Walt Disney was born on December 5th, 1901 in Chicago and passed away in the year 1966. In his 65 years Walt Disney converted the entertainment industry into what it is today. Even now, 48 years after his death, Walt Disney and his company are still changing television and the industry. Ever since Walt Disney was young he had a great work ethic and an interest in drawing and art. When Disney was a child he worked for his uncle selling newspapers on the railroad. When he was only seven years old Disney was already selling his drawings to neighbors. In 1923 Walt and his older brother Roy founded The Disney Brothers Studios. This was the beginning of one of the most influential companies in entertainment history and American history.
Before The Disney Brother Studios was created Walt Disney spent a year overseas in France working for the Red Cross driving an ambulance and driving around Red Cross officials. Apparently his ambulance was not like the rest. Walt Disney’s ambulance was covered in his cartoons. After returning home from France, Disney created a company called Laugh-O-Gram. This company quickly ran out of money and became bankrupt. Unlike most people, Walt Disney did not give up. Instead, Disney moved to Hollywood where his brother was already living and created The Disney Brother Studios. After a few years of working together the company’s name was changed to Walt Disney Studios under his brother’s suggestion (Brad 1-4).
Walt Disney was and still is “one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century” (Cain 6). All of Disney’s work had an influence of American culture. Seeing that Walt Disney was from a small town with strong family values he tried to promote these values through his work. During World War II workers at the Disney studio went on strike. This “helped form his political conservatism” (Crowley 6). After this Walt Disney became very opposed to unions. Because of World War II “94 percent of the Disney facilities were engaged in special government work, including the production of training and propaganda films for the armed services, as well as health films which are still shown through-out the world by the US State Department” (Brad 5). Not long after the bombing of Pearl Harbor the Treasury Department recruited Disney Studios to make a cartoon starring Donald Duck. This cartoon would be used to “educate seven million new taxpayers to the need for payment [of taxes] and how simple the process was” (Shale 1). Walt Disney was a supporter of the war but he was also known to be very aggravated with the government at the time of the war. Disney even became a little suspicious of big government after he was not paid for some of the wartime productions that were done in his studios. After the war HUAC, which is the House of Un-American Activity Committee, was investigating communism in the entertainment industry. During this investigation
“Disney claimed that everyone in his office was “American”. He reaffirmed his distain for labor unions and commented on how those who had been a part of the strike in his office were a communist group who were trying to influence his artists. Thus to Disney, to be communist was to be un-American” (Crowley 7).
While watching Disney productions the viewers can see many political undertones. Through his work Disney would show his characters with traditional ideologies and traditional gender roles. Because of Disney’s upbringing his portrayal of family was also very traditional.
It was not until December of 1950 that the first Disney television show was aired. The “primary reason that Disney went into television was because his brother, Roy, would not allow him to take the money from the company to build his theme parks” (Johnson 2). The company had already lost money since the war because they were not always getting paid for the government using their studios. Walt Disney had dreamed of creating a theme park that was like no other that anyone had ever seen before. These theme parks were “Disney’s dream of a utopian world” (Cain 4). The themes parks began as just Disneyland, which opened in 1955 then developed into multiple parks all over the world. The most well known park is located in Orlando Florida, which is where Magic Kingdom, Typhoon Lagoon, Pleasure Island, MGM studios and EPCOT can be found. EPCOT stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Walt Disney viewed this as an “experimental city of the future” (Johnson 2). It was his dream for America and what he hoped it would become after this rough period in history. Walt Disney then used his television programing to promote his theme parks.
Walt Disney began to produce television shows in 1954. NBC, CBS and ABC were and still are three of the major television networks. NBC and CBS both did not want to show Disney’s work on their channels because they feared that it was too different from everything else they showed on their networks. ABC on the other hand was behind NBC and CBS in the ratings and was looking for new ways to increase their audience. Disney’s first televised show was called Disneyland and it was a 1 hour, weekly series aired on ABC. Although the program ended up changing its name six different times it was still seen as “incredibly successful” (Johnson 2). The show eventually ran on three different networks and “remained on air for 29 years” (“A History of the Walt Disney Company” 3). Through these shows Walt Disney promoted his theme park and his movies. Disney then used the money from his television shows to develop his theme parks. Then in 1955 The Mickey Mouse Club premiered. The Mickey Mouse Club was a variety show and was hosted originally by Jimmie Dodd. The Mickey Mouse Club became instantly popular among young children and pre-teens. The show was known for representing “an idealized version of America’s youth” (Granatstein 1). The Mickey Mouse Club was watched by “some twenty-one million Americans every day” (Doss 1). Starting with this show Disney’s work began to be seen as “the embodiment of an ideal American culture” (1). The Mickey Mouse Club was produced by Walt Disney and was shown on ABC and then Disney Channel in syndication. The program was eventually cancelled in the year 1996. The Mickey Mouse Club was very popular and even some of today’s stars are known to have made their start on the show as Mouseketeers. Some of these stars include Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling.
