Welcome to Jim Hill Media - Entertainment News : Theme Parks Movies Television

Was Walt Disney an anti-Semite? Not according to The Wizard of Oz

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.

Was Walt Disney an anti-Semite? Not according to The Wizard of Oz

Rate This
  • Comments 8

Sorry I've been away for a couple of days. So what did I miss?

Ah, yeah. Meryl Streep's speech at the National Board of Review awards. Where -- before she handed Emma Thompson the best actress award for her stellar performance in "Saving Mr. Banks" -- Streep first went out of her way to attack the late Walt Disney. Calling him racist, sexist and anti-Semitic.

Look, Floyd Norman has already effectively addressed the racism issue. And Amid Amidi did a great job of debunking Meryl's claim that " ... Walt hated woman and cats." As for me ... Well, I'd like to try & use one of the greatest fantasy films of all time -- MGM's "The Wizard of Oz" -- to prove once & for all that Walt Disney wasn't an anti-Semite.

Copyright 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. All rights reserved

Okay. So let's start with the very term "anti-Semite." Which -- according to FreeDictionary.com -- is " ... a person who discriminates against or is prejudiced or hostile toward Jews."

Now let me introduce you to a key player in the development of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" as a major motion picture. And that's industry pioneer Samuel Goldwyn, who was born in Warsaw in a Polish shtetl back in July of 1879. Raised as a Hasidic Jew with his only formal education coming from those few years that he spent in Hebrew school, Goldwyn always like to tell the story of how -- when he was only 12 years-old -- Samuel walked across Europe and eventually immigrated to North America. Once there, Goldwyn made his way from Nova Scotia to New York City. Whereupon Samuel "anglicized" the name he was born with (i.e., Shmuel Gelbfisz) and became Sam Goldfish.

Now let's jump ahead to May of 1933. And Sam Goldfish (who is now known as Samuel Goldwyn and is already one of the true giants in Hollywood history) catches a screening of "Three Little Pigs." And what does Sam see as he views this animated short? Well, yes, he see a brief unfortunate joke that does feature the stereotypical Jewish peddler ...

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

(Though -- to be fair here -- were you to view a sampling of animated cartoons that had been  produced by the other major studios during this exact same period in Hollywood history, you'd see that ethnic humor was one of the mainstays of animation during this era in American entertainment. It was something that the movie-going public readily accepted & genuinely seemed to enjoy during this time in our country's history. More to the point, when Walt realized that these sorts of gags were no longer considered palatable by the greater movie-going public, he had the offensive sequence trimmed & re-animated.)

... Anyway ... Now getting back to Samuel Goldwyn and Disney's "Three Little Pigs." What does Goldwyn see as he views this soon-to-be Academy Award-winning short? He sees the future. To be specific: A time when movie-goers will hunger for similar sorts of Technicolor fantasies, only the feature-length kind.

And given that Samuel now prides himself on being a fully assimilated American, he wants his studio to make a distinctly American film fantasy. Which is why -- according to Jay Scarfone & William Stillman's "The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion " (Harper Design, October 2013) -- Goldwyn reaches out to Frank J. Baum, the son of the late L. Frank Baum and offers to buy the screen rights to "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

Copyright 2013 Harper Design. All rights reserved

Now what's kind of interesting about all this is -- just prior to Samuel's attempt to snag the screen rights to "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" in mid-to-late 1933 -- MGM had also been talking with the Baum family. That studio had seen the huge success that Walt was having with his "Silly Symphonies" series and now wanted to get in the animation business in the worst way. And the idea that MGM executives came up -- which they hoped would eventually turn into some serious competition for Disney's Mickey Mouse cartoons -- was to do a series of full-color animated shorts built around Baum's "Oz" characters.

Unfortunately for MGM, Frank J. Baum and L. Frank's widow, Maude, thought the amount that this studio was offering for the rights to use the "Oz" characters in animation was far too low. So when Samuel Goldwyn came along and offer them $40,000 for the screen rights to "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," the Baum family immediately said "Yes."

