Walt Disney is a larger-than-life figure, almost mythological in stature like Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill.
When I was an official Media Representation for the 100 Years of Magic celebration in 2001 at Walt Disney World, I went through some intensive training to be able to field in a “Disney way” questions from the media about this amazing man.
Research that the Disney Company had done revealed that for the generations that grew up not seeing Walt on his weekly television show, he was too often thought of as either like Betty Crocker, a completely fictional icon created to represent the company, or Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken, an old man who started the company but had little to no day-to-day influence on it in his later years and was merely a figurehead who made occasional publicity appearances and was on merchandise.
Walt, of course, was neither but while everyone is very aware of many of his amazing accomplishments from Mickey Mouse to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Disneyland to audio-animatronics to so many more including literally transforming how the hospitality industry operates, Walt the person is still somewhat of a mystery.
One of the things I have had to do very frequently in the past decade or more is defend Walt from unfounded accusations. Walt was not a saint, nor did he consider himself one. He definitely had his eccentricities and a fiery temper. However, he was not guilty of some of the misrepresentations that constantly get trotted out about him because “everyone knows they are true”.
So I thought it was time to write a book that dealt with Walt as a person, a son, a brother, a husband, a father and a grandfather and not concentrate at all on his accomplishments. I depended on Walt’s own words, my nearly four decades of interviews with people who worked personally with Walt and out-of-the-ordinary documentation.
Call Me Walt: Everything You Never Knew About Walt Disney devotes chapters to each of his family members, his cars, his dogs, his hobbies, his taste in clothes and food, his political and religious beliefs and more. There are even chapters about his flaws like his fabled “bear suit” persona where he would lash out like a wounded bear at friends and family and his constant smoking.
I also devoted twelve chapters to trying to debunk some of the most common Walt myths with documentation. It is always challenging to prove a negative to the satisfaction of people who have already made up their minds. Of course, there are others who will still firmly proclaim that any documentation can be forged and where there is smoke, there must be fire. Finally, just the mere mention of these falsehoods often gives them unintended new life.
Walt was not cryogenically frozen but was cremated on December 17, 1966. Not only is this affirmed by Walt’s official death certificate signed with the name and license number of Forest Lawn embalmer Dean Fluss but also by Bob Nelson the president of the Cryonics Society of California (the only cryonics facility in the world at that time).
As Nelson pointed out, after Walt died, he lay in the hospital bed for hours for family members to come and say their goodbyes. If you were going to cryogenically freeze someone, you would have to do it immediately especially in those earliest of days of the technology.
Nelson pointed out that the first cryonic suspension took place just a month after Disney’s death. Dr. James Bedford, a 73-year-old psychologist from Glendale, was suspended by Nelson and his team on January 12th, 1967. Bedford has yet to be revived.
Walt’s funeral was quietly held at the Little Church of the Flowers in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Glendale at 5:00pm on Friday, December 16, the day after his death. No funeral announcement was made until after it had taken place. Only immediate family members attended, no friends or business associates.
Forest Lawn officials refused to disclose any details of the funeral or disposition of the body, stating only that “Mr. Disney’s wishes were very specific and had been spelled out in great detail.” Walt’s wife, daughter Sharon and son-in-law Robert were all cremated as well.
Walt Disney was not anti-Semitic. Walt regularly donated (without any publicity just like his other charitable contributions) to a number of Jewish charities, like the Yeshiva College, the Jewish Home for the Aged and the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York.
In 1955, the Beverly Hills chapter of B’nai B’rith (the oldest Jewish service organization in the world) declared Walt its “Man of the Year” after extensive investigation to determine if he had any anti-Semitic tendencies. The plaque read: “For exemplifying the best tenets of American citizenship and inter-group understanding and interpreting into action the ideals of B’nai B’rith.”
Robert Sherman was a Jewish-American composer who worked with his brother Richard to compose some of the most memorable Disney songs of all time including the music for the film Mary Poppins.
He shared the following story: “One time, [my brother] Richard and I overheard a discussion between Walt and one of his lawyers. This attorney was a real bad guy, didn’t like minorities. He said something about Richard and me, and he called us ‘these Jew boys writing these songs.’ Well, Walt defended us, and he fired the lawyer.”
Under Walt, many people of the Jewish faith held positions of authority at Walt Disney Productions including Marty Sklar, Kay Kamen, Richard Fleischer, David Swift, Harry Tyle, Sid Miller and dozens more.
