Encyclopedia of Cartoon Superstars
by John Cawley & Jim Korkis
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Mickey Mouse

Superstar Summary
THE STAR: Mickey Mouse
SIGNATURE: "Ha Ha" (falsetto laugh)

KEY CREW BEHIND THE STAR: Walt Disney (voice/producer), Ub (animator/designer), Fred Moore (master animator), Jimmy MacDonald (2nd voice)

CAREER HIGH: THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB (1955) where Mickey became permanently ingrained in the psyche of the young and created new generations of Mouseketeers.

Mickey Mouse is more than just a Cartoon Superstar. Mickey Mouse has at various times represented everything that was good and bad in U.S. culture. For a distinctly American character, he became an international favorite generating an affection unmatched by any other character.

Originally, Mickey Mouse was a mouse-like character that resembled other characters of the time including the mice in Paul Terry's AESOP'S FABLES and Pat Sullivan's Felix the Cat. A direct inspiration was Walt Disney's own Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. One of the things that made Mickey's design so much more appealing than some of these previous efforts was the fact that he was primarily composed of round, soft circles without sharp points. This baby roundness had a subliminal effect that made him appealing. During the first few years, his design varied somewhat before settling into the plump, approximately four foot tall figure known today.

Mickey Mouse was as much a hayseed as his creator Walt Disney and was seen as an animated extension of the artist. When Walt became more sophisticated, so did Mickey. Walt's shyness was reflected in Mickey. Physically, Mickey did not do "mouse" like things. He never lived in a mouse hole. His tail was never caught in a trap. In many ways, he was a human being who had somehow taken on the appearance of a mouse.

Mickey was a genuinely nice guy. He was cheerful and helpful. His extremes of behavior in his earlier cartoons like his treatment of animals were not done out of malice but rather a playfulness. Eventually, due to public pressure, even that minor characteristic was eliminated so that Mickey was purer than a Boy Scout.

Of all the Disney crew of characters, he was the smartest and usually placed in the position of the leader. He was not a college educated character. His intelligence was a common sense mixed with a genuine respect and concern for others. His success on a variety of jobs and projects was due primarily to his hard work rather than his clever mind.

People remember the early Mickey as being a heroic, adventurous character. This image was sparked more by those type of appearances in his comic strip exploits. However, there are a handful of examples from his animated output that placed him into situations where he was able to demonstrate his bravery. He was willing to stand up to seemingly impossible odds to do what he felt was right.

Mickey was the most domestic of the Disney characters. Many of his stories revolved around the setting of his home or some mundane recreational activity like a picnic or a party. He never took the risks that Goofy, Donald Duck and Pluto seemed to take every moment.

Mickey was unambitious. He loved his girlfriend, his dog and his life. He genuinely liked people and put up with irritations that might try the patience of a saint. He was respectable, gentle and moral.

At one time, critics found such blandness offensive and the term "Mickey Mouse" was used as an expression of derision. Lately, other critics have seen that this vagueness of character may have contributed to Mickey's success. He represented an optimistic affirmation of the basic goodness of the world. He didn't have other characteristics that would detract from that positive image. He became all things to all people.

This positive spirit captured the affection of people struggling out of the Depression. He seemed like a character out of a Horatio Alger novel, the poor but honest boy who made good due to hard work.


Walt Disney, with the assistance of animator Ub Iwerks, had been producing a series of cartoons about a live action girl named Alice and her adventures in a cartoon world. In 1927, as a replacement for the Alice comedies, Disney and Iwerks developed a new series about a little black rabbit named Oswald. The character, who resembled an early Mickey Mouse with rabbit ears, was instantly popular.

When the series became successful, Disney confronted the distributor in New York to try to get more money to improve the project. The distributor, Charles Mintz, not only owned the character but had secretly signed up Disney's animators (except Iwerks) to exclusive contracts. Disney had to accept a new contract at a lower price or lose the character and his crew. Disney refused to negotiate and supposedly on the train trip from New York back to Los Angeles he created Mickey Mouse.

