Mickey Mouse turns 75

2003-11-18 10:06
Los Angeles - Mickey Mouse, the rodent who built a multi-billion dollar business empire, turns 75 on Tuesday, but at an age at which most stars retire, this one is looking to conquer the digital world.

Walt Disney's most famous round-eared creation, whose face and silhouette are familiar to generations of children across the world, first appeared on November 18, 1928 in the animated short film Steamboat Willie.

Since then, he has become an icon of 20th-century America and has come to symbolise one of the world's largest entertainment empires that has long been referred to by Hollywood's press as the Mouse House.

"Mickey is able to adapt to anything that comes up," Dave Smith, Disney archive director and a 33-year veteran of the Mouse House, said. "He will be up at the top for at least the next 25 years."

Mickey was conceived on a train in early 1928, as the 26-year-old Walt Disney and his wife, Lillian, travelled from New York to Los Angeles after the animator lost a drawing of his original cartoon character, a rabbit.

A star was born

"I had this mouse at the back of my head, ... because a mouse is kind of a sympathetic character in spite of the fact that everybody's frightened of a mouse, ... including myself," Disney recalled later.

The animator wanted to christen the mouse clad in red velvet shorts "Mortimer", but Lillian told him the name was too pompous. By the time the train arrived in Los Angeles, a new star was born.

Disney lent the future figurehead of his global empire his own voice in his movies, creating one of the 20th century's most enduring stars, who would outlive famous contemporaries from Charlie Chaplin to Bette Davis.

Throughout his long career, the peppy star has had only three voices: that of Disney - who won an Oscar in 1932 for creating Mickey - Jim MacDonald and his current incarnation, Wayne Allwine.

As the world's most popular rodent marks three-quarters of a century in the spotlight, the Walt Disney Co is organising a rash of events to celebrate the ever-youthful Mickey's past as well as his future.

They include re-releases of classic movies like The Three Musketeers, the issuing of US postage stamps featuring his mug and Tuesday's unveiling of seventy-five 1.8-metre-tall Mickey statues at Florida's Walt Disney World.

Adapting Mickey

"It's fun, it is one of the things that keep him going," company spokesperson Gary Foster said of the statues designed by stars like John Travolta, Elton John, Andre Agassi and ice queen Michelle Kwan.

Over the years, Mickey's emblematic visage has appeared in more than 140 movies, in comic books and on a staggering range of merchandise, from watches and toys to pajamas, which first began appearing in 1929.

And now Disney is adapting Mickey to 21st-century digital technology, with the release next year of Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas, which for the first time features him in three-dimensional computer-generated images.

The secret to his longevity, according to Smith, is his sunny disposition. "Mickey Mouse has fun all the time. He is drawn by artists who keep him young, and he never ages."

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