Even people my age cannot recount the earliest days of Walt Disney’s remarkable career. At best, we remember his animated hits of the 1940s and ’50s. Films like Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1943), Song of the South (1943), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Lady and the Tramp (1955). The list is lengthy and runs right up to modern day films, even though Disney himself died in 1966.
What’s not so well known is that Disney was not an “overnight sensation” who burst onto the scene with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Nor with Steamboat Willie in 1928. It began long before that.
A native of Kansas City, he studied cartooning while attending McKinley HIgh School and drew patriotic World War I images for the school paper. At age 16 he dropped out of school to join the army but was rejected for being underage. So he joined the Red Cross and served as an ambulance driver in France until the armistice was signed in 1918. Then he promptly returned to Kansas City to pursue his career as an artist. In 1922, after several brief ventures in advertising and animation, he formed a studio called Laugh-O-Gram. The studio went bankrupt a year later and Disney moved to Hollywood to start a company with his brother, Roy.
However, during its one-year existence Laugh-O-Gram did manage to produce two short films. The first, an educational short on dental hygiene, was entitled Tommy Tucker’s Tooth. It was commissioned by a Kansas City dentist for distribution to Missouri schools. Some sources credit the film and its $500 paycheck with keeping Laugh-O-Gram afloat long enough to produce Alice’s Wonderland in 1923.
Which brings me to my point. My dad, Jack Records, had a role in Tommy Tucker’s Tooth. He played Jimmie Jones, the little boy with the Lon Chaney makeup who didn’t brush his teeth. He was 11 years old at the time, and was cast because he happened to live just a few blocks from the Disney family home. (Disney was living with his parents at the time.)
We’ve had a copy of the film in the family for many years, first on 35 mm and now on DVDs. Recently someone did us all a favor and posted it on YouTube.
It’s a wonder this film, which Disney directed, didn’t end his career.