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Was Walt Disney A Saint, An Evil Sinner Or The Devil Incarnate? The Truth About Some Of Those Nasty Disney Stories!

Some rumors regarding Walt Disney have lived on far too long. Was he a Nazi? A super-secret FBI agent? Is he frozen somewhere in a vault? And why does the Christian right hate his company so much? Karl F. Cohen takes on all these myths and more to set the record straight.

Walt Disney (right), with brother Roy in the early 1940s, has been the object of speculation and false accusations through the years. © Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Walt Disney (right), with brother Roy in the early 1940s, has been the object of speculation and false accusations through the years. © Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Walt Disney and his corporation are either one of the most evil companies in the world or they have become the subject of countless false rumors, lies and hoaxes. Conservative preachers have warned their followers not to pollute their minds with the company's products and to boycott their theme parks. The National Enquirer has run numerous exposés including one article that began, "Walt Disney was one of America's most admired geniuses. But behind the scenes, he was a hard-drinking drug user whose behavior was so weird his brother Roy feared he was crazy!" Books and magazine articles claiming to reveal the truth have labeled the man an illegitimate child, an FBI spy, a Nazi sympathizer and many other shocking things.

To understand why so many people are fascinated with spurious facts about the man and his company, one should look at their history. In the early 1930s Mickey Mouse went from being a troublemaker to become a virtuous member of society who could do no wrong. By the mid-30s the company's films were always wholesome family entertainment. In the '50s the company's TV shows further perpetuated their wholesome image by creating the myth that the first theme park was "the happiest place on earth." Walt's TV image was that of the perfect father or uncle. The public seems to have forgotten that the studio produced hard-hitting war propaganda that taught us to hate our enemies during WWII and that there was a nasty strike at the cartoon factory in 1941.

No other Hollywood studio has the carefully manicured reputation that Disney spent years cultivating. As a result when other companies create controversial product, nobody seems to care. When Disney does something slightly irreverent, conservative family oriented pressure groups can and will protest. The problem is Disney has carefully created an image that is hard to live up to all the time. It is known to employees of the company as "The Franchise" and it stands for quality, wholesome entertainment.

Song of the South (left) and Disneyland's

Song of the South (left) and Disneyland's "It's a Small World" made the company an omnipresent image in the public's mind. © Disney. All rights reserved.

When Disney doesn't live up to its image and the press becomes aware there is a problem, it is news. When a few people protested the release of Song of the South as a racist film in 1946, it was reported in many papers, but not on page one. By the time Hippies held an uninvited "be-in" at Disneyland in the late '60s, the park's overreaction to the "Hippie invasion" was front page news across our nation. When wildlife was killed by gardeners using and/or disposing of pesticides incorrectly in Florida, the company was labeled an enemy of the ecology movement and for several months the press seemed to take delight in revealing every human error that they became aware of at Disney parks.

I maintain that certain members of the clergy, press and other groups and individuals have, over the years, exploited the public's fascination with the company to further their own self-interests. In some cases they have deliberately created false rumors. While some stories were probably started as harmless forms of humor, others appear to have been fabricated and/or spread by religious leaders to strengthen their point of view. What is even worse are elaborate hoaxes published in books and articles that report fascinating facts that scholars find impossible to confirm, but in some cases are easy to disprove. The sad thing is that a gullible public rarely learns they have been fed a lot of misinformation, so false myths become "well known facts." For instance, my wife has a 95 year-old aunt who once told me that she is sure Elvis is alive.

Disney And Conservative Religious Groups

When I was researching my book Forbidden Animation, I was shown a copy of The End Times from North Carolina. According to Joseph Chambers of the Paw Creek Ministries, The Lion King and toys relating to the film are part of a conspiracy to brainwash the youth of America into believing in VOODOOISM! The feature is described as "a picture of a pagan society...acted out in the panorama of idolatry and pagan bondages. The struggle between good and bad is a classic occult picture of black and white magic. Even the relationship of the king and his evil brother draws attention to the pagan suggestion that Jesus and Satan were brothers..." The writer says the appearance of a baboon shaman who used methods used by witch-doctors and the references to the worship of a sun god are further proof for his thesis. He warned that "almost every toy, television series, comic books or items targeted for the young generation is steeped in occult practices and psychic phenomenon." For people wanting more information the publication offered a booklet called Rebuilding The Foundation of Your Home. It "exposes the dangers of The Lion King, Barney, Cabbage Patch Dolls, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers."

