawings out with razor blades and how to use pantographs to copy drawings).
–Pantograph– A stencil that has two pens on it, configured with parallelograms. While tracing with one pen, the other pen traces the exact same shape (copies the image perfectly).
-In late November/early December 1919 – Walt laid off because business was too slow.
-Worked at post office with brother, Herbert Disney, through the rest of 1919.
-When census came to ask Walt’s job in early 1920, Walt said he was a “commercial artist,” then changed it to “cartoonist.”
-Walt met Ubbe Iwwerks at Pesmen and Rubin as coworkers (also laid off; both 18 year-olds became acquaintances > friends and started their own company, Iwwerks-Disney Commercial Artists).
-Ubbe later changed his name to Ub at Walt’s suggestion.
-Ub did illustrating and lettering (very shy/antisocial, compared to outgoing Walt).
-Walt did cartooning and sales.
-Walt showed his drawings to Al Carder, president of National Restaurant Association and publisher of a trade newspaper, Restaurant News.
-Office located at Thirteenth and Oak St.
-Paid $10 per page, which is what Carder was paying the printers for the artwork every issue of the newspaper.
-Walt needed art supplies, so he mailed his parents in Chicago to send him his savings from WWI. After much correspondence, Elias agreed to give Walt half of his savings.
-Walt Pfeiffer helped get Disney a contract- designing the February 1920 cover of United Leatherworker’s Journal (Pfeiffer’s dad was an official in the union).
-By end of January 1920, made about $130 (more than at Pesmen-Rubin) and moved to Railway Exchange Building.
–February 1920– Walt hired by Arthur Verne Cauger (A.V. Cauger) full-time for $35/week at Kansas City Slide Company as cartoonist (made promotional slide ads for movie theaters).
-Located at 1015 Central St (close to Railway Exchange Building).
-Ub kept running Iwwerks-Disney.
-Ub didn’t have the personality/salesmanship to keep the business alive.
–March 1920– Iwwerks-Disney closed, and Walt got Ub a job at Kansas City Slide Co.
-Walt shifted his focus to animation instead of static drawings and cartoon art (newly emerging field of animation, little competition, potential to be best in the field).
-Walt was offered a job as a newspaper cartoonist at Kansas City Star or Journal, but he turned it down to stay at Kansas City Slide Co.
-Walt convinced A.V. Cauger to let him write and shoot his own ads and borrow equipment from the company (old mahogany camera)
–Spring 1920– O’Zell went bankrupt, so Elias and Flora move back to Bellefontaine in Kansas City.
–Elias builds a 15-ft2 garage to rent out, and Walt offers to rent it as his studio for $5/month (Roy said Walt never paid).
History of Animation
- Winsor McCay (1910)- Creator of Little Nemo and Gertie the Dinosaur
- Raoul Barré (1914-1915)- Printing multiple backgrounds
- John Randolph (J.R.) Bray (1914-1915)- “Slash and tear” (Assembly line production for his animated shorts which became standard in industry)
- Earl Hurd (1914-1915)- Transparent paper overlying backgrounds
-Animation was more of a novelty and technical endeavor/hobby (Less stories or overarcing plot).
-1920- Animated Cartoons: How They Are Made, Their Origin and Development by Edwin G. Lutz released
–The Human Figure in Motion by Eadweard Muybridge
-Ub and Walt studied photographs of Greyhounds to animate its natural movements.
-Walt, Ub, and other colleagues at Kansas City Slide Co. started taking night classes at Kansas City Art Institute.
–Summer 1920– Slide Co. changed name to Kansas City Film Ad Co. and moved to 2449 Charlotte St, about one mile SW.
-Walt collaborated with a coworker’s brother, Fred Harman, on animation reels to market to movie theaters.
–The Little Artist
–Kansas City Journal Screen Review
–May 1920– Walt joined Order of DeMolay (Frank Land founded Kansas City chapter).
-Walt also worked as the art editor of the DeMolay magazine.
–Roy continued to be sick after returning from WWI with two episodes of influenza.
-Doctor recommended getting a Tonsillectomy.
-Herbert recommended a doctor who could remove his tonsils during lunch, so he wouldn’t have to miss work.
-The person who performed the surgery wasn’t actually a doctor, so Roy ended up bleeding profusely (Coworker, Mitch Francis, took Roy home, then to the hospital).
-At hospital, Chest X-Ray showed Tuberculosis (Contracted overseas in WWI).
