First Draft Script of Walt Disney’s “Steamboat Willie” Up for Auction

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One of the rarest and most original pieces of Disney memorabilia will soon be up for grabs. A script for “Steamboat Willie,” the first appearance of Mickey Mouse, will be going up for auction later this month.

A Long Lost Disney Treasure

Walt Disney "Steamboat Willie" script
Image Credit: S/R Laboratories

Not only is it a copy of that legendary script, it’s a first draft meaning this was the first time Walt Disney ever put words to paper concerning his new character, Mickey Mouse.

S/R Labs will hold a phone auction for the “Steamboat Willie” script on October 24. The minimum bid is $300,000.

This first draft script has long been lost. Disney owns a second draft script, but not a first draft.

“It was gone for almost 20 years, and it was thought to be destroyed,” said Ron Stark, director of S/R Laboratories Animation Art Conservation Center.

“Steamboat Willie”

“Steamboat Willie” was originally released in 1928. It was the first appearance for both Mickey Mouse and his girlfriend, Minnie. It was also the first animated film with synchronized sound and a full post-production soundtrack.

The plot involves Mickey piloting a steamboat owned by his rival, Pete. After taking the boat for a joyride, Mickey is chased below deck by Pete. After the steamboat stops to pick up livestock, Minnie runs after him and is brought aboard by Mickey. In the end, Pete discovers Mickey fooling around again and is put to work peeling potatoes.

The Making of Mickey Mouse

Walt Disney was inspired to make “Steamboat Willie” after watching 1927’s The Jazz Singer. That Al Jolson film was the first motion picture to feature synchronized sound. Walt had recently introduced Mickey Mouse in the short films “Plane Crazy” and “The Gallopin’ Gaucho.” Unfortunately, those were silent films and both failed to find a distributor. Walt believed the addition of sound would increase the film’s appeal.

Mickey Mouse was introduced as a result of Walt Disney’s loss of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Walt and his partner Ub Iwerks produced several shorts with Oswald for Universal Studios. After Walt was not able to get a more favorable contract, he and Iwerks decided to leave Oswald behind.

In 2006, The Walt Disney Company reacquired the rights to Oswald. CEO Bob Iger negotiated a trade for Oswald (and some other minor assets) from NBC Universal. In exchange, sportscaster Al Michaels was traded from Disney-owned ESPN to NBC Sports. 

An Authentic Disney Heirloom

The newly found script is copyrighted May 19, 1928. Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney are the credited co-authors on the cover. Walt Disney Productions is the company that filed the copyright. 

Ub Iwerks’ son, David Iwerks, spent over a year and a half authenticating the script. David worked at Disney Studios for many years and is considered an expert on his father’s work. The script up for auction will come with a notarized statement of authenticity from David Iwerks.

The American Society of Questioned Document Examiners has also verified that the typewriter used to type the script, was indeed from the specified time period.

In recent years, Walt Disney Pictures has been using a clip of “Steamboat Willie” in the opening logo at the beginning of their animated films.