In the eye of the beholder: One group felt The Lion King represented voodooism and paganism; another group saw sex in the sands. © The Walt Disney Company.

In the eye of the beholder: One group felt The Lion King represented voodooism and paganism; another group saw sex in the sands. © The Walt Disney Company.

The American Family Association (AFA) is a much larger group warning America about the dangers of Disney. When I first read their journal in the late 1990s, it was carrying stories about their protests against Aladdin, Pocahontas and other Disney films. They were upset about images hidden in Disney animated films including a tower on the video tape box of The Little Mermaid (1989) that resembles a phallus. Other phallic looking spires are on the Aladdin video package cover. Let's face the facts, towers are usually considered phallic. They reported that The Lion King (1994) is supposed to have the word "sex" written in the sands of the desert somewhere in the film. They say the word is a subliminal image, so it may not really be there, but they think it is. They also noted that The Little Mermaid has a scene that depicts a priest becoming noticeably aroused while presiding over a wedding.

While I've never seen these shocking images, a Website has devoted countless hours searching for them. They have a large Disney section and have issued reports on which legends are true and which are false. Their report called "The Aroused Minister" concludes the bulge in The Little Mermaid is the preacher's knee. If you are not convinced here is what Tom Sito, the animator who drew the scene, says: "I animated the bishop in The Little Mermaid scenes and they are his knees. He's standing on a box that his long robes cover."

The AFA determined that there were hidden sexual images in The Little Mermaid (left) and Pocahontas. © Disney.

The AFA determined that there were hidden sexual images in The Little Mermaid (left) and Pocahontas. © Disney.

The essay on the aroused minister then attacks rumors about subliminal sex messages. They mention that a court case in Arkansas was brought against the studio for including images unsuitable for young children, but it was eventually dropped. Elsewhere on the site they say that the spelling of the word "sex" in a cloud of dust is "ambiguous." The only really naughty images they have found were in Roger Rabbit, which wasn't released as a Disney film (it was a Touchstone release rated PG) and 2 frames of a barely visible topless woman in a moving background shot in The Rescuers. This is a great site and it reports on dozens of myths about Disney not covered in this article.

The AFA's research into naughty things hidden in Disney animated films resulted in a major find that was announced to the world, January 12, 1996, in a press release that read: "DISNEY BLASTED FOR USING THE 'F' WORD IN DONALD DUCK CARTOON." Anybody who can understand what Donald Duck says is an amazing linguist, but the Reverend Donald Wildmon, president of the AFA, says the word is in Clock Cleaners. He didn't believe the story until he listened to the duck's dialogue in the short. Wildmon claims Donald says, "Fuck you" to the clock when it comes to life and begins to taunt him. Wildmon calls this discovery "the latest in a growing list of anti-family incidents by the company that has long been a stalwart of family entertainment." The press release did not bother to say the cartoon was made in 1937 and didn't bother to note that for almost 60 years nobody seemed to have noticed the word in the film. Why? Does anybody really care now except people out to get Disney?

The anti-Disney literature has uncovered a few interesting facts about the animated films, but mixed in with these amusing little stories is the real reason for the boycott -- homophobia. The Christian right is upset that Disney established a company policy extending insurance benefits to the live-in partners of homosexual employees, but not to unmarried partners of heterosexual employees. Disney also allows "homosexual celebrations" in the theme parks which means they allow gay groups to exercise their civil rights to organize and hold events just as they allow other social, religious and civic groups to hold organized events. To ban homosexuals from the park is against the law.

