How much of what everyone “knows” about animation history is wrong? For example …
The first TV cartoon was Crusader Rabbit, in 1949. And Crusader always fought the villainous Dudley Nightshade.
That’s what IMDb seems to say, all right. Also TV.com, the TV IV, the Museum of Broadcast Communications, TV Tropes, Skooldays, Inner Toob, and other online sites of “nostalgia” information about the early days of television. Other sites such as Wikipedia, the Archive of American Television, Digital Media FX, WikiFur, and Animation World Media give the correct date of August 1, 1950. Still others such as IMDb list both dates in different parts of their articles, or avoid giving any date at all in their information about Crusader Rabbit.
Thorough researchers, such as myself through the pages of TV Guide for 1949 and 1950, give the correct date as August 1, 1950. Crusader Rabbit started production in early 1949, and producer Jerry Fairbanks promoted it furiously all through 1949 and 1950 in press releases and trade magazine advertisements as being available for TV syndication. But the first actual sale and broadcast was to KNBH in Los Angeles beginning August 1, 1950.
Where did the 1949 date, sometimes even specified as September 1, 1949, come from? Possibly from a dated magazine article or advertisement. Also, Fairbanks’ promotion may have included giving the first one or two finished episodes to TV children’s programs during 1949, to let them be seen. Crusader Rabbit was certainly in production during 1949. Nevertheless, the contracted first 130 episodes were not finished until the series had definitely been sold, to begin airing on August 1, 1950. The record has always been clear on this. The final 65 episodes were added during 1951.
As to whether Cru’s adversary was always Dudley Nightshade, that was in the color series only. When producer Shull Bonsall took over the 195-episode black-&-white series and decided to make the color sequels in the late 1950s, he got the brainstorm of combining all of Cru’s villains into one. He was openly inspired by Time for Beany’s Dishonest John, since Bonsall claimed that Dudley Nightshade predated Dishonest John and was the first TV cartoon villain! (True only if you quibble that D.J. was a hand puppet at first, not a cartoon. Time for Beany first appeared on Los Angeles local TV on February 28, 1949 and went national the next year.) Cru’s “crusades” each had a different villain at first. The first, Crusader vs. the State of Texas (15 episodes), was technically an adversary, not a villain; Frank Sawbuck, a big game hunter type who had been hired by the Texas government to rid Texas of jackrabbits because they were eating all the carrots that Texas’ sharpshooters needed for their keen vision. Cru persuaded the rabbits to switch from carrots to tastier creampuffs, and everybody was happy.
But the others were genuine villains! Crusade #2, Crusader vs. the Pirates (20 episodes), was against Black Bilge and his pirates. #3, Crusader and the Rajah of Rinsewater (20 episodes), was against Dudley Nightshade, a crooked royal advisor. #4, Crusader and the Schmohawk Indians (15 episodes), pitted Cru and the Indians against Chicago gangster type Babyface Barracuda and his mob. The villain of #5, Crusader and the Great Horse Mystery (20 episodes), was glue magnate Gaston Glub, who was kidnapping all the racehorses in Kentucky to steal their hooves to make Glub’s Glue. #6, Crusader and the Circus (10 episodes), pitted Cru and Rags against a crooked circus ringmaster, Whetstone Whiplash, and his henchman, the dishonest circus strongman, Bilious Greene. #7, Crusader in the Tenth Century (30 episodes), was a time-travel adventure with Cru and Rags going back a thousand years to confront the medieval Blaggard brothers; Blackheart, Brimstone, and Bigot, and their two-headed dragon, Arson and Sterno. In #8, Crusader and the Mad Hollywood Scientist (15 episodes), Cru and Rags saved Hollywood from mad scientist Belfrey Q. Batts who aimed to uglify all of the handsome actors, and at one point turned Rags into a flightless vulture.
At that point, Alex Anderson & Jay Ward became concerned that Crusader Rabbit and Rags the Tiger were their only recurring characters. They decided that they should have a larger regular cast. So with Crusade #9, Crusader and the Leprechauns (25 episodes), they gave Cru & Rags a tagalong friend, Garfield Groundhog, and they started recycling their villains. #9 featured Dudley Nightshade who was fleecing the leprechauns of Ireland, and #10, Crusader and the Showboat (25 episodes), had the return of Whetstone Whiplash, who had become a crooked Mississippi riverboat captain with Bilious Greene as his first mate.
Only Dudley Nightshade and Whetstone Whiplash really looked alike. Both were caricatures of the stereotyped 19th century melodrama villain; tall and lean, dressed all in black with a cape that he flourished, and a thin, black moustache that he twirled. But Bonsall took advantage of the fact that by 1959 when he released the color series, nobody remembered the old 1949-51 episodes. Even though he offered both series for sale, TV stations wanted only the color episodes with better animation. So the public bought his story that Cru’s nemesis was always Dudley Nightshade in different disguises. And in the color episodes, he was.
Actually, Bonsall used the character design of Whetstone Whiplash with Dudley’s name, because Whetstone looked meaner. The original Dudley might hesitate to steal candy from a baby. There was no doubt that Whetstone would not hesitate.
Out of public sight, the real Walt Disney was a bitter, foul-mouthed bigot who refused to hire Jews or African-Americans.