Over the years, Disney, himself, elaborated on this magical creation story. Supposedly back in the days when he was working as an artist in Kansas City, he adopted a family of mice, one of whom he trained. That experience subconsciously helped him to come up with the idea of a mouse character he was going to call "Mortimer." His wife, Lillian, objected to the name feeling it was too pretentious and Walt settled for the more friendly sounding "Mickey." When he arrived in Los Angeles he had a new character.

In reality, Mickey was probably designed during a meeting with Ub Iwerks shortly after returning to Los Angeles. Walt was responsible for Mickey's personality and Iwerks handled the physical appearance. As mentioned previously, Mickey looked a great deal like Oswald the rabbit with a few changes such as mouse ears and tail replacing rabbit ears and tail.

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh had become a public hero for his solo plane flight from New York to Paris. Hoping to capitalize on this event, Disney's first Mickey Mouse cartoon was entitled PLANE CRAZY. Iwerks animated this film on his own in under three weeks. This was a silent black and white cartoon about a barnyard Mickey being inspired by Lindbergh's exploit to build and fly his own plane with Minnie. The reaction to the film at a special preview encouraged Walt to begin work on another Mickey cartoon, GALLOPIN' GAUCHO, parodying Douglas Fairbanks similar film and having Mickey rescue Minnie from the clutches of Black (Peg-leg) Pete.

Unfortunately, the East Coast distributors were unimpressed with the character and Disney was unable to get his cartoons into theaters. At this point, Mickey Mouse might have been forever lost to the world. However, Warner Brothers released a film called THE JAZZ SINGER, basically a silent film but with a few lines of dialog and some Al Jolson songs using a new sound process. The film made an immediate impact on audiences and Disney was convinced to try one more Mickey Mouse cartoon with sound.


There had been a few previous experiments in the use of sound in cartoons. The thing that made Mickey Mouse in STEAMBOAT WILLIE different was that it was the first cartoon with a properly synchronized track so that it really seemed that the actions on the film were causing the sound. STEAMBOAT WILLIE tells the story of Mickey Mouse, a member of Captain Pete's riverboat crew. Mickey entertains the ship's only passenger, Minnie, with a musical version of "Turkey In The Straw" played on animals who are squeezed, hammered and twisted.

Walt believed in the film so strongly that he committed every penny he and his company had behind the project. A failure would have completely wiped him out financially. When STEAMBOAT WILLIE premiered at the Colony Theater in New York on November 18, 1928, it was a tremendous hit. The Disney studio immediately produced soundtracks for PLANE CRAZY and GALLOPIN' GAUCHO and a new Mickey Mouse cartoon called THE BARN DANCE. One of the first of the new personnel who was added to the cartoons was Carl Stalling, a theater organist from Kansas City, who provided effective soundtracks for the films. Stalling would later do similar work for the popular Warner Brothers cartoons. Walt Disney himself supplied the squeaks for Mickey Mouse, with Mickey first speaking words in 1929's THE KARNIVAL KID. Walt continued to voice Mickey up until 1946 when, because of his overloaded schedule, sound effects supervisor Jimmy MacDonald took over. (MacDonald retired in the early Eighties and has been replaced by a number of different voice actors.)

The early Mickey Mouse cartoons were not much different from the other studio's cartoons being produced at the time. They all relied on sight gags and there was little consistency in the characters or the stories. For instance, in THE KARNIVAL KID, Mickey removed the top part of his head and ears like a hat, a typical gag for characters at this time. What helped Mickey survive during this period was the novelty of sound that caught the audience's attention.

Some writers have argued that what saved Mickey from obscurity was the fact that Iwerks left the studio in 1931 to form his own company. This action forced Walt to devote more attention to the character and as a result the stories became stronger and Mickey's personality started to blossom. For the most part, Mickey's expressions at the time were pretty much limited to "happy" and "not happy."