The list of complaints against Disney also includes charges that the publishing company they own, Hyperion Press, has published books about gay culture, that "Michael Eisner is quoted saying he thinks 40% of Disney's 63,000 employees are homosexual, that Disney hired a convicted child molester to direct the movie Powder, and that Disney ended a 17-year-old traditional Christian Christmas display and replaced it with a secular 'Tropical Santa' display." They are upset that Disney has taken out ads in homosexual publications and that a couple of animals in The Lion King are supposed to be gay.

The list of complaints also covers objectionable shows on Disney owned ABC-TV, Disney hiring Martin Scorsese to direct films (he directed The Last Temptation of Christ, a film several religious groups boycotted) and a Disney owned company made Priest, an "anti-Catholic" movie. The AFA called Kids, a film a Disney owned company distributes, "nihilistic pornography."

An acquaintance that works in the public relations department at Disney says, "People lay in wait for us." The employee suggests that there are too many people who have nothing better to do with their lives than to study Disney films with the hopes of finding something that they can use to embarrass the company.

The AFA has built a strong organization and their followers apparently are quite active doing what is asked of them, writing letters of complaint to TV advertisers. They have threatened boycotts of sponsors that advertise on TV shows they find objectionable. The shows are reviewed in the AFA Journal and the names and addresses of sponsors are on the pages that feature the reviews. The AFA has won some of their battles and lost others according to carefully researched articles. The articles also report the membership gives generously.

In the 1990s the AFA began an on-going Disney boycott. A recent article from them begins with, "Profits from family entertainment products and theme parks are subsidizing Disney's promotion of the homosexual agenda. A boycott -- including even their good products -- is the only way to impact the company." To remind people of the dangers of watching Disney owned TV channels, their January, 2002 online newsletter had a headline that reported somebody said the F word on the "mouse channel!"

While the AFA milks almost every naughty story they can find about the company, the Southern Baptists Convention in New Orleans expressed their displeasure of the Disney stance on gay rights by simply voting to boycott the company in 1996. In 1995 the Florida Southern Baptist Convention voted in favor of a similar boycott.

Toy Story was the object of a boycott hoax and false allegations of sexual and drug references. © Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Toy Story was the object of a boycott hoax and false allegations of sexual and drug references. © Disney Enterprises, Inc.

The Toy Story Hoax

In February 1996 a student of mine said that there was an organized boycott of Toy Story (1995) by the AFA because Woody, the name of one of the film's stars, is a slang term for the penis, and Buzz, the name of the co-star, was a drug term. The story came from a local weekly newspaper. Although the student believed that there was a real boycott of Toy Story, a quick call to Pixar revealed the story was a hoax and that somebody had started it with a letter published on the Internet. Pixar sent me a copy of the letter along with a memo from the American Family Association that denied they wrote the letter or that they had ever called for a boycott of the film. A few months later the AFA Journal praised the film as it "brought a broad audience of moral Americans back to local theaters."

The hoax letter, dated December 5, 1995, claims to be from Donald Wildmon of the AFA. It called the first computer animated feature "obscene pornography disguised as 'family entertainment'..." The letter mentioned that the names of the film's stars were a sexual and a drug reference and that the film included "a sex-obsessed talking potato, a sex-obsessed Bo Peep doll who cannot keep her hands (or lips) off 'Woody,' and an Etch-a-Sketch whose 'knobs' must be 'adjusted' to produce results." It asked people to boycott the film. It also gave the wrong Website address for the AFA and said they had published an article about Toy Story in the December issue of the AFA Journal. There was no December issue and the November/December combined issue did not discuss Toy Story.

The book that put the idea of Walt Disney as an FBI operative into the public's mind: Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince by Marc Eliot.

The book that put the idea of Walt Disney as an FBI operative into the public's mind: Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince by Marc Eliot.