This is a myth that just should not exist. Even if it did not pop up until after Disney was dead and no longer around to deny it, there are plenty of veteran Disney employees who knew Walt personally, and can not only deny the myth, they have! Often! But it continues to be perpetuated, just like the one that Walt has had his body frozen in cryogenic suspension, to be thawed out when medical science catches up with the cancer that killed him. (Walt Disney died of a heart attack just after an operation for an incurable cancer, probably post-operative stress. His body was cremated, and the ashes buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.)
Walt did use the swear words that almost any adult male frequently uses, and he may have used some of the racially prejudicial terms like “n—–“ and “to jew down” that were common before about the 1950s. But Floyd Norman, an African-American active in anti-prejudice organizations, was hired by the Disney studio in the 1950s and often saw and worked directly with Disney before his death. Norman has said emphatically that Disney showed no sign of being racist or having any objection to hiring Black employees. As for Jews, one of Disney’s earliest animators was Isadore “Friz” Freleng. Freleng went to work for Disney in Kansas City, and when Walt moved to Hollywood he asked Freleng to join him. Freleng worked with Disney on the “Alice” comedies and “Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit” until 1927 when Charles Mintz notoriously hired away all of Disney’s animators except Ub Iwerks. Freleng animated for Mintz for a year until Universal took the “Oswald” cartoons away from him. Most of Mintz’s animators ended up working for Leon Schlesinger making Warner Bros. cartoons. There is a story that when Bob Clampett made the 1944 Russian Rhapsody short with caricatures of all the Schlesinger staff as the gremlins who are wrecking Adolf Hitler’s airplane in mid-air, WB got a complaint about a gross drawing of a Jew, looking just like a Nazi caricature of a big-nosed Jew among the other self-caricatures. That was “Friz” Freleng, who really did look like an exaggerated parody of a Jew. He was just as obviously Jewish when he was working directly under Disney. Another prominent Jew at Disney was Art Babbitt, who defined the look of Goofy in the 1930s short cartoons. Disney came to personally hate Babbitt, but not because he was Jewish; because he was a leader of the anti-Disney studio strike in 1941. Disney later publicly accused Babbitt of “probably” being a Communist, but made no complaints about his Jewishness. During the 1950s, Disney was openly friendly with producer Samuel Goldwyn, who made no secret of the fact that he was a Polish Jew named Schmuel Gelbfisz when he came to America.
But not only do the rumors of Disney’s poisonous anti-Semitism persist, they grow more widespread and more blatant. There are the three biographies filled with anti-Disney hate that has been disproven, but they are cited again and again as proof: Disney’s World: A Biography (Stein & Day, 1983) and The Real Walt Disney (HarperCollins, April 1986), both by Leonard Mosley; and Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince, by Marc Eliot (Birch Lane Press, July 1993). There are the anti-Disney jokes on Family Guy (“Are the Jews gone yet?”), Robot Chicken, and Saturday Night Live (Walt Disney is asked how he thawed out early. “Science says global warming, but I can’t help thinking it has something to do with Jews!”)
In June 1934 Disney announced to the public his decision to make a feature-length film; Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The workaholic Disney was showing signs of another nervous breakdown by early 1935 (he had already had one in 1931), and his brother Roy persuaded him to get away from the pressure by taking a family working vacation to Europe that summer. It lasted from mid-June to mid-August. Walt, wife Lillian, brother Roy, and Roy’s wife Edna landed in the Normandie in Plymouth on June 12, went to London where they discussed the booking of Disney films with British cinema executives, then to Paris in early July where Walt was presented with the Legion d‘Honneur. They rented a car and drove to Münich where Disney films were playing at a theater, and Roy signed a contract with Baveria Filmkunst Gmbh. to take over the distribution of Disney films in Germany. Their itinerary shows that they were in Münich from July 7 to 9. They next drove to Milan and Venice where the 3rd International Film Festival was showing. Disney’s The Band Concert received an award. Then to Rome, where the Disneys were wined & dined by the Minister of Propaganda, Count Galeazzo Ciano. Walt had a private meeting with Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, and was interviewed on a weekly newsreel. A gala evening was held for Disney at the Italian premiere of an American movie. After a couple of similar publicity events, the Disneys went on to Naples and Capri, then returned to America in the Italian ocean liner Rex in mid-August.
An enjoyable vacation, and well-documented. Nobody questioned it for over sixty years. Then in the 2000s the anti-Disney rumor mill began to claim that Disney had snuck away while they were in Münich and driven to Berchtesgaden to see Adolf Hitler! Reportedly the two men had congratulated each other on their anti-Semitism. This was even built up into a play, Disney in Deutschland by John J. Powers, which had at least two productions by the Wunderland Theatre Group in San Francisco: at the Next Stage Theatre on June 8-24, 2007, and at the Garage Playhouse beginning January 31, 2008. The first production was reviewed by animation fan Harry McCracken:
“The piece takes place in 1935 at Hitler’s Berchtesgaden mountain home, with a set that sports such authentic decorations as a “gramophone” with an LCD display and a book with a bar code on the jacket. Hitler (John Strain) is there with Leni Riefenstahl (Donna K. Moore)–they can’t keep their hands off each other, which, as far as I know, is an alternate-reality touch in itself–and they’re anticipating Disney’s visit.
