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Disney at 100: A History Through the Hearst Newsreels

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Walt Disney, 1934

Brothers Walt and Roy Disney founded the Disney company on October 16, 1923 in Los Angeles, first known as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio. On the 100th anniversary of the animation studio, now a global pop culture empire, we look back at the history of Disney as seen through the Hearst newsreels in the UCLA Film & Television Archive collection.

The Hearst Metrotone News Collection at UCLA is one of the largest newsreel collections in the world, containing over 27 million feet of theatrically released newsreels, unreleased stories and outtakes that document world events from the 1910s to the 1970s. The Packard Humanities Institute launched a website in 2023 ( as part of a collaboration with the Archive. With nearly 15,000 newsreel stories currently available, the project’s eventual goal is to make the entire Hearst newsreel collection viewable online. The Archive is grateful to The Packard Humanities Institute for its role as the driving force in the project to share the Hearst Metrotone News Collection for research, study and public access.

The archival footage below was shown at this year’s Disney D23 Expo as part of “100 Years of Hollywood Magic: A Disney Tour of the UCLA Film & Television Archive,” a presentation by Archive Director May Hong HaDuong and Digital Lab Manager Randy Yantek.



November 1934: Mickey Mouse balloon flight test

Watch online (no sound)

This camera original 35mm nitrate film captures a test flight for the 40-foot-tall Mickey Mouse balloon in Los Angeles before it appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. 1934 was the first year Mickey Mouse was used as a balloon, as well as Pluto, the Big Bad Wolf and the Little Pig.


July 1935: Walt Disney arrives in Southampton, England

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June 1938: Walt Disney receives an honorary degree from Harvard University

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In 1938, following the success of Disney studios’ first fully animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt was awarded honorary degrees from Harvard University (the first such honor given to a person in film), Yale University and the University of Southern California.



August 1943: Walt Disney receives the Order of the Aztec Eagle

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MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer and Walt Disney are decorated with the Order of the Aztec Eagle, Mexico’s highest honor for foreigners, with Hedy Lamarr and Walter Pidgeon in attendance.



April 1953: 6th Cannes Film Festival

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At Cannes, Walt Disney receives the Legion of Honor from French Secretary of State for Information Émile Hugues.



May  July 1955: Disneyland nears completion

Watch online: clip 1, clip 2 (no sound)

Disneyland builders work around the clock to meet the July 17, 1955 opening date for the theme park in Anaheim, California. Disneyland took one year to complete, enlisted 2,500 laborers and cost $17 million to build. Walt Disney’s brother and business partner, Roy Disney, hired C.V. Wood to build the park. Ruth Shellhorn, a landscape architect who designed the Southern California look for Bullock’s department stores, was hired to design the landscape for the park and its pedestrian circulation system. The footage shows views of Main Street, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, the Tahitian village, the Mark Twain riverboat and other attractions under construction. The Disneyland Mill was the first building to be built, located at the corner of the Lincoln building. The Fire Station can also be seen, which served as Walt’s apartment. When Disneyland opened, there were only 18 attractions, 14 of which are still running.

Disneyland in Anaheim is the only theme park that was directly supervised and built by Walt Disney. The idea for Disneyland came to Walt after taking his daughters to Griffith Park in Los Angeles and watching them on the merry-go-round. The earliest documented account of Disney’s plans was in 1948, in a message to a production designer. He referred to his concept at the time as “Mickey Mouse Park.”


December 1955: Audience Awards for film stars

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In Beverly Hills, distinguished members of the motion picture industry attend the first presentation of the Audience Award Trophies. The stars honored were voted best by the nation’s motion picture audiences. Walt Disney is among the attendees, along with Grace Kelly, Natalie Wood, Jack Warner, Peggy Lee, Alec Guinness, Debbie Reynolds and others.



May 1956: President Sukarno and son visit Los Angeles

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Achmed Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia, and his son Guntur enjoy a day at Disneyland with Walt Disney and Mouseketeers Sharon Baird and Bobby Burgess. Walt entertained many world leaders and important figures, including King Mohammed V of Morocco (1957, watch online: clip 1, clip 2) and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India (1961). The footage also includes Sukarno’s tour of MGM studios, where he meets writer-producer Dore Schary and film stars Ann Miller and Robert Taylor.



November 1956: Junior Ambassadors

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33 winners from 18 nations of a contest sponsored by Disney take a tour of Disneyland and meet Walt Disney and California Lt. Gov. Harold J. Powers. The young winners traveled all over the U.S., including the White House, as part of a program to promote friendship and understanding to children around the world, arranged by Disney with the approval of the U.S. government. A proclamation was made by Powers honoring the youngsters, officially declaring the day Junior Ambassadors Day in California. They were accompanied by 33 students from John Burroughs High School in Burbank, California.



June 1959: Nixon family visits Disneyland

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Even future U.S. presidents helped open attractions: actor Ronald Reagan hosted the opening of Disneyland on ABC, and Vice President Richard Nixon and his family visited for the opening of Disney’s new Monorail.



December 1961: Eisenhower family visits amusement park

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Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower tours Disneyland with his wife Mamie, their son, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren.



October 1966: The first National Association of Theatre Owners convention

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In New York, international box office queen Sophia Loren is acclaimed as Star of the Year, and Walt Disney is named Showman of the World by the National Association of Theatre Owners.



July 1967: Disneyland’s PeopleMover

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The crowds come to Disneyland to see the unveiling of the PeopleMover in Tomorrowland. The footage also includes views of Autopia, Matterhorn, Submarine Voyage, Monorail, Monsanto’s Adventure Thru Innerspace, General Electric’s Progress City, the American Telephone and Telegraph and Associated Companies exhibit and other attractions.


—edited by Jennifer Rhee, Digital Content Manager, with special thanks to Digital Lab Manager Randy Yantek, Senior Newsreel Preservationist Jeffrey Bickel and The Packard Humanities Institute.


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