“I can say that in extensive casting and personnel decisions, I never saw Walt being anti-Semitic. Too, I never even heard Walt make an anti-Semitic remark. Over the years, I’ve been amazed at how many different men Walt ‘really was’ as told by those who knew very little about him,” wrote producer Harry Tytle.
Walt Disney was not dishonorably discharged, court-martialed or had any other negative action taken against him by the U.S. military because Walt Disney never served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Walt’s volunteer duty with the Red Cross (a civilian organization) is often mistaken for actual military service.
He never hung his supposed dishonorably discharged papers on the wall of his studio office upside down as a sign of disrespect and that they were clearly seen every week on his television show because those papers don’t exist. In addition, that office shown on television each week was a studio set.
Yet official tours of the Pentagon and basic training for new recruits repeated this myth for many years.
Walt Disney was not an active FBI informant. Walt Disney was not a Nazi sympathizer. Walt Disney was not dyslexic. Walt was not homosexual nor did he discriminate against those who were.
“Everytime we saw grandpa in the public or on television, he didn’t seem any different than when he was in his own living room or watching us play in the yard,” stated Walt Disney’s oldest grandson, Christopher Miller.
“Disney didn’t have a ‘dark side’. That’s literally nonsense,” stated director David Swift who worked directly with Walt on several popular Disney live action films. “He had a few quriks like you do and like I do. If there was a dark side, I never saw it.”
Walt Disney was not racist. Walt Disney was not a Freemason. Walt Disney was not born in Spain. He was not an alcoholic. Walt Disney was not scared of women nor did he hate them.
Hopefully, Call Me Walt can offer some logical defense and real facts for those people who are confronted by friends who claim to know the real “truth” about Walt Disney.
Whether Disney was racist or not, he and his employees definitely promoted his work according to the laws and mores of segregation by skin color. Clarence Nash gave speeches at whites-only theaters when promoting the movie “Fun and Fancy Free.” As a distributor through his own company Buena Vista, Disney sent his films to whites-only movie theaters. And then, of course, there’s “Song of the South.” He insisted that the film was set after the Civil War, but the cover of a four-page advertisement heralding the Atlanta debut said that the film came “from the heart of the South to the heart of the world!” In addition, the advertisement called the film “a wonderfully romantic musical drama of the Old South.” Thus, the company itself suggested that the movie had antebellum overtones.
Playing into the region’s segregation and the Fox Theatre’s refusal to admit African Americans, the advertisement publicly disregarded its African American contributors. Only the faces of actress Ruth Warrick and child actors Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten appeared in the promotion, and only their names were listed in it. Nowhere to be seen were the names and likenesses of African American cast members James Baskett and Academy Award winner Hattie McDaniel. As a result, the advertisement ignored the image of Uncle Remus himself–the principal character whose stories formed the movie’s basis. Even the cartoon animals appeared in the advertisement.
Song of the South premiered on November 13, 1946, in Atlanta, Georgia’s Fox Theater, according to Georgia Theatres Company president William K. Jenkins. The debut night’s profits were to go to the Uncle Remus Memorial Association and the Atlanta Junior League. The Association’s Wren’s Nest was to receive half the proceeds, and a local children’s hospital was to receive the other half. The Wren’s Nest and the Association were whites-only organizations at the time.
Also, Disney and the cast paraded down Peachtree Street in Atlanta to celebrate the premiere. It was the whites-only main street of Atlanta business,
Not to mention that there wasn’t much skin shade variation among the Mouseketeers in 1955. Oh I am sure “Uncle” Walt had no personal issues and was “live and let live”, but business was still business and he still had to please ABC’s sponsors. As Nat King Cole admitted when his own TV show failed to get sponsors, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark”… or something along those lines.
I guess we can also gripe about David O’Selznick pleasing Atlanta protocol much the same way to promote GONE WITH THE WIND years before SONG OF THE SOUTH and MGM deleting shots of the Nicholas Brothers dancing with Gene Kelly from various prints of THE PIRATE so as not to “offend” Loews theater owners in The South.
Since it is that time of year, we must also remember how “Pops” L.B. Mayer made sure every Jew like himself wished their Loew movie goers a Merry Christmas, since it was all part of the game.
James Baskett did win an Honorary Oscar thanks to Walt
Your comments are really stupid. Let’s judge the actions of a man 50-80 years ago by the norms of today.
Since it is that time of year, we must also remember how “Pops” L.B. Mayer made sure every Jew like himself wished their Loew movie goers a Merry Christmas, since it was all part of the game.
Love to read those stories!
I think there were no color Mousketeers because they may have not audition for the show.