They’re quite excited about it: “Disney’s our mensch!,” burbles Adolf. Leni, however, does point out that “his films were banned here for years because some animal–a duck, I think–ridiculed the Kaiser.”
Walt arrives; as played by Brendan Scoggin, he looks and behaves more like Hal “The Great Gildersleeve” Peary than the Disney we know. “Goebbels tells me that you make pictures for children,” comments Hitler by way of conversation.
“Herr Hitler, I don’t know if you know this, but you have quite a following in America,” says Walt genially, mentioning that he’s attended Nazi rallies in Los Angeles. He spews hatred at Hollywood rivals like “that damned Jew at Universal.” And boasts that he manages to avoid interaction with the Jews because “we create, produce, and distribute–we do everything ourselves!” (Apparently, Buena Vista existed in 1935; we just didn’t know it.)
Suddenly inspired to play storyman, Adolf attempts to convince Walt to make a cartoon based on a Brothers Grimm tale called “The Jew and the Thornbush,” but Walt seems skeptical of its potential. Even so, they’re kindred spirits, and Walt recognizes it: “Herr Hitler, we’re doing the same thing, but in different ways.”
And then they really bond when Walt confides in Adolf that he remains tormented by how Elias stripped him naked and beat him as a child; a compassionate Adolf tells Walt that his father loved him even so.
All along, both Walt and Adolf have been admiring a large scale model of Germania, Hitler’s planned renewal project for Berlin. Walt loves it, seeing it as a place with interesting buildings, attractions, and things for families to do together. You almost expect him to start talking about E tickets and churros.
Finally, Walt gets to the point of his visit: He wants Adolf to allow the distribution of Disney cartoons in Germany. Adolf agrees, on one condition: that if anything happens to him, Walt will see to it that Germania is built in some form or fashion. We see an image of Germany’s fairytale-like Neuschwanstein castle, famous for inspiring the Disneyland castle, projected behind them. The performance ends.”
The record has always been clear that Crusader Rabbit did not begin TV syndication until August 1950; and that Walt Disney, before his death in 1966, was never an anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi bigot. But if anything seems certain, it is that it does not matter how often the myths are disproven. Informational sites will continue to state that Crusader Rabbit was released in 1949, and popular “everybody knows” information about Walt Disney will portray him as anti-Black and a Jew-hater. Now it’s even in opera! Philip Glass’ The Perfect American, which debuted in Madrid’s Teatro Real this January, features Disney just before his death, having a surrealistic conversation with the audioanimatronic Abraham Lincoln that he built for Disneyland. Lincoln espouses the liberalism of the Emancipation Proclamation, while Disney responds with questions that strongly hint at a racist bias. “Martin Luther King, Eldridge Cleaver, is that what you wanted? Doesn’t that go too far even for you, Mr. President? The black people’s march in Washington; would you really agree with that?” Like the classic Walt Disney himself, the legends are larger than life and they will continue to grow.
These Walt myths should not exist. They are cruel and injust. And are all completely untrue.
Yeah, how did it all start anyway?
A few years back on Cartoon Brew I had quite a go-round with playwright John J. Powers about “Disney in Deutschland.” My beef wasn’t so much that his play, such as it was, was a mean-spirited revisionist fiction that seemed solely designed to attract attention for being “iconoclastic;” it was that he portrayed it as representational of actual events.
When pressed, however, Powers couldn’t produce any historical evidence, and began retreating into an excuse of “artistic license.” At the same time, he belittled my lifetime of study of Walt Disney, and dismissed my role as creative director of The Walt Disney Family Museum as biased and unimportant.
People keep repeating this kind nonsense as part of a pseudo-intellectual desire to prove a kind of massive cultural fraud–an idea that we are all mindless sheep who cannot tell dross from gold, and that we are essentially suckers buying cultural snake oil from a disingenuous carny barker–and the patronizing perpetrators of these revisionist legends feel intellectually superior and righteous in their exposure of this “fraud.”
That’s all it is Jeff, plainly that’s all they’re doing to soil Walt’s name in the mud here.
FWIW, Fred, “Radio Daily” reported on Jan. 25, 1949 that Fairbanks would have the Crusaders available “within a few months.” Perhaps that’s why people thought the cartoons debuted that year.
I couldn’t find Crusader in TV listings earlier than August 14, 1950 so I’m glad you’ve cleared it up.
Yes, Jerry Fairbanks’ scrapbooks contained lots of press clippings of paid advertisements and magazine articles based on Fairbanks’ press releases starting in early 1949 that promoted “Crusader Rabbit” as all ready for TV broadcast. Mixed with them were production memos and correspondence with Anderson’s and Ward’s Television Art Productions in San Francisco that made it clear that only the first five episodes were finished that early, for promotional purposes. TAP continued to produce episodes very slowly throughout 1949 and early 1950. It was not until Fairbanks made a definite sale for the 130 episodes to be broadcast on KNBH in Los Angeles beginning August 1, 1950 that they sped up production to complete the package.
The Walt one initially started as a rude joke / misunderstanding and then spread like wildfire among people who just want to use it as an excuse to rag on the Disney company.
