Saturday 31 August 2019

Walt Disney Says "We're Not a Company"

A company? Gosh, shucks, no, we’re just a bunch of guys without a boss sitting around making cartoons for the fun of it.

So said Walt Disney.

At least, he said it to the press. But I can’t help but wonder if that’s what he really thought, and that’s why he was so hurt when his “bunch” went on strike against him. Mind you, the attitude Disney expressed was in 1929 and there was a big difference between the Disney studio then and the picketed operation of 1941.

This story appeared in the New York Daily News, as did the poor-resolution drawing accompanying it (we’re produced it from another source elsewhere in the blog). In it, Disney was already pushing the image of his superiority over the other cartoon studios, which would have meant Universal on the West Coast and Mintz, Fables (Van Beuren) and Fleischer back east. Disney’s cartoons arguably looked slicker than the rest but I still think the Fleischer shorts were funnier.

The line about a good relationship between Disney and distributor Pat Powers turned out to be wishful thinking.

One-Eyed Connelly, by the way, was famous years ago for slipping past ushers at ball games and political conventions in Chicago.

Animated Cartoons Going Over Big
How Silly Symphonies And Micky Mouse Hit the Up Grade

Hollywood, Cal., Nov. 30.—The old gag about making such mouse traps that even One-eyed Connolly would come crashing through the woods to buy one certainly applies to Walt Disney and His gang.
They are making the public rock with laughter with the antics of the animated cartoons, “Mickey Mouse” and the quaint members of the cast in the Silly Symphonies series.
While movie millions are juggled around in mergers and high priced screen stars are tossing their temperaments all over the studio lots, “the bunch of us,” as Disney describes his outfit, gather together in a little unpretentious building on Hyperion st., far from the cinema throngs, and turn out so much delightful nonsense that every picture company here is envious in trying to get some short sketches whipped into shape that will compete with the Disney creations.
A Headless Company.
A crew of cartoonists and an orchestra working under the supervision of Walt Disney turn out the work while Walt looks out to see that the bills are paid and enough money rolls in to meet the payroll.
“Who's the president or head of this concern?” I asked.
“We haven't any president or any other officers,” Walt explained. “In fact, we are not even incorporated. I guess you couldn't call us a company. We just get together, the bunch of us, and work things out. We voice our opinions and sometimes we have good old-fashioned scraps but in the end things get ironed out and we have something we're all proud of.”
Walt began his career in Chicago where he went to art school. When he was about 17 he picked up odd jobs on the Chicago Tribune, working on layouts, and from there he drifted to Kansas City and tried to peddle his talents to the Kansas City Star.
“But I guess fate was against letting me be a successful cartoonist,” he told me. “Gosh, how I used to envy the guys who were knocking out what looked like big jack in those days and I wondered if I could ever reach the top. I finally turned my eyes to Hollywood, where I decided I would go and try to become a director.”
The Proverbial Pot of Gold.
His ambitions along that line always feel short of realization, too. but he dabbled around the studios, getting what odd jobs he could. Then came the talking pictures and brought him what appears to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
A year ago Pat Powers began together, promoting the Cineophone [sic] talking picture apparatus. He was bucking the powerful Western Electric company and it looked like a forlorn hope but the Disney brothers cast their lot with him and began synchronizing their animated cartoons.
Right away they clicked. It didn’t matter to the public whether a company with millions back of it was giving them these entertainments. They were funny, that’s all anyone cared.
There was a dearth of good short movie bits and still is for that matter, so big houses grabbed greedily for Mickey Mouse when the first symphony appeared called the “Skeleton Dance,” it made such a hit that Roxy ran it for a stretch in New York and booked it again two weeks later for another run.
Fox west coast theatres have tied up the cartoons on the Pacific coast. The Manley theatres spoke for it on the east coast and “The Bunch” are beginning to taste the sweet joy of having their efforts appreciated.
Success hasn't made anybody high hat around the lot. They are one big family doing their stuff and having lots of fun. I asked for some pictures to illustrate this yarn and Jack King, who made a reputation in New York as a newspaper artist sat down and drew his impression of “The Bunch,” catching the characteristics of each with a grotesque humor.
The movie cartoons are drawn by a group of artists working over a glass board with a light underneath it. It takes about 5,000 different sketches for each of the symphonies. These are then re produced on celluloid.
A camera transfers the sketches to the movie film. On another film the music is photographed and then the two films are worked in together.
“It is the rhythm that has appealed to the public,” Walt told me. “The action flows along and we have to work hard to keep the movement flowing with the music. We had to work it out mathematically.
“We try to get something in the cartoon besides just nonsense. Some idea such as in the ‘Silly Symphony’ where the idea of thousands of members of the animal kingdom preying on each other was carried out. We have to be careful not to get the sketches too silly.
Money? What's That?
It costs about $7,000 to make a Silly Symphony. The biggest expense is the salary of the artists. The orchestra varies in size from eight to twelve pieces. The director, Carl Stallings, has much to do with the successful enterprise. He writes all the scores. The scenario of one of the cartoons is written on a sheet of music.
“Don’t ask me if we’re making money,” Walt begged. “I wouldn’t know about that. I know we’re getting by all right. My brother turns up here each week with enough to pay everybody off. We haven’t found time yet to sit around and count our profits.”
“Everybody here has his shoulder to the wheel,” Walt said. “Maybe some time we’ll all be rolling in wealth and move into more pretentious quarters and put on the high hat, but we won’t be making any better movies.”


  1. Hey Yowp, are you stopping your Tralfaz blog too?
    Near the end of the article, when Walt says, "Some idea such as in the ‘Silly Symphony’ where the idea of thousands of members of the animal kingdom preying on each other was carried out", shouldn't it be "such as in the 'Aesop's Fables" where the idea...". I think that would make more sense.

    1. It may make more sense, but the paragraph is transcribed verbatim.

      I have 100 posts banked for this blog, all of which were written at the start of the year when I had some spare personal time. I don't know what will happen after they run out; I do have other completed ones that have not been assigned publishing dates.

  2. Yowp,
    Are you going to leave Yowp up for future researchers for help on their own blog (like me)? Are you going to post occasionally just so Blogger doesn't take it down? If you find really really great HB stuff will you post it?