Walt threw himself entirely into cartooning, bringing in several young, unpaid apprentices. Using an amazing gift for salesmanship, Walt raised some $15,000 from investors, quit his job, and incorporated his tiny company, called Laugh-O-gram Films. He made a deal to sell a series of fairy-tale cartoons for $11,100, accepting a down payment of $100. After six months of work, his client claimed bankruptcy. Walt never saw another penny. Despite desperate efforts to make money, Walt couldn’t pay the rent and moved into the Laugh-O-gram office. His workers left him. He barely had enough money to feed himself. Then, he got $500 for a dental hygiene film and poured it into a new effort called “Alice’s Wonderland.” But before it could be completed, he had to declare bankruptcy. With the unfinished film in hand, he took his remaining few dollars and purchased a train ticket to California.
When Walt arrived in Hollywood, he got a job as an extra in a western. But it rained the day Walt’s scene was to be filmed, and the studio replaced him. “That was the end of my career as an actor,” Walt said. He turned to his one real skill — animation — and set up a tiny studio in his Uncle Robert’s garage. He wrote to M. J. Winkler, a film distributor, announcing that he was “establishing a studio in Los Angeles for the purpose of producing a new and novel series of cartoons.” The studio, of course, was a garage. And the new and novel series was his half-finished “Alice’s Wonderland” cartoon, from Kansas City — a combination of a real little girl and a menagerie of animated characters. Winkler bought half a dozen Alice cartoons from Walt for $1,500 apiece, and Walt was off and running.
Walt knew that he didn’t have a sterling record in running the financial side of his creative efforts. So he convinced Roy to join him in California as a partner in his new business. That may have been the best single decision of Walt’s career. Walt was now free to let his imagination run wild, while Roy made sure they both had enough money to eat. In 1923 they launched the Disney Brothers Studio with $200 Roy had saved, $500 borrowed from Uncle Robert, and $2,500 that Flora and Elias contributed (and for which they had to mortgage their house in Portland). They bought a used camera, rented a tiny studio in the back of a real-estate office, moved into a one-room apartment together, hired a couple of assistants, and according to Walt began the process of making “the name Disney famous around the world.”
On the way to international fame, Walt fell in love. He had hired a sweet, gentle woman named Lillian Bounds. At night he would drive her and another female employee home in a used pickup truck he and Roy had purchased. He always dropped the other young woman off first. Walt loved listening to Lillian’s tales about her life as the youngest of 10 children of a blacksmith. After a while they began taking long drives, talking all the time. But Walt never accepted Lillian’s invitations to meet her family. Not until he saved up enough money to buy a new suit was he willing to be introduced. He fit in immediately. Walt and Roy, meanwhile, were getting sick and tired of one another as roommates. In early 1925, Roy asked his longtime girlfriend, Edna Francis, to marry him. And soon after, on June 13, 1925, Walt and Lilly got married.