Are all the caricatures on “Family Guy” that incompetent? That didn’t look or sound anything like Walt Disney.
Fred, it is wonderful to see you contributing frequently to this site. I have always enjoyed your knowledgeable and insightful pieces. This column is a good example.
For most of his life, Walt was apolitical. It was only later in life that he became involved in supporting conservative Republican candidates.
In February 1943, Walt Disney visited Harvard University once again to consult with anthropology department chair Earnest A. Hooton about a forthcoming Technicolor film ridiculing Adolf Hitler’s racist theories.On the steps of the Faculty Club, Disney told the Boston press that he planned to leave Hitler “out of the picture,” since “too much attention has already been given to that guy.” The film was never made. Also, remember Hitler tried banning Mickey Mouse cartoons.
Didier Ghez has recently uncovered information that Walt Disney never met with Mussolini (who was a big Mickey Mouse fan) but Roy O. Disney might have.
Yes, Floyd Norman has been very vocal that Walt never treated him any differently as an animator or a storyman.
Yes, people like Joe Grant have been very vocal that Walt was not anti-Semitic. Walt’s daughter, Sharon, even seriously dated a Jewish boyfriend with no complaints from Walt. Walt even had a rabbi there at the opening of Disneyland. I could list pages of similar examples.
I think it is also very important that former Jewish employees like Art Babbitt and Friz Freleng who didn’t care for Walt at all that when they were criticizing him, never brought up the anti-Semitic card ever.
However, that is the power of a story…no matter how many credible, undisputed facts exist, some fake stories are so powerful that they continue to survive.
While he never presented Hitler as a comically incompetent villain, Disney did mock Hitler’s heroic image in the otherwise grim “Education for Death”, while the more comic “Der Fuhrer’s Face” and “Reason and Emotion” emphasized serious anti-Nazi messages over making Hitler funny. Perhaps this was a consequence of Disney doing a lot of serious propaganda work, or his own story instinct resisting the idea of equating a real-life monster with someone like Yosemite Sam.
And aside from the castle knockoff, Disneyland showed little German influence — nearly all of Fantasyland is heavily anchored in British source material, and the Snow White ride follows the movie in feeling more like fairytale England than Grimm Brothers’ Black Forest. Also note it’s Sleeping Beauty’s castle, a French story by way of a Russian ballet emphatically reset in England.
More importantly, Disney’s guiding design principles were the opposite of Hitleresque grandeur and monumentalism. Disneyland was conceived as bringing everything down to manageable human scale (indeed, “trivializing” history, science and culture was an early criticism). Hitler wanted visitors to be awed by the greatness of an empire and proud to surrender to it. Disney wanted visitors to feel like the stars of the movie; any awe was transformed by the knowledge it was all built for your amusement. Even Tomorrowland’s grand visions of the future usually came down to the personal benefits.
Hitler would never have allowed his Germania to humble itself before the visitor (even for profit, as any public amusement does). And Disney would never have built his pleasure park as an intimidating monument. The idea the former inspired the latter doesn’t even work as a dramatic fantasy.
People invent these things because it is easy to tear down someone who had paid his dues, and yet these attackers have never really achieved anything of equal merit, which takes a lot of work and heartache.
It’s also very easy to attack someone who’s dead and no longer around to defend himself. It’s a cowardly approach that’s taken too often by people with an agenda or with a score to settle.
I totally don’t believe that Walt Disney was anti-Semitic. “Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince” is THE worst book I’ve ever read about Walt.
Yeah, I first saw that book about ten years ago in Middle School as another student was reading it. At first, I thought it was another innocent biography about Walt only to skim through the book and find the FBI notes about him and realized what the title sorta ment. I quickly closed the book without saying much with a shocked look on my face.
I think Bill Justice’s protest drawing of Donald and Goofy gathering copies of the book and getting ready to burn them pretty much sums my feelings of the book.
Just FYI, here are a few gents that this “Jew-hater” had in his employ:
The Sherman Brothers
And other prominent artists like Marc Davis and David Swift had Jewish fathers.
His long friendship with Samuel and Frances Goldwyn, and with Jules Stein, sort of give the lie to the “anti-Semite” label, too.
And Hans Conried.
Not only did Walt had alot of Jewish employees, the studios went back and reanimated a scene in “The Three Little Pigs” when the short was reissued in the early 1940’s. In the orginal version of the short, when all the pigs were safe in the brick house, the wolf disguised himself as a Jewish peddler (refering to the fact that they don’t eat pork). As respect of the change times in the early 1940’s, the wolf’s disguised was changed to a Fuller Brushman.
Now does that sound like that myth was true? No, it doesn’t.
Actually, I think the wolf always identified himself as a Fuller Brush Man. The reanimation converted the Jewish caricature into a 1920s college boy, which allowed them to keep some of the later animation where we see the wolf wearing a fur coat.
As a kid I recall a 78rpm record set of the story, mixing narration with what seemed to be voices and music from the short.When it came to that scene, there was mock-Jewish music in the background and an unfamiliar “dumb guy” voice announcing “I’m working my way through college. You wanna buy some brushes?” Evidently for that reissue they tweaked the vocal track but left the musical track alone.
