[All of the following are quotes from the provided links.]
The reality behind Disney’s civic and political life is very different from the benevolent illusions projected onto big and small screens around the world.
In fact, Disney was one of the primary figures in the Hollywood blacklisting era and had a long professional association with fascist, anti-Semitic and organized crime elements.
Disney was the son of a Christian evangelist and was very anti-labor in his business dealings. (This was typical of Hollywood studio chiefs at the time.) These attitudes combined with resentment of the power of many of the Jewish American studio heads. Perhaps because of these views, Disney apparently began attending American Nazi party meetings in the company of Gunther Lessing, Disney’s attorney and chief advisor on labor issues. "During the time Disney helped organize the independent filmmakers against the industry’s mainstream, he also was accompanying Lessing to American Nazi party meetings and rallies.
In 1933, the German American Bund was founded by Fritz Kuhn. Kuhn was evidently quite a character--he had met Hitler in the early thirties and reportedly was profoundly loathed by the Nazi leader. An association of German immigrants to America, the Bund had a definite pro-Nazi slant. Disney animator Art Babbitt claimed his boss had a strong interest in, if not outright sympathy for, the Bund:
"In the immediate years before we entered the War there was a small, but fiercely loyal, I suppose legal, following of the Nazi party . . . There were open meetings, anybody could attend and I wanted to see what was going on myself. On more than one occasion I observed Walt Disney and [Disney's lawyer] Gunther Lessing there, along with a lot of prominent Nazi-afflicted Hollywood personalities. Disney was going to meetings all the time."
The German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, whose documentaries in the mid-30s had helped to glorify the Nazis, claimed that "after Kristallnacht , she approached every studio in Hollywood looking for work. No studio head would even screen her movies except Walt Disney. He told her he admired her work but if it became known that he was considering hiring her, it would damage his reputation."
2 Jul 1941 Variety runs an ad by Walt Disney accusing the leaders of the animators' strike to be employing "Communistic agitation."
Disney played a pivotal role in helping to focus the attention of HUAC on the motion picture industry. "One of Disney’s first official duties as vice-president of the MPA was to send a letter to an arch-conservative U.S. Senator, Robert R. Reynolds (D-North Carolina), dated March 7, 1944, urging HUAC to intensify its presence in Hollywood. Walt wanted a fell congressional investigation regarding the infiltration of communism into the film community, for the ‘flagrant manner in which the motion picture industrialists of Hollywood have been coddling Communists and totalitarian-minded groups working in the industry for the dissemination of un-American ideas and beliefs.’
24 Oct 1947 Walt Disney testifies before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He identifies Herbert K. Sorrell, William Pomerance, Maurice Howard, and David Hilberman as probable Communists.
HUAC: Can you name any other individuals that were active at the time of the strike that you believe in your opinion are Communists?
WALT DISNEY: 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.
HUAC: How is it spelled?
WALT DISNEY: 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.
Throughout the thirties, up to and including The Great Dictator, [Charlie Chaplin] made highly entertaining movies infused with populism. His active campaign for a second front against the Axis powers during World War II and his pleas for the curtailment of anticommunist propaganda angered Disney, who had once so idolized Chaplin.
In 1952, at the height of the blacklist era, while Chaplin was on a six-month tout of England and Europe, the Immigration and Naturalization Service barred his return to the United States under a code denying an alien entry on grounds of morals or Communist affiliation.
Although Walt declined to comment publicly on the matter of Chaplin’s exile, in private he told one of his ‘Nine Old Men’ studio loyalists that the country was better off without ‘the little Commie.’"
During the course of the HUAC hearings, Disney’s personal testimony lent considerable momentum to the proceedings. "Disney’s testimony helped strengthen Brewer’s industry-wide blacklist. The mere whisper of a name was enough to eliminate someone from consideration for a job. Because no proof was required, nor any defense short of confession acceptable, the assumption of guilt until proven innocent replaced the constitutional rights of everyone accused, and plunged America into one of its darkest political periods."
The obvious motivation, but damning to Disney’s character, is that he testified to finally have revenge. The two names that he gave as having links to the Communist Party were two men who had succeeded in destroying Disney’s control over his studio. The strike had left a lasting mark on Disney, and it was no secret the hatred he harboured for years for these individuals. Disney had a chance to get even with these two men, and he took it. Sorrell died that same year of a heart attack after his union disbanded because of the blacklist. Hilberman too was blacklisted and forced to move to New York to work for a new cartoon production company that went out of business after it was branded to have connections with Communism (Eliot 193-194). Disney was never bothered by the Screen Cartoonist’s Guild again and finally had his revenge. In doing so he ruined two men’s lives and helped strengthen the cause for the blacklist in Hollywood.
The strike and testimony before HUAC had a large impact on Disney’s relationship with his animated features. Disney’s hatred for unions was portrayed in Dumbo with the scene containing the drunk and rowdy clowns. They speak of forming a union and demanding rights and benefits. Disney was not subtle at all about comparing his workers on strike to a bunch of drunken clowns, and his message to the public about unions was apparent.