Walt Disney’s Young Adult Years

Walt came home from France in the fall of 1919. He was determined to become an artist. He moved into the old family house in Kansas City with his brothers, Roy and Herbert, as well as Herbert’s family. He tried to get a job at the Kansas City “Star”, but did not succeed. Roy helped Walt get a position as an apprentice, at a local commercial art studio, where he would draw products for catelogs. Walt was paid $50 a month, but just before Christmas, there wasn’t enough business to keep him on the payroll, and he was laid off. Walt joined up with another laid off artist, Ub Iwerks, to create their own commercial art studio. They called it Iwerks Disney (mainly because the other way around sounded like an eyeglass company!).

They had one big client right away. The father of one of Walt’s old friends hired them to work on the United Leatherworkers Journal. Business wasn’t booming though, and when Walt was offered a $40 a week job at the Kansas City Slide Company making animated commercials, he took it. Later, Ub joined him, this was cartoon making in its infancy. The public was intrigued and amazed by this new form of entertainment, and so was Walt. Walt wanted to improve on the clumsy means of animation that was being used at Kansas City Film Ad. He read books about it, and he started making his own cartoons.

Walt made a deal with his father to rent the family’s garage as a studio. After work, Walt stayed up very late working on animations. Walt wanted to compete with East Coast animators who rented cartoons to Kansas City theaters. He wanted to achieve this by creating his own cartoons with a local twist. He sold the idea to the Newman Theater and started making his own Newman Laugh-O-Grams. Walt priced these too low, and generally made no money, but he was in the business. Walt’s parents returned to Kansas City, but in 1921, moved to Portland along with Ruth and Herbert. Roy came down with tuberculosis and went to a hospital in Arizona. Walt was left all alone, and found a place of his own in a rooming house, and threw himself entirely into cartooning, and brought in several young, unpaid apprentices. Walt used an amazing gift for salesmanship to raise $15000 from investors, and incorporated his tiny company, which was called Laugh-O-Gram Films. He made a deal to sell a series of fairy tale cartoons for the price of $11,100, with a down payment of $100. After six months, the company that was his client claimed bankruptcy. Walt never got another penny from them. Walt moved in to the office, as he was unable to pay rent, his workers left him, and he hardly made enough money to feed himself. He then received $500 for a dental hygiene film. Walt poured that money into a new effort which he called “Alice’s Wonderland” but couldn’t complete it, as his company had to declare bankruptcy. Walt took the film, and his last few dollars to buy a train ticket to California.