When he arrived back to the United States, Walt moved back to Kansas City where he worked on several different jobs as a commercial artist and a cartoonist. One of these jobs was a temporary contract with the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio where he created ads for newspapers, magazines and movie theatres. It was at the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio where Walt met Ubbe Iwerks with whom he set up “Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists”, which Disney soon left and began working at Kansas City Film Ad Company where he made cut out animation commercials. Disney decided he wanted to become an animator, he read a book called Animated Cartoons: How They Are Made, Their Origin and Development through which he learned about cel animation which he found to be much more promising then cutout animation. He was allowed to borrow a camera from work to experiment at home. He recruited fellow Kansas City Film Ad Company employee, Fred Harman as his own first employee and the two secured a deal with local theatre owner Frank L. Newman to screen their cartoons which they titled “Laugh-O-Grams”. The cartoons were hugely successful in the Kansas City area and from their success Disney was able to set up his own studio also called Laugh-O-Gram and also hire a number of animators including Fred Harman and Ubbe Iwerks. The company soon went bankrupt as the studios profits were unable to pay for the animators’ high salaries and Walt was unable to manage the money.
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After the failure of Laugh-O-Grams, Walt set his sights on Hollywood, where he met up with his older brother Roy and using the two’s collective funds they set up a cartoon studio. At this stage a New York distributor Margaret Winkler signed a deal for some live-action/animated shorts based upon Alice’s Wonderland, which Walt had worked on in Kansas City with Iwerks. Walt and Roy had now set up Disney Brothers’ Studio, a single story building on Hyperion Avenue, LA where the company remained until 1939. The Alice Comedies were quite successful until finishing up in 1927 by which time the focus was mostly on the animated characters in the series rather than the live action Alice, especially Julius, a black cat that resembled Felix the Cat. In 1925, Disney had hired Lillian Bounds to ink and paint celluloid, Walt dated Lillian for a brief time and two got married in the same year.
In 1927, Margaret Winklers husband, Charles B. Mintz had taken over her business and ordered Disney Studios to make a new animated series to be distributed through Universal Pictures. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was the new series and was an instant success. Oswald, a character drawn and created by Iwerks became a popular figure. The company was doing so well that Walt hired 4 more animators. In February 1928, Mintz and Disney met to discuss a new fee for the shorts. Disney was looking for a higher payment but Mintz informed him that not only was he reducing the fee per short but that he had taken most of his main animators (except notably Iwerks) under contract and could begin his own studio if Disney did not accept the cuts and that Universal, not Disney, owned the trademark of Oswald the Rabbit so they could continue to make the films without Disney. Disney declined Charles Mintz’s offer and lost the majority of his animation staff and his beloved Oswald the Rabbit.
After losing Oswald, Walt Disney felt like he needed a new approach to his cartoons and new character to replace Oswald. The new character was based on a mouse that Walt had adopted as a pet while working in Kansas City. Ub Iwerks took Disneys rough sketches of the mouse, making it easier to animate. The mouse was originally called Mortimer, but later christened Mickey by Lillian Disney who thought the name Mortimer was too stiff and convinced him to go with Mickey instead. Mortimer later became Mickey’s rival for Minnie. Mickey first starred in two silent films called Plane Crazy and The Gallopin’ Gaucho, both these films failed to find a distributor. By this time other film studios in Hollywood had began using sound in their movies and after Walt had seen The Jazz Singer, the first movie with sound, Disney decided to make the fist all-sound, talking and music cartoon with Mickey Mouse starring as Steamboat Willie which was distributed by Cinephone (1928). Eight years later, in 1936 critics and fans all over the world agreed that Mickey Mouse was the most recognized figure on the planet. It was Walt himself that provided Mickey’s voice until 1946. Although he had stopped actually drawing the cartoons himself in 1927, Disney relied on his animators to implement his ideas which included launching many other successful cartoon characters over this time including Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto. In 1932, Disney received a special Academy Award for the creation of Mickey Mouse.
