Happy Birthday, Mickey Mouse!

I don’t know what I was thinking.  I forgot my favorite animated character’s birthday!

Mickey Mouse’s birthday is November 18, because that was the day in 1928 when he made his first appearance, in a cartoon short entitled Steamboat Willie at the Colony Theater in New York.  Steamboat Willie was actually the third film made, but it was the first to be released.  The key was sound; this was the first sound cartoon, with the soundtrack synched to the action on the screen.

Mickey’s origins are shrouded in company mythology.  Walt Disney had been in New York to renew a contract to draw Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.  But the distributor owned the rights to Oswald, and had decided to form his own animation studio by hiring Walt’s artists away from him.

Suddenly, Walt didn’t have a character.  But he did have a prolific artist in Ub Iwerks, who was also his partner for a time.  It was Ub who actually drew Mickey, with Walt providing the voice.  The original Mickey was basically based on Oswald, except with round ears.  Mickey was an instant success, maybe even too successful, because the character had to be toned down from his early antics.  Ultimately, other characters, especially Donald Duck, took over the spotlight.  But no matter what, Mickey filled a role no other character could — as Walt Disney’s alter ego.

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