Mickey Mouse made his screen debut on November 18, 1928, as star of the first synchronized sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie, at the Colony Theatre in New York. Walt Disney created Mickey early in 1928 as Disney was returning from a meeting at which his cartoon creation, Oswald the Rabbit, had been wrested from him by his financial backers. Since the character was copyrighted under their name, they took control of it.
Upon returning to his studio, Walt and his small staff immediately began work on the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Plane Crazy (1928). Their enthusiasm faded when no distributor wanted to buy the film. Refusing to give in, Walt forged into production on another silent Mickey, The Gallopin' Gaucho (1928). But "the talkies" had debuted in late 1927 with The Jazz Singer. Seeing sound films as the future of the motion picture industry, Walt began a third Mickey cartoon, this one with sound- Steamboat Willie.
Walt sank everything he had into the film, and it scored an overwhelming success, so Walt added sound to Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho, and soon had three hit shorts. As with all of Mickey's pictures through World War II, Walt himself supplied Mickey's voice. (Veteran Disney sound and vocal effects man Jim Macdonald took over for Walt in 1947. Wayne Allwine became Mickey's voice with Mickey's Christmas Carol in 1983, a role he has held ever since.)
Of Mickey's 121 short cartoons, 87 were produced in the 1930's. Mickey played everything from fireman to giant killer, cowboy to inventor, detective to plumber. Technically and artistically, Mickey Mouse cartoons were far superior to other contemporary cartoons and gave life to an entire family of animated characters: Goofy, Pluto, Donald Duck, and many others. Their artistic success was honored with an Academy Award to Walt Disney in 1932 for having created Mickey.
With the advent of World War II, the Disney Studio suspended nearly all commercial activity and concentrated on aiding the war effort. Mickey played his part by appearing on insignia and posters urging national security and the purchase of war bonds. Following the war, Mickey returned to making cartoons and appeared in his second feature, Fun and Fancy Free (1947), in which he co-starred with Donald Duck and Goofy in a new version of "Jack and the Beanstalk."
Through the forties and early fifties, Mickey made fewer cartoons, giving ground to Donald, Goofy and Pluto, who were more flexible as characters. Mickey's evolution into a Disney symbol made it increasingly difficult to create story situations for him. If he lost his temper or did anything sneaky, fans would write in insisting, "Mickey just wouldn't do that."
After the success of the "Disneyland" television show in 1954, Disney agreed to create an afternoon program for ABC. He gave them "The Mickey Mouse Club," which remains one of the most successful children's shows ever.
Over the years, Mickey has been frequently seen on dozens of Disney television shows and specials, and in 1988, he actually appeared on the Academy Awards(r) telecast, presenting an envelope to actor Tom Selleck.
In 1983, Mickey returned to the theater screen in the featurette Mickey's Christmas Carol, a Disney version of the Dickens classic, where Mickey played Bob Crachit. In 1990, Mickey again appeared in a theatrical featurette, this time playing a dual role in The Prince and the Pauper. In 1995, a new theatrical short cartoon for Mickey, Runaway Brain, was released.
One of the finest tributes to Mickey was given by Walt Disney himself when, on one of his first TV shows, as he surveyed Disneyland, Walt said, "I hope we never lose sight of one fact... that this was all started by a Mouse."