–October 1920– Roy sent to a sanatorium in Santa Fe, New Mexico by Veteran’s Association, then Tucson, Arizona for a warmer climate.
-Roy shortly after moved to the Veterans Hospital in Sawtelle, California (West Los Angeles) to spend his “remaining days.”
-Roy had been dating Mitch Francis’s sister, Edna Francis, throughout his time in WWI and his time recovering from TB.
-Roy proposed he and Edna get married if he survived TB
–Early 1921– Walt showed Louis Pesmen the Laugh-O-gram satirizing Kansas City’s streetcar industry (Flowers growing on a woman and man growing a beard to show how slow they were), and Pesmen suggested showing it to Frank L. Newman, an old client.
–Frank L. Newman
-Owned chain of 3 movie theaters
-Large, stocky man with slicked back hair and a stiff jaw
-How Walt got the Newman Laugh-O-Grams contract:
- (More likely) Walt presented his one-minute Laugh-O-gram to Newman’s manager, Milton Feld, who ordered more from Walt
- (Less likely) Walt sat behind “nervous as a cat” Newman in his theater as Newman watched the reel. Newman turned around, said he liked the reel, and asked how expensive it would be to make more. Walt too quickly said $0.30 per foot. Newman ordered, “as many Laugh-O-grams as Walt could draw.” Not too long later, he realized he quoted the wholesale price (no profit).
–March 20, 1921– First Laugh-O-gram premiered at the Newman Theater.
-Walt advertised for young interns to apprentice under him for experience (too poor to pay them).
–Rudolf “Rudy” Ising, high school student, “I was intrigued with the idea of animation.”
–“Lightning sketches” (Light blue tracing on orthochromatic film, which Ising inked over for permanence)
-Laugh-O-grams were satires of the times: streetcars, potholes, new fashions, and a police scandal.
-Walt drew cops going in one side of the police station and coming out the other in jumpsuits.
–T.J. Pendergast political boss who owned the police department through corruption, and essentially ran Kansas City and Jackson County, Missouri (Previous election won by being in charge of police, Board of Police Commissioners).
-Pendergast’s nephew, James, served with Harry Truman in WWI, so Tom backed Truman in his race for county judge, then US senator, “The Senator from Pendergast.”
–1939– Pendergast convicted of income tax evasion and served 15 years in jail.
-Feld started requesting specific animations: upcoming attractions, anniversary shows, and theater etiquette (character warning patrons to be quiet or get hit in the head with a hammer).
-Laugh-O-grams led to Walt gaining more notoriety and pay raise to $60/week at Film Ad Co. (A.V. Cauger would show Walt’s animations to potential clients and introduce Walt as the creator of the Laugh-O-grams)
–Spring 1921– Kay Cee Studios– Walt and Fred Harman started making live-action recordings (cheaper).
-“Cartoonist Wanted”, women playing games, playing in reverse Dorothy Disney breaking a bottle, woman dipping her toe in water, etc.
-Walt disguised himself and acted in most sketches
-Walt used these films to test different functions of the camera (jump-cuts to make people disappear all of a sudden).
-Walt approached A.V. Cauger about making longer animations (6-7 minutes instead of 1-2 minutes).
-Cauger said no because of his lack of familiarity with that technology.
-Cauger bought Walt 100 sheets of celluloid (“discards” Walt would say) for Walt to play with.
-Walt rented a small house next to Film Ad Co. to go in his spare time to work out of as his studio.
–July 1921– Herbert, his wife, Louise, and daughter, Dorothy, left for Portland, Oregon.
–Fall 1921– Walt bought a Universal tripod camera.
-Advertised for additional interns (incentivized with jobs if successful).
–October/November 1921– Hired by Pathè to film the American Legion Convention (Walt underexposed film; dashed hopes of “fast riches”)
-November 6, 1921– Elias, Flora, and Ruth joined Herbert and his family in Oregon (Elias’s sister, Josephine, also lived in Portland)
-Bellefontaine house sold, so Walt couch-hopped and stayed at various boarding houses (At one point, Walt stayed with A.V. Cauger’s nephew, Marion, in his attic).
-Edna Francis’s family would frequently invite Walt to dinner, and he would often accept, if he remembered.
1922 (Walt 20 years old)
-Began creating longer shorts lasting 6-7 minutes spoofing fairy tales.