Throughout the Thirties, the Disney studio turned out approximately a dozen new Mickey Mouse cartoons a year. In fact, by the end of 1940 Mickey had appeared in over two-thirds of all the theatrical shorts that would star him. Mickey became a national phenomenon in the Thirties. He was so popular that his use as a merchandising character is credited with pulling the Lionel Train corporation and the Ingersoll Watch Company out of bankruptcies. Mickey Mouse received serious consideration as fine art.

MICKEY'S ORPHANS (1931) was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost. Over the years, Mickey was nominated four other times: BUILDING A BUILDING (1933), THE BRAVE LITTLE TAILOR (1938), THE POINTER (1939), and MICKEY AND THE SEAL (1948). In 1932, Disney was presented with an Oscar for having created Mickey Mouse. (The only Oscar winning short Mickey would appear in was Pluto's 1941 LEND A PAW.)

MICKEY'S ORPHANS was a typical demonstration that even in his own cartoons Mickey sometimes seemed merely a supporting player. The cartoon tells the story of a dozen or more homeless kittens invading Mickey and Minnie's house at Christmas and how they destroy the house as the mice share the spirit of Christmas with them.

The early Thirties did produce some Mickey cartoons where he was clearly an adventurous hero. THE MAD DOCTOR (1933) had him confronting an evil scientist who was going to experiment on Pluto. THE MAIL PILOT (1933) had Mickey battling Pete in the sky in a wild aerial duel. TWO GUN MICKEY (1934) had Mickey as a pistol packing cowboy again saving Minnie from Peg-leg Pete. Most of the other Mickey cartoons were more domestically oriented and depended upon Pluto for the humor. MICKEY'S GOOD DEED (1932) has Mickey selling Pluto to buy Christmas presents for a poor family. Often some of Mickey's most amazing adventures turned out to be merely dreams like MICKEY'S GALA PREMIERE (1933) where he met famous film stars.


A turning point in Mickey's career was 1935 with the release of THE BAND CONCERT. It was the first full color Mickey Mouse cartoon and had the amusing premise of Mickey trying to conduct his band through a performance of "The William Tell Overture" despite the distractions of Donald Duck and a tornado. Just as the novelty of sound had given Mickey a boost, the introduction of color sparked an even greater interest in his cartoons.

These color Mickeys of the late Thirties are perhaps the best remembered by audiences not only because of their strong stories but thanks to their endless repetition on TV and release on home video. These classics include such gems as THRU THE MIRROR (1936), where Mickey enters an "Alice in Wonderland" world on the other side of the mirror, and BRAVE LITTLE TAILOR (1938) based on the children's tale of a mild tailor defeating a giant.

Mickey's popularity was becoming so great that restrictions were being put on the mouse. As an idol of children, he was no longer allowed to be involved in some of the roughhouse gags of his earlier cartoons. "Mickey is limited today because public idealization has turned him into a Boy Scout. Every time we put him into a trick, a temper or a joke, thousands of people would belabor us with nasty letters," recalled a Disney writer in Collier's Magazine (April 9, 1949).

In the early cartoons, Pluto often stole most of the laughs and now, Mickey found himself teamed in a series of cartoons with Donald Duck and Goofy who performed the violent slapstick. Cartoons like MICKEY'S FIRE BRIGADE (1935), CLOCK CLEANERS (1937), LONESOME GHOSTS (1937) and MICKEY'S TRAILER (1938) had the trio teamed on some project. The cartoon would usually split the trio to showcase the individual frustrations of each character. The three friends would reunite by the end to come up with a resolution to the problem.

By the late Thirties, thanks primarily to the contributions of artist Fred Moore, Mickey got pupils in his eyes and jowls so he could become more expressive. This new look was instrumental in allowing Mickey to perform in one of the high points of his career, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment of FANTASIA (1940). Originally planned as another Mickey Mouse short, Disney became convinced to expand the concept to an entire feature showcasing interpretations of classical music. Using the sorcerer's magic, Mickey tries to get out of the work of filling a vat with water by conjuring up some anthropomorphic brooms to help.

