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Published on September 29th, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie1
Walt Disney: The Individual That Lay Beneath The Mask
Image is perhaps the most crucial component in human life. We base so much of our daily activities around appearances often without being aware of what is occurring. We use image and appearance to immediately identify what is right and wrong and what is safe and good. More critically it is also used to distinguish between individuals that benefit us and those that are positively harmful.
This sophisticated system based solely on impressions is not without its flaws and a good portion of people can be taken in by a false smile and a mask of decency.
Walt Disney is one such person. Loved by millions, his work has created an entertainment empire that has spanned more than half a century. A multi-billion dollar industry, the Disney Corporation is almost based exclusively on creating a reality far removed from our own world.
The Power Of Disney
The Disney universe is full of smiling, happy people – a place where pure imagination interacts with us. Few people in the western world have not experienced Disney, be it the films or the theme parks. Whole generations of human beings have had their childhoods partly informed by this peculiar section of the entertainment industry.
A fantasy made reality, all of this is the dreamworld of one individual. The vision of a man, liked and adored by tens of millions of people who held a special place for him and the films his company produced. Yet underneath this seemingly friendly exterior lay someone that was very different from his projection.
Although his following was huge, Walt Disney was very far removed from ‘Uncle Walt’ and this was quickly noticed by people who paid attention.
A Cartoonist Who Couldn’t Draw
Early on in his career, in 1922, Walt Disney was sacked from being a cartoonist. The truth of the matter was that Disney was terrible at drawing. Disney even had great difficulty in drawing his most famous character, Mickey Mouse. According to Channel 4’s Secret Lives documentary, he had to be shown by animator, Fred Moore, how to draw a simple side portrait of the famous mouse.
In an exhibition entitled ‘The Art of Walt Disney’ many paintings were drawn by artists. Yet Disney had no scruples about signing his name to work done by these people.
Disney won 26 Academy Awards. All of these accruing prizes began to foster a growing sense of resentment towards Walt Disney constantly taking credit for other people’s work. Some of Disney’s awards were for films that he had little or no input into.
A Controlling Sexist
In the early Kansas Disney studio many worked without remuneration. The film Snow White was created in such an environment. The Disney operation was moved to the Hyperion Studios, in Burbank in 1940.
Animators in Disney’s world were exclusively male. Disney, according to former workers, maintained that women were inferiour to men and only used them to painstakingly colour and ink the individual stills. Only men were allowed to hold the position of animators in Walt’s world.
Anyone who disagreed with Disney over even what were trivial matters ran the risk of losing their job. It has been noted that Disney fired a producer who had been in his employ for over two decades when the producer disagreed with Disney’s choice of a film location.
Finally, the workers for Disney had enough of his poor behaviour and went on strike in 1941. Disney took the matter highly personally. His large ego, coupled with stress-induced paranoia meant he came to believe that no one could willingly strike against him. Instead he imagined that communists were behind the strike.
After the pickets had gone on for over six weeks, Disney turned to the mob to end the strike. Despite using these scare tactics the strikers resolve remained steadfast.
Roy Disney, Walt’s wise brother, stepped in. Recognising that his brother was now a liability, Roy sent Walt off on a trip to Latin America. With Roy in charge the strike was quickly over and the Disney corporation agreed to virtually all of the striker’s demands.
The Communist Conspiracy And Revenge
Disney had an unedifying relationship with Herbert Hoover. The FBI Director made Disney a Special Agent in Charge. Disney, over 20 years fed, the FBI his thoughts about various people within the Hollywood Industry. Huge chunks of Walt Disney’s 600 page file is still classified many years after his death. The FBI maintain that this is to protect the identity of the sources. However, others have postulated that the real reason is not to protect the sources but rather Walt Disney himself.
Disney contributed to the McCarthy communist obsession in what would turn out to be the 20th century’s version of the Salem Witch hunt. Disney testified before The House Of Un-American Activities Committee and used this opportunity to destroy the lives of people who led the Disney strike in an act of sheer revenge.
How Did Disney Become So Popular?
With all of the above flaws one wonders how Disney ever became a successful company. The reasons are manifold. Walt Disney had a talent for getting the best out of his workers. A taskmaster, he had high expectations but more importantly he had a vision with which to adhere to. He knew in which direction he wanted to take his company.
However, without Roy the Disney brand would have collapsed. Roy intervened to save the day on several occasions when bankruptcy threatened to destroy the company. He also stepped in when Disney suffered a mental breakdown during the worker’s strike. Without his brother, who had a keen business mind and an empathetic nature, Walt’s dream would never have happened.
Without this fortuitous portion of good luck, Disney would not have become the company it is today. But such is the story with any large corporation.
If the end justifies the means then Walt Disney deserves unreserved praise. His creations have brought countless joy and smiles to children and adults alike. Despite the dark shadows in his character it is his legacy that is remembered best.
Check out Yellow Magpie’s Walt Disney Quotes: The Disney Creator’s Thoughts for more insight.
Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination is a highly recommended book. It delves behind the image and concentrates on Disney’s mindset and it especially focuses on the role that Roy played in stabilising the business.
For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access: Walt Disney; Triumph of the American Imagination from here.
For those who live in Canada, you can obtain: Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination here.
For Germany: Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination .
For France: Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.