Disney’s Success continued to soar throughout the 30’s and 40’s, with 1937 – 1941 being known as The Golden Age of Animation. In 1934 Disney began making plans for a full length feature animation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with an estimated budget of $150,000 that ended up costing Disney $1.5 million. The studio actually ran out of money mid 1937 and had to show a rough cut of the film to loan officers at the Bank of America who gave them money to finish production. The premiere on the 21st December 1937 was met with a standing ovation. The film was released in February 1938 and earned over $8 million on its first theatrical release, at a time when the average ticket price was 25 cents. On the success of Snow White, Disney was able to build brand new studios in Burbank, which opened for business in December 1939. Over the next four years, Disney produced Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi and Dumbo and early production work had started on Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. Although the early forties proved difficult for Disney as many of the top animators went on strike.
Throughout his life Walt Disney gave off the perfect public persona, but Walt has had many critics during his life and since his death. In the studios in Hyperion Ave, his employees knew him as “Uncle Walt” which at the time was a term of endearment and it seemed like a privilege to them not to have to call their boss Sir or Mr. Disney. The animators worked long hard hours to meet Disneys high standard of perfection, “Everybody loved the studio, everybody joyfully worked over-time putting in all the hours needed without any pay, everybody liked each other and liked Walt” Bill Melendez, animator at Disney Studios 1937-1941. But when the studios moved to the new location at Burbank, Disney introduced a high degree of specialization among his work force transforming animation into a production line process, here at last was the rationally planned ‘factory’ Disney had dreamed of. Walt showed off the studio is a film called the reluctant dragon in which smiley white coated worked go happily about their day. But reality at the new studios wasn’t all that it seemed. The workers had been promised that the move from Hyperion was good for them as well as Walt, but this was not the case, in fact some workers fell that is was in some ways a deterioration in their working conditions. Marie Beardsley was one of the artists who made the move “everything was segregated, everything got too big and too impersonal and I think that’s where the trouble started”. Through using this factory like method in the studio had created a hierarchy of jobs, at the top being the animators, all male and all hand picked by Disney beneath them was hundred of inkers and painters, who coloured in the thousands of pictures that made each scene. They were all women. Marie Beardsley said “it probably never even occurred to Walt to put a man in the inking and paintingâ€¦ That was demeaning work”, she recall supervisors walking around and standing behind and other women to see how well they were inking and how fast they were painting. They were timed to see were they worth keeping on. Bill Melendez recalls Walt saying that women were “Ok to be used in a menial capacity because once they reached the age of thirty the hand got shaky so it was time to get rid of them”.
Things had changed in the new studio and Disneys increasingly tyrannical style of management meant for some that the words “Uncle Walt” took on a much more sinister meaning. Disney was unusually straight-laced for a Hollywood big shot; Marie Beardsley recalls a memo being sent around to all the girls in inking and painting saying that “The married men in Disney were happily married and we want all of the girls to understand that”, he disliked any sort of sexuality or even socialising amongst his employees. He and Lillian were together for forty years until his death and no one at Disney Studios recalls him ever showing any interest in any other women. He actually told one of his animators that he loved Mickey Mouse more than any girl he’d ever known. On Walt’s 35th Birthday two of the animators made a film of Mickey and Minnie ‘consummating their relationship’, at the end of the film Walt stood up and said that it was great animation, he then asked who had made it, the animators who made it stood up and Walt fired them on the spot.
Disney Corporation vs Fitzpatrick
In 2001, Denise and Francis Fitzpatrick, a young professional couple from Ireland did the impossible and defeated The Walt Disney Company in a legal battle over the rights to the name of their character ‘Piggley Pooh’ for a TV series they wanted to develop. In 1999 Denise and Francis received a letter from Disney saying that the company was opposing their application for the trademark of Piggley Pooh in Europe because of Disney’s character Winnie The Pooh. The Fitzpatrick’s faced an almost 3 year long battle with one of the biggest entertainment corporations in the world. In which they became emotionally, physically and financially broken.
Winnie the Pooh is character from books written by A.A Milne in 1926.in 1930 Steven Slesinger purchased the rights to Winnie the Pooh from Milne for a $1000 advance and 66% of Slesinger’s income, by November 1931 Slesinger had turned Winnie the pooh into a $50 million a year business. Walt Disney bought Winnie the Pooh off Slesinger in 1961 and was paying twice yearly royalties to A.A Milnes’ beneficiaries until 2001 when they paid a lump sum of $350 million. The lump sum was spread out between the Royal Literary Society, the Westminster School and the Garrick Club and family of A.A Milne. Winnie the Pooh now raises at least $6 billion revenues for Disney each year.
