Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Roy Williams and the Birth of an Icon

They’ve been a part of our popular culture for over fifty years. Outside of Disney they are still instantly recognizable. To Disney fans, employees and cast members they are iconic. So much so that just the word “ears” can be used to reference any number of Disney-related connotations.

Mickey Mouse Ears. Fashionable shortly after their creation in 1955. A perennial souvenir bestseller at Disney Parks worldwide well into the 21st century.

I was recently reminded of the origins of this famous headgear while rereading Lorraine Santoli’s excellent (and sadly out-of-print) The Mickey Mouse Club Book. The now-famous studio personality and eventual Disney Legend credited with creating the ears is revealed in the following excerpt:

Chuck Keehne, head of the wardrobe department, outfitted the newly hired kids in their Mouseketeer outfits, including their uniquely designed hats, which Roy Williams is credited with creating. "In 1929, after the sound cartoons came out, Walt hired me for two weeks to sketch some ideas for his animated shorts," Roy explained. "One of them had Mickey tipping the top of his head to Minnie, which left him with a flat head. So when 'The Mickey Mouse Club' came about years later, Walt said, 'How do we dress the kids?' And I said, 'Why not with Mickey Mouse ears?' I made sketches of the first hats and Walt liked them. That's how it happened."

Roy Williams was certainly a jack-of-many trades during his long career with the Disney company. Beyond his invention of Mouse Ears and his status as the “Big Mooseketeer” on the Mickey Mouse Club, Roy was a veteran of the story department and one of the studio's most prolific gag men. Roy was also a successful magazine cartoonist outside of Disney. He wrote a short feature for the December 1956 issue of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club Magazine that detailed his “moonlighting” and gave advice to aspiring young artists. The article also included a number of Roy’s cartoons from a then recently published collection.

Roy Williams passed away in 1976. His Disney Legends biography can be found here.


Anonymous said...

Are you kin to me? My name is J.T. Williams?