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The "True" Story of Walt Disney

The "True" Story of Walt Disney

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Since many of you are also comic book collectors, I am sure one of your treasured collectibles is a copy of "True Comics," Issue No. 73 which was published in October 1948 for ten cents.

The bright red cover advertises that the interior stories include "26 Mile Dash:The Story of the Marathon" and "Special Agent of the FBI" (which it was announced was "presented with the cooperation of the FBI"). And flipping through the comic, you would run across such other exciting stories as "American Adventures in Industry" and "My Most Interesting True Experience" by actor Robert Ryan. And the back cover -- of course -- had one of those infamous advertisements for the Red Ryder B.B. rifle.

Doesn't sound interesting to a Disney collector? Well, hidden in between all these true but somewhat deadly dull & educational comic stories is a six page four-color story entitled "The Amazing Story of Walt Disney"!

"Originally, comic strips and magazines attempted to be funny," wrote George J. Hecht, originator and publisher of "True Comics," "and in a few cases succeeded. Nowadays most of the comic magazines no longer even try to be funny. They consist largely of exciting picture stories which everyone recognizes as not only untrue but utterly impossible. "Hecht informed the reader in an editorial in the first issue that here was a comic book containing only true stories and real people. From some lines of Lord Byron, "'Tis strange, but true; for truth is always strange - stranger than fiction," the slogan of "True Comics" was formed and heralded across the front page of every issue. "Truth is stranger and a thousand times more thrilling than fiction."

Hecht -- who was president of The Parents' Institute and publisher of "Parents' Magazine" until 1978 -- told Dr. William E. Blake, who has written a fascinating essay about "True" comic books, that he "disapproved strongly of most of the comic book magazines current in the late 1930's and early 1940's." Since millions of children were reading comics, he determined that, both to divert them from the psychologically and socially damaging "comics," and to edify them, he would put in their hands a new, "true" comic book that would "educate and stimulate them by placing before them the examples of important and courageous people."

To that end, Hecht employed well-renown historians like Dr. David S. Muzzey (Columbia University) who had written histories of the United States and Joseph H. Park (Professor of History at New York University) who had not only written histories of the United Stares but also England to write some of the histories in the comic which covered everything from the history of glass, codes, playing cards, etc. to historical events like William Dawes' famous ride or the Battle of Marathon or even biographies of famous folks like Genghis Khan, Houdini, Clara Barton ... and yes, Walt Disney.

In "True Comics" No. 5, the editorial stated: "Yes, 'True Comics' is all that the name implies. However, we sympathize with those readers who have become so accustomed to impossible fiction stories in the 'comic' magazines that they find it hard to believe fact when they see it: And,
of course, many of the feats accomplished by real people are so exciting and spectacular that it sometimes seems as if those who performed them must have been endowed with superhuman powers. But the very fact that they were not superhuman ... just ordinary mortals like you and me ... makes their stories all the more thrilling. Their heroic deeds or their brilliant accomplishments are not imaginary ... they are real ... and any of us with sufficient courage and will power and ambition might earn an equally important place among the world's great names."

"True Comics," according its publisher, was a comic book and a newspaper combined. It hit the newsstands in early 1941. It featured stories about historical events, scientific discoveries, and heroic individuals. The first run of 300,000 copies sold out within two weeks and returned to press for a second run. It remained a popular title for a number of years until it folded in 1950. Some errors occasionally pop up because of the need in a few pages to sometimes compress facts and events to fit the limitations of space and every now and then a statement appears that "This story is not 'true' in the sense that it really happened. But the facts are true." That was primarily necessarily in stories like the FBI story where a fictional FBI agent was created to experience several of the FBI "adventures" that were experienced by a multitude of various agents.

Probably one of the most amazing things about "The Amazing Story of Walt Disney" is how accurate it really is. The splash panel announces that "The sparkling and exciting imagination of Walt Disney has brought world-famous Mickey Mouse and a happy-go-lucky gang of other characters like Minnie, Donald Duck, Pluto and Goofy!"

At the bottom of the page is the disclaimer: "All Walt Disney Characters reproduced herein are copyrighted by Walt Disney Productions. All rights reserved by Walt Disney Productions throughout the world." However, the Disney characters only appear in four panels (including the splash panel) out of thirty-two panels and appear to have been copied from publicity artwork supplied by the Disney Studio.

The biography really does revolve around Walt and bits of true facts are sprinkled throughout the dialog balloons and captions including "That library book sure showed us how to make better movie cartoons" (a reference to "Animated Cartoons" by Lutz), "the Red Riding Hood idea" (a reference to the first Laugh-O-Gram), "the first two Mickey Mouse cartoons were silent" and did not make an impact (a reference to "Plane Crazy" and "Gallopin' Gaucho"). There are even caricatures of Ub Iwerks (unidentified) and Walt's wife, Lillian.

One of the panels that amused me was where Walt was receiving an award. The caption states: "By 1932, honors were heaped on Disney, including the first of many Academy Awards-and a special medal." The panel shows a gentleman congratulating Walt who says, "Parents' Magazine is delighted to honor you for distinguished service to children, Mr. Disney." Walt responds, "Thank you, Mr. Hecht. I expect to devote my life to making children laugh and sing." Yes, George Hecht, publisher of "True Comics" and "Parents' Magazine," makes a cameo appearance in the six page story and that this "special medal" from the publication is even more important to show than the many Oscars.

Since this issue was published in 1948 and World War II was fresh in the minds of its readers, there is a half page devoted to Disney's studio work for the war effort. One section shows a poster of Donald Duck promoting the cartoon, "Der Fuehrer's Face," while a woman leaving the theater says, "That song is catchy. Listen to folks whistling it!" There is also a picture of a Mickey Mouse insignia on a World War II plane and another picture of General Eisenhower saying that the password for the invasion will be "Mickey Mouse".

The final panel of the story shows a "modern" Mickey with Walt surrounded by stacks of fan mail. While the story and the artwork is uncredited (and my untrained eye can't make a guess as to the identity of those forgotten craftsmen), it is a very nicely done story and as I mentioned, I was impressed that so many true facts were sprinkled throughout (including Lillian being hired for $15.00 a week as an ink and paint girl) since I am used to many of the early Walt Disney biographies to be filled with "magical" explanations of animation and Walt's accomplishments. I have two other comic book biographies of Walt and neither of them apparently used references for the story or the artwork. (One of them shows Walt drawing Mickey in "Steamboat Willie" with pupils in his eyes and gloves on his hands.)

I ran across this issue of "True Comics" at a Toy Collector's Show in Pasadena about two decades ago and quickly snatched it up since I had never read any reference to it. Since that time, I never see it advertised in Disneyana lists. I suspect the fact that the Walt biography is not featured on the cover (certainly an odd decision for a company that wanted to sell copies) has allowed this oddity to become yet another hidden treasure in the world of Disney.

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