Uncle Remus was free to leave any time, like the rest of the former slaves! If you saw the film, he was going to Atlanta! Go see Floyd Norman’s blog “MrFun’s Journal” in defense of Song Of The South and criticizing PC culture!
Disney’s politics of the day, and the 1941 Disney strike, continue to affect the image of Disney by people prone to see politics in stark black & white terms, even if the majority of strikers themselves didn’t see Disney that way, based on interviews conducted in the ensuing years (they may have hated Gunther Lessing, but not Walt).
So relatively light jabs at Walt by contemporary artists at places like Wanrers or UPA in the 1940s and 50s turned into more vicious barbs and smears by people who never knew Disney, but which have been taken by many as fact in the 50 years after his death.
That’s the problem of the modern world that do see the past in those concrete B&W terms you stated.
Enjoyed your How To Be A Disney Historian, Jim.
What were the causes of anti-Disney hatedom?
The foreword to the book is by Disney Legend Floyd Norman who among other things shared this following insight that I don’t think is commonly known: “I personally never saw any racist behavior or words from Walt. When I was there in the 1950s and 1960s, I knew Claude Wilson who was the black janitor at the studio.
“A janitor is pretty much invisible in that people never pay much attention to him so he was able to overhear uncensored conversations as he was cleaning up. He never heard Walt being racist or others talking about Walt being racist.
“He also moonlighted as a bartender at many of Walt’s parties when they were held as Walt’s home in Holmby Hills. This older black gentleman who ran the bar always spoke well of Walt and loved working for him.
“Since we spoke privately, had there been anything to indicate racism, this old guy would have made his feelings known to me to warn me to be careful. I was always struck by Walt’s openness, fairness and honesty.”
However, I do agree that Walt employed people who were racist and whose interactions with others at the studio caused those people to leave. Floyd himself was denied a position in layout by someone who felt “uncomfortable” working with someone of color. However, there is no indication that Walt ever knew this and he personally promoted Floyd to the story department, probably the highest ranking position at the studio at the time.
I don’t think Walt gets enough credit on Song of the South for producing a film with major black performers that was shown at every theater without editing. Even the black boy Toby is pretty much shown as a peer to the white Johnny. All the black characters are sympathetic and pretty intelligent. Yes, Walt made mistakes with the film as detailed in my book Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South but he treated all the black performers well and Nick Stewart who did the voice of Br’er Bear used the money he earned to help open his Ebony Theater in Los Angeles which gave black performers an opportunity to play roles other than servants and yes, Walt was the one who personally lobbied for Baskett to get an honorary Oscar and supported the actor in his later years before diabetes killed him and he had gotten very sick.
I think the beginning of “anti-Disney hatedom” really started with Richard Schnickel’s 1968 book The Disney Version and with intellectuals who felt that Walt was too good to be true and that the Disney “version” of fairy tales and the world was sappy and unrealistic. It became a badge of honor among certain groups to show that they hadn’t swallowed the “pixie dust” and Walt was really a terrible person with a dark agenda. (However, even as early as the 1940s there were people complaining about St. Disney.) We see that today with the condescending attitude toward Walt in particular but also things he produced.
I don’t know how many times I have heard people tell me that Walt couldn’t draw while there are a ton of examples that he could draw and continued to do so until his death but that early in his career he realized there were people who could draw so much better than he could and his strength was in storytelling.
Again, the purpose of the book is to take a look at Walt not as a brand but as a man, with all his flaws and eccentricities and even then he still comes out looking pretty good.
This is why I avoid using labels as “racist.” I don’t talk about what people are, but I talk about what they do. And Disney maneuvered segregation to enrich himself. That’s just a fact. He took advantage of Jim Crow, like every other cartoon producer and distributor. So whether he gave a few African Americans some employment here or there (in a four-decade span of owning his business, mind you), he profited by excluding everyone but “whites” from attending his films and cartoon clubs in several communities from the 1930s to the 1960s. When he sent his cartoons via Buena Vista to Mickey Mouse Clubs at a whites-only theaters in 1961 and 1962, that was Fifteen years after whatever good was accomplished in “Song of the South.” I don’t care if people call that “racist” or not, but it is exclusion by skin color.
I agree that the hate got worse with Mark Elliott’s Hollywood’s Dark Prince
Anti-Disney rumbling was well under way by the time “Disney Version” came out; that’s probably why the book sold. The key is that Disney and his creations had become cheap shorthand for saccharine and sterile popular culture, especially for boomers seeking to put a face on what was perceived as the conformity and hypocrisy of society at large. It’s like Stepin Fetchit being invoked as the font of all black movie stereotypes, or Elvis getting sole responsibility for rebellious and disrespectful teenagers.
