Thursday, November 18, 2010

Happy Birthday Mickey Mouse! (belated post)

Today marks Mickey’s 82nd birthday. Or does it? The Walt Disney Company has always proclaimed November 18, 1928 as Mickey’s birthday, because this was the day the first Mickey Mouse synchronized sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie, premiered at the Colony Theater in New York.

November 18, however, has not always been the day Mickey's birthday has been celebrated.

According to Cecile Munsey’s book, Disneyana, a trademark for the name Mickey Mouse was applied for on May 16, 1928. Trademark 247,156 granting Disney the rights to the name Mickey Mouse, was issued on September 28, 1928.

Several 1930s trade journal and newspaper articles publicized Mickey’s birth date as September 28, the same day the trademark for Mickey’s name was granted. I recently spent some time going through my newspaper and magazine archives and discovered Mickey’s birthday was consistently celebrated in the 1930s between late September and mid-October.

One of the earliest accounts of a Mickey Mouse birthday celebration appeared in a small display ad in the October 18, 1931 edition of The Ogden Standard Examiner. The ad featured a classic Mickey Mouse illustration and the following text:

y Mouse Birthday Program
Next Saturday Morning
At 10 o’clock
Special Stage Acts
Contests With Special Prizes
Election of Officers
Thrilling South Sea
Island Picture, "Vanishing Legion."
Admission Only 10c

An article in the October 21, 1931 The Fresno Bee stated: "It’s always customary when people have birthdays, for their friends to give then presents and to have a big party for them...Saturday is Mickey Mouse’s birthday and Mickey asked Walt Disney, his creator; Frank Newman, of the Warner Brothers’ Theater, and The Fresno Bee to see if they couldn’t arrange a big party…in honor of the occasion."

Even though Mickey Mouse is a fictional character, Disney's star received hundreds of pieces of fan mail every day. Walt Disney wrote in the British magazine Film Pictorial, "It is hard not to regard him as human. He is very real to me and to those fellow workers of mine who guide his impish footsteps on the screen. He is just as real to millions of filmgoers. He personally receives about 800,000 letters in a year. They are addressed to him, not to me."

To celebrate Mickey's fourth birthday, Walt Disney took out the following double-page trade ad in the October 1, 1932 issue of the Motion Picture Herald:

Courtesy Steve Geppi's Scoop newsletter

The September 25, 1932 Charleston Gazette reported: "Mickey will be four years old October 1. Special clerical help will be put in to handle the mail, for a Hollywood star who can receive 20,000 letters in three weeks during ordinary times is expected to be swamped with mail on his birthday."

The article in the Gazette continued: "Mickey Mouse, the stars' star, is going to have a birthday and there are going to be all sorts of parties and celebrations and such. And plans are on foot to make the celebration international, with Mickey's millions of admirers sharing in the fun and festivities. The big celebration will, of course, occur in Hollywood at Mickey's home, with Walt Disney, his Alter Ego, being the central figure. His Mouster's Voice, so to speak!"

The October 7, 1932 San Antonio Light reported that one of Mickey's birthday parties was held at the prestigious Cocoanut Grove nightclub, with "Walt Disney cutting Mickey's birthday cake."

The September 30, 1932 Oakland Tribune reported, "Two birthdays were celebreated in Hollywood this weekend. Jackie Cooper ushered in his ninth year with a party in Beverley Hills, and Mickey Mouse observes his fourth tomorrow, with Walt Disney, his creator, eating the cake."

And finally, the September 30, 1932 Big Spring Daily Herald ran the following ad:

The above art was re-used in 1933 with the following modifications: Mickey held a huge cake knife in his right hand, another birthday candle was added to the cake, and the fan mail was omitted from the illustration.

In 1933 Mickey’s birthday was celebrated on Saturday,
September 30. Ad copy under one related newspaper illustration read, "Mickey Mouse has risen to a place in the hearts of the children of old lands that is only equaled by one other, Santa Claus himself. (In fact, if you explore a previous post on this blog by clicking here, you’ll see there was a Santa Claus revolt of sorts against Mickey Mouse back in 1933).

