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January 22

January 22, 1930 – Carl Stalling Leaves Walt Disney Studios to Join Ub Iwerks

Musical Director, Carl Stalling

The January 21 entry credited Ub Iwerks as the man who invented the Xerox Process, eliminating the need for the Ink and Paint department, and saving the Disney’s animation department from financial ruin. However, 30 years before, Iwerks had decided that it would be best for him to leave the Disney Studio. He was privately approached by a representative of Pat Powers, the studio’s sound distributor, who offered Iwerks a chance to form his own studio. The morning of the 21st of January,1930, Iwerks approached Roy Disney, letting him know that he was leaving as soon as possible, citing personal problems with Walt as his reason. Iwerks’ departure was a sign of things to come, with the first consequence being the departure of the studio’s musical director, Carl Stalling.

Happier times at the Disney Studios: Ub Iwerks (L), Walt Disney (C), and Carl Stalling (R)

Carl Stalling had been a good friend of Walt Disney’s when living in Kansas City, and had composed several scores for Disney’s cartoons, including Plane Crazy and the Gallopin’ Gaucho. Stalling’s biggest contribution to the studio, however, was the idea of the Silly Symphony. Stalling had approached Disney after the success of Steamboat Willie, proposing a cartoon short built on a music foundation. These shorts wouldn’t have a recurring character from short to short, but would tell a different story each time. Stalling also helped write the song “Minnie’s Yoo Hoo” with Walt (see January 11th entry), which ended up causing another problem for the studio once Iwerks decided to leave.

When Stalling heard that Iwerks had left, he assumed, as Pat Powers had, that the studio wouldn’t be able to survive. Stalling was uncomfortable with Iwerks’ leaving, and was upset with the way he perceived Walt was running the studio. Stalling, unfortunately, had underestimated Walt’s contribution to the popularity of Mickey Mouse and the success of the studio. The morning Iwerks left, Stalling approached Roy Disney (Walt was away in New York) and gave his grievances, which included royalties from “Minnie’s Yoo Hoo” and the liability in the recording studio. Roy gave Stalling an offer: Disney would buy Stalling’s share in the recording studio. Stalling agreed, but early the next morning he returned, saying he was very unhappy and had personal problems with Walt, and like Iwerks, needed to leave immediately. He demanded his back pay, brandishing legal notices he had written himself. Roy had no choice but to have the accounting office give Stalling a check and send him on his way.

Walt had been deeply stung by Iwerks’ and Stallings’ departures, as these men had been with him since the beginning. Powers had believed that Iwerks was the true talent behind the success of Mickey; indeed, Iwerks was responsible for the drawings and the design, but it was Walt who created the stories and helped with the character’s personality. For Powers, and Stalling, not realizing the importance of Walt’s contribution to the character was a grave mistake.

One of Iwerks' ComiColor shorts, with musical score by Carl Stalling

In retrospect, the dissolution of the Iwerks-Disney partnership was a good thing for Iwerks and for Stalling. Iwerks was able to express himself creatively with his studio and work on many new technical innovations to help create more believable animation; when his studio closed in 1938, Iwerks was able to go back to the Disney Studio and develop special effects, including the multiplane camera and the Xerox Process. Stalling joined the Warner Brothers Studio in 1936, becoming a full-time composer for the Looney Tunes. His most famous works for the studio were The Rabbit of Seville and A Corny Concerto. This bleak moment in the Disney Studio history led to the brilliant creative output of all three: Disney, Iwerks, and Stalling.


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