By Michael Barrier
Walt Disney and his colleagues at the Laugh-O-gram studio in Kansas City in 1922 were extraordinarily young. The oldest of them were in their twenties; the youngest, like Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising, were still in their teens. Walt himself was all of 20 years old. I think their youth accounts for the sense of play evident in these photos, which were taken on two different days in 1922. Three were taken on the roof of the McConahy Building at 31st Street and Forest Avenue, where Laugh-O-gram had its studio. Two were taken in Swope Park, the huge municipal park in far southern Kansas City. In the photo above, Walt is "attacking" Maxwell; Ub Iwerks is holding the director's megaphone, and Adolph Kloepper is behind the camera—which wasn't a real one, according to Maxwell (who was, along with Rudy Ising, the source of these photos). He recalled the circumstances in a 1977 interview with Milt Gray:
In Kansas City, we had a lot of fun. We'd go up on the roof on weekends, Sundays, and Walt liked to pretend he was doing a real feature movie. Ub Iwerks made a camera out of two film cans and a box, with a crank on it, and put it on a regular tripod. We had a regular camera, an antiquated movie camera compared to what they have now. It was a Universal camera, just simply a rectangular metal box. But we didn't use that for the practice sessions out on the roof. We went through different routines; you've probably seen some of the old pictures, of Walt having me over the edge of the roof, with his hand on my throat. He had his eye on Hollywood, even then; he was determined to be a big movie producer some day.
This photo shows similar action, but photographed from a slightly different position, and with the action itself moved to another part of the roof. As best I can tell, Walt is the "actor" wearing the hat. I've had difficulty orienting myself on the McConahy Building's roof, but according to Louis J. Tofari, this photo, like the one at the top of the page, was taken looking southeast, toward a building that has since been demolished. The photo below was taken looking northwest toward Troost Avenue, a north-south street a block away; Louis J. Tofari has identified the stone building as a Congregational church that was demolished in the 1950s.
And here is the McConahy Building around the time Laugh-O-gram was a tenant in a suite on the second floor, at the far right.
Max Maxwell said of pictures like those on this page: "A lot of the photographs were taken by Rudy. Rudy used to be a good photographer, and he had a still camera set-up there in Kansas City. He'd take pictures of us out in Swope Park, and up on the roof, and so on." The two pictures below—with gag captions added—were taken in Swope Park probably late in 1922, as evidenced by the bare trees, but perhaps as late as early 1923. Hugh Harman built the cabin with the help of his friend Ray Friedman, Maxwell said.
From the left: Rudy Ising, Bob Hough (who was evidently not a Laugh-O-gram employee), Max Maxwell, Ub Iwerks, and Walt Disney.
From the left: Ising, Iwerks, Disney, Hough, and Maxwell.
[Posted April 21, 2008; revised March 5, 2009]