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>Walt Disney Is Coming To Town

By Stephen Schochet

In 1923, twenty-one-year-old Walt Disney arrived in
Los Angeles fresh from the disappointment of his first cartoon studio going
bankrupt in Kansas City. He went to see his twenty-nine-year-old brother Roy in
the Veteran’s Hospital were he was recovering from tuberculosis. Roy, a former
bank teller and navy man was concerned about his brother’s skinniness. “Hey
kid, haven’t you been eating? I’m supposed to be the sick one. So now that
you’re in L.A. what are you are going to do with yourself?” “I don’t know.
I’ve given up on animation. But I’ve got to get into show business somehow. I’ll
think I’ll try and become a director.” 

Walt who had filmed
some newsreel footage in Kansas City, printed a business card stating he was a
member of the press, which he used to finagle his way onto studio lots. He had a
meeting with a secretary at Metro. “Yes, I had my own studio in Kansas
City, I made cartoons and live action films perhaps you heard of me?”
“No I can’t say that I have. And we really have a lot of people coming here
looking for work and no jobs.” Metro was in a state of chaos, Rudolph
Valentino was demanding more money and they had frozen his salary. Because of
the movie The Four Horseman Of The Apocalypse (1921) Valentino was now an
international star who was surviving by hunting rabbits in the Santa Monica
Mountains. Walt, who would later know great fame combined with money trouble
could have identified, but he had his own problems. 

Turned away at Metro
Walt decided to go to Charlie Chaplin’s studio in Hollywood and ask the great
star for work personally. Chaplin had been Walt’s hero, when Disney was thirteen
he had won a two dollar prize imitating the tramp on stage, not an easy trick.
One time Charlie Chaplin had entered a similar contest and lost. 

Walt waited all day
on the sidewalk for Chaplin to come out but he never did. Disney didn’t know
that Chaplin buried himself in his work, afraid to go home where his 16 year old
pregnant wife Lita and her mother were filling his mansion with unwanted
relatives, turning the Beverly Hills estate into the 1923 version of the Jerry
Springer show. Or that the liberal Chaplin was infuriating his United Artist
partner the conservative Mary Pickford by taking forever to finish his films,
sometimes emerging from his editing room with a long beard looking like Robinson
Crusoe. Walt had his own concerns. 

Once again, Walt used
his makeshift press pass to sneak into Universal Studios. This was exciting
filmmaking! Men dressed like cowboys pretending to shoot at each other and
falling over. And a castle. It reminded him of Paris where he had driven an
ambulance for the Red Cross after World War I. Curious, he walked over to
question some workmen about the structure. It turned out they were building the
Court Of Miracles set for The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, starring Lon Chaney. Walt
who remained star struck all his life, began looking around for the famous actor
who was known for playing characters who were deformed, sometimes armless and
legless with incredible body contortions. Back in the twenties there was a
saying, “If you see something unusual on the floor, don’t step on it might
be Lon Chaney.” Suddenly Walt felt a tap on his shoulder. Sitting on a
horse behind him was the famous Austrian director Eric Von Stroheim, known as
the man you love to hate. Completely bald with a monocle, riding crop and thick
boots, which early film directors working in the Hollywood
hills wore to protect from snakes, Von Stroheim made an imposing figure.
“What are you doing here”. Walt confessed he snuck in and asked if
there was any work. But he was talking to a man who used to twist the arms of
his leading ladies when he wanted them to cry in his films. “Get out now
and never come back.” Years later, when he had his own studio, Walt went
out of his way to give young people a chance to show what they could do. 

With no other
prospects Walt decided to get back into animation but this time he would get
some help. One night in 1923 he returned to the Veteran’s Hospital where Roy was
feeling better. Excitedly Walt told his brother about his plans awakening other
patients in the ward,” But I can’t do it alone. I don’t have your head for
numbers.” “I don’t know kid, cartoons that’s risky. I was thinking
about getting a safe job at a bank, getting married. I mean I think your
talented but. . .” “Ah come on Roy, forget about a job. We’ll work for
ourselves. This is better than a job, we can do this thing.” “I don’t
know. . .” “Ah please.” Walt would not take no for an answer. Roy
finally agreed to the new venture when one of the soldiers in a nearby bed sat
up and said, “Roy will you go with him already so we can get some
sleep!” 

Want to hear more
stories? Stephen Schochet is the author and narrator of the audiobooks
“Fascinating Walt Disney” and “Tales Of Hollywood”. The
Saint Louis Post Dispatch says,” these two elaborate productions are
exceptionally entertaining.” Hear MP3 samples:
http://www.hollywoodstories.com.

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