Walt Disney: American Dreamer

3.5M Views
May 7, 2018

Walt Disney was the twentieth century’s prime example of American ingenuity. How did he do it? In this video, Glenn Beck, best-selling author and host of The Glenn Beck Program, explains how Disney became a household name, and how he proved that in America, the only limit to your ambition is your own imagination.

Men like Walt Disney are rare, but far less so in America. Why? Americans traditionally don’t rely on the government to get things done.

  • Walt Disney is the quintessential American dreamer, a man who strove to see the realization of his artistic and entrepreneurial vision despite multiple failures and roadblocks, and whose dream was made possible by the free market. Disney’s first movie company, Laugh-O-Gram, went bankrupt in 1923. When he arrived in Hollywood that year, he had almost no money to his name.View Source
  • The humble little cartoon company Disney founded in the ‘20s has since grown to become the biggest movie company in the world and the biggest them park company in the world.View Source
  • Related Reading: “Dreamers and Deceivers: True Stories of the Heroes and Villains Who Made America” – Glenn BeckView Source

Walt Disney was the classic American dreamer and entrepreneur. Fifty years after his death, his name still stands atop a global empire.

  • Walt Disney World Resorts is the biggest theme park in the world.View Source
  • The Walt Disney Company is the biggest movie company in the world, with over 26% of the domestic U.S. market in 2016.View Source
  • Disney owns Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm — three of the most successful movie studies in the world.View Source
  • In 2017, Disney expanded its entertainment footprint by acquiring much of 21st Century Fox for $52 billion.View Source
  • In 2017, Disney made over $8 billion from movies and over $18 billion from parks and resorts.View Source

Walt Disney started small and overcame many roadblocks on the way to success, demonstrated the importance of strong vision and conviction.

  • Walt Disney was raised on a small family farm in Marceline, Missouri.View Source
  • When he was 22, Disney was fired from a newspaper for not being creative enough.View Source
  • His first movie company, Laugh-O-Grams, went bankrupt in 1923.View Source
  • He arrived in Hollywood in 1923 with little more than a suitcase and a pencil.View Source
  • WATCH: Disney’s famous first animated short, “Steamboat Willie”View Source

At first, Disney, like most entrepreneurs, did everything himself—writing, producing, directing, and animating.

  • In the early days of animation, it would take hundreds, if not thousands, of separate drawings to create a moving cartoon.View Source
  • Walt Disney never had a problem with hard work: “People often ask me if I know the secret of success and if I could tell others how to make their dreams come true. My answer is, you do it by working.”View Source
  • Disney had the rights to his first character, Oswald the Rabbit, stolen by a distributor. In response, he created a new character, Mickey Mouse.View Source
  • Disney even provided the voice for Mickey Mouse until 1947.View Source

“Steamboat Willie” was Walt Disney’s first successful film. It started an animation empire that now makes billions of dollars a year. 

  • “Steamboat Willie” (1928), starring an early version of a whistling Mickey Mouse, confirmed Walt Disney’s belief that there was a large audience for what he wanted to produce.View Source
  • Walt recognized that the future of film was sound. Steamboat Willie was the first cartoon to feature synchronized sound.View Source
  • By 1933, Mickey was the biggest star in the world. In that year alone, he received 800,000 pieces of fan mail.View Source
  • Within a decade, Disney had transformed his one-person operation into a major studio. With dominance over the animated market, Walt set his sights on a feature-length animated film.View Source
  • WATCH: “Steamboat Willie”View Source

Walt Disney’s most ambitious early project was “Snow White,” as it involved animation on that scale had never been produced. 

  • In the midst of the Great Depression, the film cost $1.499 million to produce.View Source
  • The expense was far beyond what Disney had ever spent on a single project. He even had to mortgage his house to cover costs.View Source
  • Three years in the making, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was finally released in 1937. It was an instant and phenomenal success.View Source
  • “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was presented a special Oscar for its unique achievement.View Source
  • Disney followed it with one artistic triumph after another: “Pinocchio,” “Fantasia,” “Dumbo,” “Bambi.”View Source

One of the greatest achievements of any entrepreneur is Walt Disney’s vision to turn his 2D world into a 3D theme park: Disneyland. 