It would be interesting to know the root of the Disney accusations. It would also be interesting to know the real man. I’m sure he was quite a complicated artist. I’m not sure where all the angst comes from concerning Walt. Jealousy? Hell, he hired Richard Fleischer, the jewish son of his jewish rival. Yes, Walt was a relentless businessman who constantly promoted Disneyland. So? Just because he didn’t like the strikers doesn’t make him an anti-Semite, just like not agreeing with Israel’s policies doesn’t make you one. I like Family Guy as entertainment, but it does make me cringe a little when they have played such a large role in perpetuating the Disney stereotype. We all know the power of cartoons to be constantly replayed and make us aware of famous celebrities from the past. Those Family Guy episodes will be constantly replayed, all around the world, reinforcing a Disney prejudice that may have no basis in fact.
I don’t hate Family Guy for making these jokes, because I know the truth that Walt Disney was not anti-semite.
I hate the people who accept what Family Guy says is the truth.
The Disney accusations-could a MAJOR root just be Schickel’s 1968 diatribe “THE DISNEY VERSION”?
Could be. When I got Schickel’s “The Disney Version” in 1968, I found so many errors in it that I started to make a list of them. One was about Snow White crying in her opening scene and her tears falling into the courtyard well, when the whole point of the scene is that she has remained so happy despite the wicked queen treating her like a servant. But the errors were all of statements about Disney’s films that were easily provable by watching the films. I don’t recall that Schickel said anything disparaging about Disney himself except that he was a ruthless studio boss rather than the kindly buddy-buddy that the studio was always promoting; and plenty of Disney animators have since verified that that was true.
In case you’ve never seen it, Fred, the following is transcribed from the June 26, 1950 issue of BROADCASTING magazine, page 26.
“CARNATION CO., L. A. (Carnation products, Friskies dog food), July 15 starts three-weekly, five-minute Crusader Rabbit on KNBH (TV) Los Angeles. Plans to extend nationally in fall. Agency: Erwin, Wasey & Co., L. A.”
Unfortunately, too many websites do little, if any, research. They’re content to merely duplicate information found elsewhere on the internet, without bothering to investigate whether or not that information is correct.
I assume that, for some reason, broadcasting was delayed from July 15 to August 1. I remember “Crusader Rabbit” as sponsored by Dr. Ross Dog Food, not Friskies.
Repeat the lie often enough and it will be accepted as truth. Sadly, it still seems to work.
By the way, Walt’s niece married one of Disney’s Jewish writers, and I can’t begin to tell you how many Jewish animators I worked with at Walt Disney Productions. However, truth seems to matter little these days.
Hi, Floyd. If I might bring this up here, what is happening with your autobiography, “Animated Life: A Lifetime of Tips, Tricks, Techniques and Stories from an Animation Legend”, that Focal Press had announced would be published last August? The last that I heard, around the end of last year, was that the Disney organization was refusing to say “yes” on giving permission to publish all of your photographs and other illustrations taken on Disney property or showing Disney-copyrighted material, without going on record as refusing to give you its permission.
Speaking as a lay observer, and not having been there when it happened, I have to wonder if there is another thing that may have led the anti-Disney crowd.
In 1947, Walter E. Disney testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, as a “friendly” witness. (The transcript of his testimony has been reprinted elsewhere…) Disney used the occasion to excoriate the union organizers who encouraged the strike back in 1941. If anything, Disney may have wanted to link the labor movement with international Communism, which was the bugbear of the day.
To the anti-anti Communist mind, anybody who opposed Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, or any of the other viewpoints that wee seen as Communism, had to be a narrow-minded bigot.
Could this be the origins of the anti-Disney attitudes, which have nothing to do with any artistic objections (such as were voiced by Manny Farber as early as 1942)?
Possibly. Disney was known to be a staunch opponent of Communism, or what the American public thought in the 1940s that the International Communist Menace was. Some people have assumed that Communism was Jewish controlled (the Nazis always said so, and everybody knew that Leon Trotsky was a Jew), so to some people, Disney’s anti-Communism was evidence of anti-Jewishness. The pertinent point is that nobody brought this up during Disney’s lifetime; only after he was dead and could not deny it.
It’s part of it, in the same way that the stories about J. Edgar Hoover being gay and wearing dresses or all the John F. Kennedy bedded every woman in the Washington, D.C. phone book were floated after their deaths by people seeking some sort of payback because they disliked him politically.
Hoover of course was far more political than Disney and did a lot more things for people to get angry about, while JFK did at least have 1-2 trysts to spark all the future claims. But because of Walt’s clashes off the years which involved politics, and combined with people who just don’t like the success of his company (then or now), you ended up with the same problems as with the others. People who wanted to believe the worst about Disney, to the point that the original “Let’s make up a story about Walt now that he’s dead” rumor — that he was cryogenically frozen — wasn’t nasty enough for them. So we ended up with the anti-Semitic Disney rumor that falls under the “Too good to check” category for people who may not even know why the dislike Disney, other than because of the rumor they can’t prove is true.