As a young girl on her grandmother’s farm in Co Meath, Denise had a fascination with the pigs that were there, she used to visit them every time she was on her grandmother’s farm and loved to make up stories about them. The main character in all her stories was Piggley Pooh. Denise says she had never heard of Winnie the Pooh or Piglet or any of the animals in 100 Acre Wood during her childhood in the 1960’s and 1970’s, like most Irish children she read Enid Blyton and other English wirters. Her imagination ran wild throughout her childhood as to what this marvellous little Pigley Pooh would be getting up to. Denise also had a love for stories from Celtic mythology and old Irish seanchaí’s throughout her life. This is what she wanted the Piggley Pooh TV series to be based on, a simple story for children, with a moral lesson behind it.
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Disney were adamant the Fitzpatrick’s stop the production of the Piggley Pooh TV series, or at least change the name, something Denise was thoroughly against, she would not even hear of having the ‘h’ at the end of ‘pooh’ dropped. After the letter in January in 1999, they decided not to let the giant corporation ruin Denise’s childhood dreams. Piggley Pooh was already a registered trademark in the U.S, but they were objecting to the name becoming a registered trademark in Japan and Europe. Francis met with their Trademark Agents who were quite confident that they has a pretty strong case. Disney were trying to prove that their ownership of the name Winnie the Pooh was being stolen by the use of the word ‘pooh’ in Piggley Pooh’s name.
In 2000, Denise and Francis flew over to L.A for a meeting with Steve Ackerman, Disney’s chief counsel worldwide. After many attempts to postpone their meeting, Francis arrived at the Burbank Studios where Ackerman showed up 40 minutes late for their meeting without a word of apology. Ackerman straight out told Francis that the problem they had was one of theft, they had stolen two names from Disney. Pooh and Piglet. Although they had slightly altered Piglet, they had still put it side by side with Pooh, and hoped to make millions from it. This is what the Disney Corporation thought about Francis and his wife and family and it looked as if they were not going to stop at anything to get their names back. The meeting was a hostile one, with Ackerman claiming that Disney could prove that there were Winnie the Pooh books in circulation in Ireland at the time of Denise’s childhood. Francis was called a thief many times and ‘an Irish bastard’. But things came to a head when Ackerman threatened the Fitzpatrick’s children
“Listen Francis”â€¦ “You’re not going to get the better of the Disney Corporation. Nobody gets the better of Disney. We got the recourses. We got the time. We got right on our side. We’ll go after you all around the world and bankrupt you. You’re a family man. You got children. You need to think again”
“You’ve got young children”â€¦ “You and your wife have to look after them, not waste their future”
Francis flipped telling the corporate giant never to mention his children again. Telling him that Disney were the thieves in all this, stealing peoples dreams, peoples rights to tell stories and stealing something that had been a part of Denise’s life since she was a child. After this outburst, Ackerman realised that the Fitzpatrick’s were serious about this and would not be backing down anytime soon. The two men continued the meeting in a civil manner, with Disney proposing a settlement out of court of $500,000 for the Fitzpatrick’s to give up the Piggey Pooh name.
They refused this offer and met the Disney Company in the European Trademark courts in Alicante, Spain in January 2001 but no oral hearing happened, it was done behind closed doors. Three months later Francis has a phone call from their Trademark Agents telling him it was good news. They had won, Disney’s objection had been overruled and they were entitled to registration as owner of the trademark.
But this wasn’t the end for the battle for the name Piggley Pooh. In March 2002, Royal Bank of Scotland, the bank funding the TV series decided that the name ‘Pooh’ must come out of the name Piggley Pooh because of Disney’s powerful stance in the marketplace was too threatening to the brand of Piggley Pooh. If a Piggley Pooh soft toy were on sale for $10 in children’s shops, Disney would sell Winnie the Pooh for $8. The Fitzpatrick’s were back to square one. Although they had beat the Disney Corporation in the courts they had not fully won. Out of this Piggley Winks was born and turned into a successful animated TV series.
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