For Mickey, 80, a Storybook Life


No Central Floridian of any species is more beloved than MICKEY MOUSE. He’s an icon of fun, a symbol of all-American moxie and a goodwill ambassador for the Orlando area. Mickey came up the hard way, in the early days of the movie business, eventually conquering television, theme parks and other fields. Through it all, he’s never lost the spunk or humility that help to make him a star. For “In Their Own Words,” we’ve interviewed many movers and shakers but never Mickey Mouse (perhaps due to the stigma that being “fictional” once carried). So on the occasion of his 80th birthday—which the Disney company calculates from the premiere of his first short, Steamboat Willie, on November 18, 1928—we’ve asked our favorite mouse to reflect on his storied career.  

People look at me and say, ‘He’s famous. He’s got it made. What a life!’

And it’s true that I have friends all over the planet and that my life is pretty much a piece of cheese. I’ve certainly got it easier than, say, Jerry, who’s forever being chased by Tom, or poor Pixie and Dixie, with that awful Mr. Jinks. I’m a mouse but nobody chases me, not anymore—except, of course, Minnie, which I like.

But things weren’t always that way. My people weren’t wealthy. Far from it. There were 17 of us and we spent a lot of time running—and scrounging. A single watermelon rind had to last an entire day. A half-eaten ham sandwich was a feast. Would it surprise you to learn that I was the first one in my family to wear clothing?

But like they say, a dream is a wish your heart makes, yadda yadda, yadda. Things began to look up.

My first big deal was Steamboat Willie in 1928. It caused quite a stir, let me tell you. You might not guess that to look at it now. It’s a short film and it’s in black and white. The special effects are pretty primitive by today’s standards. Back in the late ’20s, you know, sound was a special effect. Blue screen? Never heard of it. Digital? What’s that?

And speaking of digits: I had only three fingers and a thumb. That’s all I have even now. At least my eyes have both whites and pupils these days. Back then, they were basically just pupils. (Yes, you could say I’ve had some work done.)

I made a lot of short films after that. Mickey’s Follies. Mickey’s Kangaroo. Mickey’s Nightmare. Gulliver Mickey. Touchdown Mickey. Mickey Down Under. I can’t remember all the names anymore. There were dozens of them.

Those films kept me working all through the Great Depression, for which I will always be grateful. I remember one time, in the mid-’30s, I met a young panhandler on the street. He looked so thin, so weak. I took him to a diner and got him the blue-plate special with all the trimmings. Probably the first decent meal he’d had in months. He told me his name. Woody Woodpecker. True story.

The critics say I did some of my best work in Fantasia in 1940. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” thing. OK, it went to my head a little. It was crazy, all the attention. But I never had a Britney meltdown or anything like that. The worst thing I ever did was trash a hotel room. Just once, and, of course, I cleaned up afterwards. You think Donald or Goofy never did anything like that? Or Grumpy? Get out of Fantasyland! 

When television came along, I jumped in with both bright-yellow shoes. I was always restless, always on the lookout for the next big thing. In the ’50s, I had my own TV club. You wouldn’t call it great art but we sure had fun. I especially liked Fridays: Talent Roundup Day. It was a little like American Idol. You’ve probably heard the rumors about me and Annette. She was like a little sister to me, that’s all. Where do these stories start, anyway?

Around that time, Disneyland opened, so I was really, really busy. I was working so hard at the park and on the show that I didn’t have time to do films. I’ve had to work pretty hard since the ’70s, too, when Walt Disney World opened. Shaking hands with all those kids. Let me tell you a secret: A lot of those little hands are very sticky. I go through gloves like Kleenex.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Not for a minute.

What have I learned from all this?

It’s not always easy, no. But it doesn’t have to be a rat race, unless you let it.  Work hard, keep your ears open and never forget to thank your creator.

In my particular case, of course, that would be Mr. Disney.

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