Steamboat Willie

Today is the day that Mickey Mouse was born with the debut of “Steamboat Willie,” Walt Disney’s first distributed Mickey Mouse animation in 1928. (“Plane Crazy” and “Gallopin’ Gaucho” had been produced before but there were no distributors interested in these two films.) “Steamboat Willie” also introduces his girlfriend, Minnie Mouse. The title of the film is a parody of the Buster Keaton comedy, Steamboat Bill Jr.

Created and drawn by Ub Iwerks, this was the very first cartoon to be synchronized with sound, influenced by the success of The Jazz Singer which came out in the same year. In order to test the idea of animation with synchronized sound, Walt Disney and staffers produced the live sound from behind a bed sheet. The audience of significant others and friends was thrilled with the results. He went to New York to make a soundtrack using the Pat Powers’ Cine-phone system. The first soundtrack made was actually a failure and Disney had to sell his roadster in order to try again with a second soundtrack. Though there is little intelligible dialogue in the film, all the voices, grunts, and laughter are Walt Disney’s voice.

Here’s to Mickey’s 86th!

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