Another interesting side note: On the heels of the "Three Little Pig" 's huge success, Walt finally got serious about the idea of producing a full-length animated feature. And what was one of the stories that he considered as possible fodder for Disney Studio's first full-length feature? You guessed it. L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." As the story goes, Walt asked his brother Roy to discreetly make inquiries about whether the screen rights to this book was still available in early 1934.  Only to then have the Hollywood trades break the news on January 26, 1934 that Goldwyn had officially scored the screen rights to "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And just so you know: When it came to the movie version of "Oz" that Samuel wanted to make, the connections between that project and Disney's "Three Little Pigs" were quite strong. Goldwyn even went so far as to hire Ann Ronell (who wrote the lyrics for the hit song from that animated short, "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?") to do the songs for his proposed "Oz" production.

And in another weird parallel between the way that Samuel Goldwyn & Walt Disney thought, according to Scarfone & Stillman ...

... When negotiating with the Baum family to purchase the screen rights (to this book), Goldwyn had contemplated The Wizard of Oz as a Technicolor talkie with Mary Pickford in the lead.

This is the only remaining frame of Mary Pickford's Technicolor
test for Disney's proposed live-action / animated version of
"Alice in Wonderland." The rest of this test footage dis-
appeared decades ago. Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

"What's so weird about that?," you say. Well, in early 1933 when Walt was actively looking for a hook to build Disney Studios' first full-length feature around, he actually shot a Technicolor test with screen legend Mary Pickford. With the idea being that this then-41 year-old actress would then be the only human performer in an all-animated version of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland." (Which -- if you know your Disney history -- given that, just 10 years earlier, Walt had burst on the scene in Hollywood by being the guy who made that "Alice in Cartoonland" short. Which featured 5 year-old Virginia Davis capering with cartoon characters ... Well, that would have been kind of intriguing to have Walt revisit the idea that had initially helped him break through in Tinsel Town as the way for his studio to now expand into features).

But as the two images that I've folded into this article show, by 1933, "America's Sweetheart" could no longer really pull off the sort of ingenue roles that she'd built her fabled film career on. Which is perhaps why -- just after this "Alice in Wonderland" test at Disney Studios -- Mary officially announced her retirement from on-screen acting. Though she would then continue to produce films at United Artists (i.e., the movie studio that Pickford formed back in 1919 with Charlie Chaplin, D. W. Griffith and her then-soon-to-be-husband, Douglas Fairbanks).

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Getting back to Samuel Goldwyn's proposed movie version of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" now: While his studio let word leak in 1936 that they were considering child star Marcia Mae Jones for the role of Dorothy, "Oz" never really moved into active development at Goldwyn. Some say this was because the writers that Sam hired for this proposed production never delivered a screenplay that he liked. Still other have suggested that it was Goldwyn's mercurial nature, his infamous indecision, that ultimately did the project in.

All that is known is that ...  

In December of 1937, Goldwyn momentarily became disenchanted with the picture business and -- on a whim -- began divesting  himself of the various story properties that he owned. Most significantly, Samuel began entertaining offers on The Wizard of Oz, and a bidding war ensued.

Samuel Goldwyn

Now -- to be blunt here -- Samuel's timing (at least when it came to the sale of the screen rights to "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz") couldn't have been worse. For December 21, 1937, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs " premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater. And as Disney's first full-length animated feature began its nationwide roll-out in February of 1938 and then began racking up record-breaking sales (For a brief while there, "Snow White" was actually the highest grossing sound film in Hollywood history), there was the cinematic equivalent of the Oklahoma land rush. As the whole of Hollywood seemingly hurrying to get into the feature-length fantasy film business.

It's now time to bring our second key player in the development of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" as a major motion picture on the scene. And that's legendary movie producer & director Mervyn LeRoy. Born in San Francisco in October of 1890 to Jewish parents Edna (née Armer) and Harry LeRoy, Mervyn's family (which owned a successful department store in the city) was financially ruined by the Great Earthquake of 1906.  