-Inspired by Terry’s Fables (June 1921- Paul Terry’s parodies of Aesop’s Fables, NY animator)
–Red Riding Hood
–Red Riding Hood briefly shows Julius the Cat, who would later make a resurgence in popularity with the Alice Comedies. Julius would make appearances in most, if not all, of the Laugh-O-Gram cartoons.
– The Musicians of Bremen(town) (Brothers Grimm)
–Jack and the Beanstalk (Began experimenting more with cel animation)
–Jack the Giant Killer
–Goldie Locks and the Three Bears
–Puss in Boots
-All of these fairy tale cartoons would be re-released with synchronized sound in 1929/1930 in the US as Whoopee Sketches and in the UK as Peter the Puss.
-Movie theaters at the time did not have cartoons as staples.
-“Cartoons were essentially add-ons meant to fill out a two-hour program that typically included a feature film, a one- or two-reel live comedy, a newsreel, and a serial, and less frequently a travelogue, a dramatic short, or even a live vaudeville performance.” –Neal Gabler
–Lafflets (Jokes and social commentaries, similar to Laugh-O-Gram animations)
-Experimented with different modalities of animation, including “clay modeling, juxtaposed with cel and matchstick animation” due to the short length of the reels.
-Took six months to complete: Spring of 1922
-Walt and Harman drove their Model T throughout nearby Missouri and Kansas to sell their reel and offer to make ads like at Film Ad Co. (Unsuccessful, Model T later repossessed).
– May 18, 1922– Articles of Association drawn up for Laugh-O-Gram Films, Inc.
–May 23, 1922– Articles of Incorporation issued by Missouri secretary of state, Charles Becker
–Walt listed as company president, even though he was still legally too young to be a corporate officer.
-Company’s listed purpose, “[to] own, make, produce, buy, lease, rent, sell, release, distribute, and deal in screen, industrial, and commercial advertising and motion pictures of every kind and character… [and to rent out equipment and operate a photo lab].”
-Company valued at $4500
–Lafflets and The Four Musicians– $3,000
-After incorporating, Laugh-O-Gram Films, Inc. valued at $15,000 (about half from cash and equipment).
-Company had 300 shares, each share worth $50.
-Rudy Ising donated $1,000 in exchange for shares.
-Walt kept 70 shares for himself and sold the rest to friends and employees.
-Roy would occasionally donate $30 at a time from his disability checks.
–Dr. John Vance Cowles
-Surgeon and General Practitioner (Treated Harry Truman, 33rd US President from 1945-1953, and Thomas Pendergast)
-Investment advisor (First National Bank)
-Angel investor always looking for investment opportunities.
-Donated $2,500 to Walt over the first couple of months (likely because Uncle Robert helped convince Cowles on Walt’s behalf, and he had been the family physician for the Disneys for years and liked Walt).
-While Roy was moving from New Mexico to Arizona, he sent a blank check to Walt to “fill in any amount up to $30,” so Walt cashed it for $30.
-Walt rented space in the McConahy Building on East 31st St and Troost (near the Bellefontaine house).
–May/June 1922– Motion Picture News (film trade paper) announced Laugh-O-Gram’s launch within the first few weeks.
-Falsely stated Walt had been making films for Newman Theater for the past 2 years and had 6 films.
–July 1922– Walt bought an ad in Motion Picture News and advertised a 12-film series.
-Walt hired new employees:
–Hugh Harman– Animator (Fred Harman’s brother)
–Rudy Ising– Animator, camera operator, and did printing and processing
-Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising later created the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons for Warner Brothers.
–Adolph Kloepper– Business Manager
–William “Red” Lyon– Camera Operator (“Technical engineer;” Had previously been the cameraman at Film Ad Co.)
–Leslie Mace– Salesman (Previous sales rep for Paramount Pictures)
–Carmen “Max” Maxwell– Animator, eventually background painting, and occasional camera operator (Student in junior college who stumbled on the job while walking past the McConahy Building)
–Walter Pfeiffer– Scenario Editor (Read newspapers for story and joke inspirations)
–Lorey Tague– Animator
–Otto Walliman– Animator
-Laugh-O-Gram Films, Inc. was also a bachelor’s paradise (only Lorey Tague was married)
-The typical work day would go from about 9am to midnight.
-Walt and his employees learned on the fly, slowly, painfully learning to animate, draw, etc.
–Walt changed the position of pegs from top to bottom to make it easier for his animators to see the scene progressions in their drawings
-“For expediency’s sake, stock characters were devised – a boy, a girl, a bearded old man, a dog, and a cat – who appeared in virtually identical form from one film to the next.” –Merritt & Kaufman
–Improvised camera tripod out of four-by-fours with a plank on them and Walt’s camera
-Walt also wrote out the plots/scenes for his cartoons.
