Although only in use for a couple of years by Walt Disney, the Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City, Missouri played a pivotal role in his life and the history of the Walt Disney Company and legacy. Founded in 1921, Laugh-O-Gram Films was where Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks found the inspiration for what would become Mickey Mouse. It was originally contracted for 12 films that were called Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams, however only 9 were completed. Walt Disney also filmed Virginia Davis for the Alice’s Wonderland live-action/animation film while in Kansas City. The company was never overly successful. 1922 found Walt Disney having to move into the building and by 1923, the Laugh-O-Gram Studio had entered bankruptcy. At this time, Walt Disney sold off his camera and used the money to travel to California.
While at the Laugh-O-Gram studio, a mouse became the inspiration for what would later become Mickey Mouse. While he wasn’t the only mouse, one in particular stood out to Walt Disney who shared, “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.”
Today, the Laugh-O-Gram Studio at 1127 East 31st is just a shell of what it used to be. An old brick building, it has art work in the windows and doors from artists who are helping save this building. The inside is hollow with piles of debris in the middle of the floor as it slowly get renovated. Brick and rubble can be found scattered around the building on all sides. An alley behind the building has a locked gate that could easily be circumvented.
The building is an interesting dichotomy of neglect and love. The artwork that adorns it are a beautiful nod to the history of the building. However, they are surrounded by a building that is simply struggling to survive. All of this creates a surreal and sad experience. It almost felt like visiting a cemetery with how quiet still and quiet everything was. While this building is being brought back to life, death seems to still hang in the air.
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Thank You, Walt Disney is a non-profit organization that wants to “Save the house where the mouse was born.” They are currently looking to raise funds for the restoration of this building and the addition of a museum/education center that will share the story of Walt Disney in Kansas City and educate future generations about animation as well.
Personally, I’d like to see this become a mini. Heck, if they were to run the thing and have rotating exhibits there from the museum in California, that could be cool. Either way, I like the idea of using this as a platform to tell more about Walt Disney’s story in Kansas City. There is a lot of potential, hopefully this potential is realized in the not so distant future.
While normally I just post one photo for the photo of the day post, I thought today I would share a gallery of the photos I took while at the Laugh-O-Gram studio. I have chosen to make them black & white as it conveys the emotion of the location. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this building and also this blog post. It really was an interesting experience that was hard to express. This is a part of Walt Disney’s history that should be preserved. Please share this post, the Thank You, Walt Disney website, and if you can… donate.
Make it a GREAT day!
- Mr. DAPs