The Friday, September 29, 1933 Big Spring Herald reported plans for Mickey's fifth birthday with the following advertisement:

Mickey Mouse Birthday Program Is Announced
Program for the fifth birthday anniversary celebration of Mickey Mouse has been announced. The birthday of the popular Walt Disney character will be observed in a special party at the Ritz theatre Saturday morning. The program follows:
Song - Betty Bob Diltz and Helen Marie Ellis
Acrobatic Dance - Elizabeth Moody
Tap Trio - Noma and Yvonne Phifer and
Marie Dunham
Song and dance - Mary Ruth Diltz
To every child attending, Mickey promises and ice cream co

Mickey's sixth birthday in September 1934 was marked with the following illustration:

Disney’s film distributor, United Artis
ts (UA), ran an advertisement in the August 21, 1935 issue of The Film Daily, congratulating Mickey on the occasion of his seventh birthday. The ad read in part, "On Sept. 28, 1935, Mickey Mouse will be exactly seven years old." The ad featured a still from the short cartoon Mickey’s Gala Premiere, showing Mickey being congratulated by several movie stars including Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, and Groucho Marx.

UA published a theater manager’s publicity manual in 1935 filled with promotional ideas and merchandise, to promote Mickey’s seventh. The manual’s front cover proclaimed, "Join Mickey Mouse in his Lucky Seventh Birthday Party! September 28, 1935."

UA press manual, courtesy the collection of Dennis Books

A pinback button bearing Mickey’s likeness was offered for sale in the manual, imprinted with the same September 28 date. The buttons could be purchased through the United Artists Home Office. "The prices are reasonable, and the buttons are a marvelous giveaway for stirring up plenty of excitement and focusing the town’s attention on your Mickey Mouse Lucky Seventh Birthday Celebration." Prices for the buttons were: 100 for $2.50; 200 for $4.00; 500 for $8.50; or you could literally get a box of 1,000 buttons for $15.00.

Pinback, courtesy

The UA manual contained a quote attributed to Walt Disney: "When people laugh at Mickey Mouse it’s because he’s so human; and that is the secret of his popularity."

Six black and white stills were also offered to theater managers, "especially made for your convenience to advertise and exploit your Mickey Mouse Revue and celebration." The set was available for the princely sum of 60 cents. A special advertising trailer, available from the National Screen Service, was also produced.

"Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, whose Lucky Seventh Birthday is being cele
brated internationally during the week of September 28 to October 4, [is] proving himself the greatest ambassador of goodwill the United States has ever sent abroad. Mickey not only makes the whole world laugh, but in that laughter he makes the whole world kin. Kings and beggars, nobles and peasants, highbrows and lowbrows are numbered among Mickey’s fan following."

September 29, 1935 San Antonio Express: "Mickey Mouse, the world’s most popular picture star, will be seven years old on Saturday, October 5, and his birthday will be
celebrated throughout the country. It was just seven years ago that Walt Disney sent his little film hero scampering across the screen, and in that time Mickey has risen to a point where he has no rivals for first place in the hearts of motion picture goers. Special radio programs, huge birthday cakes and screenings of Mickey’s pictures in theaters everywhere will mark the birthday. The Majestic Theater will hold a special Mickey’s party."

The ad listed the shorts which were to be part of the special celebration: "Mickey’s Pet Store", "Mickey’s Steam Roller," "Mickey’s Orphan Benefit," "Mail Pilot," "Grasshopper and the Ants," "The China Shop," "Lullaby Land," and, "The Pied Piper."

An interesting illustration, which appeared in the publicity manual, has bee
n recently discussed on my friend Michael Barrier's blog. The image on the left side of the drawing has also surfaced on a sheet of Mickey Mouse drawings the Walt Disney Family Museum has labeled as "the earliest drawings of Mickey Mouse."

The following illustration was used by many newspapers in 1935, including the September 26 edition of The Sandusky Register, and the October 1 edition of The San Antoni
o Light.

