Charles Mintz was on top of the world in 1927. He had married a successful producer of animated cartoons, was developing a pretty good stable of characters, and he only had one guy causing him trouble. While most animation was based in New York, this guy’s little studio in Los Angeles was turning out good product and even had a hit character–but he was always asking for more money.
Mintz knew there was a lot more money to be made in cartoons. Looking through the contract with the LA studio, he realized he actually owned the rights to their popular character, and began thinking of a way to get what he wanted. Through some finagling and creative legal work, he slowly hired all the LA studio’s animators. He knew the upstart from California would be coming back to New York for contract negotiations, and Mintz wanted to have the upper hand.
The talks went well, but it always came down to this: the little studio in Los Angeles needed more money. They had great ideas, had some big thoughts for the future of the character, but it was going to cost more money. Finally, Mintz had had it. “You aren’t getting any more money. In fact, you’ll be doing it for less money and you have no choice.” He showed the contract to the young cartoon producer. “I own the character. And,” he added as an aside, “I also hired all your animators. You can either accept my terms–or lose your studio.”
Mintz sent the cartoon producer back to Los Angeles by train. He expected to hear pretty shortly that the terms were accepted, and the situation would be over.
The cartoon producer from Los Angeles was shocked, dismayed, and angry. He refused to accept that his dream of doing more and creating better cartoons was dead. So he rejected the offer, and on the ride home, created another character.
It took a lot of backroom deals on his part. He had an idea to add sound to cartoons, but RCA owned the technology and didn’t want to share it. He needed a place to show his cartoons, but most of the theatres were owned by studios who were in deals with Mintz. He needed more money to do it all, and his brother had to figure out where to find every penny. He had to get it drawn, and his only animator would go on to do amazing work, including creating over 1,000 drawings in one day.
The odds were stacked against him.
But on this day in 1928, the little Los Angeles studio debuted a new cartoon on a rogue sound system at a privately owned theatre in New York City. At twelve noon, the lights went dark and the world’s first cartoon with synchronized sound began playing.
The world has long forgotten Charles Mintz. But the guy from Los Angeles? The one who refused to be beaten, to keep dreaming? The guy who inspired people to catch his vision and help make it a reality?
You’ve probably heard of him.
His name is Walt Disney, and on this day in 1928, his cartoon character Mickey Mouse was born. Today, 87 years later, the little studio from Los Angeles is the world’s biggest entertainment company, continuing to inspire dreamers and visionaries in animation, film making, theme parks, and more.
Walt liked to say, “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing: that this was all started by a mouse.”
But without Walt, there’d have been no mouse.
THE DISNEYLAND DAD SAYS: One of the consistent themes in Walt Disney’s films is discovering who you are meant to be. No matter what the odds, you were created with a purpose, a vision, and you have a unique stamp to leave on the world. The story of Charles Mintz and Walt Disney is a great reminder to all of us: when someone says, “This is who you are,” don’t accept their limitations. If Walt had, there’d be no Mickey Mouse–and who would want to live in a world without Mickey?