This month, the most famous Walt Disney character, has completed 83 years old. “Steamboat Willie”, the silent short animation movie that introduced Mickey Mouse to the world, was released in 18 September 1928.
In the summer of 1928, around the time Buster Keaton’s latest comedy, “Steamboat Bill, Jr.”, hit theaters, a young animator named Walt Disney was looking for a vehicle to launch his struggling studio’s latest creation, a cartoon mouse by the name of Mickey. On November 18, 1928, the animated short “Steamboat Willie” premiered at New York’s 79th Street Theater. The rest, as they say, is history. Mickey Mouse soon eclipsed Felix the Cat as the movies’ most popular cartoon character, appearing in hundreds of shorts, feature-length films and television shows over the next eighty years, as well as serving as the corporate symbol of the largest media conglomerate in the world.
Disney had only just launched his own studio when he and his chief animator, Ub Iwerks, created a series of animated cartoons centered around a character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The series was a smash hit but unfortunately for Disney, distributor Universal Studios wound up owning the character. Universal hired away most of Disney’s animators (all but the loyal Iwerks), wrested control of Oswald from Disney and left his fledgling studio on the verge of bankruptcy. Desperate for a new franchise to fill the gap, Disney and Iwerks quickly came up with an animated mouse they dubbed Mortimer—soon changed to Mickey at the insistence of Disney’s wife, Lillian. After two silent Mickey Mouse shorts, “Plane Crazy” and “The Gallopin’ Gaucho”, failed to find a buyer, Disney produced a short with sound, a loose parody of Keaton’s latest film.
Walt Disney, by the way, was nominated for fifty-nine Oscars, winning twenty-six of them, including four in one year, all records. Ironically, though, he didn’t win for “Steamboat Willie”, one of the most important works of his career—there simply was no category of “cartoon short” at that time.
Trivia: Walt Disney himself provided the voice of Mickey Mouse until 1946.
See “Steamboat Willie” at YouTube. Enjoy.