In the early Forties, there was a short lived attempt at giving Mickey three dimensional ears and having his tail hidden in his pants. Cartoons like CANINE CADDY (1941) showcase this unusual look. In 1942 only two Mickey Mouse cartoons were released. No new Mickeys would be produced until 1947. However, Mickey did not disappear. His image appeared on various products, military insignia and posters. At this time, the character of Donald Duck was more in tune with the brash nature of the country and his popularity temporarily eclipsed Mickey's. Besides, the Disney studio was putting more emphasis on their war efforts and Mickey no longer fit in with the direction the studio was going. (However, "Mickey Mouse" was the secret password for D-Day.)

During this period, Disney toyed with making a Mickey feature. A number of stories were developed. One of the most detailed featured Mickey and a Parrot locating a pirate's hidden treasure. This story was later adapted to a comic book story for Donald Duck. Another story was a giant, musical version of Jack and the Beanstalk. This got far enough into production to finally reach the screen as the second half of FUN AND FANCY FREE. It was Mickey's return to the big screen.

Mickey's return in 1947 was another of his career high points. Similar in format to the earlier cartoons he had made teamed with Goofy and Donald, MICKEY AND THE BEANSTALK made the trio the diminutive heroes of the Beanstalk legend. With Goofy and Donald playing comedy relief, Mickey got one last chance to be the adventurous hero. In the original feature, the story is being told at a live action birthday party hosted by Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. (Later TV repeats would replace Bergen with Disney or Ludwig Von Drake.)

From 1947-1953, less than a dozen Mickey cartoons were released. Once again, like earlier cartoons, he was teamed with Pluto who got all the laughs. In fact, the last Mickey theatrical short, THE SIMPLE THINGS (1953) had Mickey and Pluto fishing with Pluto's misadventures with a clam getting most of the footage and stealing the show.

By this time, Mickey had become the symbol of the Disney studio. Like many theatrical characters, he found new life on TV. Walt Disney's DISNEYLAND TV show on ABC premiered in 1954 and was an instant hit. In 1955, Walt agreed to create a special afternoon children's show also for ABC. THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB became the most successful children's program of the late Fifties.


During the peak of Mickey's popularity in the Thirties, movie theaters had Mickey Mouse Clubs which children could join. The club was originated by Harry Woodlin of the Fox Dome Theatre in Ocean Park, California. In a matter of months, over 400 similar clubs were established at theaters around the country. Basically a Saturday matinee at which a Mickey Mouse cartoon was shown, members had a special handshake, greeting, a code of behavior, a club song ("Minnie's Yoo-Hoo!") and more. Officers of the club included the "Chief Mickey Mouse" and the "Chief Minnie Mouse." A special booklet was prepared for Theatres that showed how to start a club, get local merchant support and how to purchase special merchandise to sell to club members.

Mickey's most famous and popular club was THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB TV show of the Fifties. The "Mickey Mouse Club" theme became an anthem for an entire generation. The Mouseketeers were superstars and it seemed everyone wanted to have a pair of Mouse ears. New Mickey Mouse animation introduced each day of the week and Mickey's image and name were everywhere including the clothes and mouse ears the cast wore. The series was seen via repeats in syndication up through 1965. The show was re- syndicated in 1975 to surprising success.

This new popularity in the old series, inspired Disney to create THE NEW MICKEY MOUSE CLUB in 1976. Twelve new Mouseketeers were chosen. This new series, which sported the familiar Mouse ears, in wild colors, lasted only a short time.

Another, more successful version to revive the Mickey Mouse club would premiere on the Disney Channel in 1989. Abandoning the Mouse Ears and stressing contemporary music and comedy, the show became a popular feature on the network.


With the official opening of the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California in 1955, Mickey also became the official host for the Magic Kingdom. The costume character would also represent Disney in numerous parades and special events around the world. That host job expanded further in 1971 with the opening of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida and later Tokyo Disneyland, EPCOT Center and the Disney-MGM Studios.

Meanwhile, the animated Mickey's theatrical cartoons continued to appear on THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB and the prime time DISNEYLAND TV program (and its successors like WALT DISNEY'S WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLOR and THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY). The MOUSE CLUB concentrated primarily on the black and white shorts, while only the color Mickey usually appeared in prime time. Often times, the prime time series had special compilations with new wrap around animation featuring Mickey.

