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Mickey Mouse turns 80

The famous cartoon star Mickey Mouse was first drawn by Walt Disney on November 18, 1928. Since then, the character has appeared in over 120 movies and Disney won an Oscar for him in 1932.

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Eighty years ago, a clothes-wearing rodent named Mickey Mouse whistled his way onto the silver screen, as "Steamboat Willie" made its cinema debut at the Colony Theater in New York.

That day, November 18, 1928, is widely considered the official birthday of Mickey Mouse, even if he was born of the imagination of Walt Disney months before his movie debut and also featured in a short animated film called Plane Crazy, which was made before Steamboat Willie but released afterwards.

Mickey Mouse was created almost by accident: Walt Disney's first cartoon character was a rabbit called Oswald, but the man who was to rise to become a pre-eminent force in global entertainment lost the rights to the rabbit in 1927 and returned to the drawing board.

He came up with a mouse, whom he wanted to call Mortimer.

According to popular legend, his wife preferred the name Mickey, and Walt Disney deferred to her choice.

The storyline of Steamboat Willie is flimsy, politically incorrect and features little, if any, comprehensible dialogue.

But the cartoon marked an animation landmark with its synchronized sound track that includes Mickey whistling and blowing raspberries at the irascible ship's captain, a large tobacco-chewing cat called Captain Pete.

In roughly seven minutes, viewers watch as Mickey Mouse is kicked out of the steering room of a riverboat by Captain Pete; hoists Minnie Mouse on board using a crane that grabs her by the knickers; swings a cat by the tail, strangles a goose and plays keyboard on some suckling piglets as the American folk song "Turkey in the Straw" plays from the innards of a goat.

The hapless mouse ends up paring potatoes in the galley when Captain Pete finds him making music with Minnie and mistreating animals.

Walt Disney wanted to record the soundtrack for Steamboat Willie with big-name studios RCA or Western Electric, but ended up contracting with "the bootleg Powers Cinephone process," according to the Disney website.

"After a disastrous initial recording session, Walt Disney finally recorded the soundtrack with a 15-piece band and his own squeaks for Mickey," the website says.

Just over a year after his debut in Steamboat Willie, on January 13, 1930, Mickey Mouse got his own comic strip, drawn by artist Ub Iwerks.

He made it into the Sunday comics on January 10, 1932, the same year that Walt Disney won a special Academy Award for creating the friendly rodent.

Mickey Mouse has gone on to star in over 120 different cartoons and got his own television show, "The Mickey Mouse Club", in the 1950s, the theme song of which engraved in the minds of a generation of Americans how to spell M-I-C, K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E.

These days, children watch Mickey on the mouse's eponymous Clubhouse, which airs on Playhouse Disney, and his trademark morphology -- the ears, in particular -- feature on items of merchandise ranging from T-shirts to mugs to cuddly toys.

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