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Did you know Walt Disney declared bankruptcy?

Celebrity Bankruptcies: It’s Not Walt’s Falt

Updated on October 7, 2022


We're not profiling famous celebrity bankruptcies to disparage or shame anyone. A financial misstep can happen to anyone. Money problems happen, and it happened to quite possibly one of the most famous people in the world...

When you, or I, think of Walt Disney we think of Disneyland, Disney World, and the magical animated movies that we have grown up with, you know- the ones that we still watch. He wasn’t always so successful, though, he had a hard row to hoe to get to where he got. One thing we can tell from his story is that he wasn’t one to give up because once he set his mind to something he saw it through, come hell or high water.

Early Life

He was born December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois and was one of five children. After his birth, the Disney family moved to Missouri, where he spent most of his childhood. He had shown an interest in drawing from a young age and sold his first sketches to neighbors when he was just 7 years old. It was clear that his future lay in a creative enterprise.

He had dropped out of high school and tried to sign up for the military but was rejected as he was only 17, but rather than walk away he forged the paperwork and joined the Red Cross to go overseas to help with the war effort.


So, it was in 1920, once he returned from his service with the Red Cross during the war, that Walt Disney would start his first company Laugh-O-Gram by selling shares to raise the money he needed to get started. He kept 70 shares for himself by contributing equipment, money and intellectual property and sold the other 230 at $50 each. This helped him raise the money he needed to get himself going and he had built a relationship with a wealthy doctor who could provide provide easy personal loans if business got difficult.

Boy did things get difficult, though that might even be an understatement.

Things were looking good and Disney had signed a lucrative deal with the Pictorial Clubs, Inc. to produce 6 films for them, they would pay Laugh-O-Gram $100 up front, but the total contract was actually worth $11,000 total which left Disney to cough up the funds to complete the job. No sooner had he signed the papers the company went under and suddenly Disney was left in a terrible position. Unfortunately, the administrators demanded that Disney produce those 6 films as agreed and there was no possible way he could fulfill the contract. This really was the start of Walt Disney’s downfall.

It was two years after that Disney could be found sneaking out of, or evicted from, three different offices. He had reached a point where he couldn’t afford to feed himself and he was being chased by creditors for non-payment of debts, and there was no one left to borrow from. He managed to scrape together enough money to get a ticket to California and he moved to Hollywood (he chose Hollywood because his brother was already there), with little more than the clothes on his back. Walt Disney was bankrupt.

This wasn’t the first setback he had suffered, before that he had lost money from investing in a fruit company, he had seen a car and a camera repossessed, but this was the worst setback he had ever faced.

Disney Brothers Studio

Never one to be counted out, Disney quickly rebounded and with his brother started a new company that they called Disney Brothers Studio (which would later become The Walt Disney Company). Now that he had filed for bankruptcy he was free of the burden of the previous debts and he was able to start with a clean slate.

The Walt Disney Company Sees Success

Things didn’t take off immediately, though, because unfortunately, some further missteps saw them lose the rights of their main characters and the loss of all of their animators, apart from Ub Iwerks, who Disney had brought to Hollywood from Missouri where they had worked together previously.

Iwerks and Disney put their heads together to create Mickey Mouse and up until 1947 Walt was the voice of Mickey. They created two short films and when sound was added they produced the now iconic Steamboat Willie. It was in 1929 that they introduced Mickey’s friends Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto.

By 1937 they were releasing Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and despite the country being in the midst of the Great Depression the film took nearly $1.5 million at the box office. Tickets were 25 cents in those days so just let that sink in- it was truly an incredible result. It also won 8 Oscars! From there the Disney animations came flooding to the market with Pinocchio and Fantasia both being released in 1940, followed by Dumbo in 1941 and Bambi in 1942.

(It’s important to make mention of the fact that despite the fact that Disney’s debts were forgiven through his filing of bankruptcy that once he achieved his success he sent money back to those that he had owed in Missouri, which speaks to the kind of man he was.)

By 1955 he had gifted L.A. with Disneyland, unfortunately he would die before Walt Disney World opened in 1971. That last major success that Disney himself produced was Mary Poppins in 1964 which was just two years before his death from lung cancer.

So, despite that famous bankruptcy he suffered Walt Disney was able to bounce back and take the opportunity to try again and build a company that is still one of the biggest brands in the world today. If you find yourself in a financial jam and need extra title cash to get by, come visit one of our title loan locations and see if our loan options in Las Vegas are right for you.