When Walt Disney moved from Kansas City to California in the early 1920s, he had already established himself as a creative force – if not a financial one (his Laugh-O-Gram studios went bankrupt shortly before his departure). His fortunes improved in Hollywood, and several of his talented KC colleagues joined him in his new venture. Some of them became famous in their own right, but even the lesser known artists made important contributions.
- Isadore “Friz” Freleng (1905-1995) headed west in 1927, where he worked on the “ Alice ” comedies and the “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” series. He later teamed up with fellow Kansas City transplants Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising to form an independent studio. His greatest success came at Warner Bros., where he emerged as one of the top Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies animators. He directed the first Porky Pig cartoon, and eventually won five Academy Awards. He also co-created the “Pink Panther” cartoon series. Freleng remained active in the Looney Tunes franchise until the 1980s.
- Ub Iwerks (1901-1971) has an automatic place in entertainment history as the artist who created Mickey Mouse, but he was Disney’s primary animator for nearly a decade before leaving to form his own studio. He returned to Disney in the 1940s, where he helped develop important special effects techniques and designed attractions for Disney’s theme parks.
- Virginia Davis (1918-2009) was the young star of the “ Alice ” series, which Disney started in Kansas City , and used to establish himself in Hollywood . The films cleverly used an “ Alice in Wonderland” theme to combine animation with live action. Between 1923 and 1925, Davis made 13 “ Alice ” shorts, and continued working as an actress for several years. She later had successful second careers in magazine editing and real estate.
- Carl Stalling (1891-1972) started playing the piano at silent movie screenings in his small hometown of Lexington, Missouri, eventually moving to Kansas City, where he accompanied films at the Newman and Isis Theatres. During this period, he got to know Disney, who was creating advertisements for the theatres. In Hollywood, Stalling helped create the “Silly Symphonies” and developed techniques for composing and recording soundtracks that are still in use today. Like Freleng, he had his greatest success at Warner Bros., where he composed the iconic Looney Tunes scores from 1936 until his retirement in 1958.