With the nostalgia craze of the late Sixties and Seventies, Mickey fit right in. Mickey made a TV comeback in THE MOUSE FACTORY (1972). It was a syndicated series which featured live action guest hosts and a wild collage of animated and live action bits from Disney's past films. The show was produced by Disney veteran Ward Kimball and ran two seasons.

In 1974 the Disney Studio picked seven black and white Mickey shorts for theatrical reissue. The titles, which included THE MAIL PILOT (1933) and BUILDING A BUILDING (1933) were advertised to be "in glorious black and white," or "filmed in vivid black and white." 1977 saw the release of the short, DISCO MOUSE. It was a compilation of animated clips and wild graphics edited in time to the song, which originated on the NEW MICKEY MOUSE CLUB.


Mickey's biggest boost came in 1978. For decades, Mickey's birthday had been celebrated whenever the studio felt it was time for a promotion. With the establishment of a Disney Studio archives in 1970, under the direction of Dave Smith, an official birthdate for the Mouse was finally approved, November 18, 1928, the first public screening of STEAMBOAT WILLIE. The studio worked for almost a year to make Mickey's 50th one of the biggest publicity events in the studio's history. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams as Mickey Mouse mania raged throughout the country!

Throughout 1978, one could hardly avoid the fact that Mickey was turning 50. Editorial, newspaper and magazine cartoonsists had a field day as hundreds of gags appeared showing a "50 year old" Mickey. A simple whistle stop train tour, in which Mickey (the Disneyland costume character), was to visit cities on his way from Los Angeles to New York (for the re-premiere of STEAMBOAT WILLIE) became a national event. Network TV news covered every stop on the trip. Mayors, where the train stopped, proclaimed the day "Mickey Mouse Day." The train was often delayed and at one location it arrived over six hours late. Even though it was hours past midnight, and raining, when the train stopped, thousands of people were still on hand cheering and hoping to see the Mouse.

The Museum of Modern art in New York held a special retrospective on the Mouse, as did the Library of Congress. A special Super 8mm film was released. Songs were written. NBC ran a special 90 minute "Mickey's 50" program which featured clips of the Mouse's most famous cartoons and comments by such luminaries as Bob Hope, Gene Kelly, Edgar Bergen (his last appearance), Dick Clark, Johnny Carson, Eva Gabor, former Presidend Gerald Ford and others. On November 13, 1978, Mickey was the first animated personality to be honored with a star in Hollywood's Walk of Fame.


1981 saw the debut of ONCE UPON A MOUSE, a featurette that was released with the animated feature, THE FOX AND THE HOUND. It was a celebration of Disney's animated and live action films. With the introduction of the Disney cable channel in 1983, Mickey became the official spokesmouse , dragging his FANTASIA costume out of the closet.

After a 30 year absence from the theatrical screen, Mickey returned in 1983 in a new featurette, MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL. Despite the title, Mickey merely had a supporting role as Bob Crachit in this animated retelling of the Charles Dickens' tale. Since that appearance, Mickey has been more active, primarily in commercials. Some of the first animated commercials featuring Mickey appeared in the mid-Fifties but their limited animation cannot match the lushness of Mickey's latest efforts.

1987 saw Mickey become the first animated character on a $1 bill when the Disney Parks introduced Disney Dollars. Along with other cartoon stars, Mickey made an appearance in 1988's WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? where he was teamed with Bugs Bunny to give advice to a plummeting Eddie Valiant.

The celebration of Mickey's 60th anniversary in 1988 was another major event. (The studio no longer refers to them as "birthdays.") Television specials, theme park parades and celebrations, and special contests were all part of it. However, even though there was an avalanche of 60th merchandise available, the birthday seemed to be slightly overcast by the success of Disney's newer star, Roger Rabbit.