To help make money for his family out during this extreme tough time, LeRoy (just as the young Walt Disney did) sold newspapers. As he grew older, Mervyn drifted into the world of entertainment. First as a singer and a dancer, and eventually -- as he transitioned from vaudeville to silent film -- as a director of highly successful motion pictures like "Little Caesar ."

Copyright Warner Bros. All rights reserved

Which is why -- on February 3, 1938 -- MGM brought LeRoy onboard as a producer. With the hope that Mervyn would then become create some highly successful films for that studio as well. And what's the very first thing that LeRoy did after he arrived at MGM? He makes sure that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer outbid Twentieth Century Fox for the screen rights to "The Wonderful World of Oz." Fox had been pursuing this property as a possible vehicle for Shirley Temple. But at Mervyn's urging, MGM swooped in at the very last minute. And on February 18, 1938, MGM won the screen rights to "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by offering to pay Samuel Goldwyn $75,000 for the property.

Mind you, not everyone in Hollywood was happy that MGM now owned the screen rights to "Oz." As Scarfone & Stillman recall in their "The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion," Hollywood columnist Paul Harrison snarked in a March 16, 1938 story that ...

... I hope the ghost of L. Frank Baum gives Samuel Goldwyn a good haunting for not selling the rights to The Wizard of Oz books to Walt Disney.

Cecil B DeMille

Now why would Harrison say something like that? Well, you have to understand that -- on the heels of "Snow White" 's success -- all of Hollywood was hailing Walt as Tinsel Town's new resident genius. I mean, you had industry giants like Cecil B. DeMille sending telegrams to the studio saying that " ... I wish I could make pictures like Snow White." And as Neal Gabler recounts in his "Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination" (Knopf, October 2006) ...

Critic Gilbert Seldes, long a Disney admirer and advocate, was given a private screening (of 'Snow White') and left saying "he thought Metro Goldwyn might just as well close their studios as long as you produce feature films."

So you could perhaps understand why the Hollywood press would react negatively when LeRoy announced that MGM's version of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" wouldn't be an animated feature. But -- rather -- a live-action musical which would simulate a cartoon.

(L to R) William Austin as the Gryphon, Charlotte Henry as Alice and Cary Grant
as the Mock Turtle in the 1933 live-action version of "Alice in Wonderland."
Copyright Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved

"And why would the Hollywood press react negatively to that particular piece of news?," you query. Because there were a lot of people in town who still remembered what a train wreck Paramount's live-action version of "Alice in Wonderland " had been back in 1933.

On paper, this motion picture looked like it was going to be a smash hit. Paramount Pictures had loaded up this live-action version of Lewis Carroll's books with the biggest stars of the day. We're talking about people like W. C. Fields playing Humpty Dumpty, Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle and Gary Cooper as the White Knight. With each of these performers decked out in elaborate costumes & make-ups which attempted to duplicate the exact look of John Tenniel's pen-and-ink illustrations for the Alice book. But given the limitation of make-up back in the 1930s (or -- to be completely blunt here -- given that the make-up department at Paramount couldn't compete with what Jack Pierce & his team were doing over at Universal), what was supposed to be a family-friendly film wound up being more of a horror movie.

Paramount's elaborate costumes and make-ups made it so members of the audience couldn't actually recognize most of the big-name stars who were appearing in this motion picture. I mean, look at the photo below. Is there anything about this image that lets you know that this frog footman is actually being played by Disney Legend Sterling Holloway (i.e., the voice of the stork in "Dumbo ," the Cheshire Cat in Disney's animated version of "Alice in Wonderland ," Kaa the Snake in "The Jungle Book ," not to mention the voice of the title character in Disney's "Winnie the Pooh and the Hunny Tree ")?

An on-the-set / in-production shot of the 1933 live-action version of "Alice in
Wonderland." Copyright Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved

Given how badly Paramount Pictures' "Alice in Wonderland" crashed & burned when it was released to theaters in December of 1933 ... Well, that was one of the main reasons that Goldwyn backed away from doing his live-action version of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." Not to mention giving Walt pause when it came to doing that live-action / animated version of "Alice" that Disney Studios was (at that time, anyway) thinking of co-producing with Mary Pickford. More to the point, when LeRoy announced that "The Wizard of Oz" was going to be this live-action musical that would simulate the look & feel of a feature-length cartoon ... Well, to many in Tinsel Town, that just made it sound as if MGM were about to repeat all of the mistakes that Paramount had made with its live-action "Alice in Wonderland."

Ah, but what many Hollywood observers didn't understand was that Meryn LeRoy actually held Walt Disney in extremely high esteem.

In later years, Mervyn stated that Walt was one of only two geniuses that he had ever met -- MGM producer Irving Thalberg being the second.

Walt Disney and Shirley Temple at the 1939 Academy
Awards ceremony

(In fact), LeRoy so admired Disney that he was the member of the Motion Picture Academy who came up with the idea of giving Walt one Oscar statuette plus seven small ones when he was honored for "Snow White" at the eleventh annual Academy Awards in February 1939.

So given that Mervyn thought so highly of Walt, LeRoy didn't hesitate to reach out to Disney when he felt MGM's "The Wizard of Oz" (Mervyn had snipped the "Marvelous" off of this proposed motion picture's title as soon as Metro had acquired the screen rights to Baum's book) was going off-track. As Scarfone & Stillman recounted in their "The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion" ...

... Dissatisfied with a flurry of meandering Wizard of Oz script drafts and rewrites from more than two months prior -- all contributed to by various screenwriters -- the producer sought to revitalize his production team's mind-set about the elements of successful fantasy. On May 10, 1938, LeRoy screened Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at M-G-M, the print on loan directly from Walt Disney himself at LeRoy's request. Among the production staff undoubtedly in attendance were songwriters Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, who had begun their association with The Wizard of Oz just the day before.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Not just to circle back on the central premise of today's piece: If Walt Disney actually were the sort of anti-Semite that people like Meryl Streep seem to think that he was, then why would Walt repeatedly go out of his way to help someone like Mervyn LeRoy? Who was, after all, a Jew?

And when I say "repeatedly," I mean repeatedly. Look at the huge favor that Walt did for Mervyn once principal photography on "The Wizard of Oz" had wrapped back in February 1939.

(Now that this motion picture was complete) save for post-production and retakes, LeRoy turned his attention to marketing his movie characters, and went straight to the best for outside expertise: Walt Disney. Like any self-made mogul, Disney was fiercely protective of his brand, yet he didn't see The Wizard of Oz as a threat to his domain, in equal parts perhaps the film was live-action and because he and LeRoy had a genuine rapport. In an affable gesture, Disney put LeRoy in touch with Herman "Kay" Kamen ... Kamen had achieved remarkable success leading Disney character merchandise throughout the 1930s. (Kamen wasn't a Disney employee but an independent contractor free to pursue outside business ventures, provided there was no conflict of interest with his primary work for Disney).

Kay Kamen and Walt Disney in Walt's office pose for a publicity shot.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Now it's important to understand here is that Kay Kamen -- like Mervyn LeRoy -- was a Jew. More to the point, Disney's New York-based merchandising office had so many Jewish employees working there that Kay used to joke that the place " ...  had more Jews than the Book of Leviticus."

Disney even went further than this when it came to helping out LeRoy. Given Mervyn's obvious affection for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," Walt arranged for Adriana Caselotti (i.e., the talented young actress & singer who voiced the title character of that animated feature) to do a vocal cameo in "The Wizard of Oz." Which is why -- if you listen carefully as the Tin Woodsman warbling "If I Only Had a Heart" -- you can hear Adriana sings "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?"

In the end, Disney was very pleased with the way "The Wizard of Oz" turned out. After catching this MGM production a week after its world premiere at the Grauman's Chinese Theater, Walt sent a letter to Mervyn on August 23, 1939 which said ...

Copyright 2014 Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. a Time Warner Company,
or its licensors. All rights reserved

Mrs. Disney and I saw The Wizard of Oz the other night and we both liked it very much. The sets were swell, the color was perfect for the story, and the make-ups far exceeded anything I though possible. Knowing the difficulty that we have with cartoons, a medium that is limited only to the imagination, I can fully realize how tough a production of this type would in the live-action medium. All in all, I think you turned out a fine picture and you have my congratulations.

LeRoy immediately wrote back to Disney, saying that ...

"It is needless for me to tell you how proud I am to know that you liked The Wizard ... "

Mervyn LeRoy (L) on set with Judy Garland and the Munchkins during the shooting
of "The Wizard of Oz" at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Culver City, CA.

Again, does any of the above sound like the behavior of an anti-Semite? Who -- according to the definition that I cited earlier -- is " ...  a person who discriminates against or is prejudiced or hostile toward Jews"?

Anyway ... The way that Hollywood saw it, Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" & MGM's "The Wizard of Oz" were inexorably linked. In fact, Scarfone & Stillman came across a Metro-Goldwyn in-house letter which -- back in August of 1939 -- promised that

"This Xmas the kiddies will be asking for characters from The Wizard of Oz instead of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

These paper masks were some of the officially licensed items for MGM's
"The Wizard of Oz" that were available during the 1939 holiday season.

Sadly, that wasn't actually the case. Partially because -- in spite of Kay Kamen's best efforts -- only two dozen officially licensed "Wizard of Oz" products were available for purchase by Christmas 1939. Now compare that to the 100+ officially licensed  "Pinocchio " products that were available during this very same holiday period. Which is all the more remarkable, given that Disney's second full length animated feature wasn't actually due to be released to theaters 'til February 1940.

Anyway ... Getting back to Walt Disney, alleged anti-Semite: If Walt really was what Meryl Streep said that he was, then why -- when it came time to make "Song of the South" -- would Disney have then reached out to Samuel Goldwyn? Who -- according to what Neal Gabler wrote in " The Triumph of the American Imagination" -- ...

(Walt) had as close a relationship as he had with any producer in Hollywood with the possible exception of Walter Wanger. (To help out with the production of "Song of the South") Goldwyn ... lent (Walt) his cinematographer, Gregg Toland, who had shot Orson Welles's legendary "Citizen Kane "

The "Song of the South" production team shooting on location in
Arizona. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So you get what I'm saying here, right? If you actually dig down into Hollywood history and look at how Walt interacted with all of these Jewish movie moguls, there's nothing about Disney's behavior that suggests that he was an anti-Semite. If anything, he seems downright thrilled that many of these men considered Walt to be their creative contemporary.

Which brings us back to Meryl Streep. Which -- given her ill-informed comments weekend before last -- just proves that this three-time Academy Award-winner isn't all that well-steeped in Hollywood history.

Mind you, the irony of this whole situation is that -- come January of 2015 -- it'll probably be Emma Thompson onstage lauding Meryl Streep as Walt Disney Pictures begins its big award season push for its Christmas 2014 release, "Into the Woods." Here's hoping that -- as Ms. Thompson helps talk up Ms. Streep's turn as the Witch in the movie version of this Tony Award-winning Stephen Sondheim musical -- that Emma doesn't pull a Meryl and accidentally pull focus on her friend. Which might then ruin Streep's chance to win an Academy Award for this role. Which is what many in Hollywood are now suggesting that Meryl did to Emma by giving that Walt-is-a-racist-anti-Semite-woman-hating-cat-kicker speech at the National Board of Review awards earlier this month.

Meryl Streep as the Witch in Disney's "Into the Woods." Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But what did you folks think? Did Streep's ill-informed comments actually trip up Thompson's chances to get nominated for her work in "Saving Mr. Banks" ?  Much less win an Oscar for her performance as P L Travers in this John Lee Hancock film?

Your thoughts?

Blog - Post Feedback Form
Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close
Leave a Comment
  • * Please enter your name
  • * Please enter a comment
  • Post
  • What's really crazy about this whole thing is that the Sherman brothers, two main characters in Saving Mr. Banks, were Jewish!  They both speak about how Walt Disney was never bigoted towards them, and even fired someone for saying anti-Semitic things.  

    This whole story is such a complete lie, dreamt up by Art Babbitt who came up with this story decades after the men involved were dead and could not sue for libel. It is disgraceful that this lie is allowed to go unchecked, and Meryl Streep should publically apologize for smearing the name of the person for whom she is making a ton of money of off.

  • Your logic is flawed - Walt wanted to make money and knew that MGM was the entity he had to worked with.  Just because someone works with someone does not mean that they are not an anti-Semite.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Look, actions speak louder than words. In addition to the instances that I mention in today's article, Walt gave the Sherman Brothers their big break and then helped Jules Stein set up the Universal Studios Hollywood tour. A true anti-Semite -- someone who truly hated Jews -- wouldn't have acted in this manner. Especially back in the far more conservative 1930s, 1940s, 1950s & 1960s.

  • There seems to be more evidence for "not an anti-Semite" than evidence to the contrary.  Facts trump all.

  • Wonderful read. Thanks, Jim!

  • Here's something Walt Disney did in support of his Jewish friends and he received no compensation for it.

    Walt Disney had artist Hank Porter create an illustration in 1941, which was used on the cover of a stage show program produced by the Fight for Freedom Committee (FFC). The FFC was created to combat the views of the America First Committee, an isolationist group that had famed aviator Charles Lindbergh as one of their spokesmen. The Illustration Porter created featured Mickey, Goofy, and Donald a la Archibald MacNeal Willard's 1891 painting entitled, "The Spirit of '76" (originally called "Yankee Doodle" when Willard's first four variants of the painting appeared in 1875).

    In August 1941, Senate Resolution 152 was drafted by the chairman of the America First Committee. The resolution created a special Senate subcommittee to investigate Hollywood studios for violation of the Neutrality Laws – the accusation was the anti-Nazi films being released by Hollywood studios were an attempt by the heads of those studios to draw the United States into the European conflict, ergo, the studios were in contravention of the aforementioned Neutrality Laws.

    The isolationists declared “it was not Nazi Germany that endangered the United States, but rather an international Jewish conspiracy led by the movie industry.” In a St. Louis speech, one isolationist Senator named 17 Hollywood studio executives as alleged conspirators. All of the named individuals, with the exception of Darryl F. Zanuck, who was a Methodist, were Jewish.

    On October 5, 1941, the FFC, which later changed its name to the Fight for Freedom Committee to Defend America, held a “Freedom Rally” in New York to protest the Senate subcommittee hearings. The rally included a stage show titled “It’s Fun to be Free.” The pageant featured patriotic music and patriotic episodes from the lives of famous Americans including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, and Abraham Lincoln. An encore performance was held in St. Louis on December 10, 1941.

    So, my question is, if Walt harbored such anti-Semitic feelings, why would he direct one of his artists to create the illustration for a program that was used for a pageant conducted by the Fight For Freedom Committee, an organization that was created to defend Hollywood studios from allegations of a “Jewish conspiracy.” (And why did Walt hire so many of the Jewish faith to work at his studio, and why would Walt be honored by three Jewish organizations?)

  • Please let "Jon" know...that Art Babbitt was Jewish.

  • Disney apologists seem to think there is only one level of anti-Semitism: Nazi-level hatred. Like any form of bigotry, there are levels. For example, Oskar Schindler was an actual Nazi, who acquired his Krakow factory from Jews who went bankrupt after Nazi laws disallowed Jews from owning property. He then hired Jews to work in the factory because they were cheaper than Poles. Somewhere along the line he realized what was actually happening and started saving Jews from deportation to the concentration camps.  This is a guy who thought underpaying Jews was okay, taking property from Jews was okay, but killing them was bad. Can anyone with any certainty say that Oskar Schindler was 100% Jew-lover at the end of his life?

    There's simply too much anecdotal evidence saying his level of anti-Semitism was somewhere between being a Nazi and saving Jews from the Nazis. Hiring Jews to work for you doesn't make you the opposite of a bigot. Chick-fil-A does hire homosexuals after all. Things get especially questionable when you find out Disney animators were the lowest paid in the industry. Furthermore, some Jews who worked in Disney's "family" animation unit claimed it was an anti-Semitic environment. None of this leads back to "Uncle Walt" but there is no evidence that he discouraged it either. If the environment wasn't anti-Semitic, how was it that they released MORE THAN ONE short with Jewish stereotypes? And are we to believe the hands-on Walt Disney didn't approve of these shorts? Oh yeah, when there was outrage later, he went back and did what he could to change them, but they SOMEHOW still saw the light of day.

    Then there's the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. Disney belonged to this well-known anti-Semitic group, one other studio heads wouldn't go near. Yes, the group was also anti-Communist, one of the political ideals Disney is known for clinging to, but their pro-Nazi associations were legendary, which is why those Commie-hating studio heads kept their distance. If you want to belong to an anti-Semitic group, then you deserve to be called an anti-Semite. Right? If someone was in the KKK, do we find OTHER reasons for their involvement?

    But this is all stupid anyway. Why waste time on whether he was anti-Semitic or not? He had plenty of other issues which we can all judge him on: He was a big fat tattler to the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was a raging alcoholic. He whined like a little girl that he didn't get to take his creation - Oswald the Lucky Rabbit - when he left Universal, yet when he had his own animation company he refused to allow his animators credit, and when they went on strike for that benefit, he spent the rest of his life sulking over it. Oh yeah, and he is famous for saying that hiring blacks would have "spoiled the illusion at Disneyland." So, yeah, HE WAS A SAINT!

  • Just to address a few things here:

    There is some evidence that the "anti-Semitic" rumor was probably started not by Art Babbit, but rather by Herb Sorrell, the lawyer for the unionizers in the animation industry in the 1930s/40s, as part of a general smear campaign.

    Disney never worked for Universal. When producing the Oswald cartoons in 1927-28, Disney was an independent studio producing shorts for Winkler Pictures, who then distributed those shorts for them. As was standard practice (but doesn't seem to have been understood by Disney), part of the distribution deal was that the distributor -- Winkler -- would assume the copyright of the character (so, in this case, Oswald). This came as a great shock to Walt Disney when he went to renegotiate his contract with Charles Mintz, head of Winkler in 1928. That was when Walt Disney chose to save his studio and walk away from Oswald. But "KB"'s claim that Disney left Universal is historically inaccurate, as he never worked for Universal. Ever.

    As to the charge that "he refused to allow his animators credit", that's patently untrue. If you're in need of proof, go watch the credits to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), which had the longest credits of any movie in cinema history up to that point. There are people in the credits for Snow White whose work ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. Likewise, his early shorts gave credit to key people involved in their production. This was done in the 1930s, without being required to by any unions, etc.

    Most who knew him agree that Walt Disney was politically naïve (despite the fact that his father, Elias Disney, was literally a card-carrying member of the Socialist Party of the United States for decades, and Walt first learned to draw by copying drawings in the Socialist Workers magazine that Elias subscribed to), but the fact is that he gave credit where it was due. He wasn't always good at praising people to their faces, but he gave people screen credit. As I said above, go watch the beginnings of any Disney shorts or features in the pre-union period and you'll see that. I teach Disney studio history and American animation history, so I see these old cartoons all the time and every year. I know for a fact that Disney gave his animators (and other key artists) credit.

    No, he wasn't perfect -- certainly Walt Disney wasn't a saint. But rather than get emotional or throw around tired old clichés and stories, look at the facts. They speak for themselves.

    Another long-time Disney employee you might have quoted was storyman Joe Grant (another of Disney's Jewish employees). Like the brilliant Floyd Norman regarding the "racist" claim, Grant (along with people like the Sherman brothers and others) have said on camera that they never saw or heard anything anti-Semitic in Disney's language, behaviour, interpersonal relationships, or working practices.

    Thanks to the author for this article. It really was interesting.

Page 1 of 1 (8 items)