Profiting By Creating Hoaxes

A very profitable hoax that has no doubt damaged the reputation of the late Walt Disney is Marc Eliot's book Walt Disney, Hollywood's Dark Prince. Millions of people now believe Disney was an FBI spy, etc. thanks to this book. The fabrications in it will probably be passed on for many generations, just as many people have insisted for the last 35 years that Disney's body was frozen at the time of his death. If you believe it was frozen and will be brought back to life someday, you will be happy to know that Elvis was seen on February 30, 2002 in the Haunted House at Disneyland.

Eliot's end-notes on the sources of his information are detailed at times, but he doesn't reveal how he discovered some of his most important "facts." Eliot's scholarship has been called into question by several people. Diane Disney Miller, Walt's daughter, says, "There are more than 150 glaring factual errors." David Hilberman, who was interviewed for the book has been quite adamant about his being misquoted by the author. I've also asked dozens of former Disney employees if any of Eliot's claims that Disney was sexist, racist, Fascist, anti-Semitic, heavy drinker, etc. were true. Some think some of the rumors might be true, but nobody ever saw him expressing negative feelings toward any race, religion or creed. The worst things I found out is that he swore from time to time and was addicted to tobacco. If he had a bias against a group of people he was smart enough not to express those opinions in public.

I know a woman Eliot consulted when he began his research. She says she told him that there was a lot of dirt on Disney somewhere, but she didn't know what most of it was. She also could not confirm that any of it was true, but she was sure that if he searched hard enough he would find a wealth of information. I believe he didn't find much, but since he had invested a lot of time in the project and wanted to write a best seller exposing Disney's past, he invented it. As for the woman, she was motivated to tell him what little she knew because she hated Disney. She had never met or worked for him. Her hatred was based on her late husband's feelings about the studio. He had been laid off after going on strike in 1941. Disney held a grudge against most or all of the strikers and she never forgave Walt for what he did. It didn't matter that she didn't begin going out with the man she married until ten or twelve years after the strike. Some of the questionable things she told him are presented in the book as true facts.

The closest I came to confirming some of Eliot's material was when I interviewed a man who said he had worked on Snow White, Fantasia and other features as an animator. His yarns were so amazing that I checked with the studio and found out their records showed he had only worked there for about 6 months in the camera department. I later found an old Motion Picture Annual that included him in their Who's Who section. His biography said he was only at Disney in 1937.

For Eliot and others who insist Disney became an ultra-conservative after the strike and that he hated Jews -- explain why he hired and worked closely with writer Maurice Rapf from 1944-'46? Disney knew Rapf was Jewish, had a left-wing background and possibly that he had traveled to Russia in the 1930s. I've interviewed Rapf several times while writing Forbidden Animation and when I've asked him about Eliot's claims he could not confirm any of them.

When Eliot's book came out I was researching the contents of Disney's FBI file. In his book Eliot falsely reported the contents of FBI documents to weave his yarn about Disney and the FBI. For example a newspaper article in the file dated November 10, 1940 said that Disney was in Washington, D.C. for a two-day visit to see the sights over a weekend. He had been in the South doing research for a film that eventually was titled Song of the South. Eliot saw the article and claims that, "On November 10, 1940, Disney apparently struck the following deal with the Bureau. It appears that in exchange for its continuing assistance in his personal search to find out the truth of his parentage, Walt agreed to assist Hoover's crusade against the spread of communism in Hollywood by becoming an official informant of the FBI. His initial contact was..." Nothing in the FBI file suggests that any of this information is true and there are no blacked out memos from this period of time. So where did Eliot get his information?

Eliot claims that the two tasks he knows Disney undertook as a spy were to fly to New York City in 1943 and 1944 to attend left-wing cultural events. Eliot says Disney then returned to Los Angeles each time and wrote reports on the events for the FBI. While Disney or his studio donated money to the events and was listed as a sponsor (today we use the word "sponsor" when we give friends money for taking part in a walk-a-thon for a good cause), nowhere in the file, which includes news clippings, advertisements and two FBI reports about the events, does it say Disney was going to attend or that he attended either event. Eliot ignored the note that said the FBI reports were filed in New York (Eliot said they were filed by Disney in Los Angeles). The agent's name is blacked out on each report so we do not know who filed them, but why would the FBI ask Disney to attend the events? He wouldn't recognize who was in the audience, and the FBI had more than enough people available in New York to spy on the crowds.