An animated Mickey appeared at the Academy Awards in 1989 where with actor Tom Selleck, he helped present the Oscar for Best Animated Short. Also in 1989, the opening of the Disney-MGM Studio in Florida gave Mickey a new persona: Hollywood Mickey. He was also the star, albeit in silhouette, of THE MARATHON, a Russian animated film. The short was a tribute to the longevity of Mickey. It was an amazing tribute from a country that, up to that time had never officially seen a Disney film (except via some smuggled in videos and films).

In 1990 a new featurette was made starring Mickey. THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER once again tapped into familiar territory of a classic story redesigned to showcase Mickey.


One of the most important of Mickey's supporting cast was Minnie Mouse. She was created at the same time as Mickey and shared in his early adventures. She is a good match for Mickey. She shares his love of home and family. She also shares Mickey's spunk.

Pete, also known as Peg-leg Pete and Black Pete, is a cat. A big, black villain of a cat, Pete's roots can be traced all the way back to the early Alice comedies. In the first Mickey cartoons and especially in the comic strip, Pete was the main villain.

Pluto was Mickey's dog, although he also seemed to spend time on his own and at Minnie's house and with Donald. A playful pup, he had a wider range of emotions than Mickey. He also had his own series of shorts without Mickey.

Actually being Disney's first star, Mickey appeared with just about every Disney character: Clara Cluck, Donald Duck, Chip 'n' Dale, Goofy and many more.


Mickey Mouse established the standards of character merchandising. By 1930, Mickey was already appearing on a variety of items. Today, the number of licensed Mickey Mouse products is almost uncountable. Mickey has appeared on practically every item imaginable from clothes and foods to the more standard toys and games. It has been estimated that in one average day, over five million items with Mickey Mouse on them are sold. Mickey even appears on Postage stamps (in foreign countries), an honor not granted to many other characters.

Mickey Mouse had one of the longest running comic book series of any animated character. Besides that comic book, and guest appearances in other Disney comic books, Mickey appeared in every format of book imaginable. These books ranged from Big Little Books to Waddle Books to coloring books to oversized art collectors' books and more.

In 1937 he starred in a short lived radio show on NBC. THE MICKEY MOUSE THEATRE OF THE AIR featured Mickey and other Disney cartoon stars in songs and skits with live action guests.

Of particular interest to Mickey Mouse fans was the syndicated comic strip which began January 13, 1930. The first episodes were written by Walt Disney and drawn by Ub Iwerks. Later the strip was taken over by artist Floyd Gottfredson who produced many exciting Mickey Mouse adventures with Mickey matching wits with the Bat Bandit, the mad scientists of Blaggard Castle and Black Pete. Gottfredson left the strip in the Eighties. The strip, which had changed from an adventure strip to a daily gag strip, ceased publication at the end of 1989. It re-started in early 1990 as a continuing comedy-adventure strip.


Mickey is one of the ultimate superstars. His popularity and influence transpires to all media, to all culture. There are few other figures, real or imagined that have created as much good will and inspiration and even investigation. In the animated rat race, Mickey is the top mouse.


"Mickey's decline was due to his heroic nature. He grew into such a legend that we couldn't gag around with him. He acquired as many taboos as a Western hero - no smoking, no drinking, no violence." - Walt Disney

"(Walt Disney) was Mickey Mouse. It was his voice... and it was his personality. His widow says that even today whenever she sees Mickey Mouse on the screen she cries because it reminds her so much of Walt." - Bob Thomas, author of WALT DISNEY: An American Original

"Mickey was the beginning. Because of his popularity, we were able to go on and attempt things that were to make animation a real art. He had to be simple. We had to push out 700 feet of film every two weeks, so we couldn't have a character who was tough to draw." - Walt Disney

"I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I've ever known." - Walt Disney

"Sex is not of interest to Mickey... He is youth, the great unlicked and uncontaminated." - Walt Disney

"Like most superstars, with age he has come a new image - from a scrawny, mischievous rodent to today's human-looking innocent." - US Magazine, September 19, 1978

"I hope we never lose sight of one fact, that this was all started by a mouse." - Walt Disney