by Stephen Schochet
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You are a
struggling entrepreneur and sometimes it feels like you are pushing a 3
ton boulder up a steep hill. Costs keep mounting and you are considering
giving up. Well before you do, check out these 10 setbacks that Walt
Disney had, some were financial nightmares that put him millions of
dollars in the red:
Walt formed his first animation company
in Kansas City in 1921. He made a deal with a distribution company in
New York, in which he would ship them his cartoons and get paid six
months down the road. He was forced to dissolve his company and at one
point could not pay his rent and was surviving by eating dog food.
Walt created a mildly successful cartoon character in 1926 called
Oswald the Rabbit. When he tried to negotiate with his distributor,
Universal Studios, for better rates for each cartoon, he was informed
that Universal had obtained ownership of the Oswald character and they
had hired Disney's artists out from under him.
When Walt tried
to get MGM studios to distribute Mickey Mouse in 1927 he was told that
the idea would never work-- a giant mouse on the screen would terrify
The Three Little Pigs was rejected by distributors in
1933 because it only had four characters, it was felt at that time that
cartoons should have as many figures on the screen as possible. It later
became very successful and played at one theater so long that the poster
outside featured the pigs with long white beards.
and the Seven Dwarfs was sneak previewed to college students in 1937 who
left halfway during the film causing Disney great despair. It turned out
the students had to leave early because of dorm curfew.
Pinocchio in 1940 became extra expensive because Walt shut down the
production to make the puppet more sympathetic than the lying juvenile
delinquent as presented in the original Carlo Collodi story. He also
resurrected a minor character, an unnamed cricket who tried to tell
Pinocchio the difference between right and wrong until the puppet killed
him with the mallet. Excited by the development of Jiminy Cricket plus
the revamped, misguided rather than rotten Pinocchio, Walt poured extra
money into the film's special effects and it ended up losing a million
dollars in it's first release.
For the premiere of Pinocchio
Walt hired 11 midgets, dressed them up like the little puppet and put
them on top of Radio City Music Hall in New York with a full day's
supply of food and wine. The idea was they would wave hello to the
little children entering into the theater. By the middle of the hot
afternoon, there were 11 drunken naked midgets running around the top of
the marquee, screaming obscenities at the crowd below. The most
embarrassed people were the police who had to climb up ladders and take
the little fellows off in pillowcases.
Walt never lived to see Fantasia become a success. 1940 audiences were put off by it's lack of a
story. Also the final scene, The Night On Bald Mountain sequence with
the devil damning the souls of the dead, was considered unfit for
In 1942, Walt was in attendance for the premiere of Bambi. In the dramatic scene where Bambi's mother died, Bambi was shown
wandering through the meadow shouting," Mother! Where are you,
Mother?" A teenage girl seated in the balcony shouted out, "
Here I am Bambi!" The audience broke into laughter except for the
black-faced Walt who concluded correctly that war-time was not the best
time to release a film about the love-life of a deer.
sentimental Pollyanna in 1960 made Walt cry at the studio screening but
failed at the box office. Walt concluded that the title was off-putting
for young boys.
Walt was human, he suffered through many fits of
anger and depression through his many trials. Yet he learned from each
setback, and continued to take even bigger risks which combined with the
wisdom that experiencing failure can provide, led to fabulous financial
Stephen Schochet is the
author of the upcoming book
Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and
Legends of Hollywood.
He is also
the author of two acclaimed audiobooks
Tales of Hollywood and Fascinating Walt Disney.
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