Disney was a natural target because in the post-war years, he had a specific identity and cultural footprint far greater than all the other Hollywood moguls combined (even though he was still a boutique operator by comparison). After all, nobody knew the executives who mass produced sanitized, “wholesome” movies and shows that relentlessly shilled for the status quo or fake “good old days”. But everybody knew Uncle Walt, on screen every week with his now-quaint movie-park-TV synergy.
Re Schickel’s book, I remember that it seemed as if his characterization of Disney as being anti-Semitic was based primarily on the sequence in “Three Little Pigs” where the Wolf is in disguise as a stereotyped Jewish peddler. I’ve since run across a lot of people who also cite that as “evidence.” Apparently none of them are aware that Jewish stereotypes appeared in cartoons throughout the early 1930’s, and only disappeared as Nazi persecutions became well-known. There are Jewish caricatures in Warners, Van Beuren and Fleischer cartoons of the era. Arguably the most egregious one may be in “Betty Boop’s Ups and Downs”–and the Fleischers were Jews. I can’t think of any other Jewish caricatures in any other Disney cartoons, and it should be noted that the Wolf’s dialogue was later redubbed to make him a student selling subscriptions (although the “Jewish”-sounding, klezmer-like music is still on the soundtrack).
I think there are two anti Disney camps: one involving fundamentalists protesting witchcraft and subliminal messages on the beloved classics while the other is what you said-intellectuals who are against capitalism, boomers, etc.
Jim, did you address the “Disney wrote Kurt Russell on a piece of paper and then died” rumor? That’s been going around for many years (and unfortunately, Russell himself likes to perpetuate the story).
Archivist Dave Smith showed once that Disney did write Russell’s name on a piece of paper (albeit misspelled), but there were a few other names listed, and Disney didn’t just write the names down and then croak. His brother Roy was with them and they were discussing Disney World as he passed away.
Yep, have a chapter on the Kurt Russell thing as well as that Mickey Mouse’s name was not inspired by Mickey Rooney.
I was going to do my own defense of that man, but you beat me to the punch. Oh, and I can name some people on Newgrounds who are far worse.
“Walt’s wife, daughter Sharon and son-in-law Robert were all cremated as well.”
At the same time??
Robert Brown died a little less than a year after Walt. Sharon’s ashes were scattered in Hawaii. Lillian passed away in 1997
There is another thing that has not been brought up by any of the previous commentators.
When the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was in Hollywood in 1947–the so-called “Witch Hunt In Lotus Land”–Walter Elias Disney was a “friendly” witness.
His testimony–brief though it was–has been reprinted elsewhere. It shows that Walt Disney was opposed to the “menace” represented by the Communist Party in this nation.
Granted, he wasn’t as inclined to look for Reds under the bed as, say, Adolph Menjou or Leila Rogers (Ginger’s mother).
Indeed, his testimony suggests he was trying to get back at the gentlemen whom he regarded as ‘snakes in the grass’, who invaded his “happy family” and sowed the seeds that led to the strike of 1941.
The fact that Walt Disney was willing to “name names”–even if he did for all the wrong reasons–made him a pariah among those who lionize the Hollywood Ten, and who criticized famed director Elia Kazan for the same “sin”.
It’s therefore possible that Walt’s willingness to “name names’–and the possible ethnicity of some of the names that he named–may have fueled the notion that Walt Disney was a Judeophobe.
I think it was actually the Nazis who started the rumor that Walt Disney was born in Spain; it appeared in a 30s German movie magazine(maybe “Illustrateur Film-Kurier” or the like).
Brilliant AWN Article by Karl Cohen: https://www.awn.com/animationworld/was-walt-disney-saint-evil-sinner-or-devil-incarnate-truth-about-some-those-nasty
I purchased the book yesterday and I’m looking forward to giving it a read through over the Thanksgiving weekend. I’ve enjoyed your other books like How To Be a Disney Historian and Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South. I always learn something new when I read your books, Jim, and I am always fascinated at the amount of research that goes into one of these. I’ll try to post a review here (small one I promise) after I’ve read it.
The reason conversations like this go off the rails is because we are discussing both one man and the corporation that bears his name. However they aren’t the same entity anymore than McDonalds and Ray Kroc. Yes, the man was calling the shots at the top when he was alive, but he wasn’t the only one calling the shots. Even in his lifetime, decisions were made by others underneath him that aren’t taken kindly by modern historians.
