Category Archives: Walt Disney

A Kick in the Teeth May Be the Best Thing in the World for You

Walt Disney? Diane Disney Miller? Pete Martin? Apocryphal?

steamboatwalt01Dear Quote Investigator: Animator, producer, and entrepreneur Walt Disney suffered many setbacks before he became a world-famous entertainer. For example, he founded the Laugh-O-Gram company to make animated films in Missouri, and the pioneering studio ended up in bankruptcy. Disney learned from his mistakes and persevered, and that is why I enjoy the following statement credited to him:

You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.

I visited Wikiquote, but the supporting evidence listed was an attribution in a book published in 2004. In my opinion, that is weak substantiation because Disney died in 1966. Could you examine the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: Starting in 1956 The Saturday Evening Post published a series of articles under the group title “My Dad, Walt Disney”. The byline listed Diane Disney Miller who was the daughter of Walt Disney and Pete Martin who was the primary author of the articles. Part three of the series appeared in the December 1, 1956 issue and was called “The Coming of the Mouse”. In the following excerpt Diane Disney Miller discussed her father. Interestingly, the quotation from Walt Disney used “kick in the pants” instead of “kick in the teeth”: 1

He’s told me more than once that all the hard licks he ever got really did him good. Dad functions best when things are going badly.

“When things are going good,” he says, “I’m afraid something’s going to crack under me any minute. A kick in the pants can be the best thing in the world for you.”

The material in the magazine articles was combined and revised to form the basis of a book titled “The Story of Walt Disney” published in 1957. This volume included an instance of the quote using “kick in the teeth” that matched the version given by the questioner: 2

“I function better when things are going badly than when they’re as smooth as whipped cream,” he said. “When I’m in a fight I don’t worry, but when things are going good I’m afraid that something’s going to crack under me any minute. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1956 December 1, Saturday Evening Post, Volume 229 Issue 22, The Coming of the Mouse by Diane Disney Miller and Pete Martin, (Part 3 of Series: My Dad, Walt Disney), Start Page 28, Quote Page 67, Column 3, The Curtis Publishing Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Academic Search Premier EBSCO)
  2. 1957, The Story of Walt Disney by Diane Disney Miller as told to Pete Martin, Quote Page 89, Henry Holt and Company, New York. (Verified with scans; Great thanks to Dennis Lien and the University of Minnesota library system)