Compare Marc Eliot's version of the events of August 22, 1944 with the FBI report.

Compare Marc Eliot's version of the events of August 22, 1944 with the FBI report.

Another distortion of the truth is Eliot saying Disney traveled to Reno and gave an "impassioned" speech. The FBI file says Mary Pickford read a telegram sent by Disney to the Reno event. Eliot quotes what he claims to be part of the speech, but actually he quotes the entire telegram! He knew full well Disney didn't travel to Reno.

Disney was made a Special Agent in Charge - Contact (SAC-Contact) by the FBI on January 12, 1955, which means he was recognized as an unpaid reference person that they could trust and call upon for information. Eliot calls the position a promotion for Disney and claims (but offers no proof or examples) that other spies reported to Disney once he became an SAC-Contact. As a friend of the FBI he did meet with them on a few occasions. He made a four-part newsreel about them for the Mickey Mouse Club and he once discussed making a film with their help about child molesters. He probably provided them information from his company's employment records, probably answered general questions about subjects that he was an expert on and possibly suggested where they might go to find information about questions he couldn't answer. According to news stories that came out after Eliot's book was published, Walt Disney never knew he was called an SAC-Contact by the FBI. It was simply an in-house specification that they used to designate trusted friends.

If you still feel there is something more sinister in the FBI calling Disney an SAC-Contact, you may recall that President Nixon met with Elvis and made him a drug officer. Photographs of the occasion have been published in recent years in history books and as postcards. They show Elvis and Nixon shaking hands. Does the meeting between Elvis and the President mean Elvis busted drug rings and turned in doctors who gave drug prescriptions to people with pill habits?

Eliot was really sloppy in developing his yarn. At one point he writes Disney filed his last FBI report in 1956 and that after 1957 "he seized every opportunity to ridicule the Bureau's personnel and tactics in his films." If Eliot is correct and Disney was not of service to the FBI after 1956, why does a memo dated October 11, 1960, from the head of the L.A. office to J. Edgar Hoover ask that he send SAC-Contact Walt Disney an autographed copy of his book Masters of Deceit? In the memo and in others up until the time of his death in December 1966, Disney was called "a valued contact of this office."

As for Disney trying to ridicule the Bureau, the only possible suggestion of this is the studio making two live-action slapstick comedies. In Moon Pilot, 1962, the script called for an FBI agent, but the character's title was changed to security officer at the request of the FBI before the film was made. The memos in the FBI file make it clear that Hoover disliked the idea of an agent in a comedy, but they also state that film critics and the public did not see the film as an attack on the Bureau.

Read more conflicting information taken from Marc Eliots version and the FBI report.

Read more conflicting information taken from Marc Eliots version and the FBI report.

When Disney purchased the rights to That Darned Cat he called the FBI office in L.A. (7/8/63) to tell them he was going to do the film. A memo about the call says, "He stated that this is a comedy, and that the FBI will be depicted in a very respectful manner. He stated he would never do anything which would depict the FBI in any other light."

When the FBI sends you a copy of Walt Disney's file they say there are pages missing and they don't explain what they might contain. Eliot decided they were sinister things, but most likely they concern more mundane problems. Several people testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee that they had been members of the Communist Party at the time they worked for Disney (1930s). Papers regarding those people would have been in Disney's file if they stated where the person worked. They are not in the records released to the public. Other pages might have been about the studio doing secret work for defense contractors during the Cold War (several had exhibits at Disneyland).

The list of errors and fabrications can go on and on. Besides there being more problems with his facts based on the FBI file, it appears he has almost no knowledge or interest in animation history. He makes serious errors that anyone who has carefully read Leonard Maltin's Of Mice and Magic would notice. I also wonder how he managed to quote so many conversations that took place decades ago between people that had been dead for many years.