In addition, he had his faults as has been well discussed here. While he may have not made ethnic jokes or belittled employees of a different race, it still would have been nice had he been more progressive in the civil rights movement instead of just another businessman conformist. Maybe show up with Burt Lancaster at the march on Washington or something?
To be fair, all of us age into stubborn conservatives whether we admit it or not. When we are young, we are more impressionable and accepting of anybody or anything new and different. Less so when the aches and pains (and too much smoking in his case) set in. He took the 1941 strike very personally and certainly got his revenge with the HUAC later, even though he wasn’t alone among the movie moguls (Warners, Mayer, Cohn, etc.). On the plus side, he knew just when to shut his mouth, unlike Cecil B. DeMille.
Likewise we can’t hold him accountable for anything the corporation did after his death. For example, Sean Ramsdell mentions the “fundamentalists” who are upset about more than just witchcraft. They are equally cursing the name-brand for all of its more recent “gay” influence, hoping a hurricane destroys the Magic Kingdom in Orlando for being involved in Pride events. No doubt they would favor Disney the Company to be operating like it did in the 1960s when an actor like Tommy Kirk struggled to be both “out” and stay employed. (Again, it was the company itself conforming with the times rather than Walt personally having issues with it.)
OMG – Jim Korkis!!!!
How did you end up in my Facebook feed with a new book!?
BRAVO Buster. Hope all is swell with you. The book sounds like a hoot!
In your article, I find it curious that you use a considerable amount of ink to attempt to debunk why the “larger-than-life figure almost mythical in stature” Walt Disney was not an anti-Semite; not cryogenically frozen; and not dishonorably discharged from the military, but when it comes to the issue of race you simply write the following six blanket and empty words: “Walt Disney was not a racist.”
Okey-dokey, if YOU say so!
Join me in a leisurely and (partial) stroll down Walt Disney’s Memory Lane, where HE and his studio’s employees clearly did not shy away from animating racist images. Mickey Mouse and Pluto were particularly fond of using the degrading and stereotypical word “mammy.”
Alice Comedies “Alice’s Wonderland” 1923
Alice Comedies “Alice and the Dog Catcher” 1924
Alice Comedies “Alice Cans the Cannibals” 1925
Mickey Mouse ‘Haunted House” 1929
“Cannibal Capers” 1930
“Midnight in a Toy Shop” 1930
Mickey Mouse “Mickey Steps Out” 1931
Mickey Mouse “Moose Hunt” [Pluto’s first-ever speaking word is “mammy”] 1931
“Flowers and Trees” 1932
“Santa’s Workshop” 1932
Mickey Mouse “Trader Mickey” 1932
Mickey Mouse “Whoopee Party” 1932
Mickey Mouse “Mickey’s Mellerdrammer” 1933
Mickey Mouse “Steeplechase” 1933
“Night Before Christmas” 1933
“Old King Cole” 1933
Mickey Mouse “Shanghaied” 1934
“Who Killed Cock Robin” 1935
Mickey Mouse “Mickey’s Man Friday” 1935
“Broken Toys” 1935
“Toby Tortoise Returns” 1936
“Mother Goose Goes Hollywood” 1938
Donald Duck “Autograph Hound” 1939
Pluto “Pantry Pirate” 1940
“Song of the South” 1946
Donald Duck “Tea for Two Hundred” 1948
“Social Lion” 1954
The argument that racism was once socially acceptable and legally a law of the land, which is often forwarded to justify the offensive cartoons in the Disney catalog… is irrelevant and fundamentally weak because racism is racism whether it was in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, 1900s, or it’s blatant, present day coast-to-coast resurgence. And regardless of what you and others may think or say or pen, the timeline of Walt Disney’s shorts and films is littered with ugly, racial images that have always been PAINFUL to watch by Black people like me, and disrespectful to Black American culture!
RACISM IS NO JOKE!!! #IAintLaughing
In my humble opinion, throughout his illustrious career the so-called “great” Walt Disney occasionally displayed a tendency via his studio to produce cartoons that were both naively and intentionally racist in nature. As to whether his heart harbored racial hatred only he knew, and since he’s no longer with us—no one—not you or me… will ever know for sure.
Note: There is a reason why present-day Walt Disney Studios has edited controversial segments of many of their pre-1960 cartoons and films, and why it has forcefully attempted to ban them from the Internet.