  • Disneyland would cost $17 million.View Source
  • Walt approached major television networks, with this proposal: He would create a live-action TV show and in exchange, they would give him the money to build his park.View Source
  • With ABC’s money, Disney built his park. From conception to official opening, Disney stunningly completed the project in one year.View Source
  • The park first opened in 1955 and soon increased its investment tenfold.View Source
  • Related Reading: “Dreamers and Deceivers: True Stories of the Heroes and Villains Who Made America” – Glenn BeckView Source

I want to tell you about an American Original, a man who saw into the future and made it a reality.

He isn’t the only one to do this. There were American Originals before him—Benjamin Franklin, the Wright Brothers, John D. Rockefeller—and there are American Originals in our time, like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk.

But in the middle of the twentieth century, there was no better example than Walt Disney.

Fifty years after his death, his name still stands atop a global empire.

Raised on a small family farm in Missouri, Walt Disney arrived in Hollywood in 1923 with little more than a suitcase and a pencil. But he had something else. An idea—an idea to explore humanity’s foibles through cartoon animals. Now, I know it sounds obvious now, but only because we live in the world that he helped create.

At first, Disney, like most entrepreneurs, did everything himself—he wrote, produced, directed, and animated. And animation is a painstakingly, time-intensive task. In the early days, it would take hundreds, if not thousands, of separate drawings to create a moving cartoon. But hard work was never really a problem for Walt Disney. Living on baked beans, and renting a one-room office for $5 a month, he believed he was on to something—and nobody could convince him otherwise.

And Disney would need every bit of that conviction. Now, though the barriers to entry in Hollywood in the 1920s were low, the competition was cut-throat.  But a charming rodent and the coming of sound allowed him to break through.

Steamboat Willie, in 1928, starring an early version of a whistling Mickey Mouse, confirmed Disney’s belief that there was an audience—a very large audience—for what he wanted to produce.

By 1933, Mickey was the biggest star in the world. And in that year alone, a cartoon mouse received 800,000 pieces of fan mail. Within a decade, Disney had transformed his one-person operation into a major studio employing a thousand animators.

But Disney was a restless personality; he was easily dissatisfied with his own success. And he wanted to make a full-length animated feature. It couldn’t be good. It had to be great. It couldn’t be in black and white. It had to be in color. And it couldn’t just be in color. It had to be art in motion.

It would be very expensive – far beyond what he had ever spent on a single project. But money didn’t really interest him. It was only a means to an end. That end? Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Three years in the making, it was finally released in 1937. And it was an instant and phenomenal success—worth every dime spent, every heartache he had endured.

Disney followed it with one artistic triumph after another: Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi.

But by the late forties, Disney’s creative restlessness kicked in again. This time he had a new vision. He wanted to create a new kind of entertainment experience. Not 2D, but a 3D world. He called it a “theme park.” And, typically for Walt, it would be very, very expensive.

Where was he going to get the money? Disney had a plan. He would trade his known quantity—his ability to engage an audience, for an unknown quantity—this crazy theme park idea. He approached the three television networks, NBC, CBS and ABC, with this proposal: He’d create a live-action TV show and in exchange they would give him the money to build this theme park.

Well, CBS turned him down—it was too risky. And NBC couldn’t make up their own mind. But ABC, the youngest and the least successful of the three networks, desperately needed a hit. They said, “Yes, please.”

So, with ABC’s money, Disney built his park. Disneyland soon became another iconic Disney creation, the fantasy destination of every child on earth. And that’s as true today as it was when it opened in 1955.

Men like Disney are rare, but far less so in America.

Why?

Well, because traditionally, Americans, unlike other people in other countries, don’t rely on the government to get things done. And, ideally, the government stays out of their way. Americans instead rely on their own ingenuity. In America, the only limit to your ambition is your own imagination. And if we want more American originals like Walt Disney, let’s hope we keep it that way.

I’m Glenn Beck for Prager University.

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