If you've never heard of Mickey Mouse then you've either been living under a rock or on another planet for the last 90 years. Mickey, the mouse with the most, is celebrating his 88th birthday today. It was back in 1928 that America's favorite mouse made his debut in theaters in the cartoon "Steamboat Willie." This has led to one of the longest and most successful rodent careers in show business history.
While it appeared publicly that Mickey started his career as a steamboat captain, much like Mark Twain, there was an earlier short cartoon created Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks titled "Plane Crazy" that was intended to build on the huge popularity of Charles Lindbergh at the time. In it Mickey is a pilot of a small two-seated airplane trying to get into a very G-rated version of the Mile High Club by kissing Minnie. The cartoon was created as a silent film and did not sell.
Steamboat Willie was then created as a "talkie" and was first released on November 18, 1928. Walt Disney had recently seen the first motion picture with sound, "The Jazz Singer," and had committed himself to making a cartoon with a full sound track. He had realized that film with sound was absolutely the path to the future. This cartoon sold and made history. In 1994 was listed 13th in a book of the 50 greatest cartoons of all time. Plane Crazy was remade with sound and finally released in March of 1929 as the fourth official Mickey Mouse cartoon.
Mickey was also a product of his times as animators fashioned in that his movements after the popular silent film star Charlie Chaplain. His early exploits were also often taken from popular movies and people making history at the time. Disney himself was the voice of Mickey until 1947, when his schedule became too hectic to allow him to continue the work. Since then a number of men have adopted the falsetto voice to be Mickey. Mickey's first words on film were "Hot dog!"
There were other bumps in the road to the mouse's beginnings. For one thing, his name was originally Mortimer. Disney's wife, Lillian, claimed that the name was too pompous and his name was changed to something more lighthearted, like Mickey. Other transitions to get to the Mickey we know and love today include Mickey starting to speak in 1929, and the addition of his white gloves, also in 1929 (he went to the opera and never took them off). Pluto, Mickey's dog, made his first appearance in 1931. It was also in the 1930s that Mickey expanded his career into print and became a comic strip character.
Mickey is also a mouse who kept up with the times, from his initial appearance in early sound short animated films he moved to color film in 1935. In 1940 Mickey appeared in his first full-length feature film, "Fantasia." He stars in the segment The Sorcerer's Apprentice as a young wizard in training who borrows the sorcerer's magic to get the broom he was sweeping with to take over his chores. While Mickey revels in the power of magic things get out of hand and the sorcerer must come to his rescue. Having learned his lesson Mickey meekly returns to his menial duties and accepts that he must learn magic in its own time.
Then in the 1950s the mouse added television to his resume with The Mickey Mouse Club. The house of the mouse was also formalized with the opening of Disneyland in 1955. Disney had actually considered naming the park "Mickey Mouse Village." Since then other Disney theme parks have opened around the world.
More dramatic roles have also come Mickey's way with playing Bob Cratchit in Mickey's Christmas Carol in 1983 along with Donald Duck's uncle Scrooge McDuck in the role of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. In 1990 Mickey took on the title roles in The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain.
Mickey also entered the world of video games in 1981 with an early Nintendo game. His most recent video game came out in 2013 for Windows, Xbox, PlayStation, iPhone, and Android. Do the math. That is more than 30 years working with video games. Not bad for an old mouse!
Believe it or not Mickey was way ahead of his time by pioneering ubiquitous merchandising. It started with simple tablet of paper featuring the mouse's image, and was followed by simple children's toys and eventually expanded to just about everything. The first Mickey Mouse doll was designed in 1930. Since then the most notable merchandise is the popularity of the iconic "mouse ears" that allows everyone to channel their inner Mickey and the Mickey Mouse wrist watch with Mickey's hands pointing out the hours and minutes. The first watch was manufactured in 1933. These days approximately 40% of The Walt Disney Company comes from Mickey Mouse merchandise.
Mickey has also been honored by Oscar with ten Academy Award Nominations in the field of Best Animated Short Film between 1933 and 1995. Only one of those nominations, for Lend a Paw, actually won the much coveted golden statuette. In 1932 Walt Disney won an honorary Oscar for the creation and popularity. The magnificent mouse also has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that was awarded to him on his 50th birthday, November 18, 1978. In 2005 Mickey was made Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade, the first cartoon character ever to have been awarded the honor, and only the second fictional character (with Kermit the Frog) to hold the post since the parade began in 1890.
Mickey has been the most often "person" used as a write-in vote for many elections, the earliest being the New York City mayoral election in 1932. Mickey's buddy, Donald Duck, is a close second. In 1987 the state of Georgia actually had to take the unprecedented step in creating legislation to make it illegal to vote for Mickey. The state of Wisconsin is reportedly considering similar legislation. It really says something about the state of politics in America today when a cartoon mouse carries that much weight.
His name has become used in English-speaking countries around the world as a means of describing something as being of low quality or trivial. This is often said in jest. One time a new coworker said to me that the company we were working for was Disneyland compared to where he had worked before. My joking reply was "What? A real Mickey Mouse operation?" On the television show "Mork and Mindy" (1978-1982) Mork referred to Pluto as being a "real Mickey Mouse planet. In the British sitcom Red Dwarf after the team's substandard equipment nearly cost them their lives, Lister said, "We're a real Mickey Mouse operation, aren't we?" The Cat replied, "Mickey Mouse? We ain't even Betty Boop!"
By the end of 1928 Mickey Mouse was a national craze. While his popularity has waxed and waned over the years, Mickey's value overall has remained strong. He is still iconic and the mascot and "big cheese" for a multi-billion dollar corporation. All it took was the genius of Walt Disney, a mouse, and a little "pixie dust."
For this year's Mickey Mouse Day celebrations will include an appearance on Good Morning America and the release of his latest music video, What We Got. The video will also appear on Mickey's Facebook page. Guests visiting the parks on that day can receive a button wishing Mickey a happy birthday.
“I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing—that it was all started by a mouse.” --Walt Disney
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