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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Walt Disney the Earliest Years

Originally posted June 22, 2010

As I said in my last post, I’m not going to try to reinvent the wheel here; there are plenty of books and the web is plethora of sources for dates, place, and event for Walt’s life. Google ‘Walt Disney’ and you’ll get about 43 million hits. A great jumping off point on the web is Walt Disney - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. From there, you can link in any one of in many directions.

By most accounts that I have read, Walt’s childhood was pretty normal, with the possible exception of few moves that were probably not the norm for most children of that era. There have been comments made by biographers (amateur and professional alike) that Walt’s Father Elias was an abuses man. While some have used Walt’s own comments that his Father was a strict disciplinarian as support for it, I can with no real evidence for this claim. It is my opinion that historical events or accounts are often judged against current standards and therefore interpreted out of context. I am a child of the 1960’s, and even that short time ago, a prevailing attitude was “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” and spankings were not an uncommon occurrence at my home. So, to assume that Elias Disney was an abusive man because he spanked or switched his children is an unfair conclusion. Also commented by biographers is the fact the Elias Disney was a socialist, but, with no real additional clarification. Given the view of socialism, in the USA today, I think that allow us to view Elias in a less than favorable light. I think it’s important to note that much of the progressive movement that exists today can trace its roots back to the early socialist movement in this country. Additionally, Elias Disney exhibited an entrepreneurial spirit, moving from carpenter, to farmer, to business owner, to contractor, not commonly associated with today’s socialist movement. I think it safe to say that Elias Disney was not looking for a hand out, as many claim is the want of current socialist proponents, but rather like most of the time just a fair chance at success. There isn’t a lot written, that I have read so far, about Walt’s relationship with his Mother Flora. While there have been a few negative references about their relationship, I can find nothing to indicate that Walt felt anything but complete adoration for his Mother, to the point that by all that is written, Walt was devastates at his Mother’s death years later.

It appears to me that Walt, and Ruth for that matter, had an ace-in-the-hole in the form of their older brother Roy O. Disney. Roy was almost 8 when Walt was born and Ruth followed about 18 months later. Some may think that Roy got stuck with Walt and Ruth because he was the middle of 5 children and his older brothers left him with the duties of caring for his younger siblings, but, my research would seem to show that Roy doted on Walt and Ruth, and relationship between Roy and Walt became even stronger as they grew into adulthood. We delve into that relationship more deeply later, but, based on the accounts I’ve found, Walt Disney had what would be described, for the time, a fairly normal childhood. He seemed to catch the artistic bug fairly early on, and you can see some of his early art, done for neighbors, at the Walt Disney Family Museum. He was interested enough in art to have taken Saturday classes at the Kansas City Art Institute as young adolescent, and as a freshman in high school was also taking courses at the Chicago Art Institute just before trying and failing to enlist in the Army for World War I.

Next time we’ll start delving into Walt Disney the businessman.

Your comments or questions are always welcome. If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

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