30 Interesting Facts About Walt Disney That Will Surprise You

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There’s no doubt that Mickey Mouse is one of the most famous cartoon characters in the world. I mean, just think about it—he even has his own theme parks! 

Have you ever stopped to think about the man behind the mouse, though? That’s right, Walt Disney. He may be gone, but his legacy lives on through the characters that he’s created.

Interested in learning more about him? Then you’ve stumbled on the right page! Here are 12 facts that you might not have known about the fabled animator.

30 Facts About Walt Disney That You Didn’t Know About

How well do you know Walt Disney? Here are some fun tidbits about him.

1. He Worked as a Newspaper Boy

When he was 10 years old, his father acquired a newspaper delivery route for Kansas City Times and The Kansas City Star. For six years, he and his brother woke up at three-thirty in the morning every day to deliver them before school.

As a result, he was often exhausted by the time he was in class—often to the point where he’d fall asleep during the teacher’s lecture. 

2. He Was Rejected by the U.S. Army

Wanting to contribute to the war effort, he attempted to join the U.S. Army in 1918. Despite his efforts, however, he was ultimately rejected for being too young (he was 17 at the time). 

In the end, he joined the Red Cross as an ambulance driver—a position that he landed after forging his date of birth on some documents. By the time he made it to France, though, the armistice had already been signed, which signaled the end of the war.

3. He Had a Miniature Steam Train in His Backyard

Walt Disney had always been fond of trains. In 1949, he built a miniature steam train in his backyard with the help of his friends Betty and Ward Kimball.

The Carolwood Pacific Railroad, as it was called, encircled the family home and was more than 2,600 feet long! Due to a series of accidents, however, he later put it into storage.

Several years later in 1965, he donated a portion of the railroad to a group of miniature steam train enthusiasts in Los Angeles.

4. He Was a Shy Person

Walt was known for being warm and outgoing. His true personality, however, was quite the opposite—he was rather shy. If anything, his public persona was only a facade.

According to Robert E. Sherwood, a playwright whom he’d worked with, the animator was “self-deprecating and painful shy.”

5. He Died From Lung Cancer

Walt had been a heavy smoker ever since he was a teen. Not only did he use cigarettes, but he also enjoyed smoking pipes.

He was eventually diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 65. Despite having received therapy, his condition worsened quickly. He later passed away on December 15, 1966—just ten days after his birthday. 

6. He Liked to Play Polo

When he wasn’t working, he liked to play polo—a hobby that his brother did not agree with. Time and time again, he would tell him to quit, only for his urges to fall on deaf ears.

Eventually, an accident caused Walt to give up the sport—one that crushed four of his cervical vertebrae. For reasons unknown, however, he chose to consult a chiropractor instead of a doctor. As a result, the broken bones did not heal properly; this ultimately led to an arthritic condition that pained him for the rest of his life.

7. He Was Told That He’d Die before the age of 35

As a young man, he came across a fortuneteller who told him that he’d die at the time of his birthday before he reached the age of 35. Walt wasn’t superstitious by any means, but the prediction did have an effect on him—even after it was proved false.

If anything, the sense of mortality urged him to accomplish all that he wanted to do; for him, it was a race against time.

8. He Didn’t Like Jokes

Walt was a man who never told jokes. In fact, he didn’t even have the patience to listen to them. Knowing this about him, his employees would refrain from telling him any while at work.

Even if someone told him one, they would be met with a stony silence. 

9. He Disliked Giving Speeches

Walt was never a fan of formal speeches—it was something that he’d always agonized about. In particular, he hated those that were written for him. Due to his position, however, he often had to give them at banquets and civic dinners.

10. He Borrowed From His Life Insurance to Work on Disneyland

The idea of creating an amusement park had always been in Walt’s mind. For inspiration, he often visited state fairs, county fairs, carnivals, and circuses. Despite his vision, however, his brother Roy was opposed to the idea.

Ultimately, what that meant was that he had to finance the park himself. In need of cash, he made the decision to borrow from his life insurance, much to his daughter’s dismay. Before he was even finished with the planning, he was $100,000 in debt.

11. He Rode His Rides Again and Again

While working on Disneyland, he rode on the rides every day as they were nearing completion. Allegedly, he would get off the ride with a childlike giggle if he was satisfied with the ride.

His personal favorite was the Peter Pan as it utilized a fairly new concept—fly-through cars that suspended from the ceiling.

12. He Rarely Fired Anyone

As an employer, Walt rarely fired anyone. If someone fell into disfavor, he would give them a meaningless assignment. Nine times out of ten, that would prompt them to leave voluntarily.

One time, he worked with two writers whom he felt contributed nothing of value. When asked why they still worked with him, he explained that he would know how to do things right as they always did things wrong.

13. He Loved to Play Tricks On His Parents

Growing up, he loved to play tricks on his parents. Fascinated with magic acts, he brought home an inflatable rubber bladder one day and used it on his mothers’ pots, which caused her to erupt in laughter.

Another time, he rang the doorbell after dressing himself up as a woman in his mothers’ clothes wearing a wig and makeup.

14. He Injured His Foot on a Nail as a Young Boy

While delivering newspapers as a teen, he pierced his foot with a horseshoe nail after kicking a piece of ice. His yells for help eventually caught the attention of a wagon driver, who came to his aid and took him to the doctor’s office.

