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Museum Honors Man Who Delighted Millions Around World

The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco pays tribute to creator of Mickey Mouse, other cartoon stars

Visitors to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco will not find any amusement rides. For those, they will have to go to Disney theme parks in the United States or in other parts of the world. But they will gain a new understanding of the man who created so many superstars of the cartoon world.

For most people, the name Walt Disney conjures up images of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Pinocchio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. And there are the Disney theme parks.

But toward the end of last year, the Walt Disney Family Museum was born in a complex of modest red brick buildings less than a five-minute drive from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Richard Benefield is the museum's executive director.

"The Museum is really about the man, Walt Disney," Benefield said. "Walt Disney during his lifetime received 932 awards for his service to mankind as well as his professional achievements. And in this lobby area, we have 248."

Thirty-two of them are Oscars. Disney has more of them than anyone else. "This entire wall has drawings that were done by Walt when he was in high school," he pointed out.

Disney was born in 1901 in the city of Chicago but at the ago of 20, the young man who loved to draw went to Hollywood.

"On this wall here, he had just started to do a prototype of something called The Alice Comedies," Benefield explained.

The Alice Comedies featured a live-action girl and an animated cat. But Disney's big breakthrough came when he did an animated cartoon starring a lowly rodent. He and his wife Lily decided on the name for the main character on their way to Hollywood.

"And on that fateful trip from New York to Hollywood, Walt came up with the idea of using a mouse for his next cartoon character. And he said to Lilly, 'What about Mickey Mouse?' And she said, 'That's good, I think that will do just fine.' And that's how Mickey Mouse was born in 1928 on a train ride from New York to Hollywood."

But the building of Disney's kingdom did not always go smoothly.

"In 1940 Disney lost both of his parents, and shortly after that his company experienced a very divisive strike. It was in the early days of the labor movement in the United States. He was very hurt by the strike, which shut down operations for quite a period of time," Benefield explains.

But Disney rebounded and his studio went to on to produce such classics as Peter Pan, 101 Dalmatians and The Lion King. he also had the idea of creating a theme park that celebrated all the Disney characters. Disney Land, the first Disney park, was in California.

"This walk down the ramp in general celebrates Walt's love of trains, and how that led him to found Disney Land. Of course, one of the first rides at Disney Land was a train that ran all around the park," he said.

The magical world of Disney animation lost its cornerstone in 1966 when the 65-year-old Disney died of lung cancer.

Television Announcer: "Walt Disney, the master of an entertainment empire, the most complete and influential showman of his generation, has died."

Millions of people around the world mourned the man whose creations brought such joy to their lives.