The DHI Book Shop is now open for business and features a selection of Books, Walt Disney ephemera, Magazines, Paper, and more. Sales will help to support the Institute and ongoing research into Walt Disney's Creative Legacy.
Visit the Disneyland shop at: DHI DISNEYLAND STORE. (Updated 2/25/13)
Visit the Disney book shop at: DHI BOOK STORE. (Updated 2/25/13)


Saturday, April 12, 2014


This entire year here at the Disney History Institute we will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary
of Walt Disney's contribution to the 1964 New York World's Fair.
Our banner artwork is a rarely seen piece of WED Imagineering Art. Painted by
Disney Imagineer Sam McKim for the presentation to the Illinois dignitaries to "sell" them on
the idea of using Walt's "Winkin' Blinkin' Lincoln" for their World's Fair Pavilion.

How Abe Found His Way To Illinois
by Paul F. Anderson

The pairing of the Illinois Pavilion with the Audio-Animatronics of Mr. Lincoln was the proverbial "match made in heaven." It started when the Illinois legislature passed early in 1963, a bill that established the Illinois Commission on the New York World's Fair. The Commission was given the broad directive of how to illustrate and dramatize Illinois' "attractions in the midst of the most sophisticated competition expected at the World's Fair." At the very first meeting of the Commission it was decided that the theme would be "Land of Lincoln." Acting as temporary Chairman of the Commission was Fairfax Cone. Robert Moses, who headed the World’s Fair corporation, had General Joe Potter, the Fair's Executive Vice President, and Martin Stone (Director of the Industrial Section) contact Cone regarding the Lincoln figure. Cone later confessed that when presented with the idea he was skeptical, yet he was willing to entertain the concept.

Another inspiring concept from WED Illustrator Sam McKim.
Prepared specifically for the State of Illinois Presentation (1963).
On April 5, 1963, Cone arrived at the Disney Studios for a presentation of the Lincoln figure. He was suitably impressed. Upon returning to Illinois, he immediately dispatched a letter to Walt that read, "I am sure you know that I was overwhelmed by the realism of the Lincoln figure that you showed Mrs. Cone and me last Friday. The possibility of our using the Lincoln figure and the effect of this upon visitors to the New York World's Fair have not left my mind during any of my waking hours since I saw it. I am going to New York tomorrow to discuss the Illinois participation with the Fair people, and I expect to be in touch with Jack Sayers shortly to further explore this project."

In the Spring of 1963, the Governor of Illinois, Otto Kerner, appointed renowned Lincoln scholar, Ralph Newman, to the permanent position of Chairman of the Illinois Fair Commission. "I was working in the Lincoln field for several years -- and so I knew of Disney's interest in Lincoln," remembered Newman. "I also knew that he had been toying with the idea of Audio-Animatronic figures, and that Lincoln was probably going to be his first experiment. As soon as I was appointed, I called him to tell him that I was the Chairman of the Illinois Commission and that our Pavilion was going to be devoted to Lincoln which appealed to him very much. From that moment on we started conversations on the feasibility -- when this project would be done, what we could do, what it would cost, what input I could have as an authority on Lincoln -- and we went to work." In a short time, Newman would become the driving force (and Walt’s biggest supporter) for the use of the Lincoln figure at the Illinois Pavilion.

"I went to California and met with Mr. Disney, and discussed the Lincoln figure and the facilities that would be necessary for him," recalled Newman. The Lincoln authority was impressed not only with Walt, but with the dignity and reverence of the Lincoln figure, as well as the many ideas from the Imagineers for the show. When Newman returned to Illinois, he gave a very positive report on the Lincoln figure to his good friend, Governor Kerner.

Accordingly, the Governor made plans to visit the Disney Studio to see the Lincoln figure. "Walt came in one day to show Lincoln," remembered Lincoln Imagineer Neil Gallagher. "He had with him the Governor of Illinois. I was running the figure manually, so I made Lincoln stand up and make a few gestures. We had a speech on tape at the time, and Walt played him the speech. After the speech, Walt told him all about the project. Well, by the time Walt was through talking, I was ready to put money into this thing."

With such brilliant McKim concepts like this, coupled with Walt's presentation skills, the State of
Illinois did not have a chance. Walt won over the critics and Lincoln did the same at the Fair.
Apparently the Governor was as impressed as Gallagher, because from that point on the Illinois Commission was very adamant that the figure become a part of the Illinois Pavilion. Over the next five months the negotiations dragged on. The biggest stumbling block was the cost to do the show. "The Illinois Legislature had voted a million dollars for us to participate in the Fair, without any investigation as to what it might cost. They didn't know if it would be too much or too little -- it turned out to be too little," explained Newman.