Walt Disney passed away in December of 1965 but his ideas and dreams lived on. After Walt’s death the company was handed over to his brother Roy. Roy was in charge of all of Walt Disney Studios, which included his filmmaking industry, his television industry and his theme parks. Six years later, in December of 1971, Walt’s brother Roy passed away as well but the Disney family still continued to run the company. Walt Disney’s company still continues to influence television immensely even almost 50 years after his death. In April of 1983 The Disney Channel began to broadcast on cable television. The channel aired shows that promoted positive family values such as ‘Still the Beaver’, ‘The Baby-Sitter’s Club’, ‘Adventures in Wonderland’, ‘Disney Vault’ and much more. This is considered the “Original” Disney Channel. Almost fourteen years later a “new” version of Disney Channel took over. This new version urged the viewers to use computers and connect by playing games on the Internet. The demographics of the new shows were aimed more towards the tweens. Soon the Disney Company realized that this new Disney Channel was annoying more people than it was attracting. As a result they changed the channel once again. The company basically ditched the idea of connecting the shows with the computers for a while. Then between 2001 and 2002 Disney Channel’s rating began to skyrocket. This was because the tweens began to watch all of the new shows on the channel including Even Stevens, Lizzie McGuire, and Kim Possible. These shows were family oriented and easy for tweens to relate to. Although the amount of tween viewers increased, the longtime viewers began to complain because the original Disney Channel shows were no longer being shown (“Disney Channels History” 1).
Disney studios have come a long way since they originally aired on ABC. When Disney first began they borrowed $4.5 million from the ABC network to build Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Forty years later Disney had become so successful that that they purchased the ABC Network on July 31, 1995 for $19 billion. This transaction was the “second largest in U.S. history, brought the country’s top television network to Disney, in addition to ten television stations, twenty-one radio stations, seven daily newspapers, and ownership positions in four cable networks” (“A History of the Walt Disney Company” 5). While watching sitcoms on ABC you can see how they collaborate with the Disney Studios. Just like Walt Disney used his television shows to promote his parks and movies in the 1950s the company still does the same today. In the years 1996 and 1997
“At least three ABC shows sent their characters to DisneyWorld for an episode or two and painted the park as something close to heaven. Not only were there no 45-minute lines for rides or overcrowded restaurants, but everyone’s problems were solved there” (“The Walt Disney Co.” 4).
A perfect example of this occurring is an episode of ‘Boy Meets World’ when Cory follows Topanga to DisneyWorld and tries to win her back after an argument they had. When the characters are in Disney, Topanga begins to see Cory in a different and more positive way. In this same episode of ‘Boy Meets World’ the show helps promote that Disney World can even be for homeless people when they show Cory sleeping on a ride overnight then being treated like a king the next day when Goofy welcomes him with open arms. By promoting the theme parks in such a positive way the Disney Company was attracting many more visitors and using their resource of ABC to promote this welcoming and happy image to their viewers. This is exactly what Walt Disney had hoped for the company to become.
Walt Disney Studios and the Disney Company have evolved greatly since Walt Disney first started the company in 1923. Walt Disney influenced television and film in so many different ways. Walt Disney started from nothing and became extremely successful. He promoted positive family life and family values, the American dream and traditional ideologies and gender roles through his work. This was very important during and after World War II and these concepts are still promoted through all of Disney’s work today. In 1983 Disney Channel began broadcasting with 18 hours of programming a day, a few years later the first Disney store was opened. Disney later acquired The Muppets and the license to put television shows from Disney Channel onto iTunes. A year later Disney began making their “High School Musical” films which were premiered on television and were the first movies to be sold on iTunes. (“Disney’s history of magic: Timeline” 2)
Disney Studios started as a small studio in California and over years evolved into a giant corporation. Now owning the Disney Channel, ABC, ESPN along with Walt Disney Studios and multiple Disney theme parks, Pixar and Marvel Entertainment the company has expanded more than Walt Disney could have ever possibly imagined. Walt Disney is an inspiration to all people who work in the television industry today as his ideas still continue to influence and change the way we view television. Walt Disney’s legacy will live on forever. He has encouraged and given hope to the United States as a country and a community. His work will continue to be powerful for years to come.
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