The "Jewel" of My Collection


Update:  This letter is now on permanent display
at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

I'm often asked which piece in my personal collection is my favorite.   The answer always has to be, "The October 16, 1923 letter that announces the start of the Walt Disney Company."  Each year the Disney Company celebrates October 16th as it's birthday; Walt Disney founded the company on October 16th, 1923, when he was just 21 years old.

In October of 1923, Walt Disney was flat broke and living in a room at his Uncle Robert's house in Hollywood.  He had left Kansas City a few months earlier after declaring his Laugh-O-Grams company bankrupt.  He didn't even have the cash to finish the "Alice" comedy demo film he had begun.  Not ALICE IN WONDERLAND, but the adventures of a live-action little girl named Alice set in a cartoon world.   The 4 year- old girl who played Alice, Virginia Davis, stayed back in Kansas City when the bankrupt and discouraged Walt Disney turned his back on animation and hopped a train for Hollywood.  But after not finding work as a live-action director in Hollywood, Walt reconsidered the animation field, and desperately sent the half-completed "ALICE" film to distributors as a sample of his ability. 

Walt had no way of knowing it in advance, but October 16th was to be the day the magic started.   That was the day Walt received a telegram from FELIX THE CAT film distributor Margaret Winkler, agreeing to distribute a series of Walt Disney ALICE comedies, as long as the same little girl- Virginia Davis- starred.  The Disney Studio was in business!  Walt immediately pulled out his "Walt Disney, Cartoonist" letterhead (which his brother Roy had loaned him $10 to have printed), and feverishly wrote a letter to the parents of the little girl in fountain pen- Walt couldn't afford a typewriter!

The three page letter contains misspelled words (Walt had only attended one year of high school) but more than makes up for it in enthusiastic Disney persuasiveness.  

You can click on the pages below for a larger, readable view

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About a week later, Walt writes a follow-up letter, outlining the terms of Davis' employment.
He spells out exactly how much she will be paid...

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  You can click on the pages above for a larger, readable view


aliceenv.jpg (36421 bytes)I purchased these directly from Virginia Davis early in the 1990's.   She was living in Orange County, California, and I had heard that she was looking to sell her Walt Disney items and move to Idaho.  She was thinking of auctioning them through one of the major auction houses.  I told her to get the auction estimates from the firms she was considering, and I'd beat their highest estimate- I wanted these letters!  The auction estimates came in, and I did as I said- made an offer that topped the high estimates.  When else would I get the opportunity to own the letters that founded the Disney Company?  Think about it- every character, from Mickey Mouse to Ariel, every film, from SNOW WHITE to MULAN, every theme park, from Disneyland to Walt Disney World and Tokyo and Paris- all of it- sprung from the day in October of 1923 when Walt (thankfully) failed to find work as a movie director and "fell back on" animation, forming one of the most influential companies the world has ever known.


Above:  Original mailing envelope in Walt Disney's handwriting.  Walt paid ten cents extra for special delivery. Click on image for a larger view.

Left:  21 year-old Walt Disney directs a live-action sequence for an ALICE comedy... not on a Hollywood backlot, but on a dirt lot not far from his Uncle Robert's house.  From left, Virginia's father, Walt Disney, Virginia Davis, and Roy O. Disney on camera.  Close inspection of the original photograph reveals a large split in Walt's right shoe; he was flat broke.



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