WED Enterprises offered two small concessions in an attempt to alleviate the costs. First, they agreed to include all maintenance and operation costs in the rental fee, previously established at $600,000. Second they divided the rental fee up into two years, $350,000 for the first year and $250,000 for the second year. The Illinois Commission had the exclusive option on renewing the contract with Disney for 1965 at the $250,000 fee. WED had stripped their terms down to the bare minimum, but Disney and Newman knew that it wasn't enough. If Moses wanted Lincoln at the Fair, he would have to give in some too.

The skills of the painter, Robert Moses, and Walt
Disney meant Fairgoers were in for some
Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln.
(Cover of the Lincoln Operations Manual.)
"We started working on Mr. Moses," recalled Newman. "He had some very tough conditions, including our having to use his expensive security, high rentals, high fees for utilities, and more. We couldn't afford that and Lincoln too. Mr. Disney and I went to see Moses, and I told him that the Legislature only voted us a fixed amount of money, and that we needed his help if we were going to use Lincoln. As we were leaving, I told Moses that I was going to see Adlai Stevenson, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, and to call me there if he wanted to reach me. I did that deliberately figuring that it would make some impression on him. I told Mr. Disney that if Moses didn't agree to our terms, we would have to participated without the Disney figure. He said, 'He'll call you.' He was right, because Moses called us at Stevenson's office and agreed to our terms."

Newman reported the good news to the Commission in a meeting on August 28, 1963. Three concessions were made to the Illinois exhibit. First, the working drawing approval fee and the connection fees for utilities were set at a $5,000 maximum. Second, the fees for the demolition of the building and restoration of the site to a finished park were waived. Finally, the most significant concession was a $250,000 unsecured subsidy "in order that the Disney-Lincoln production could be included in the World's Fair." It was a significant offer on Moses' part that truly showed his convictions for the Lincoln figure. It was the first (and only) instance of financial support to any exhibitor at the World's Fair. The net result was that only $100,000 out of the Illinois' budget went to Disney for the first year rental on Lincoln, the World's Fair Corporation paid the remaining $250,000 to cover the balance.

It took almost a year and a half, and the opening of the Fair was right around the corner, but with a little bit of help from Moses, Disney's Lincoln now had a sponsor in the State of Illinois.

Post up your comments below or over on our Facebook Group Site.  (Even when things are slow on the blog, stuff is always happening over on Facebook).  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Penthouse Club at the Disney Studio

Disney Studio 1941

The Penthouse Club at the Disney Studio

By Todd James Pierce

Walt Disney in the Penthouse Club, 1960s, event unknown
The Penthouse Club, up on the roof of the Animation Building, was run by Walt Disney's boyhood friend, Walt Pfeiffer.  It was an all boys club—which as the 1943 Employee Manual pointed out: "Men Only! Sorry, gals."  The girls had their own "Tea Room" on the top of the Ink and Paint Building.  This "Boys Only" rule was, of course, indicative of mid-Century gender discrimination prevalent throughout the American workplace.  But at the studio, the separate areas for men and women also discouraged company flirtations and romances, which Walt believed wasted his staff’s time. "The only women allowed," one employee recalls, "were waitresses from the Commissary." 
The Penthouse Club, as animator Floyd Norman explains, was "a perk 'Walt's Boys' could earn after rising through the ranks over a series of years...a club not open to everybody--and that seemed to be the attraction."  In a 1941 talk to his employees, Walt pointed out that the Penthouse Club was not necessarily “a closed thing.  We would be glad to allow any fellow who is decent and respectable to belong to it.  However, at the start we had to allow those men who carry the main responsibilities of the Studio the first chance to join.  After giving those men their chance, we then threw it open to the whole group."  Even after the club was open to all male employees, club fees generally put membership out of reach of the younger artists at the studio.  In practice, then, the older and best-paid employees were primarily the club’s members.
Freddy Moore Mural at Penthouse Club

To get to the club, you’d take the elevator up to the private fourth floor.  The club entrance included a mural, painted by animator Freddy Moore, filled with topless and bare-bottom ladies, as well as a single man (who looked a little like Moore) swooning over them.  These images weren't explicitly sexual as much as they were erotic and flirtatious.  “Although some might call it soft core,” one animator recalls, “it was pretty spicy stuff considering this was Disney in the sexually-repressed fifties.”  Regardless, the mural clearly established the penthouse as a gentleman’s lounge.