-“His story for Cinderella began: ‘FLASH TO CLOSEUP OF ONE FAT LADY IN HAMMOCK reading “Eat and Grow Thin”- another girl very skinny sitting in chair- they are eating out of it- slim girl puts down book- she is cross-eyed- she begins talking to fat girl- fat girl answers back.’ In the margins, in blue pencil, were the initials of the animators for each scene: D for Walt himself, H for Harman, R for Ising, and U for Iwwerks.” –Neal Gabler
–August 1922– Leslie Mace went to New York with Dr. Cowles to try to get a distributorship
-Staying at the McAlpine (McGalpin) Hotel was costing too much, so Walt told Mace to come home.
-Just before coming home, Mace met William R. Kelley (Tennessee rep for Pictorial Clubs, Inc., which distributed films to “churches and school groups”).
–September 16, 1922– Mace signed a deal that was objectively terrible:
–Six animations for $11,100 ($1,850 per film), but they only received $100 in advance. The remaining $11,000 would be paid upon completion (January 1, 1924).
-Since he knew he’d made an awful deal, Mace quit Laugh-O-Gram after getting back to Kansas City.
-Walt had to use the future payment as collateral to the people he already owed money to (Fred Schmeltz, Mrs. Cowles, etc.).
-Walt advertised in the local newspapers for an additional scenario writer.
-Walt was hemorrhaging money at this point
-“$2,000 in debt and losing $4,000 more each week” –Neal Gabler
-Dr. Cowles loaned another $2,500.
–October 1922– Walt didn’t give up hope in the face of overwhelming debt and started advertising to take photos of children.
–November 1922– Walt offered Ub Iwwerks a job for $50/week (Ub did lettering and animation, as he had previously done for Walt and Film Ad Co., where he just left).
-Shortly after Ub was hired, Nadine Simpson was also hired as bookkeeper and cashier. She also had a lot of connections with the Kansas City film exchanges, so she knew that old reels that were “too worn for theatrical use” would be “junked.” Simpson would then get these films, mostly Paul Terry’s Aesop’s Fables, and the animators would study the films.
-The abundance of mice in these films may have influenced the mice in future films, like Cinderella, or possibly even the creation of Mickey Mouse.
-Hired Aletha Reynolds as an inker, painter, and Lafflets editor.
-Sample Lafflets reel was ready in March 1923 and was sent to Universal Studios, but they declined to buy the series.
– Thomas B. McCrum (Dentist from Deaner Dental Institute in Kansas City) offered a job to make Tommy Tucker’s Tooth, a cartoon promoting dental hygiene (Jimmie Jones didn’t practice good dental hygiene so didn’t get hired for a job, but Tommy Tucker brushed 3 times a day and got the job).
–December 1922-Walt filmed students from local schools, including Thomas H. Benton Elementary School, where he had previously attended, 1-2 times per week.
-Walt would pay each kid $5-10 for their time filming and for having to miss school.
-Walt filmed with a used tripod he bought earlier that year in September 1922.
-Walt received $500 for Tommy Tucker’s Tooth, but he only cleared $50-60 after expenses.
–New York branch of Pictorial Clubs took over the assets of the Tennessee branch when it went bankrupt, but they didn’t accept the Tennessee branch’s debts (Disney would spend a long time trying to get Pictorial Clubs to live up to their end of the bargain).
1923 (Walt 21 years old)
–January 4, 1923– Walt avoided eviction by the McConahy Building because of more loans from Dr. Cowles.
–February 13, 1923– Fred Schmeltz gave another $500 loan, in exchange for “three sets of motion picture lights.”
–February 1923– Walt proposed new cartoon shorts with “animated cartoons and spicy jokes,” similar to the Lafflets.
-Walt tried to secure distributors in New York, but he was unable to land any clients.
–March 1923– Walt started production on his first episode of the Alice Comedies.
-Inspired by a New York cartoon series, Out of the Inkwell, by Max and Dave Fleischer.
–Out of the Inkwell starred the animated Koko the Clown, who would start every cartoon by jumping out of an ink bottle into the real world. Walt did the opposite by having the real-life Alice enter a cartoon world.
-Starred Virginia Davis as Alice, a live-action girl in a cartoon world, interacting with cartoon characters. She would do actions in front of a neutral background, similar to a modern-day green screen, and then Walt and his animators later animated the background around Virginia.
