It’s hard to believe, but another Christmas season is almost upon us. This mostly Christian annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus is also celebrated by countless millions of non-Christians world-wide. It represents hope and family, giving and of course parties, family gatherings and for children, opening gifts from Santa Claus. Next to the uniquely American Holiday of Thanksgiving, it is truly the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” But, for many millions, it is also a sad time, a melancholy day. No one wants to be alone, especially on Christmas. And for many, no jobs, family strife and other worldly problems are in evident. Last week as my wife and I finished decorating our Christmas Tree, I was suddenly shrouded in a cloud of sadness, as I picked up many old ornaments from my childhood, remembering how our family was together, decorating the tree. Many were my Mom’s favorites. Since her passing, Christmas, for me, sort of lost some of its joy.
But Christmas also has me thinking of my favorite place in the world, Walt Disney World, and my favorite character, Mickey Mouse. When I think of how much joy and happiness Walt and Mickey has brought to the World, I consider myself blessed, I have my family, health and most important, precious memories. Here is one of my first articles I wrote, fifteen years ago on my favorite subject, Mickey Mouse. Here we see how Mickey helped the Country and most of the World get through one of history’s greatest calamities. I thought it was a perfect time to resurrect it…Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!
One of the most popular icons of the twentieth century and beyond is without much argument; Mickey Mouse. Topped only by Santa Claus, there is virtually no where his image is not immediately recognized anywhere in the World. Just mention the name of Mickey Mouse, and immediately visions and perceptions well up in the listeners mind. To some, his is a money-making gimmick, to others, a corporate image, but for the majority he represents the innocence and fun of a bygone era. Values and times have changed, but laughter and joy will always remain a constant. You would literally have to go to the ends of the earth to find someone who has not heard of the mouse.
But how did Mickey gain this enormous popularity? Of course, the major factors were the genius of Walt Disney, who gave Mickey his personality and Ub Iwerks, who gave him his physical form had much to do with his success. Another major difference between Mickey and other cartoon characters of the era, Walt instilled in him a personality. He was scrappy, mischievous and a free spirit. Quick-thinking and clever, he had to rely on his wits to overcome misfortune. People could actually relate to him, found much of themselves in Mickey. But another factor glossed over by many, is what added to his fame was the world wide Depression. Mickey was a national hero to most of the country in the dark days of America’s depression era. He first burst upon the scene when America was riding high in jobs, money and good times. But a scant year later, the bubble burst and America along with the rest of the world became victim to the worst economical upheaval in history, which lasted almost a decade until the start of World War II. Let’s take a quick history lesson in order to understand Mickey’s impact on America during those trying times.
Mickey Mouse, as per Disney history was born on November 18th, 1928 with the showing of Steamboat Willie at the Old Colony Theater in New York. This vehicle, the first synchronized “Sound” cartoon was what launched Mickey in to the limelight. These were high times for America. It was the era of Bathtub gin, Speakeasy’s, new morals and ideas. America after World War I was the leader in Technology and science and most people lead the good life. However, on black Tuesday, October 29th, 1929 the bubble burst; and in an instant millions of people lost everything, their savings, homes and many, even their lives! Stocks in America lost over 40 percent of their previous value, thousands of banks became insolvent and closed. This was before FDIC insurance, and the financial fallout affected virtually everyone, even the very rich.
By 1932, 30 percent of the work force was unemployed, and to top this misery, the largest and longest drought, the dustbowl, began in the Midwest and also lasted about a decade. Thousands of families lost their crops and then their farms and many just left unable to pay mortgages or bills. The roads were choked with families looking for a new start somewhere else. The poor and middle class were hit the hardest. They trusted no one. They blamed big business, the Government and the rich for their woes. America was at its lowest ebb and needed someone or something to give it some hope.
Enter Mickey Mouse. This little personage literally pulled America up from despair and gave it the hope and vision for better times ahead. Mickey Mouse was given his physical form by Ub Iwerks, but his personality and inner self was given to him by Walt Disney. Walt once said that “I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I have ever known”. Mickey had all of Walt’s attributes, his vision, courage, humor and most important, much of Walt’s mischievous side. He was an everyman, a scamp, a common worker, and he had the same dreams and hopes as common America. He was someone the people could relate to and finally trust. In Mickey, they saw themselves, vying for the same goals. Mickey’s greatest draw was that he is just so human.
By 1931, the Mickey Mouse Club (Before the 1950’s Club!) had over a million members, meeting in movie theaters, watching Mickey Mouse cartoons, and getting the burst of hope they needed so desperately! In the 1930’s a movie ticket cost a dime or a quarter. And although money was so precious, many found that it was worth the fare to see their hero. The cartoons were usually shown before the main feature, and people came to see Mickey. His adventures showcased his courage, humor and his big heart, giving to those who had less than he did; and the masses related to this. In the cartoon short, “The Whoopee Party in 1932, Mickey and Minnie give a big party with food and entertainment, when most people could not even afford a loaf of bread. They saw him sharing with those who had little or nothing. And in the short, “Mickey’s Good Deed”, Mickey is destitute and is playing his Cello on Christmas Eve for money. He sees a family worst off then himself, so he sells his most prized possession, his dog Pluto so they could have a Christmas dinner. This showed the people that all is not lost and even those with little could still help others with less.
Another short that many people could relate to is “Building a Building”, 1933. Here Mickey quits precious job to protect his girl, Minnie from the clutches of the foreman, Peg Leg Pete. As scarce as jobs were, Mickey showed that honor and respect are even above money. America connected to Mickey because his problems were mirrored in theirs. He came to the rescue when no politician, actor or any other person of the times could. People loved and trusted him, and he gave hope, courage and most important, he gave America laughter. America needed to laugh and like his “Father”, Walt Disney he triumphed again and again. Mickey almost single-handed saved the nation from the depression and despite more than 80 years since his birth, still gives us laughter, hope and in many, a longing for the bygone years when life was simpler and more innocent.