Other Unauthorized Histories of Disney

The first unauthorized biography appeared in 1968, two years after his death. Richard Schickel's The Disney Version outraged Disney fans as he claimed Walt couldn't and didn't draw Mickey Mouse (true) and he couldn't sign his name in the fancy script that is the company logo (true). The next unauthorized biography, Bob Thomas' Walt Disney, An American Original, stuck close to an authorized biography written in 1957. In 1985 Leonard Mosley's Disney's World revealed a dubious story that Walt was born out of wedlock in Spain to different parents. Mosley's research is so poor that he gives a detailed description of Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur, 1914, but his description describes a different film.

On November 30, 2001, the Guardian in England published "The Spanish Connection," an extremely long article by their staff writer Giles Tremiett. He reports that Marc Eliot and Christopher Jones, son of a Disney press agent, are working independently to prove Walt was born in Spain. While the tale may make great reading for some, there is one bit of evidence the authors don't bother to explain. Walt looks too much like his brother Roy to be the bastard son of a Spanish nobleman and a washerwoman. Even if this were true, does anybody really care who his parents were? It is the man's outstanding contributions to 20th Century popular culture that is important.

So What Sort Of Person Was Walt Disney?

One of his former employees told me, "Walt was a genius, Walt was a friend, Walt was generous and Walt was a tough son-of-a-bitch. He was all that at once." He has also been described as an arrogant businessman, a self-made tycoon and a person with a large ego. He was raised in the early years of the 20th Century on small town, Mid-West values (he has been called a WASP). Roy and Walt were good businessmen, but they made several costly mistakes including going bankrupt in the 1920s and signing away the rights to Oswald, their silent screen star in 1928. Their early mistakes helped shape the way they did business once the company was on the road to success with Mickey Mouse as their star. Walt was said to be justifiably proud of his rise from shoestring productions to being the head of a major Hollywood studio.

Walt (left) and Ub Iwerks, circa 1932. © Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Walt (left) and Ub Iwerks, circa 1932. © Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Walt Disney misled the public into believing he was the artist responsible for all those wonderful short films. His legend is so erroneous at times that an art gallery in Florida once sent out a flyer claiming they were selling valuable Disney limited edition cels by the man who invented animation. He didn't invent the medium nor did he design or animate the first Mickey Mouse (I assume you know about Ub Iwerks' importance -- if not see Leslie Iwerk's terrific book and video, The Hand Behind the Mouse, about her grandfather). Disney scholars say he was a good animator, but by the mid-20s he was more valuable to the company as a producer. Ub Iwerks was a business partner and head animator until he left Disney in 1930.

Walt was a brilliant producer who understood the value of making the best possible product. Major studios in Hollywood are said to be happy if 1 out of 8 or 10 films turns an impressive profit. Disney's track record was much better than that (at or close to a 100% success rate). He understood the value of having a carefully crafted script. He knew how to motivate his production team to create the best possible characters, sets, costumes, props, etc. He was also the visionary who put together the team that created Disneyland and Walt Disney World in Florida. He was a genius who produced exceptional family entertainment for most of his life.

I suspect that Walt was naive politically. It appears he didn't understand how others felt about being underpaid and not getting the expected bonuses after the initial success of Snow White at the box office. He certainly didn't agree with these ideas and other labor issues that were raised before the strike.

Disney's handling of the strike at his studio in 1941 suggest he lacked the complex skills needed to successfully negotiate a timely resolution of a major labor conflict. It appears his anger and hatred of those who opposed him probably prevented him from reaching an acceptable compromise. Resolution came after others stepped in and he left the country.

The company's conservative attitude about women employees in the 1930s was to mainly hire them for low paid jobs in the ink and paint departments. Disney did on rare occasions hire women as artists or designers. The list of women who were better paid artists included Mary Blair, Sylvia Moberly-Holland, LaVerne Harding, Retta Scott and several others. Although one would call the attitude sexist today, it was the norm in industry at that time and I wouldn't call Walt or the company racist or sexist for their employment practices before WWII unless you clarify the statement and say the vast majority of American companies had similar attitudes about hiring women. Also, the animation industry grew out of the male-dominated newspaper business so many people probably assumed animators were guys like the cigar smoking newspaper men in The Front Page (1931).