I feel a need to clarify a bit here, however. For one thing, concern about the HUAC and Walt Disney’s testimony before it isn’t necessarily “anti anti-Communist” so much as anti-McCarthyism (and the two are not the same). Moreover, the actual transcript is revealing. It *does* show narrowmindededness, but none of it has anything to do with ethnicity or race. Rather, it has to do with Disney’s assumptions about the studio strike (that it was all a Communist plot), his personal emotions (it definitely supports the theory that he was wounded as he saw the studio as a family, and didn’t necessarily take into consideration pay inequities, the Snow White bonuses that never surfaced, and all of the other factors into the strike), and so on. And here’s where we see narrowmindedness and assumptions, when he suddenly and (to my mind) inexplicably names Dave Hilberman: “HAS: Can you name any other individuals that were active at the time
of the strike that you believe in your opinion are Communists?
WD: Well, I feel that there is one artist in my plant, that came in
there, he came in about 1938, and he sort of stayed in the background,
he wasn’t too active, but he was the real brains of this, and I
believe he is a Communist. His name is David Hilberman.
HAS: How is it spelled?
WD: H-i-l-b-e-r-m-a-n, I believe. I looked into his record and I found
that, number 1, that he had no religion and, number 2, that he had
spent considerable time at the Moscow Art Theatre studying art
direction, or something.”
Disney’s reasoning for denouncing Hilberman (who was certainly not the “brains” behind the strike) is fairly typical of the McCarthy era, but it definitely shows a huge leap and narrow assumptions about what a Communist is (i.e. someone without religion who had some connection with Russia or spent time there, “or something.”) Radio actress Minerva Pious (Mrs. Nussbaum on “The Fred Allen Show”) was blacklisted, apparently at least in part because she was born in Russia (forgetting the fact that she was born in *Czarist* Russia and her family fled during the revolution to the US).
Whether or not the HUAC appearance has anything to do with the later rumors, I felt the need to clarify that Disney’s testimony before it can (and I think should) be subjected to genuine critique. And in fact that’s another problem with the nuts like Powers. A play or biography or essay on Disney the man could be layered and avoid *both* elements of mythmaking (Uncle Walt the perfect happiness giver and Walt the monster) by acknowledging proven, sourced statements or incidents such as the HUAC testimony and the strike, as well as aspects of Walt Disney that aren’t flaws but are perhaps too quirky for the “approved Disney narrative” as Michael Barrier calls it (i.e. the obsession with fanny gags and chamber pot gags which Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston discussed, his personal suggestion to Floyd Gottfredson of the Mickey Mouse suicide gag sequence in “Mr. Slicker and the Egg Robbers”; they show a more complex sense of humor and person without having to invent or imply racism, affairs, or whatever). But to date nobody has done so (I’d actually be less surprised if the Walt Disney Family Museum, which seems far more aware of Walt Disney the real human, including any human frailties, did such a book or exhibit or whatnot, compared to the Disney company.)
I think one book that really established the “Disney as anti-Semite” idea in a lot of people’s minds was Richard Schickel’s THE DISNEY VERSION. In the chapter where he discusses “The Three Little Pigs,” Shickel devotes a disproportionate amount of his critique to the “wolf as Jewish peddler” scene, implying this as “proof.”
Whenever I hear this repeated, I am quick to point out how similar Jewish caricatures pervaded American animated cartoons throughout the 1930s and were essentially no more maliciously intended that the similar caricatures of blacks, Irish, Italians, Gypsies, Indians, etc. I could go right now to my own collection and pull up at least half-a-dozen or more cartoons featuring Jewish caricatures, including some from Warners and Fleischer, both of which were run by Jews.
I have always wondered if using the wolf as a Jewish peddler was supposed to be a gag that the pigs would feel safe that they wouldn’t be eaten or whether it was just a quick stereotype pulled because it would common to have a Jewish peddler go door to door at that time period.
Marc Elliot’s Disney book is the most represensible,suggesting that Walt had an unnatural attraction to his adopted daughter.
As for anti-semitism, that icon of progressivism H.L. Mencken had a lot worse to say than anything Disney allegedly came up with.
I think I’ve perpetuated the Crusader Rabbit 1949 myth too, because of print information claiming that Jerry Fairbanks test-marketed the show before its actual premiere (Fairbanks was a notoriously unreliable source). And when I was kid the ONLY ran the Bonsall cartoons.
Yes, Fairbanks’ scrapbooks made it clear that he took every opportunity during 1949 to test-market Crusader Rabbit, and put out press releases that implied that these were definite sales. One event, I think as early as February or March 1949, was to set up his production studio like a circus tent, and invite every L.A. newspaper to send a reporter who was married with young children, with their kids, for a cake-&-ice cream party and a screening of the first few episodes that had been finished. Certainly anyone doing superficial research would find plenty of press releases disguised as straight reporting during 1949 that implied that Crusader Rabbit was on the air. But the earliest real playdate started in Los Angeles on August 1, 1950.
It wasn’t just the myth about Disney’s bigotry that annoyed me in DARK PRINCE. Eliot refers to unnamed 20s conservative organizations that got behind Mickey (Why?), seems to think that Keystone Kops films were still being made in the early 30s, is unaware of Laurel and Hardy’s MUSIC BOX Oscar win (To contrast with Disney’s Oscar, he writes that Laurel and Hardy shorts were too risque to win an Oscar and that Mack Sennett shorts too critical of the police!!!!!??????), and in a really egregious goof, writes that everything Disney made after STEAMBOAT WILLIE was in color!