There was only so much room in the column. There is an entire column devoted to Walt not being racist in the book. Another entire column devoted to Walt not being Anti-Semitic. Both those topics require much more discussion than even I could provide. I have a quote from a Japanese artist working at the studio during World War II and how worried Walt was about her and finally told her she didn’t need to tell people, she was just “part” Japanese but was also part Korean, Chinese, Hawaiian and something else. He told her if people asked to just respond “I am an American” because it was nobody’s business what her nationality was.
You do realize that Walt’s cartoons were infinitely not as racist as the ones produced by competing animation studios. You also realize that animation and cartooning rely on exaggeration and often used stereotypes as a quick shorthand whether it was a big obese wealthy man busting out of his vest to represent CAPITAL (as opposed to LABOR) or a wide mouthed black character with a bone in his hair to represent a cannibal.
I won’t say that it is a good excuse that everyone was doing it and Walt was just doing it much less but I think it helps put those caricatures in perspective. Song of the South is not racist, especially if compared to even a Shirley Temple film like The Littlest Rebel or Gone With the Wind. It was Walt HIMSELF who paid for the Jewish peddler in Three Little Pigs to be re-animated into a Fuller Brush Salesman AND had Sunflower the centauress removed from Fantasia without any fanfare.
It was Walt HIMSELF who made sure that people of any color could come into Disneyland. Take a look at the film Disneyland U.S.A. (1956) and when they show the Autopia, there are two little black girls each getting into their own Autopia car. That wasn’t the case at other entertainment venues in Southern California or the rest of the U.S. Walt would often spend the morning eating breakfast with Aylene Lewis (the actress who played Aunt Jemima) when he visited the park to talk about everything….including if she was being treated well. She always was.
Yes, racism is no joke and we have seen it prominently re-emerge in modern times. However, Walt was not a racist. Should he have been more of an activist? Perhaps. Walt treated everyone equally regardless of age, sex, sexual preference (how many know that Disney Legend Bob Gurr is homosexual?), religion or any other factor. His determination was whether people could do the job. Period. Take a look at Walt’s huge commitment to Eisenhower’s People to People program and then come back and tell me that Walt was racist. His actions demonstrated a man who rose above (perhaps not completely) the tenor of his times.
I agree with you, Jim. Honestly, saying Disney is racist just because of those politically incorrect moments in the mentioned shorts is the same is saying the Termite Terrance gang was racist considering the numerous politically incorrect stuff in their shorts. It ridiculous.
I was thinking of that “People & Places” promotional “Disneyland U.S.A.” (1956) and probably should have mentioned it earlier. There was also an Asian family shown, since the prominent message was that it was a vacation spot for everybody. I do believe a lot of progress was made at Disney in the fifties despite the Mickey Mouse Club being a little too “lily white”. Yeah, we can nitpick that it was a bit too slow, but it was progress nonetheless. Then you have the “It’s A Small World” ride the following decade which summed up the Disney intentions at heart.
I say that as HUGE fan of Walt’s legacy, but it’s foolish to deny the man had issues.
Did two men really die playing polo against Walt Disney? I just heard this one for the first time a few days ago.
Re: Nic Kramer
I would appreciate if you would refrain from putting words in my mouth. I never once said that Walt Disney was a racist [now did I]? There is no way for me (or you) to say if he was or wasn’t. Unless expressed by word or deed, no man knows for sure what demons may lurk within another man’s heart. What I said was that his studio was guilty of occasionally producing racist animation that was painful for Black Americans to watch—a reality that I can personally substantiate.
Furthermore, using the expression “politically incorrect” to describe the shorts that I mentioned in my previous post is what many people do who want to avoid and airbrush away a more pertinent term. In this instance that would be the word “racist.” To be clear, the Disney shorts that I listed are not politically incorrect; they are racist. This is an issue that requires specific terminology; as such, the semantics of “tomato tomahto” will not suffice.
I hope you are having a ridiculously stellar day!
I just now noticed that you replied to my post. I’m at work so I can only quickly respond to a few of the items you addressed.
~ “I have a quote from a Japanese artist working at the studio during World War II and how worried Walt was about her…. he told her if people asked to just respond ‘I am an American’ because it was nobody’s business what her nationality was.” ~
Not very sagacious advice from the wise one considering that following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the ensuing anti-Japanese hysteria that followed, the over 80,000 Japanese Americans who were swept-up and incarcerated in internment camps no doubt passionately expressed to the authorities that they were American citizens, but to no avail.
