The studio played a role in the early years of animation: it was home to many of the pioneers of animation, brought there by Walt Disney, and is said by some to be the place to have provided Disney with the inspiration to create Mickey Mouse.
The studio building has fallen to ruin and efforts are being made to restore it by a non-profit group called "Thank You Walt Disney". The Disney family has promised $450,000 in matching funds for the restoration. The exterior was restored and the building stabilized in 2009. "Thank You Walt Disney" is currently working to raise money to put a museum inside.
On May 23, 1922, Walt Disney with Ub Iwerks took the remaining assets of the defunct Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists and along with $15,000 raised from local investors merged them with Laugh-O-Grams. With the help of Frank Newman, Disney signed a deal with Milton Feld to produce a 1-minute reel per week featuring local news and public-service curtain-raisers. During this time Disney created an animated character called Professor Whosis who came on the screen in between public announcements to tell jokes to the audience. Professor Whosis proved so popular that Disney was soon asked to double his output to two weekly 1-minute reels. The success of these 1-minute reels persuaded Ub Iwerks to quit his own job at the Kansas City Film Ad Company and join his old friend Disney at Laugh-O-Grams. They obtained a staff of animators by placing an ad in a local paper offering lessons to anyone wanting to learn the animation business. With everything in place, they quickly set about producing their first "real" animated film. For their first film, Disney chose to adapt "Little Red Riding Hood", as it was a story that was frequently read to him by his mother as a child. He filmed it using a single hand-cranked camera. The film was of sufficient quality that Frank Newman was able to convince local investors to invest $15,000 in shares of Laugh-O-Grams. The money used to produce his follow up film "Puss in Boots". (A Brothers Grimm fairy tale). Meanwhile, Milton Felt sent out copies of "Little Red Riding Hood" to all the national distributors, which all turned him down. It was a relatively small and unknown none-theatrical company Pictoral Clubs that offered $11,000 for six completed shorts. However, Disney only received a $100 down payment before Pictoral Clubs went bankrupt.
The company had problems making ends meet: by the end of 1922, Disney was living in the office, taking baths once a week at Union Station.
After creating one last short, the live-action/animation Alice Comedies, the studio declared bankruptcy in July 1923. Disney then moved to Hollywood, California. Disney sold his movie camera, earning enough money for a one-way train ticket; he brought along an unfinished reel of Alice's Wonderland.
Inspiration for Mickey Mouse
Disney told interviewers later that he was inspired to draw Mickey by a tame mouse at his desk at Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City, Missouri.
"They used to fight for crumbs in my waste-basket when I worked alone late at night. I lifted them out and kept them in wire cages on my desk. I grew particularly fond of one brown house mouse. He was a timid little guy. By tapping him on the nose with my pencil, I trained him to run inside a black circle I drew on my drawing board. When I left Kansas to try my luck at Hollywood, I hated to leave him behind. So I carefully carried him to a backyard, making sure it was a nice neighborhood, and the tame little fellow scampered to freedom."
In 1928 during a train trip to New York, he showed the drawing to his wife Lillian Marie Bounds and said he was going to call it "Mortimer Mouse." She replied that the name sounded "too sissified" and suggested Mickey Mouse instead.
Of the original seven Laugh-O-Grams fairy tales, four were long known to have survived, and have been restored for DVD: Little Red Riding Hood (1922), The Four Musicians of Bremen (1922), Puss in Boots (1922), and Cinderella (1922). These shorts later became available on Blu-ray Disc as bonus features for Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Tommy Tucker's Tooth (1922), and Alice's Wonderland (1923) are also available on DVD, and Alice's Wonderland eventually became a bonus feature for the 60th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition of Alice in Wonderland. The original piece of filming/animation known as Newman Laugh-O-Grams (originally released theatrically on March 20, 1921) is available on some DVDs too. Due to their date of publication, all 10 shorts produced by the studio have fallen in the public domain.
The missing fairy tale cartoons were Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Killer, and Goldie Locks and the Three Bears (all 1922). On October 14, 2010, animation historian David Gerstein announced that copies of all three had been found. For many years the two Jack cartoons were believed to be one until researcher John Kenworthy located old studio assets sheets confirming that they were separate shorts.
|1921||Newman Laugh-O-Grams||Yes||Old newsreel series that was only seen at Newman Theater, the only one surviving.|
|1922||Little Red Riding Hood||Yes||Walt Disney's first "real" cartoon. Briefly features Julius the Cat, here unnamed. Later reissued with synchronized sound in 1929/30 as a "Whoopee Sketches" (USA) and "Peter the Puss" (UK) cartoon, retitled "Grandma Steps Out".|
|1922||The Four Musicians of Bremen||Yes||Featuring Julius the Cat, here unnamed. Later reissued with synchronized sound in 1929/30 as a "Whoopee Sketches" (USA) and "Peter the Puss" (UK) cartoon, retitled "The Four Jazz Boys".|
|1922||Jack and the Beanstalk||Yes||Featuring Jack and Julius the Cat, here unnamed. Later reissued with synchronized sound in 1929/30 as a "Whoopee Sketches" (USA) and "Peter the Puss" (UK) cartoon, retitled "On the Up and Up".|
|1922||Jack the Giant Killer||Yes||Featuring Jack, Susie, and Julius the Cat, here unnamed. Later reissued with synchronized sound in 1929/30 as a "Whoopee Sketches" (USA) and "Peter the Puss" (UK) cartoon, retitled "The K-O Kid".|
|1922||Goldie Locks and the Three Bears||Yes||Featuring Julius the Cat, here unnamed. Later reissued with synchronized sound in 1929/30 as a "Whoopee Sketches" (USA) and "Peter the Puss" (UK) cartoon, retitled "The Peroxide Kid".|
|1922||Puss in Boots||Yes||Featuring Jack, Susie, and Julius the Cat, here unnamed. The king in the cartoon also made a cameo in the 1922 Laugh-O-Gram Cinderella. Later reissued with synchronized sound in 1929/30 as a "Whoopee Sketches" (USA) and "Peter the Puss" (UK) cartoon, retitled "The Cat's Whisker".|
|1922||Cinderella||Yes||Featuring Susie (as Cinderella), Jack (as the Prince), and Julius the Cat, here unnamed. Later reissued with synchronized sound in 1929/30 as a "Whoopee Sketches" (USA) and "Peter the Puss" (UK) cartoon, retitled "The Slipper-y Kid".|
|1922||Tommy Tucker's Tooth||Yes||Mostly live-action|
|1923||Alice's Wonderland||Yes||Pilot film in Alice Comedies|
- ↑ "Will Produce Animated Cartoons" - The Film Daily (6/19/1922)
- ↑ Thank You Walt Disney, a website about the studio and the drive to have it restored
- ↑ Entry for Tommy Tucker's Tooth from The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Shorts, the detailed personal website of a Rhode Island-based fan of the films
- ↑ Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life by Pat Williams ISBN 0-7573-0231-9
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Walt Disney: Conversations (Conversations With Comic Artists Series) by Kathy Merlock Jackson with Walt Disney ISBN 1-57806-713-8 page 120
- ↑ Walt in Wonderland: The Silent Films of Walt Disney, Russell Merritt and J.B. Kaufman, page 125
- ↑ http://ramapithblog.blogspot.com/2010/10/lost-laugh-o-grams-foundand-shown.html
- ↑ http://www.cartoonbrew.com/classic/lost-disney-laugh-o-grams-at-moma.html?
- ↑ The Hand Behind the Mouse by John Kenworthy ISBN 978-0-7868-5320-5 page 18