Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Secret Life of Walt Disney

As I mentioned in a prior post, my wife and I are taking our young daughter on a family vacation to Disney World later this week. Embedded below is part 1 of a 45 minute television documentary from 1995 about the dark side of Walt Disney the man, the autocratic taskmaster at odds with his public persona as the smiling 'Uncle Walt.' ("Nobody crossed him. If they did cross him, they were simply fired.") It includes interviews with many animators and others who worked for him in his heyday.

In addition to wrongly taking credit for the creative work of his employees, he was also a man of many firmly-held prejudices according to this documentary. All of the animators at his studio were men. Women were relegated to menial jobs as inkers and colorists. ("Once women reach the age of 30, their hands get shaky and it's time to get rid of them," one former animator quotes Walt Disney as saying.) "He especially didn't like Jews. Especially New York ones," another former employee says. Another former animator relates a story in of how Walt Disney had a newly hired employee fired with the only explanation being a reference to his skin color. "He's pretty dark. Better get rid of him."

Later in the documentary, it is alleged that in 1941 Disney hired a mob figure to break a crippling strike by some of his animators who were trying to form a union at his studio (something he violently opposed). Disney's effort to break that strike was unsuccessful. He ultimately lost this lengthy battle with his employees, a loss that caused Disney to lose his passion for animation. In the mid-1950s, he was an enthusiastic informer about alleged communists in Hollywood during the Red Scare, in part, it is alleged, to get back at some of his former employees who had supported the prior unionization effort at his studio years earlier.

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