A dozen or so years ago, I heard vague rumors of some German book that supposedly had all the inside dope on Walt and Germany, but didn’t give it too much thought until a small US publisher contacted me about possibly translating it. Anyone who knows my freelance history can probably figure out who the publisher was, but let’s say he was someone who had dealt with the Disney organization and was enough annoyed by the experience to want to give the Mouse a poke in the eye by publishing a muckraking book. We met for dinner in an upscale restaurant and discussed the book over a nice steak, and I was given a copy to look over and evaluate as to whether it would be worth publishing. He seemed to think the book had lots of juicy scandals unknown in the US, but….
The book was WIE MICKY UNTER DIE NAZIS FIEL: WALT DISNEY UND DEUTSCHLAND by Carsten Laqua (the title is literally, “How Mickey fell under the Nazis,” but I’m told it’s a take-off on a standard children’s book title format and a little hard to render adequately in English; any eventual English version would have had a different title.)
It turned out the title was far more sensationalistic than the actual contents, and the book wasn’t at all like people thought. It was partly an ordinary history of Walt Disney and his studio boiled down from all the standard English-language sources, with nothing new. The Disney in Deutschland part was a dry recounting of what cartoons were shown when before the War in German-speaking territories, along with a history of the Disney company in Germany both before and after the War (but not during) of absolutely no interest to anyone who wasn’t German. No breathless stories of Walt having a secret meeting with Adolf, in other words. The author didn’t know any more about the secret history of Disney than anyone else and probably knew less than anyone who reads Jim Korkis’s articles. Such sensational revelations as there were in the book were sensational only for German readers who knew Disney just as a distant figure somewhere off in faraway America and from his official image, and didn’t know the inside story about things Germans of more leftish bent would find shocking like the Strike or Walt’s anti-Communism. All of which has been told far better in English-language sources. In short, the book was close to worthless for American readers, I told the publisher as much, and never heard anything more about it. The steak dinner was all I got out of the affair, which I guess was at least something.
One interesting random tidbit, though, was that even during the War, Disney films made their way into Germany by way of neutral countries and were viewed by the top brass even if they were verboten for the masses. As late as January of 1945, there was a request for a screening of SNOW WHITE to be shown to military officers, with the justification that it would provide insight as to how the enemy thought. Who would believe that excuse, I’m not sure, and I don’t recall if the book mentioned whether the request was approved. Also of note was a plan to build a German cartoon studio to compete on an equal level with Disney, with the first feature film projected for 1950. That idea was apparently floated late in the War, when you’d think they had more important problems to worry about, and of course events rendered the whole thing moot before much longer.
Otherwise, the book would have been a crashing disappointment for anyone expecting (or hoping for) the worst.
I recently reviewed “Animation Under the Swastika: A History of Trickfilm in Nazi Germany, 1933-1945” by Rolf Giesen & J. P. Storm (McFarland & Co., September 2012) for Animation World Network. http://www.awn.com/articles/books/book-review-animation-under-swastika-history-trickfilm-nazi-germany It documents that Hitler and Goebbels were personally big fans of Disney’s cartoons although they publicly disparaged them as part of Germany’s pre-war anti-American propaganda; that they had wanted to make a German equivalent of “Snow White” but realized that no German studio was up to it; and that on August 7, 1941 Goebbels started to create such an animation studio, Deutsche Zeichenfilm G.m.b.H. A studio for 4,000 animators was built and one 18-minute cartoon was produced during 1942, but the Allied bombing raids on Berlin prevented it from finishing anything more extensive. I recommend the book (well illustrated) very highly to anyone who is interested in the history of animation in Nazi Germany, and in Hitler’s & Goebbels’ personal interest in German animation and in Disney’s cartoons.
I recall that film well Fred (titled ‘Armer Hansi”), involving a bird wanting to break free fro his cage but is soon sent to peril with the ‘outside world’ he doesn’t belong in.
Leni Riefenstahl once visited the Disney Studio, and there are a very few other Disney-Nazi connections, but nothing that leads me to believe Walt shared their ideology.
Remember this myth? “DISNEY was BORN IN MOJACAR, SPAIN”
“There is a story that when Bob Clampett made the 1944 Russian Rhapsody short with caricatures of all the Schlesinger staff as the gremlins who are wrecking Adolf Hitler’s airplane in mid-air, WB got a complaint about a gross drawing of a Jew, looking just like a Nazi caricature of a big-nosed Jew among the other self-caricatures. That was ‘Friz’ Freleng, who really did look like an exaggerated parody of a Jew.”
The Friz Freleng caricature is only seen very briefly in Russian Rhapsody, first with a blowtorch and then with a saw (nearly getting his head smashed by Chuck Jones). It seems more likely that the big-nosed Jew that the complaints were about was Mike Sasanoff, who is featured much more prominently in the cartoon (planting a “termiteski” on the plane, among other things) and who indeed does look like a stereotypical Jew caricature. I have no idea of Sasanoff’s ethnicity, except that his last name obviously suggests Russian heritage.
I am so glad you all are here to ask this question. Boing Boing posted a 1938 Disney tryout book a few years back. Had this:
Hello? What tests?