Mickey Mouse illustration from the United Artists 1935 publicity manual. Courtesy Michael Barrier, via Hans Perk

Sheet of Mickey Mouse drawings courtesy The Walt Disney Family Museum. Note the Mickey drawing in the upper left corner, which matches the Mickey drawing fround in the 1935 UA publicity manual.

The September 1936 edition of Playthings magazine pictured Mickey shaking hands with a caricatured globe. The ad read, "All the world pays homage, Happy Birthday Mickey." Disney’s licensing rep Kay Kamen, frequently bought front cover advertising space from the toy trade magazine.

The Playthings illustration was originally part of the set of stills made available to theater managers through the 1935 UA publicity manual. This same illustration was also used on the cover of the October 1936 Mickey Mouse Magazine.

1935 UA publicity still courtesy the collection of Dennis Books

Cover for the October 1936 Mickey Mouse Magazine

October 1936 Mickey Mouse Magazine - illustration celebrating Mickey's eighth birthday

The September 24, 1936 Syracuse Herald reported: "Mickey Mouse, diminutive screen star and international favorite, is eight years old this week. Walt Disney’s best known character was created eight years ago during he week of Sept. 25 and nation-wide celebrations befitting a president or king are planned. Music from the Mickey Mouse Silly Symphony features will be broadcast in a number of radio programs, including short-wave to foreign lands where Mickey is the leading cinema attraction."

The October 3, 1936 issue of The Literary Digest ran a story titled, "Mickey Mouse is Eight Years Old." The article stated, "This week Mickey Mouse celebrates his 8 birthday friskily aware that he played to 468,000,000 paid admissions last year."

The September 29, 1936 Oakland Tribune reported: "Hapy Birthday to you! That's the glad tidings around Walt Disney's studio today, and all ofthe world joins in in celebrating hte eighth year of Mickey Mouse's existence. Hailed as a suplremely fine artist in every language...decorated with 21 medals of real international importance, and bread winner for 175 artists, editors and 'gag' men, Mickey really casts his memor far, far, back."

Even The Walt Disney studio’s own company employee newsletter, the Bulletin, listed Mickey’s birthday in September. The Volume 3, Number 23, March 28, 1941 issue contained an article on Mickey’s twelve-and-a-half birthday. Add another six months to that date and you arrive at September 28.

Mickey's birthday continued to be celebrated in late September, early October right through the mid-1940s, when interest in the day waned as world events took center stage.

When queried in 2002 as to why The Walt Disney Company has declared Mickey’s birthday as November 18 and not September 28, Disney Archivist Dave Smith responded: "In the 1930s, Disney marketing people would often pick a nice Saturday in the fall when the could celebrate Mickey’s birthday. However, it was always pegged to the opening at the Colony Theater. No one ever bothered to look up the date, which was Nov. 18. We have used that date for the past 30 years."

A lengthy article in the September 27, 1935 Syracuse Herald contains possibly the best explanation for Mickey's success, and the reason why so many were interested in the fictional character's birthday: "To millions who see Mickey Mouse regularly on the world's screens he is a star of major dramatic magnitude. To many other millions he is a cute figure who flashes through moments of simple diversion. To those of a moral turn Mickey points the way that is good and true. To those of a more complex philosophical bent, he is an indicator of the world's foibles. Mickey has that about him, which makes him all things to all men."

In closing...Happy Birthday Mickey Mouse...whatever the certainly have come a long way since those first films were made so long ago.


A Snow White Sanctum said...

Thanks David for providing some of the details on my 1938 "Popular Science" post. I know who to go to with those questions that no one else has the answers to.

I'm currently doing a bit of research on Kay Kamen for a post, and it's your blog site that keeps coming up in the Google searches. Keep up the great work!

Sketchees said...

Funny how United Artist showed Mickey in two styled versions here.

The 1928 drawing wasn't even used at all. It was simply in the same page as the Mickey that "was" used in the early cartoons.

Am I wrong on this?

David said...

Hi Sketches. I think they used that early drawing of Mickey just to show the evolution of the character. I have seen a newspaper ad that shows the two side-by-side.