–April 23, 1923– Walt made a deal with Virginia’s parents for 5% of profits made from the film instead of a wage, and Walt also convinced the Davises to let him film in their house.
–March 1923– Laugh-O-Gram Films, Inc. evcited from McConahy Building and relocated to Isis Theater on the 2nd floor of the Wirthman Building.
–March 1923– Laugh-O-Gram’s stockholders recapitalized for $50,000 (Approved in July 1923).
–May 14, 1923– Walt contacted Margaret Winkler (New York film distributor for Felix the Cat and the Fleischers’ Out of the Inkwell series) about distributorship of Alice’s Wonderland. Winkler responded sent back a positive response, since she had already seen and liked his Laugh-O-Gram cartoons.
–June 2, 1923– Fred Schmeltz loaned another $750 in exchange for most of Laugh-O-Grams’ remaining assets.
–Mid-June 1923– Walt also started messaging his clients, including Margaret Winkler, in June that his films were behind schedule “due to ‘numerous delays and [setbacks],’” but he promised they “will be finished very soon” in July.
-By July 1923, most of Walt’s employees had left, including Walt Pfeiffer (went back to Chicago) and Ub Iwwerks.
-They ate at the McConahy Building’s Forest Inn Café, owned by Jerry Raggos and Louis Katsis
-Walt earned his meals by taking pictures of Raggos’s baby.
-Everyone else got food via the kindness of a secretary, Nadine Simpson (dating Baron Missakian, across the hall from Laugh-O-Gram Films, Inc.) making menus for the café
-Walt eventually was cut off from having a credit line once he owed $60, but once the owners caught him nosing around in Missakian’s garbage for food and eating a cold can of beans, they re-opened his line of credit for food.
-Walt lived with Gertrude McBride at 3415 Charlotte St.
-She didn’t evict Walt for falling behind in rent, and Walt would eventually repay her years later. However, Walt eventually moved out of the house to his office.
-Mrs. McBride thought Walt had TB like Roy because of how thin and cachectic he had become.
-Walt paid 10 cents once a week to take a bath at Union Station.
–July 1923– Laugh-O-Gram Films, Inc. basically owed all of its assets to Fred Schmeltz in exchange for his continued loans, including Alice’s Wonderland, once complete.
-Walt tried to get a deal with Kansas City Post to make a weekly newsreel, but they declined.
–July 1923– Walt Disney filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
-Walt debated where to go next, New York or California, but he landed on California since that’s where Roy was recovering from TB at the veteran’s hospital in Sawtelle.
–Song-O-Reel– a sing-along reel with lyrics written on the title cards.
-Meant to be a series of sing-along films.
-Deal with Jenkins Music Company (Kansas City Music Publisher) and the Isis Theater.
-The only song reel that was produced was Jenkins’ newest release, Martha: Just a Plain Old Fashioned Name by Joe L. Sanders.
-The local organist at the Isis Theater, Carl Stalling, would later join Walt in Hollywood to work on the early Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoons.
-Walt used his earnings from Martha: Just a Plain Old-Fashioned Name to buy a camera, which he used to make more films of children, like 6-month-old Kathalee Viley, for $10-15 each.
-Once he saved enough for a one-way train ticket to Hollywood, he sold the camera for double what he originally paid for it, took his uncompleted reel of Alice’s Wonderland, and prepared to leave for California.
-Walt left behind most of his assets with Fred and Hugh Harman to sell and pay back their benefactors.
-Hugh Harman, Rudy Ising, and Carmen Maxwell used the $302 they got from Schmeltz to buy back most of their animation equipment and briefly open their own animation studio, Arabian Knights Cartoons: A Thousand and One Laughs.
–Ub Iwwerks filed the bankruptcy petition, which was granted in October 1923.
-After the liquidation of the remaining assets, the creditors received 45 cents on the dollar.
-Night before he left for Hollywood, Walt stayed with Edna Francis, and Herbert’s wife’s mom gave Walt food and clothes for his journey west. Walt only had a couple of pairs of clothes packed into his cardboard suitcase, $40 cash, his Alice reel, and his first-class train ticket.
-Walt claims nobody was at the train station when he left, but Rudy Ising later said he and some of their colleagues filmed Walt’s departure. Ub Iwwerks and Edna Francis also saw him off at the station.
-Walt had spent half of his life in Kansas City thus far, and his time there had taught him valuable lessons.
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