The nasty mouse
When Mickey Mouse debuted on November 18, 1928, he was called Steamboat Willie – and he wasn’t very nice! In fact there were so many complaints about his rather nasty character that Walt Disney – his creator, and also his original voice – was forced to make him more lovable. Disney wanted to name him Mortimer, but his wife Lillian thought this was too pompous and suggested Mickey instead.
Talking the walk
Mickey didn’t actually speak until his ninth animated appearance. He’d whistled, laughed and cried, but it was May 23, 1929 before he said – in his falsetto voice – the words Hot Dogs! He was soon breaking into song, introducing Minnie Mouse in the song Minnie’s Yoo Hoo in June the same year.
The man behind the Mouse
Walt Disney was born in Chicago in 1901. He grew up on a farm in Missouri, but he was always drawing and by the age of seven he’d already sold some of his sketches. He started out as an advertising cartoonist in Kansas City in 1920. Cartoon-making was in its infancy, and the black and white animated films were jerky and disjointed. Disney thought he could do a better job,
so he resigned his position and began making his own animated cartoons under the name of Laugh-O-Gram.
Unfortunately, this budding venture failed when Disney’s main client declared
bankruptcy; Disney was forced to do the same. When he arrived in Hollywood in 1923, he had a sketchbook and $40 in his pocket. Disney convinced his brother Roy to set up the Disney Brothers Studio with him. Their parents mortgaged their house to provide the start-up money, along with $500 borrowed from an uncle and $200 that Roy had managed to save.
After some early difficulties, which included the contractor of his most successful character buying the rights for the cartoon from underneath Disney, the introduction of Mickey Mouse – who was created during a train ride from Manhattan to Hollywood – meant that Walt Disney could kiss his money problems goodbye forever. ‘He popped out of my mind onto a drawing pad at a time when business fortunes of myself and my brother were at a lowset ebb, and disaster seemed right around the corner,’ said Disney. ‘Born of necessity, the little fellow literally freed us of immediate worry.’ In 2003, Mickey Mouse grossed US$5.8billion.
Running a Mickey
Mickey Mouse animated cartoons became so popular that people entering the cinemas would routinely ask the ticket sellers if they were ‘running a Mickey’ before they agreed to buy their ticket. Soon posters appeared declaring: Mickey Mouse Playing Today! And the Mouse himself played almost everything, from cowboy to inventor, detective to fireman and plumber to giant killer. Only Barbie has been more versatile.
He’s got the looks
In his earliest persona, Mickey was created using circles for his head, body and ears. In 1939 a modified Mickey was introduced, in which he developed a more pear-shaped body, with skinny arms and legs and pupils in his eyes to give them more expression. In the 1940s the animators working on Mickey gave him three-dimensional ears, although this particular feature only lasted a short time. His clothing never changed – red trousers with two large white buttons, and big shoes – although the tail was eventually dropped during World War Two to save animation costs, and his original, more rodent-like features were rounded out. Mickey’s trademark white gloves were introduced in 1929, in The Opry House; because his body was black, and the early animation movies were in black and white, Disney was concerned that the audience would be unable to distinguish the character’s hands when they were against his body.
Prices that really are Mickey Mouse
Mickey is just as popular with collectors today as he was with the children of seventy years ago, and there’s a plethora of Mickey memorabilia out there (including Mickey Mouse gas masks). Items to look out for include those with short production runs (perhaps the manufacturing licence was short, or the product had only limited success), and those with a cross-over appeal; these include dolls, toys, books and games. Early tin plate clockwork toys in complete condition almost invariably command a good price ($2000 to $3000), and you’re looking at around $1000 to $1500 if you want to own a copy of the first Mickey Mouse Annual and $900 to $1000 for an Ingersoll-Waterbury watch that retailed for US$2.98 in 1933. And some Mickey collectors will buy anything connected to the world’s most famous mouse. American Steve Soelberg paid $200 for a Mickey Mouse parking cone that had been used in a Disneyland car park.