I’d never heard of the wonderful Walt Disney Family Museum located at San Francisco’s Presidio off the Main Parade Lawn until I was housesitting in the Bay Area and explored the Presidio.
Created by Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, and her son, Walter Elias Disney Miller, the tone for the visit was set in the awards lobby. It’s a celebration of his vision and his team’s implementation. Diane described this museum as Walt’s biography.
While the museum provided me complimentary entry, the opinions expressed are mine.
In The Beginning
He ran off to join his brother, Roy, in WWI and learned how to make animated cartoons at his first job back in Kansas City, Missouri.
He formed his own studio and created “Alice’s Wonderland,” inspired by the Lewis Carroll story. Inspired, but not enough to save a struggling company.
In 1923, with his brother Roy’s encouragement, Walt left Kansas City and made a new start saying, “I think it’s important to have a good, hard failure when you’re young.”
The Move To Hollywood
Walt arrived in Hollywood with $40 and a cardboard suitcase. He sold his cartoon for “Alice’s Wonderland” to a distributor and filmed 56 Alice episodes.
Walt became interested in producing a fully animated picture and created a new character, a cartoon mouse. He pitched the idea to his wife, Lillian, with the name “Mortimer.” She thought the name was too stuffy and approved of “Mickey” instead.
Walt took inspiration from 1927’s The Jazz Singer, the first talking film, and decided to incorporate synchronized sound into a short, Steamboat Willie. It screened for 2 weeks in NYC and that’s all it took.
The public was sold on Mickey.
Exploring New Horizons
Things were going well for Walt personally and professionally, but they became hard during the Great Depression as theaters passed on cartoons in favor of feature length films to bring in new patrons. Seeing the trend, Walt considered a feature length film, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was born.
The Transition Into Features
A feature length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had all the parts of a great movie: romance, good vs. evil, likable characters, and terrible villains. While the press called it “Walt’s folly,” Walt was confident there was an audience for it.
At the December 1937 premiere, when movie admission cost just 25 cents, the first release raised $8 million in revenue.
New Success & Greater Ambitions
Walt used $3 million of Snow White’s revenue to build the Burbank Studio, the first ever created specifically for animation, and Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi were born.
To ensure ties with Central and South America, the government asked for more Latin-themed characters. Walt agreed to a goodwill tour of Central and South America. This led to Saludos Amigos (1943) and Three Caballeros (1945).
Post War Rebuilding
After the war, Disney had funds earned overseas but had to use them in Central and South America to help countries recover from the war. Walt traveled to England and created Treasure Island, Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, and The Sword and the Rose.
Walt’s family photos and vast collection of miniatures are here, too. He considered sending them across the country as “DisneyLandia,” but it was cost prohibitive.
The name and concept stuck with him, though.
Disneyland & Beyond
There’s a green bench at the end of the gallery that holds great significance. Disney loved to take his girls to Griffith Park and put them on the carousel. He thought parents and their children should have a place where they could have fun together.
He started hiring employees away from the studio, calling them “Imagineers,” and hired the Stanford Research Institute who ultimately recommended the, then, small town of Anaheim.
They teamed with ABC for a weekly TV show that allowed Walt to bring his brand of entertainment and increase excitement about the upcoming park in Anaheim.
The show, like the park, is called DisneyLand. The park took less than 1 year to build and it opened on July 17, 1955, a day after the Disneys’ 30th wedding anniversary.
The Imagineers took on animatronics for the 1964–65 World Fair, with President Lincoln and “Small World” characters still performing today.
The success of the Pavilions encouraged Walt to create an east coast city of tomorrow, EPCOT: the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.
But Walt’s health became an issue. In early 1966, Walt was hospitalized. By mid-December, he died.
When you visit The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, you’ll find a world of animation, innovation, and inspiration from Walt Disney’s life.
“The most important thing is family”Walt Disney
For more to do around the San Francisco Presidio: