"I once made the mistake of asking Walt a question ... and he replied by saying, 'Let me check that with my Jew.' "
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"I once made the mistake of asking Walt a question ... and he replied by saying, 'Let me check that with my Jew.' "

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

"I once made the mistake of asking Walt a question ... and he replied by saying, 'Let me check that with my Jew.' "

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To answer your first question: Yes, the "Walt" that's referred to in the headline for today's story is Walt Disney.

To answer your second question: The conversation in question actually happened back in the 1960s. A young reporter from the New York Times heard the old Mousetro say this. In the Disney Studio commissary, of all places.

That reporter, Peter Bart, is now the editor-in-chief of "Variety" magazine. And Bart ... Well, when it comes to Hollywood history, he's experienced an awful lot of it first-hand. Which is why Peter is probably the perfect guy to write a book like "Boffo! How I Learned to Love the Blockbuster and Fear the Bomb" (Miramax, June 2006). Which takes a very unsentimental look back at the creation of some of our favorite motion pictures & TV shows.

Now about that Walt quote: I know that -- what with Mel Gibson's recent troubles -- that a lot of people these days might be quick to label Uncle Walt an anti-semite after reading something like that. But that's honestly not what Bart is trying to do with "Boffo!"

Here. Read the paragraph that I pulled that particular quote out of:

Disney remained something of a hick from the Midwest who thought of Jews as accountants and merchants. I once made the mistake of asking Walt a question that had business implications (we were having lunch at the Disney commissary at the time) and he replied by saying, "Let me check that with my Jew." He started to summon a financial aide nearby, but I quickly changed the subject.

Do you get the context now? It wasn't that Walt was actually an anti-semite. It's just that -- what with his midwestern upbringing and all -- Disney was a very plain-spoken man sometimes. So by saying "Let me check that with my Jew" rather than "Let me check that with my accountant" ... Well, admittedly, by today's standards, that's not very PC. But this was the 1960s, people. And most people back then (including Walt Disney) weren't as sensitive about issues of race & religion as perhaps they could have been.

Given that -- for decades now -- we've been only been hearing about the authorized version of Walt Disney (You know? Kindly Old Uncle Walt? The guy who hosted "The Wonderful World of Color"? The man that the Disney Corporation has virtually dipped in shellac, and then sanded off all of his rough edges. So that Walt now seems just too good to be true?) ... Well, that's why it's so refreshing nowadays to hear unvarnished stories about the real Walt Disney. A man who perhaps (according to Bart, anyway) wasn't all that fond of kids:

The first time I visited Disneyland (I was a young reporter for "The New York Times" then), I was delighted that Walt actually decided to meet me there. As he showed me around, several things became clear: First, it was the design and engineering of the rides that still intrigued him, not the business side or the merchandising. Second, he had invented this theme park for adults - indeed for himself - not as a playground for children. It was not that he disliked children - he paused once or twice to smile at some kids and pat heads - but he, obviously, was not especially interested in their response to his creation. This was the House of Walt, not a kiddie park.

You see what I'm saying here? "Boffo!" is Hollywood history completely stripped of hyperbole & myth. Peter Bart doesn't do "Just print the press release" -style journalism. He takes you behind-the-scenes and reveals how many top grossing movies, plays & TV shows actually came together. As you read through this incredibly entertaining book, you'll get to experience first-hand Harvey Weinstein's frustration with then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Here Harvey was, trying to get Michael to sign off on a production budget for a movie version of the "Lord of the Rings" book series. But because Eisner personally didn't "get" J.R.R. Tolkien's tales, Disney took a pass on making these Academy Award-winning motion pictures. And -- in the process -- missed out on an absolute fortune.


Copyright New Line Cinema

You'll also learn about how -- through an combination of ego & ineptitude -- Disney allowed "C.S.I." to slip through its fingers. Once again, because the then-head of the Walt Disney Company just didn't understand the appeal of this police procedural program, the Mouse lost out on its chance to cash in on this Jerry Bruckheimer production and its two eventual spin-offs.


Copyright Alliance Atlantis & CBS Productions
in association with Jerry Bruckheimer Films

Mind you, "Boffo!" isn't a just a book that chronicles Disney's numerous failures. It actually sets aside a chapter to celebrate one of the studio's greatest achievements, "Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs." This 326-page volume also brings you behind-the-scenes stories about the production of hugely popular motion pictures as "Casablanca," "Psycho," "The Godfather" and "The Sound of Music." Plus insightful stories about such legendary TV shows as "I Love Lucy," "All in the Family" and "Gunsmoke."

Also this -- plus Bart's rather blunt assessment of today's Hollywood. Peter clearly laments what's become of this now overly-corporate town, where once ...


Photo by Tom Sorensen

... A film like "Bonnie & Clyde" in 1969 might have opened in a few theaters (or even regionally) and there would be time for the word to spread in invisible cognitive waves. Today a film may open on 4,000-or more screens and, by nightfall of its opening date, its fate will be sealed.

If the shelf life of a new film is limited, so too is the life span on its DVD at the WalMarts and Best Buys. The returns will be dispatched to distributors within six weeks of arrival.

"Boffo! How I Learned to Love the Blockbuster and Fear the Bomb" is a truly entertaining & informative read. If you want to learn more about Hollywood's real past (as well as get a glimpse of the entertainment industry's rather depressing future), then I urge you to pick up a copy of Peter Bart's new book.

One final note for all of you Disneyana fans out there think that Bart just included that "Let me check that with my Jew" Walt Disney quote in order to get a little controversy going and then perhaps spur book sales. Let me leave you with this one thought: "Boffo!" is published by Miramax Books, which is a division of Hyperion. Which is actually the publishing arm of the Walt Disney Company.

Which makes it kind of hard to dismiss this particular story now, don't you think?

Your thoughts?

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  • What's your beef with Disney? Everything on here seems to be slamming Disney in one way or another. Now you are digging back to the 1960's to find things, that seems rather desperate, don't you think? Maybe we should look at what you were doing in the 60's and judge you based on that.

    Considering your harsh bias, I'd say you deserve the word "media" in your title as much as Fox News deserves to be called "news".
  • Frankly, I'm finding this "Jew story" a bit hard to swallow. Because I've read the excellent book "How To Be Like Walt", whose author interviewed, among other people,  Jews who worked for Walt, in particular the Sherman brothers who wrote the music for "Mary Poppins". One of the Shermans told the author that one day he and his brother were coming into their office when they heard an argument going on next door. A lawyer was talking to Walt, and he referred to the Sherman brothers as "those Jew boys". According to the brothers, Walt, who did not know they were nearby, said to the lawyer, "Don't you ever call them that again" and fired the lawyer on the spot. It sounds a bit contradictory to the Bart story, doesn't it?
    Oh, and for the record, diwhite, I'm a huge fan of Fox News. I grew up during the Vietnam War, saw the shenanigans the mainstream media got into with its biased reporting, and all I can say is, if Fox News had been around back then maybe Vietnam might have turned out very differently. Thank god there truly is a balanced news network now. And FYI, I was a leftist in the 'Nam days...but it's amazing what life will teach you.
  • Sounds like a good book. I'll have to pick it up.

    (and now Jim can be blasted for quoting others...well, at least it drives up the website hits).

    Thanks for the review, I wouldn't have thought about buying this book reading this.
  • Funny thing about people -- they can be complex, and, yes, contradictory.  Floyd Norman will tell you that Walt was always supportive of him and except for one incident, he never felt any racism at the studio.  Bill Melendez (who is Mexican and who worked at Disney for years) will tell you that he personally witnessed an animator of Indian descent fired by Walt after a few days on the job for being "too dark."

    Who's right?  Probably both.  Walt was a complex guy, and a midwesterner of his time, as the article says.  Why couldn't he have said "let me check with my Jew" and then defended his friends the Sherman Brothers later?

    Of course, if you like your truth black and white, without the facts getting in the way, then you can conveniently ignore whatever contradicts your position, and talk up agreeable puff pieces such as that "excellent" book "How to Be Like Walt."  

    Hmmm . . . sort of like Fox News.  Guess it IS amazing what life will teach you.
  • The comment by Walt wasn't meant to be negative.  It was more of "this is beyond my expertise and let me get accountant."  If he was truly anti-sematic he wouldn't of had any people of Jewish decent working for him.  He had many Jewish people working for the company in high dignified positions.  For the most part if the people were talented and worked hard Walt wanted you around.  The paragraph I found more disturbing was the following:

    "The first time I visited Disneyland (I was a young reporter for "The New York Times" then), I was delighted that Walt actually decided to meet me there. As he showed me around, several things became clear: First, it was the design and engineering of the rides that still intrigued him, not the business side or the merchandising. Second, he had invented this theme park for adults - indeed for himself - not as a playground for children. It was not that he disliked children - he paused once or twice to smile at some kids and pat heads - but he, obviously, was not especially interested in their response to his creation. This was the House of Walt, not a kiddie park."

    The parts that upset me were that he built the park for adults and that he was not especially interested in their (the children's) response to his creation.  That's crap.  This was this man's assumption and totally untrue.  Indeed Walt didn't want a kiddie park but he did want a park FAMILIES could enjoy together both Adults and Children.  Why would he have put Fantasyland and a castle square in the middle of the park if he didn't care what children thought.  Indeed, it was his park and a dream of his to build but he truly wanted ALL who came to love Disneyland.

  • ""Boffo!" is published by Miramax Books, which is a division of Hyperion. Which is actually the publishing arm of the Walt Disney Company."

    It's quite ironic then that it portrays Walt less like the saintly Uncle Walt and more like Walt, a normal person.
  • gigglesock said:
    "Frankly, I'm finding this 'Jew story' a bit hard to swallow. Because I've read the excellent book 'How To Be Like Walt', whose author interviewed, among other people,  Jews who worked for Walt, in particular the Sherman brothers who wrote the music for 'Mary Poppins'. One of the Shermans told the author that one day he and his brother were coming into their office when they heard an argument going on next door. A lawyer was talking to Walt, and he referred to the Sherman brothers as 'those Jew boys'. According to the brothers, Walt, who did not know they were nearby, said to the lawyer, 'Don't you ever call them that again' and fired the lawyer on the spot. It sounds a bit contradictory to the Bart story, doesn't it? "
    -----
    In fact, most of the "Walt was anti-semitic!" blackening has usually been attributed to some aggressive and shady intimidation that was going on during the Union troubles, when Walt didn't see why his workers would want to organize, and powerful interests didn't like being told "no"....And, of course, anything bad ever said about Walt becomes wishfully immortalized as the stuff of Urban Legend.

    And yes, all Jim wanted to so was just plug a Neat New Book He Heard Of, but with all the other troubles, he should take a little more care and distance himself from what he puts his name on--Sometimes, we don't quite get the "point", silly us.
  • "As you read through this incredibly entertaining book, you'll get to experience first-hand Harvey Weinstein's frustration with then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Here Harvey was, trying to get Michael to sign off on a production budget for a movie version of the "Lord of the Rings" book series. But because Eisner personally didn't "get" J.R.R. Tolkien's tales, Disney took a pass on making these Academy Award-winning motion pictures. And -- in the process -- missed out on an absolute fortune....
    "Let me leave you with this one thought: "Boffo!" is published by Miramax Books, which is a division of Hyperion. Which is actually the publishing arm of the Walt Disney Company.
    Which makes it kind of hard to dismiss this particular story now, don't you think?"
    ---
    Umm, yes it does:
    Didn't we just last -week- have to point out that Disney and Miramax are not Siamese twins, and responsible for some independent higher brain functions?
    And although Eisner may have been "responsible" for not ponying up $200M for a then "fantasy-geek" movie, seem to recall the Weinsteins also ruining the negotiations by telling Peter Jackson to keep it to one or two movies, max.
    Similarly, the Weinsteins had established the Miramax Books arm for the same reason that Disney had established Hyperion--HarvBob were obsessed with MMax becoming their own name label, and after "Ella Enchanted", hoped they could throw out some publishing fishing-nets for their own book-sources they could keep in-house.

    (And yeah, call me paranoid with everything that's happened, but maybe it DOES seem like JIm's a little -too- eager to push these factoids in our face for our reading:
    "You'll learn how Disney made a mistake that almost crippled their career!--Isn't that neat??  And then you'll hear somebody slur Walt's reputation, 'cause we all thought he was good!  It's not me, y'know, somebody wrote it in a book, that makes it true!...")
  • "What's your beef with Disney? Everything on here seems to be slamming Disney in one way or another."
    Dude, Jim did not make up that quote. He didn't write the book. And if you actually read the article (did you even read it or did you just read the title?) you'll know that Walt did not say that in a bad way. Again, get over it and actually read the article.


    "It sounds a bit contradictory to the Bart story, doesn't it?"
    Okay, so automatically the person who wrote that book is right and the person who wrote this is wrong? And like Mawnck said, not everything is black and white. People contradict themselves all the time. Walt's no exception.


    "This was this man's assumption and totally untrue."
    Did you speak to Walt yourself? Yes, this was the man's assumption, but it may or may not have been true. And maybe it was partly true but not entirely true. Now personally, I don't think it's true either (a huge exageration at the most), but only Walt knows that answer.


    "Why would he have put Fantasyland and a castle square in the middle of the park if he didn't care what children thought."
    Adults don't love castle's? The point of Disneyland is to take people out of reality. What better way than a castle and a land called Fantasyland?
  • "Adults don't love castle's? The point of Disneyland is to take people out of reality. What better way than a castle and a land called Fantasyland?"

    I agree that adults like fantasyland too.  Hey I personally love the land, the theming and Mr. Toad's has always been a favorite.  But you got to admit its always been aimed more toward the children.  Walt stated so on the Disneyland TV show and of course there's the famous shot of CHILDREN running through the castle into fantasyland.

    No I didn't personally speak to Walt about who he built DL for, but all the direct quotes from books and the Disneyland TV series I've seen says he built the park so the WHOLE FAMILY could enjoy the experience.

    Yeah, I love to feel young again when I go to DL, but then again I never grew up.  I still watch cartoons, and animated features with the regularity of children today and my room looks like a five year old boys filled with stuffed Disney toys and memorabilia.  Sometimes I even wonder how my wife married me.
  • Please Reread Jim's article.  No where does it state that Disney was hostile to Jews, only that his midwest upbringing equated accountants to Jews. That's it.  Even today, I hear much worse comments coming from friends who live in the midwest, and yes, it pisses me off.

    Quit idolizing Disney like he was some saint. Disney was a tough minded business man, who had personal flaws like everyone.  But he was also a visionary and from everything I've read, probably one of them most ethical and moral  studio heads of all the Hollywood studios.
  • There you go again, Jim.  At first I didn't believe all the comments about your constant negative tone toward the Mouse, but now I'm really seeing it ... in just about everything you write.  (Yes, I'll still continue to come back and read more.  Colton and Floyd Norman have the right idea.)  

    Most people with common sense know that Walt Disney was not a saint.  He even admitted so himself to his family and peers and it has been well documented.  Despite his human faults, the man was a humble genius from the Midwest.  He had a different set of values and a no bulls**t mentality toward doing and saying what needed to be done.  A comment about "checking with his Jew" most likely did not happen, and if it did, it was not said in a predjudicial way by this man.  

    No, I didn't know Walt Disney personally, but scores of biographical accounts of his personality, ethic, and life are readily available to get a common sense understanding of what he was like outside of the Mouse's shadow.  All those accounts fly in the face of what Peter Bart's book is trying to get at ... sensationalism.

    Your article is based off the writings of Peter Bart and was a waste of time.  He's an ENTERTAINMENT reporter and that job title alone should give you a clue that he's all about ENTERTAINMENT.  Bart is not the end-all to Hollywood truth and is regarded by most everyone in Hollywood and abroad as a spiteful gossip of the highest degree.  Just because you enjoyed his fiction while reading over a weekend, Jim, doesn't mean that it is fact or worthwhile to do a book report about it because Mr. Disney is mentioned.  Thank goodness Mr. Bart published this book before John Lasseter's 'Cars' was released to the public.  Oy vay, we'd never hear the end of your dissing that movie if it had been included.

    Lighten up and quite being such a doomsayer to the Disney name and Company.  Let's get some more in-depth reports from your contacts about what's going on currently (daily) to turn around the post-Eisner mess.  Things are happening everyday over in Burbank.  Writing about daily office/animation tedium at the Mouse House is far more interesting than this drivel taken from a gossip.  

  • I think it's funny how everyone is so quick to defend Walt Disney. It's like a cult. Anything bad said about Disney and it's 'Grab your pitchforks!'. Reality check: Walt Disney was not a saint. He was a human being like you and me. I feel like everyone is jumping on this because the myth of the Uncle Walt is fading when more facts come to the top and people can't stand it, so they attack it the first chance they can.

    Secondly: Disneyland meant for kids? I could see as to where this interpritation came from. Yes, World of Color and the Mickey Mouse Club could make it feel as everything Disney (at least related to Disneyland) is for kids. The times were different then...things that seem kiddie today were really more mature back then. I could rant on about the differences, but I won't.

    The point I am trying to say is that everyone is just mad that their image of Walt Disney is being debunked in front of their eyes and they can't stand it.
  • Was Walt Disney a saint?  Of course not.  But he was a good person.

    I've had the great pleasure of getting to know some of those who knew Walt well.  Not in a "I'm going to post every word you say on the Internet" sense, but in a relaxed, casual relationship.  As a result, I've heard many stories about Walt, and some of them do seem to contradict each other.  This can be primarily attributed to fading memories, personal perspective and the fact that humans -- Walt included --can behave differently in different situations.

    Even so, there are several constants among these stories:

    1.  Walt was human
    2.  Walt was a demanding boss
    3.  Walt cared deeply for children (and, in his later years, for the future of Society)
    4.  Walt smoked, enjoyed a daily scotch mist and occasionally swore*
    5.  Walt was NOT anti-Semitic

    *It's interesting to note that, according to one animator, "Walt could go on for 20 minutes describing the different types of manure on the farm he grew up on, but he'd fire someone if they made a sexually suggestive comment to a female co-worker."  Walt was no prude, but he did not tolerate obscenity.

    I agree that the Company has polished Walt's image to a shine that could have never existed.  But that actually started during his lifetime.  After watching a preview of "To Kill a Mockingbird", he remarked to Ron Miller that "I wish I could make movies like that... but I can't, because I'm 'Walt Disney'!".  Walt knew his name was synonymous with family entertainment, and that the success of the Company depended upon maintaining that sense of trust with the public.

    So, based upon the countless first-hand tales I've heard about Walt, I have come to the conclusion that he was not a saint, but a very decent man.  So, comments like the quote Jim cites don't trouble me, because I've heard enough examples of his character to know that Walt wasn't an anti-Semite.
  • What life has taught me in particular is that there are always fools who look at something popular and successful - like Walt Disney and yes, Fox News - and think it's their job to tear it down, whether they have any compelling evidence behind their arguments or not. Oh, but they have their ideology, and that's even better than evidence, right? Hoo boy. Now I know the sneer against Fox - and me - came from somebody who thinks Fox appeals only to conservatives. Well, that person might want to remember that Fox News is more popular than CNN, MSN and all the other newscasts on cable put together. There must be a heck of a lot more conservatives in the USA than liberals by that yardstick. (Remember "Air America"? Al Franken's lead balloon? LOL!) Which I suppose makes Fox even more despicable in that person's book - what the great unwashed masses (i.e. conservatives) prefer must be trash. Really, after the Dan Rather/Memogate scandal (and of course that's not an isolated case of mainstream media tampering with the truth - Rather just got caught) I'm surprised certain groups of people still find it so easy to cling to their self-perceived moral high ground. It's really kind of funny.

    As for Walt, I'm well aware of the fact that he was human and a product of the attitudes of his time. But I'm also well aware of the nonstop efforts of those who, either out of envy, spite or political ideology, make it their mission in life to demonize him. I've read Schickel's book as well as others, and it's amazing what slanted writing will try to tell you - if you're too stupid, naive and inexperienced in life not to recognize it as such.
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