The statement is ambiguous. It says television tests during 1938, but it does not say that Disney was conducting such testing. Searching on the Internet gets such information as that the first television broadcast in London was in 1936; that the BBC Television Service broadcast a 35-minute segment of Karel Čapek’s “R.U.R.” in February 1938; and that, according to Wikipedia, “The Walt Disney cartoon ‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ is broadcasted by NBC’s experimental station W2XBS (later WNBC-TV) in New York [on May 19, 1939]. This marked the first movie cartoon to be televised in the United States.” Obviously somebody was conducting tests of television broadcasting before and during 1938, and it would be reasonable to assume that the tests included the broadcasting of various studios’ cartoons.
What, specifically are you asking? Tests, demonstrations, and limited broadcasts of early mechanical and electronic television systems used various subjects including live actors, static objects on turntables, and film elements. On May 19, 1938 the Disney cartoon “Donald’s Cousin Gus” was broadcast by NBC’s experimental station W2XBS (later WNBC) in New York.
Hi Fred and Jeff — Yes, it’s ambiguous. I’m just trying to understand what the Disney writer was talking about, what tests he/she was thinking of when he/she wrote that. I guess I’m wondering if there’s a folder in the Disney vaults someplace: Television Tests, dating back to the 1930s. Maybe a His Master’s Voice kind of photo with Walt cocking his head at Mickey Mouse on a prototype TV set and thinking big thoughts. It’s fun for me to think about; just wondering what the evidence really shows. Maybe there are meeting minutes neatly typed by a secretary. Maybe there’s a Walt-Roy anecdote. So I turned to you. Like, if Disney was so forward thinking in 1938, why did I never see Disney cartoons on TV? (I know, Mickey Mouse Club, but Wikipedia says it ran from 1955-1960 — so, well off the pace). Decision-wise, what happened and when? Thanks again, appreciate your answers.
Of course one must take into account how those early TV tests were anything but perfect, resolution and visual clarity still had to be worked out for the most part. Of course to equal the clarity of the projected film itself, television had to wait until Hi-Def came around 60-70 years later, still, those were trying times.
I think that what research by TV experimenters had shown was that cartoons (any studio’s cartoons), with their broad action, flat tones and crisp delineation, read more clearly on the low-resolution screen than did live action. I think the writer included that snippet to encourage potential animators that animation did indeed have a future that TV would enhance, and also took the opportunity to stress the superiority of the Disney product.
I am sure that Disney was watching the progress of television as keenly as he had other technical advances, but I expect that at that time he was still waiting to see how it panned out. In the 20s he had watched the development of sound eagerly, but waited until the technology of a soundtrack on the print had been perfected, rather than go with the less satisfactory syncronised disc system.
You alls know why we still want to believe Disney was a Nazi?
It’s because most of us, as liberal wiseacres, have grown out of the kitschy world of cherub butts and baby animals and such that Walk made his name on (even if they thankfully only represent a portion of his wonderful studio’s output). Ergo, we start wondering, “What if there’s something sinister about this?” To prove to ourselves we don’t sympathize with those films, we start finding ways not to sympathize with the man who was the public face. Ergo, we claim that Disney was an anti-semitic bigot because we WANT to believe that there was something dark behind the facade.
It’s also very easy, because he was a midwestern Small Businessman at heart whose biggest painful compromises for some time were rival Hollywood studios and the Big Banking firms – two fields that at the time were known for their high semitic population, and you hear Walt cursing the ‘yids from the banks?’ There’s no racial malice behind that, only bias. But we have so many quotes of it.
In fact, one thing people don’t know about Walt was that he was very insecure about his potency – his brother has two kids before he can even adopt, and he goes on record as saying “I love Mickey more than any woman I’ve ever known…” He had potency problems and was very self-conscious about it. It’d explain why he loved his films to have so many babies in them, or juvenile family adventure, at least.
Also, nota bene Song of the South – he realized the first draft was too racist, and hired a Jewish writer to smooth it out. Two myths debunked!
If this is what John Powers thinks of Disneyland, I wonder what he thinks of the Germany pavilion in Epcot.
Too much nonsense has been written and spoken about Walt Disney. Even the men who later quit on him, even the men who went on strike against him, even the men who later said he was an exasperating son-of-a-bitch to work for, all admitted that no one could lead a creative brainstorming session the way Walt Disney could. He could get his men throwing ideas all over the room, and he could reach into the mess and pick the best three ideas out of a hundred — and they WERE the best three, the staff realized, and not just because The Boss said so. This was Disney’s great gift — certainly not drawing cartoons (his draftsmanship was always mediocre), but drawing the best work out of his employees. In return for that, as he candidly explained once to Ken Anderson, he insisted on having it all go out under his name alone. “Walt Disney” was a name that stood for the activities of a group. Was this egotism or just canny “brandsmanship?” For the creative output of the group, I’m willing to forgive the man a hell of a lot.
Makes me think of Meryl Streep’s teardown of Disney when she presented an award to Emma Thompson. You weren’t even working in Hollywood when Walt was alive, Meryl! Stick to what you know. Shamus Culhane wrote something in his book that makes me wonder if the Jewish artists at Disney were the ones who put the Jewish caricatures in.
My dad has a saying.
“A lie can run around the world three times before the truth has finished tying it’s shoelaces.”