Monday, February 14, 2011

Studio Geo: Kingswell and the Disney Brothers Studio

Walt Disney began his career as a filmmaker in January of 1920 when he took a job making animated advertisements for the Kansas City Film Ad Company. It was the beginning of a journey that would take a struggling young artist and entrepreneur and eventually mold him into one of the most celebrated icons of 20th century popular culture. The historical map of that journey is an extraordinary one.

Welcome to Studio Geo.  These are the places where Walt Disney created his moving pictures:

Walt Disney, Cartoonist – 4406 Kingswell Avenue
Upon arriving in California during summer of 1923, Walt took up residence with his uncle, Robert Disney, who lived at 4406 Kingswell Avenue in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles.  His brother Roy was nearby in Sawtelle, staying at a veterans' hospital while attempting to recuperate from a relapse of tuberculosis.

Los Feliz was situated at the heart of southern California's then burgeoning motion picture industry.  Hollywood was just to the west and Silver Lake a few blocks east.  Vitagraph, one of the earliest of the Hollywood studios and well known for hosting film pioneers such as Douglas Fairbanks, Lillian Gish, Rudolph Valentino, Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille, was located just a block away from Robert Disney's home.

In short order, Walt erected a camera stand in a wooden shed behind Uncle Robert's house and effectively created his second "garage studio."  He had a letterhead printed that recycled his Walt Disney, Cartoonist design, amending it with the 4406 Kingswell Avenue address.  While staying at this location, Walt finalized a deal in October, 1923 with New York film distributor Margaret Winkler for a series of Alice cartoons based on Alice's Wonderland.  On October 16, 1923, Walt used 4406 Kingswell as his return address when he wrote the family of Virginia Davis in Kansas City, requesting that they come to Hollywood so Virginia could star in the new series of Alice Comedies.  Virginia had played the title role in Alice's Wonderland.  At roughly the same time, Walt convinced his brother Roy to leave the hospital and join him in his new venture.  The Disney Brothers Studio was about to be born.

Robert Disney's home still exists in Los Feliz.  The garage was saved from demolition in the early 1980s and relocated to the Stanley Ranch Museum in Garden Grove, California, just a few miles away from Disneyland.

The Disney Brothers Studio – Kingswell Avenue
Anticipating the Winkler deal, Walt quickly found a space to rent for his fledgling operation in the rear area of a real estate office in Los Feliz, near the corner of Vermont Avenue and Kingswell Avenue, just a few blocks west of Robert Disney's home. The studio opened for business on October 16, 1923, the day after Walt accepted Margaret Winkler's offer to distribute the new Alice Comedies.  The newly christened Disney Brothers Studio shared space with Holly-Vermont Reality at 4651 Kingswell Avenue.  The initial rent for the location was $10/month.   Walt and Roy, and newly hired ink and paint girl Kathleen Dollard comprised the entire staff of the operation.  On January 14, 1924, Lillian Bounds, the future Mrs. Walt Disney, was added to the staff as a cel painter and occasional secretary.  Walt and Lillian's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, remembered her mother speaking of the couple's first kiss that happened at Kingswell Avenue.  "It was very sweet . . . she was taking dictation from him, and he leaned across the desk and kissed her.  I find that very romantic."

In February of 1924, the studio moved into larger quarters directly next door at 4649 Kingswell where they were able to display the Disney Brothers name on a storefront window.   Further expansion included renting a vacant lot on Hollywood Boulevard as a location to film the live-action sequences of the Alice Comedies.

A small copy store now occupies the location of what most Disney historians and the Disney Company itself, considers to be the very first Disney Studio.

Studio Geo is a five part series.  Subsequent parts will be published every Monday here at 2719 Hyperion.  Coming next week:  Lightning in a Bottle - 2719 Hyperion.

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:


Marcy Massura said...

For those interested I visited the old garage at the Stanley ranch for my OC&ME video series. Here is the link. It has some great artifacts inside!

druex said...

My comment concerns the Disney Brothers staff circa 1923 superimposed over the more recent photo of 4649 Kingswell.

I believe the man on the far left, next to Walt Disney's future wife, is my father, Wilbur Livesay.

My father knew Mr. Disney in Kansas City and supposedly worked for him at Laugh-O-Gram.

Does anyone have names for the Disney Brothers staff in the photo?

Thank you.