Penthouse Gym - 1941 (possibly featuring Karl Johnson, right)
When the Burbank studio opened in 1940, it contained three food service areas: the cafeteria, the semi-formal Green Room/Coral Room dining area, and the club.  As animator Ollie Johnston recalls: "We could come up [to the Club] and get a milkshake or something to drink anytime you wanted, or get something to eat, or have traffic [i.e. a delivery boy] deliver it to your room...And gee, it was great."

Beyond the restaurant, the Penthouse Club—or “the roof” as it was casually called—included a bar, barber shop, a masseuse and massage table, steam baths, a gym with exercise equipment, and beds for members who simply weren’t feeling well (i.e. drank too much).  For entertainment, it offered billiard tables and cards, with small-stakes poker being particularly popular among the men.

Carl with a "C" in this Disney Dispatch, 1943
Regular exercise classes were led by Karl Johnson, a Swede who for a time was Walt's personal trainer at the Hollywood Athletic Club.  Even at the age of 60, Karl Johnson was a distinguished athlete—once a lightweight wrestler in the 1912 Olympics—who believed vigorous activity was essential for everyone.  Once the Penthouse gym was open, he assisted artists with weights and stretches--artists that in one Disney in-house publication were called "sedentary clients."  One member recalls that Johnson was always available and that—as a peculiarity of his workouts—he used a 16-pound weight-lifting ball that he recommended for the abs and stomach.  This same tongue-in-cheek publication explained that "Many Disneyites...were weak in the chest until Carl [sic] wheeled them into braving the unknown world of exercise."  These classes lasted until 1949, when, at the age of 66, Johnson retired from the company.  [Note: Karl Johnson uses a "K" for his Olympic records, though some studio publications spell his name "Carl."]

Rooftop Sunbathing - 1941
Outside, on the rooftop patio, were tables and umbrellas, where the men could sit and talk.  But the most popular activity, as described in a 1947 issue of New York Magazine, was sunbathing where “male employees acquire an all-over tan.”  To put it more bluntly, as Milt Kahl's assistant later recalled, "We used to take nude sunbaths, on the roof of the Studio, on our lunch hours and 'chew the fat.'"  This practice lasted for years, but eventually ended when nuns and nurses noticed naked men atop the studio.  “St. Joseph Hospital was right across the street,” Layout artist Joe Hale recalls, “and they had built a new four-story wing on it.  Anyway, it turns out that some of the nuns at St. Joseph’s were peering across the street, watching the guys…So when the word got around at the hospital about what the nuns were doing, Mother Superior or someone called over to the Studio and complained about the nude sunbathing.  So they knocked that off.”

A Slightly More Revealing Shot, Same Day, 1941.
The club tended to bring its members more deeply into company culture, solidifying their social lives inside the studio.  When Walt’s amusement park was nearly finished, he invited club members (and their children) out to Disneyland two weeks before it opened.  On Monday July 4, 1955, about 200 people (members and children together) walked through Disneyland—or those parts of it that were finished.  They rode the Jungle River ride (even though many of the animals were not yet installed on the river bank), with Walt himself narrating the adventure, then climbed aboard the stagecoach and Conestoga wagons.  Walt, specifically, wanted to see how children would engage his park, as until then, its few visitors had mainly been adults.

Walt Disney, 1960s, Penthouse Club, Event Unknown
During the war the sick beds (or drunk beds) in the Club became temporary quarters for some of the officers that descended on the studio to make training films.  "Accommodations were tough, really, in Los Angeles," explains Erwin Verity, a Disney director and producer. "And they had to be here every day.  In our little Penthouse Club upstairs, we had a couple of beds, and there were officers quartering themselves up there."

The Penthouse Club also played a role in the discontent that led to the studio strike in 1941.  In the late 1930s, those years following the completion of Snow White, younger artists felt that the studio worked as a large family.  Back then, animator Ken Peterson recalls, “There wasn’t anybody you couldn’t ask for help, a top animator or whoever.  There were different salaries, but nobody worried about that.”  With the club, Walt inadvertently engaged a class system at the studio.  The membership fee—remembered by some to be $7 per month—was roughly half the weekly salary of a newly-hired inbetweener.  Some artists saw the club as a significant move away from the egalitarian family atmosphere to a workplace filled with haves and have-nots.  “We were all feeling sort of left out…The strike was about economics, but it was also a rebellion about the kind of [new] management Walt had.”