In addition, while Walt was voicing his concern for the well-being and safety of his Japanese employee, he was simultaneously adding venom to America’s unquenchable, anti-Japanese sentiment by producing cartoons such as:
Goofy’s “Victory Vehicles” 1943 [“Beat the Jap with scrap”]
Donald Duck’s “Commando Duck” 1944
Donald Duck’s “Der Fuehrer’s Face” 1943
~ “You do realize that Walt’s cartoons were infinitely not as racist as the ones produced by competing animation studios.” ~
Firstly, you do realize that by saying Disney’s cartoons were not as racist as other animation studios is to agree with my underlying argument that he did indeed produce racist cartoons. Secondly, to say that his cartoons were “not as racist” is like saying that the Aryan Nation is not as racist as the Ku Klux Klan. There are no degrees or percentages of racism. You cannot say that on a scale of 1 to 10 the level of one’s racism is a 3 or a 7. Racism is or isn’t; period.
Do you think that the 5-12-year-old Black kid sitting in the segregated balcony of a movie theater during the 1940s-50s, or watching Sat. morning cartoons on TV during the 1960s distinguished between not as racist and full-blown racist cartoons. What they saw was images that served to reinforce exactly how they were perceived by White America. Cartoons of the Golden Age that exploited Black stereotypes for a haha may seem insignificant to certain groups of White Americans, but they in fact had a self-hating psychological impact on Black kids who were exposed 24-7-365 to a non-stop barrage of racist entities, social mediums of the era, signage, laws, verbal and physical attacks, and racist people. Note: Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s doll experiments.
~ “You also realize that animation and cartooning rely on exaggeration and often used stereotypes as a quick shorthand whether it was a big obese wealthy man busting out of his vest to represent CAPITAL (as opposed to LABOR) or a wide mouthed black character with a bone in his hair to represent a cannibal.” ~
I understand caricature and the exploitation of stereotypes for comedic effect, but who was laughing at these types of cartoons? It was certainly the intended White audience, but not so much the Black folks who had to endure the brunt of the jokes—the segment of society that even with the joy of animation was often reminded of how they were viewed with contempt and ridicule. As the bulk of the Golden Age cartoons were made for White kids, what was impressed upon their young minds was that Black people were nothing more than popeyed, wide-grinning, big-lipped, lazy, shuffling, ignorant, inarticulate, nappy-headed, watermelon-eating, monkey-like buffoons.
~ “Song of the South is not racist.” ~
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Negro Congress, and millions of Black folks throughout the country thought differently. In protest, picket lines were set up in cities where the film played. It was vigorously condemned in literally every Black-owned newspaper. Even the B-nai B’rith Messenger, the Jewish L.A. newspaper, wrote that the film is “tallying with the reputation that Disney is trying to make for himself as an arch-reactionary.”
~ “It was Walt HIMSELF who paid for the Jewish peddler in Three Little Pigs to be re-animated into a Fuller Brush Salesman AND had Sunflower the centauress removed from Fantasia without any fanfare.” ~
Bravo. I loudly applaud Walt for righting at least two of his wrongs.
~ It was Walt HIMSELF who made sure that people of any color could come into Disneyland…. That wasn’t the case at other entertainment venues in Southern California or the rest of the U.S.” ~
Actually, many other entertainment venues had integrated before or around the time that Disneyland opened its gates in 1955; for example: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Palisades Amusement Park, Coney Island, the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, and countless carnivals, circuses, and fairs in all 50 states. So please do not make Walt out to be some sort of Great White Savior, a Freedom Rider, or a Hollywood celebrity who rallied for Black justice arm-in-arm with White men like Marlon Brandon, Frank Sinatra, Charlton Heston, Paul Newman, Hugh Hefner, and James Gardner.
~ “Walt would often spend the morning eating breakfast with Aylene Lewis (the actress who played Aunt Jemima).” ~
I find it interesting that you would mention Aunt Jemima, who originated as a blackface character in a minstrel show. She is a character that represents the classic, overweight, mammy archetype complete with the stereotypical red bandana on her head and so-called Negro dialect. She is a character who since the late 19th century has been disliked by progressive Black women as someone whose image is a disturbing regressive throwback to the antebellum cotton plantation. Moreover, what does it say about Disneyland having an Aunt Jemima restaurant, which was no different than the infamous 1,000+ Sambo’s restaurants that were eyesores in nearly every state. To this day I cannot even go to the grocery store without seeing the racist images of Aunt Jemima on the pancake box and syrup bottle; Uncle Ben on the rice box, and Rastus on the Cream of Wheat box.
