I am going to start by apologizing because this is a really long post but I had to put together the entire story and did not want to leave details out that make the story more understandable, this is one of my favorite stories purely because I think more people should know about it and put into the perspective the empire Disney has created from one mouse.
The year is 1919 in Kansas City, at the Pesman-Rubin Commercial Arts Studio where a young Ubbe Eert “Ub” Iwerks, a shy artistic type befriended the business-minded visionary, Walter Elias Disney. Knowing they would make a good partnership, they created the short-lived Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists company in 1920, but Disney soon abandoned their plans and started work at the Kansas City Ad Company, where he soon got Ub employed.
Through working together in Kansas City, the pair became extremely close and their differences in personality complemented one another: Disney the confident businessman who made fun of the quiet, content Ub. Walt, knowing he did not like being an employee, rather wanting to control his own success, soon left the Kansas City Ad Company and once again pulled Ub from his job and created Laugh-O-gram Films, where he hoped to explore the wonders of animation. The company did not do well at all, so Ub was forced to leave his friend and return to Kansas City Ad Co., but still helped him on projects he could not handle alone, until Walt was forced to declare bankruptcy.
At this point, Walt had to make the choice to either return to Kansas City Ad Co. or try something new. Because he was Walt Disney, he just kept trying. He went to California while Ub stayed in Kansas City, hoping to create the animation company that couldn’t take off in the Great Plains.
Walt created what was known as Disney Brothers Productions with his brother Roy, which would later be changed to Walt Disney Studios, and invited Ub to join him out West. Ub immediately got in his car and started the seven day journey to Hollywood. While in California, Walt gave a film distributor Charles Mintz frames of his “Alice Comedies”, which Mintz convinced him and his brother were doing very poorly (even though they were doing as well as ever), in turn asked Walt to create a new animation which Charles would legally own. (You don’t have to watch the videos to understand the story, but I thought it was interesting to see the improvements in television and animation through the years, much of which Disney and Iwerks contributed to).
So Walt brought Ub to California, where he created Oswald the Luck Rabbit, which was an instant hit because the idea of animation was still very new. But the ownership of the animation belonged to the distributor, Charles Mintz who then sold the rights to Universal Studios, and took the majority of Disney’s animating team.
So, Walt explained to Mintz that Oswald was doing well they should get more money, but Mintz gave them less money because he owned the rights to Oswald and had all of Walt’s animators on his team. Mintz first offered him $500 for every cartoon cut or Mintz could take over the production of the Oswald cartoons. Later, Mintz changed the deal for the Mintz Agency to cover all costs of production and salaries of Oswald for a small 50% stake of Walt Disney Studios. At that moment Walt made the smartest decision of his life and signed all of the rights of Oswald over to Mintz and Walt vowed he would never not own a character he created and left Universal, taking Ub with him.
Trying to think of new ideas to get the studio off of its feet, Ub thought of Mickey Mouse, a new and different character from those of Universal. That week, Ub created 600/700 frames per day which to this day has never been matched. Ub discovered the idea of sync sound, meaning playing music and sound effects in time with the animations, and in turn created Steamboat Willy.
Walt Disney became wildly successful overnight, but now everything had changed, Disney oversaw production and made sure everything was going well.
One night at a party in Hollywood kid asked Disney to draw Mickey Mouse and Walt handed the paper to Ub. Ub walked out because he didn’t get enough credit, and didn’t want to work with Walt anymore, but he still wanted to work in animation.
So, Ub created Iwerks Animation, where he produced crazy cartoons, much too obscene for the prudish audiences of the 1920’s. The Hays commission, which regulated what TV could and could not show, shut him down.
So Ub was out of work and Disney offered him a job, Ub accepted but said he would not work in animation ever again. Ub worked in photographic effects for Marry Poppins and many other classic movies of that time, bringing in new innovations to animation that are still used today and helped build every ride in Disney World in some way or another.
Walt Disney went on to win the most Academy Awards in history, 26 in total! At one point he actually presented himself the award! He won 22 competitive Academy Awards and was nominated 59 times, he also holds the record for winning the most nominations and wins in a single year, being nominated for six and winning four in 1954. Ub got his recognition too, having won two academy awards, which is only a fraction of what his partner accumulated, but still not too shabby. Disney has become synonymous with Mickey Mouse, but even he admitted he was not the creator, Ub did all of the work. So next time you take a trip to Disney World or even watch one of your favorite kid’s movies, remember it was Ub who brought you your childhood, Disney was just a businessman.