Walt Disney, 1963, Mousecar and Duckster Ceremony
By the 1950s, the club became more of a gathering place—with less emphasis on exercise and more emphasis on social events.  In the 1960s, it evolved into a lounge for old-timers, those who had worked at the studio for 20 or 30 years.  The converted gym also became the location for studio award ceremonies, including the Mousecars and Ducksters.

Though the Penthouse has been closed for years—with the tables hauled away and the Freddy Moore mural removed—the structure still sits atop the Animation Building, a reminder of earlier times, when Walt imagined the studio as an artists’ paradise, filled with work, social activities, exercise, and even drinks.


Post up your comments below or over on our Facebook Group Site.  (Even when things are slow on the blog, stuff is always happening over on Facebook).   That's it for this time.  TJP


Friday, February 21, 2014

In Defense of Walt - Walt Disney and Anti-Semitism

In Defense of Walt

Walt Disney and Anti-Semitism

by Todd James Pierce

Anti-Nazi propaganda film produced by Disney
In recent weeks—after Meryl Streep’s comments at the National Board of Review—the internet buzzed with posts exploring if Walt Disney was anti-Semitic.  I’ve gone through my materials, trying to piece together a reasonable response to these accusations, with an eye toward offering accurate information on studio activity during Walt’s lifetime and gathering evidence that presents Walt, himself—though not without flaws—as a progressive in this matter, as a man whose beliefs and practices generally advanced the roles of Jewish artists and executives in the world of film and as a man who supported Jewish causes in general.
      Though Meryl Streep didn’t outright call Walt an anti-Semite, the press framed her remarks in those terms—which has been a charge levied against Disney for decades.  In recent years, comments about Disney and anti-Semitism have shown up on Saturday Night Live, Family Guy, and Robot Chicken.  In 2007, the playwright John D. Powers produced Disney in Deutchland, a mean-spirited fantasy that concocted a fictional meeting in 1935 between Walt and Hitler, in which Hitler pitched story ideas for animated features and—even more strangely—helped plan Disneyland.  Never mind that the German Board of Film had already banned a 1929 Mickey Mouse film (“The Barnyard Battle”) in which an army of malicious cats, dressed as WWI German soldiers, chased after Mickey Mouse, the Deutchland play—as with similar entertainments that depict Walt as overtly anti-Semitic—vied for attention by sensationalizing the issue of race.  There was no meeting (ever!) between Disney and Hitler.  In fact, shortly after the time of this imaginary summit, Walt would produce anti-Nazi propaganda that excoriated the politics of Hitler, such as “Education for Death” and “Der Fuehrer’s Face.”
"Der Fuerher's Face" - Anti-Nazi WWII Propaganda film
      So where do these charges come from?  And is there any connection between these claims and the historic figure of Walt Disney?
       These claims are usually tied to two areas of Walt’s professional life: first, to his association with the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals and second, to two cartoons he produced early in his career (in 1929 and 1933).

