Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Walt and the Wirthman Building

It appears I fell victim to one of the more persistent errors in Disney history when doing my research for the recent post on the geography of Walt Disney's life in Kansas City. Michael Barrier shared kind words for my efforts on his site, but pointed out that Disney likely never occupied space in the Wirthman Building. What is especially embarrassing is that my primary source for the article was Michael's own The Animated Man. As I specifically cited that book in the post, I do want to apologize for possibly misrepresenting its content in regard to the information I related concerning the Wirthman Building.

Also, for clarification, I'd like to post Michael's own comments from his site on why there is confusion over the the Wirthman Building location:

Laugh-O-gram did not move from the McConahy Building into "new quarters above the Isis Theater on the second floor of the Wirthman Building." As Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising confirmed, it moved instead into Kaycee Studios' old space above Peiser's. In 1924, after Walt Disney left for Hollywood, Harman, Ising, and Maxwell rented space in the Wirthman Building to make an "Arabian Nights" cartoon, but Disney never worked in that building. I know of only one piece of evidence to the contrary: "M. Mouse a Local Boy," an article published in the Kansas City Star on February 13, 1942, on the occasion of Disney's brief visit to Kansas City when he was returning from a wartime visit to Washington. The article says: "After attending the Kansas City Art Institute, Walt had a studio on Thirty-first street near Forest [the Laugh-O-gram studio], and later shared low-rent studio locations on Troost near Thirty-fourth and Thirty-first Streets." The first of those two "locations" on Troost was probably the one at 3239 Troost, above Peiser's; the other reference is probably to the Wirthman Building. The article also says that Disney was introduced to "Mrs. Joseph C. Wirthman, widow of the owner of the Wirthman building, in which Disney had his first [sic] studio." It's at least conceivable that Disney briefly occupied space in the Wirthman Building in 1921, when he and Fred Harman were in business as "Kaycee Studios," but I think it much more likely that someone, most likely Mrs. Wirthman, misremembered the "Arabian Nights" studio as an operation in which Disney was involved, and that Walt was too polite to correct the error.

I guess there is a certain romance to the notion that Walt rented space in the Wirthman Building. The presence of the Isis Theater and its connection to Carl Stalling certainly makes Walt's potential tenancy there an attractive supposition, as does a later vintage photograph that shows the Isis marquee advertising a Mickey Mouse cartoon. Similarly, a photograph that appears in the book Walt in Wonderland shows Walt Disney and staff promoting the Laugh-O-Grams films in a neighborhood parade with a sign that reads, "THESE PICTURES will be shown at the ISIS THEATRE Tomorrow Night."


Anonymous said...

If you are ever in Kansas City, I'll give you a tour of all of Walt's old stomping grounds.

Nate Parrish