~ “However, Walt was not a racist.” ~
In my previous post I never once said that Walt was a racist. However, Disney along with Bray, Fleischer, Terry, Lantz, Schlesinger, Pal, Van Beuren, and Hanna-Barbera produced hundreds of racist cartoons for the enjoyment of White Americans that were undeniably hurtful to Black Americans and Natives. During the Golden Age of Animation these men were collectively complicit in perpetuating ongoing racist tropes and imagery that have been entrenched in America’s DNA since the birth of our nation. Many of their cartoons were a reflection of America’s values and societal norms that were prevalent during an era in which disenfranchised Black Americans were considered by a vast swath of White Americans as being just a notch above monkeys—a period in U.S. history when Black folks always found themselves on the receiving end of America’s piss stream.
~ “Take a look at Walt’s huge commitment to Eisenhower’s People to People program and then come back and tell me that
Walt was racist. His actions demonstrated a man who rose above (perhaps not completely) the tenor of his times.” ~
All of the things you mentioned regarding Walt’s commitment to racial, gender, religious, ethnic, and gay justice, including his involvement with Eisenhower’s People to People program, seems to have coincidentally happened after the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme court, which ruled that public schools for Black and White students was unconstitutional… ending state-sponsored segregation in the public school system. It appears that it was during that period that Walt may have seen the proverbial ‘light’ and decided to kick ethnically offensive cartoons to the curb.
Walt was first and foremost a businessman who was intent on building a mega empire. As such, image, image, image [aka public persona] is everything. Disney was slightly ahead of the curve of many of his contemporaries, by realizing that fundamental change was coming via the Civil Rights Movement regarding the segregated social construct, antiquated laws, and the overall racial dynamic of America. Therefore, anything that could remotely be deemed racist in his films, shorts, characters, merchandise, theme parks, etc., could not be permitted a seat in the Disney corporate boardroom. Like so many other White business owners (including those in the South), Disney simply realized the tremendous revenue potential of Black Americans that was just waiting to be capitalized and/or preyed upon. When all was said and done, the almighty greenback trumped Black & White.
~ “Walt treated everyone equally regardless of age, sex, sexual preference (how many know that Disney Legend Bob Gurr is homosexual?), religion or any other factor.” ~
It has not been my intention to bash Walt Disney. As a cartoon enthusiast, I am appreciative of his many firsts, innovative accomplishes, and his unbridled enthusiasm for all things animation. He is unquestionably an icon in the world of animation, and was a leader among the pack of cartoon studios. The bulk of cartoons that came out of the Disney Studio has brought me decades of entertainment and laughter of which I am sincerely grateful.
“Walt would often spend the morning eating breakfast with Aylene Lewis (the actress who played Aunt Jemima).”
…and then have lunch with Colonel Saunders? Nice try.
Harland Sanders outlived Walt by at least 25 years.
Nancy Green, who invented the ‘Aunt Jemima’ pancake resipe, used it as a stage name even before she was hired by Quaker oats.
I agree that the Schikel book was the beginning of the misconceptions. Only a handful of books had been published about Disney to date, most on the animation process. This was the first “real” so-called serious biography (plus a study of the company.) I had a lengthy interview with him in 1968, soon after his book THE DISNEY VERSION came out. I can’t say it was an uplifting experience,
I had read the book the day I bought it and the next day called Schickel for an interview. I flew to New York and went to his office.
His book is a hatchet job on Disney. The interview started with my giving him a list of factual errors with page references- quite a few. I basically tore a literary strip off him but to his credit he continued with the interview for an hour. I tape recorded the interview and still have it somewhere.
Eventually he said he had started the book as an overall positive view and a look behind the scenes, albeit with many reservations about the subjects. He did not want to do this book but was promised by his publisher that if he did this one he could do what he wanted as the next one. He was friends with an up and coming actor, Robert Redford, or thought well of him and wanted to do a book on him. When the publisher said no, possibly because the actor wasn’t yet established enough, the Disney book became a hatchet job of pique he in effect said. Since Schickel’s recent death there have been comments about his having a negative outlook and being shall we say far from being your jovial film critic.
He realized that I knew the subject of Disney at least as well as he did and at the end of the interview offered to sign my copy of the book. He wrote: “To Peter Adamakos, Disneyphile, from Richard Schickel, Disneyphobe?”
-One of the personal stories about animation, Disney and the movies from the facebook page of Peter Adamakos.
Okay, Jim, I just gotta know… why would Walt be having breakfast with Aylene Lewis? Was she a neighbor by any chance? Did she work at Disneyland in some capacity?
Not going to get mired in controversy by posing as an expert in what people thought back then. This is just a line that truly piqued my curiosty.
Walt had breakfast with her in the park.