Maurice Rapf tells an awful story that he says Walt told him about why he became a Democrat. In his youth a few sons of local Republicans beat him up and poured hot tar on him because his father didn't vote Republican.

As for Walt's feelings about Fascist Germany, Eliot says he regularly attended meetings and social events of the American Nazi party. The statement is probably a gross exaggeration of the truth, but he did in fact meet with Fascists including Germany's most celebrated filmmaker, Leni Reifenstahl, when she visited Hollywood in 1938. Her L.A. visit was protested by people with strong anti-Nazi feelings and several studio heads decided not to meet with her. Walt's main motivation to meet her may have been to find a way to recover money owed his firm by his German film distributor. A book recently published in Germany says Roy and Walt went to Germany in 1937 to try and retrieve over 135,000 Reichmarks owed them (they were on a tour of Europe promoting Snow White). They may also have lobbied to get Germany to lift its ban on importing films from the U.S. Their visit to Germany was unsuccessful. Since the brothers were capitalists, I suspect any positive feelings they might have had about Hitler were replaced by hatred for the SOB that was robbing them of their share of their films' income in Germany. Their anti-German sentiment is quite obvious in their WWII propaganda films.

While touring to promote Snow White in Germany, Roy and Walt might have tried to recover lost money or to lobby Germany to lift its ban on U.S. films. © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

While touring to promote Snow White in Germany, Roy and Walt might have tried to recover lost money or to lobby Germany to lift its ban on U.S. films. © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

The questionable theory that Errol Flynn was a Nazi spy comes from Charles Higham's book Errol Flynn, The Untold Story. Perhaps Eliot decided that if Higham could have his Nazi, he could have one too.

As for Walt the anti-Communist, he and other studio heads were called to testify before Congress in 1947 about Communist infiltration in the film industry. Walt's statements were sincere but somewhat naive. I doubt that he read a great deal about politics. A knowledgeable person might not have said, "I believe he is a Communist... I looked into his record and I found that No. 1, that he had no religion and No. 2, that he had spent considerable time at the Moscow Arts Theater studying art direction or something." He was then asked, "Any others Mr. Disney?" and he replied, "Well, I think Sorrell is sure tied up with them. If he isn't a Communist, he sure should be one." A few minutes later he said, "In my opinion they are Communists. No one has any way of proving those things." I do not believe his reasons for calling people Communists would hold up in a court of law, yet his public testimony did damage the careers of several people. His testimony was quoted in a successful campaign by conservatives to put Tempo, an animation studio in New York run by two of the four people Walt identified as Communists, out of business in the early 1950s.

Disney In The Coming Years

Considering Disney has become our nation's second largest media conglomerate, it is logical that the number of pot shots taken at this corporation will increase. Disney may eventually be the subject of exposés about giant corporations trying to control the media and the way we think, just as William Randolph Hearst has been the subject of several books and the feature Citizen Kane. I'm sure some ministers will continue to find fault with the corporation and tabloids will have lots more nasty stories to share with us in the coming years. That sort of journalism is stupid, however millions of people buy into that part of our culture so, unfortunately it will continue.

Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince by Marc Eliot. New York, NY: Birch Lane Press and Carol Publishing Group, 1963 ISBN 1-55972-174-X (US$21.95)

Karl Cohen teaches animation history at San Francisco State and is the author of Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America, McFarland, 1997. Portions of this article are from his book and from his review of Eliot's book published in the Society for Animation Studies Newsletter, May, 1993. For more information about Disney myths see his book (available from and visit Disney's FBI file can be seen online at You may also want to visit Websites of the American Family Association and Paw Creek Ministries. Cohen wants to know if people who prevent kids from enjoying Mickey Mouse and Snow White are being un-American?