Now Playing: Walt Before Mickey

It's Day 3 of the University Press Week Blog Tour And today's theme focuses on university presses in popular culture.
Most biographies and scholarly texts on Walt Disney’s career begin in 1928, the year when Steamboat Willie was released. Steamboat Willie was, however, neither Disney’s first cartoon nor Mickey Mouse’s first appearance. For a decade prior to this groundbreaking achievement Walt Disney struggled with, failed at, and eventually mastered the art and business of animation.

And it was this decade of struggle that first caught the attention of Timothy Susanin and later Armando Gutierrez Jr. Susanin is the author of the 2011 biography Walt before Mickey: Disney’s Early Years, 1919-1928, Susanin presents the untold story of Disney from  the age 17 to the cusp of his international renown. And Armando Gutierrez is the producer of the soon to be released film of the same name.  

Gutierrez Jr, of Conglamerate Media, says he came to the story almost by accident ­— while looking for a new book to read.  “After reading a biography on Picasso, I was looking to find a biography on another leader who followed his dreams. And I came across Walt before Mickey which was intriguing because the book didn't cover Disney’s theme park triumphs or other more known stories, but instead focused on his early start in business.”

Thomas Ian Nicholas and Jon Heder as
Walt and Roy Disney
“I was moved to inquire if Tim Susanin and Diane Disney Miller (who wrote the book’s foreword) would want this book turned into a feature film. After the rights where acquired, producer Jeff Rice ("Lone Survivor") joined the team and the book was adapted into a screenplay.”

Casting the character Walt and his brother Roy Disney was thought to be a monumental task. But, as Gutirrez explains “The project was so intriguing to Jon Heder ("Napoleon Dynamite") and Thomas Ian Nicholas ("Rookie of the Year," "American Pie") that they both signed on immediately.”

A film tie-in is a natural extension UPM's extensive film and popular culture studies list. As UPM Director Leila Salisbury points out, “Our film and popular culture lists take our Press out into the wider world. People are often surprised when I tell them of the strength of our lists in comics studies and film/culture lists (and I have to say, I enjoy upending people’s expectations of what we do!). While we do publish important things about Mississippi and our region, our books and scholarship also look more broadly at cultural history.

"As UPM has been publishing in comics studies for more than 20 years, I’m thrilled to see this film tie-in. And what a story—the early history of a man who created an enduring cultural empire from nothing more than a dream and hard work.”

As Susanin is fond of saying – Walt's life could be a Disney movie. Susanin’s book is now available in paperback.

Filming for "Walt Before Mickey" was completed in February 2014 and the film is set to premiere February 2015. The film's trailer is available below and follow the film's Facebook page for updates.

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The University Press Week blog tour continues today at Penn Press, Princeton University Press, University Press of Kentucky, Georgetown University Press, and University of Wisconsin PressFollow the conversation on Twitter at  #upweek