In the end, two men held his legs down while the doctor pulled the nail out with a pair of pliers—without any painkillers.

15. He Worked at a Jelly Factory

During his teens, Walt worked as a handyman in a jelly factory, where he was paid $7 a week. His responsibilities included mashing fruit, washing jars, and nailing up boxes. 

Some nights, he also served as a nightwatchman, patrolling the factory with a gun in hand.

16. He Was a Stern Father

Walt was a stern father. He did not tolerate any rudeness from his daughters; any discourteous remark would be met with swift discipline.

For instance, he would not hesitate to spank or slap his daughters across the face if he deemed it necessary. 

17. He Was Fascinated With Small Objects

Walt had a fascination with small objects—he would often collect them during his travels. 

One time, during a shopping tour of Paris, his daughters found him lying on the floor of their hotel suite surrounded by small animated animals. His favorite was a caged bird—one that moved and sang.

18. He Didn’t Like Actors With Mustaches

Walt almost always kept a mustache on his face. If anything, it became part of who he was. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to find a picture of him without one!

Despite that, however, he didn’t like actors with mustaches—he would never hire them for his movies. To him, they looked like “city slickers.”

19. He Cried Easily

In spite of his appearance, Walt cried easily. For instance, he was known for tearing up over scripts and movies—even ones that he’d watched before!

He was particularly sensitive when it came to his daughters. While he enjoyed watching them grow up, he resented the passing of their childhood. At one point, he almost cried after one of his friends’ daughters sat on his lap—it brought back memories of when his daughter used to sit on his lap.

20. He Liked Chili and Beans

Walt was a fan of chili and beans—it was his favorite meal. He would enjoy it at his desk when he had no visitors at the studio.

A connoisseur, he would always combine a can of Gebhardt’s with a can of Dennison (they’re two different brands of meat and beans). Drink-wise, he always went for a glass of V-8 juice. 

21. He Hated How People Would Try to Treat Him Special

Walt hated the fact that others would try to treat him like a special person simply because of his position. He would refuse if someone tried to light his cigarette or hold the door open for him. 

22. He Had a Nervous Breakdown When He Was 30

In 1931, Walt had a nervous breakdown—he’d been pushing himself too hard. As a result, he spent many sleepless nights staring at the ceiling. 

Unable to handle the stress, he eventually saw a doctor, who told him that he needed to step away from the studio. In the end, he and his wife ended up taking a vacation in France. 

23. He Refused to Give Up Cigarettes

Walt’s doctors often urged him to give up smoking; their words had little effect on him, though. 

He did, eventually, make an effort to switch to low-nicotine cigarettes after it was announced that they cause cancer. Unfortunately, however, that didn’t last long as he couldn’t stand their taste.

24. He Slept Overnight at Disneyland Quite Frequently

Walt often slept overnight at Disneyland—it allowed him to spend more time at the park. He had his own apartment over the Main Street Firehouse, which boasted 500 sq ft of space. 

Not only did he go out during the day, but he would walk through the park at night as well. Time and time again, he would startle his night workers with his bathrobe appearance. 

25. Walt Never Intruded His Animators While They Worked

Walt almost never intruded his animators’ while they were at work in the studio—he understood the delicate nature of the creative process. Instead, he’d look at what they’ve done after they’ve left for the day. 

As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for his employees to get wind of his habit. Soon, everyone was leaving their best works on the drawing table!

26. He Chose the Voice of Snow White Himself

Walt and his team began to work on the film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1934. Given that he was the man in charge, it’s not surprising to know that he was the one who picked the voice of Snow White!

It was no easy task. He listened to dozens of auditioning singers before deciding on Adriana Caselotti, a teen girl who was trained in Italian opera.

27. He Didn’t Like to be Recognized in Public

By the mid-30s, Walt was recognized as one of the best filmmakers in Hollywood. To his dismay, however, this brought him new fame—fame that he wasn’t entirely pleased about. 

In particular, he was not a fan of being “pounced on” for autographs!

28. He Felt Guilty About His Mother’s Death

In 1938, he and his brother purchased a bungalow for their parents in North Hollywood. Less than a month in, however, tragedy struck—a defective furnace led to their mother’s death.

The two were devastated. In the end, they blamed themselves for her death as it had happened in the home that they’d bought.

29. He was $4 million in Debt at One Point

At one point, he and his brother owned the Bank of America $4,000,000 (the studio couldn’t do much during WWII). It got so bad that the bank’s board members actually requested their presence at a board of directors meeting.

Fortunately for them, the founder of the bank was a big fan of their movies. He reassured the two that things would get better after the war and sent them on their way.

30. He Couldn’t Tolerate Yes-Men

Walt didn’t like it when people opposed to his ideas—but what he hated even more was yes-men. He had no respect for those who’d agree with everything he said. After all, he himself knew that not all his suggestions had value.

More About Walt Disney

And there we have it—30 facts about Walt Disney! Want to learn more about the man behind the mouse? 

I highly recommend the book, Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas—it’s hands down, one of the best biographies that I’ve ever read! In fact, most of the facts from this post were taken from the book!

Which fact surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments below!

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