Where we left off in Part 2, Walt and Roy Disney had just started to get the ball rolling with the “Alice Comedies.” In early 1924, they moved into a new office space, with “Disney Bros.” written in bold, gold lettering across the front window. The venture was initially a two-man operation with Walt doing all the creative work and his brother Roy O. Disney handling the business side (and, occasionally, operating a camera). Walt essentially animated the first six “Alice Comedies” himself. The experience taught him that he needed someone with better draftsmanship.
The “Alice Comedies” were fine, but Walt hadn’t quite hit his stride with them. His distributor Margaret Winkler noted “customers … found the Alice cartoons ‘nice and clean’ but felt they needed more laughs” (per Bob Thomas, “Walt Disney: An American Original”). Clearly, Walt needed help.
By June 1924, the company had grown to a point where the studio could afford an additional animator, assistants, and women to ink and paint the animation cels. They actually hired three of the latter since female laborers were cheap. (Thanks, 1920s sexism!) Walt had even coaxed Mickey Mouse’s “father” Ub Iwerks to relocate to Hollywood. This was an enormous strike of luck for Walt, as Iwerks proved invaluable. After all, Iwerks helped create Disney’s first big hits.
In his biography “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination,” Neal Gabler describes Iwerks as a “deft and rapid animator.” Moving to Hollywood was a big risk — Iwerks was leaving a steady job to work for a man who had burned him a year prior. But it was exactly what Walt needed when he needed it. So why did Iwerks uproot his life to join Disney Bros. halfway across the country? Thomas suggests Iwerks was drawn in by Walt’s “rare powers of persuasion.” Gabler suggests Iwerks just wanted to get away from his boss back in Kansas City. Regardless, his arrival marked a turning point for the up-and-coming animation studio.