A Tribute To Pioneers In Entertainment


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With summer approaching, most of you are probably preoccupied with how you are going to entertain yourselves when school's out - Whether you laze around watching television, visit theme parks or go to the movies, be sure to take a moment to thank all the amazing men and women who came up with these ideas. Here are two whose brilliant creations are still providing you hours of sheer joy.

Walt Disney

Best known as the creator of the world's favorite rodent, Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney dreamt of being an artist and performer from an early age. As a result, he could never focus on school and finally at the age 16, decided to drop out all together and instead pursue his passions. He took night classes at Chicago's Academy of Fine Arts and scrounged up enough funds to buy himself a movie camera, with which he began creating short films - Unfortunately, he was not too successful and had to abandon the projects.

It was not until he moved to Kansas a few years later and stumbled upon animation, that Walt discovered his calling. After learning everything he could about the topic, the ambitious youngster got together a group of people including Ub Iwerks who later became a key member of Walt Disney Studios, and began working on a film. Called Alice's Wonderland, it was going to be the first movie to star a human actress with animated cartoon characters. However, before he could complete the movie, the company went bankrupt, forcing Walt to start all over again.

Not one to give up, the young man decided that if was going to succeed, he had to go where the action was - Hollywood! Hence in August 1923, he packed up his cardboard suitcase, bought himself a one-way train ticket to California and moved to tinsel town. He got his first break when a woman named Margaret Winkler asked him to create Alice's Wonderland cartoons that she could sell to theaters. Walt teamed up with his brother Roy and Disney Brothers Studios was born. The series was a success!

Wanting his cartoons to be the best in the business, Walt convinced his old friend Ub Iwerks to move to California and the two began a new super-hit cartoon series with a character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. As business boomed, Walt not only moved to a bigger studio space but also, changed the name of the company to Walt Disney Studios. But just as things were starting to look good, Walt had a major setback - Charles Mintz whose company had been buying the Oswald cartoons decided to hire away all his artists so that he could create and sell the cartoons without having to pay Walt Disney Studios. While what he did was wrong, it was not illegal and the only revenge Walt could take, was to come up with a character that was better than Oswald - which turned out to be . . . You guessed it - Mickey Mouse!

Surprisingly, in his early days, Mickey was not very nice - He often played mean tricks on the other characters. But as he became everybody's hero, his character evolved and a new villain by the name of Donald Duck was born. Mickey's wild success can be attributed to two things - A brilliant move by Walt to add voice and sound effects to the previously silent cartoons and a gimmick started by a theater manager in Ocean Park, California - The Mickey Mouse Club, whose members could enjoy hours of their favorite character cartoons and even participate in fun contests. When Walt saw the club's success, he decided to set them up countrywide, resulting in thousands of life-long fans that wanted to own Mickey pencils, shirts, pens and anything else the mouse was featured on!

While happy with the success by 1933, Walt was ready to pursue his next big idea - The world's first full-length animated film. It took three years and over one and a half million dollars, but Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs turned out to be a masterpiece! Besides earning Walt a special academy award, it also made him a rich man, allowing him to create an even larger studio in Burbank, California.

And, he was not done - The family man who loved to go on rides with his kids decided that a Mickey Mouse theme park where families could come together and have fun, should be his next big project. But it was an expensive idea and he had to come up with a way to finance it - Leading to the establishment of the Disney Channel on television! Both concepts of course proved to be very successful. Unfortunately, Walt passed away in 1966 and never got to see his final vision, the futuristic EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) Center completed!

What is amazing about Walt Disney's creations is that they continue to be as popular with kids and adults today, as they were the day they were first introduced.

Jim Henson

While you may have now moved on to bigger and more mature television shows, there is a strong chance that like most kids, your first exposure to the medium came via Big Bird, Miss Piggy And Kermit, the stars of the world's most popular children's show - Sesame Street.

Born in Greenville, Mississippi in 1936, Jim lived in an era when the only source of entertainment was the radio. Even after black and white television sets became available, his family did not invest in one for many years. But when they finally did, the then 13-year old boy was hooked. It was therefore not surprising that when he turned 16, he began scouting around the television stations in the area, looking for whatever job he could find.

Fortuitously for him, a local television station was looking for puppeteers for a new children's program and was even willing to hire students. The fact that Jim knew nothing about puppets or performing on live television did not bother him - After all, he had seen plenty of puppet shows. He and a friend borrowed some library books and created three puppets - A French rat complete with a beret, named Pierre and two cowboy puppets, Longhorn and Shorthorn. While the Junior Morning Show lasted only a few weeks, Jim and his puppets were soon hired away by another television station where they performed shows sporadically. But this of course was not sustainable and after high school, Jim headed to the University of Maryland to study art, hoping to be a commercial artist.

But life had something totally different planned for him. At the end of his University Freshman year, local television station WRC offered him his own puppet show and Sam and Friends was born. These however, were not your normal puppets, but oddball creatures that had expressive cloth faces, sang songs and were neither animals nor humans - They were Muppets! (A cross between marionettes and puppets). Among them was a green frog by the name of Kermit!

Not surprisingly, Sam and Friends was a huge hit and Muppets Inc. was born. By 1966, the Muppets had hit it big time and were asked to appear on the famed Ed Sullivan show. But things were about to get even better!

In 1969, a woman named Joan Ganz Cooney called and pitched Jim about Sesame Street - A new television show starring the Muppets, where pre-school kids could learn, whilst having fun. The idea resonated with Jim who by now, had four young kids. Besides the normal size Muppets, Jim was asked to create one that was larger-than-life, and the eight-foot-two, bright yellow Big Bird was born! While Jim had originally planned to play Big Bird himself, it was soon apparent that he was really not bird-like and the role was taken by Caroll Spinney, who plays it till today! Henson meanwhile, became the voice of Ernie and even sang the hit 'Rubber Duckie' song.

While Sesame Street was and continues to be a huge hit, Jim also wanted to create a show for adults and came up with the Muppet Show - Set in a theater owned by the muppets, it involved a fun 'live' stage skit with a different human guest star, each week. While Kermit was a shoe-in for the role, Jim needed a strong female character and a new star called Miss Piggy was born! The show was a giant hit until Jim decided to end it after five seasons and take the Muppets to the big screen i.e. movies, where they continue to be successful, till today.

While Jim went on to create a few other movies and television shows, none achieved as much success as the Muppets. In 1990, while the brilliant creator was in talks about selling the company to Disney, he was struck with pneumonia and passed away on May 16th without, completing the deal. In 2004, his kids fulfilled his wishes, making Disney the new home for the Muppets!

Have a happy and entertainment filled Summer!

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