Motion Picture Alliance

In the final years of WWII, when America strategized with Soviets to defeat Nazi Germany, some members of Hollywood believed that this political arrangement allowed left-leaning filmmakers freedom to present pro-Communist propaganda in Hollywood films.  These individuals, outraged at what they believed were communist influences, formed the Motion Picture Alliance.  On February 4, 1944, the MPA held its first meeting at the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel, with 75 people in attendance “representing actors, producers, directors, executives, and writers.” Their stated aim was to work against Communism and Fascism in film and American culture.  Among the attendees was Walt Disney, who was voted in that night as one of the group’s three vice presidents.
     During this meeting, the group’s president, Sam Wood explained that Hollywood should be “a reservoir of Americanism…for the American people, in the interests of America.”  In a later formal Statement, the MPA laid out its principles, which included both political statements (to remove hidden communist and fascist propaganda from American films) and cultural statements (to preserve and present American life and history):
     We believe in, and like, the American way of life: the liberty and freedom which generations before us have fought to create and preserve…Believing in these things, we find ourselves in sharp revolt against a rising tide of communism, fascism, and kindred beliefs, that seek by subversive means to undermine and change this way of life…Motion pictures are inescapably one of the world's greatest forces for influencing public thought and opinion, both at home and abroad. In this fact lies solemn obligation. We refuse to permit the effort of Communist, Fascist, and other totalitarian-minded groups to pervert this powerful medium into an instrument for the dissemination of un-American ideas and beliefs…And to dedicate our work, in the fullest possible measure, to the presentation of the American scene, its standards and its freedoms, its beliefs and its ideals, as we know them and believe in them.
     Without doubt, the cultural ideology resonated with Walt—ideals that framed later Disney projects, such as the film Johnny Tremain (1957) and the World’s Fair attraction Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (1964).  The political ideology, less so.  For Walt, the connection between
communism and film was forever tied to the 1941 strike at his studio.  He later explained this connection to the House Un-American Activities Committee, that Herbert Sorrell was guided by Communist influence when he organized a labor strike at the Disney Studio.  For Walt, his feelings about communism and the strike were more a matter of personal injury than of world politics.
     Weeks after its first meeting, the MPA filled its roster with members of Hollywood’s elite, including Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper, Cecil B. DeMille, John Wayne and future president Ronald Reagan.  The appeal of the MPA was, in part, tied to the war: Americans saw Nazi Germany as trying to export its ideology into greater Europe; the MPA saw its mission as to protect American film from outside influence.  But shortly after its formation, liberal members of Hollywood, now threatened, formed the Council of Hollywood Guilds and Unions, which condemned the MPA as undemocratic as it sought to censor speech in film. 
      In 1944, the issue was partly framed through race and religion: the MPA was perceived primarily as white and protestant, tied to conservative visions of America’s past, while the Council was perceived as a committee primarily led by Jewish industry members, tied to liberal, left-leaning visions of America’s future.  Celebrity Council members included Walter Wanger, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Danny Kaye and Clifford Odets.  The ideological divide was deeply divisive in Hollywood as the industry struggled to define its own understanding of American ideas as they related to free speech and nationalism. 
      The ideological conflict between the MPA and the Council “caused a wide cleavage in Hollywood’s political and economic thought,” reported The New York Times.  “It has resulted in the breaking up of some long-established writing teams and has even extended into the colony’s social life.  The factional spirit is most pronounced in studio commissaries at lunch time” as dining tables are arranged into Pro-MPA and Pro-Council groups.
      From inside the studios, the battle to define Hollywood migrated to mainstream American publications to win public support.  In the Saturday Review, the Jewish-American screenwriter Elmer Rice charged that the MPA was against free speech, was “witch-hunting” for communists, and presented views that he believed were “anti-unionism and—off the record, of course—with strong overtones of anti-Semitism and Jim Crowism.” 
     Though the MPA had offered no statements about Jews, some of its members were rumored to be anti-Semitic, even though at least five prominent members were, themselves, Jewish (writer Ayn Rand, dramatist Morrie Ryskind, director Victor Fleming, lyricist Bert Kalmar, and director Cecil B. DeMille).  The MPA asked one of its Jewish members, Morrie Ryskind to pen a response.  He presented the names of fifteen MPA members who were also union leaders and therefore pro-labor; he explained that most all members were not isolationists; then he confronted the charge of anti-Semitism:
      Now, really, at my age and with my background (my grandfather was six-foot-two, and he had a beard that was six-foot even, which probably topped Elmer’s grandfather’s beard by at least a yard) I would be a sucker to go around joining anti-Semitic Organizations…As for the goyim [gentiles or non-Jews] in the Alliance, they work with, dine with, drink with, golf with, bowl with and play bridge with Jews; at least three of them have had the chutzpah to marry Jewish girls.
      By the summer of 1944, however, it was fairly clear that public opinion was siding with the Council, particularly on issues of free speech.  Not even Cpt. Clark Gable, himself recently returned from duty overseas, could rally wide support for the MPA when he announced “he was happy to hear that an active campaign had been started against Communist groups in the motion-picture industry.”  With waning public support, the MPA began to lose membership.  But the charge of anti-Semitism stuck to MPA and by extension to Walt.
      Though Walt attended meetings, after that initial gathering in February (where he was elected as a vice president) his name was never again included in any of the MPA newspaper articles published in the Los Angeles Times or the New York Times, suggesting his role was mainly a silent one.  The vocal presence of the MPA was largely Sam Wood, a producer/director, as well as Howard Emmett Rogers and James McGuinness.  Like many of the MPA members—which at one time numbered at least 200—Walt eventually distanced himself from the organization and its beliefs.           

Ethnic Humor

Original 1933 Animation - "Three Little Pigs"
Charges of anti-Semitism also come from the type of ethnic humor in which Walt and the studio participated in its early years.  The most famous example of Jewish ethnic humor comes from “Three Little Pigs,” released in 1933, in which the Big Bad Wolf disguised himself as a Jewish peddler to gain access to one house owned by a pig.  The costume used by the wolf accentuated stereotypical attributes comically applied to people from Jewish descent, such as the nose, the glasses, and dress.  The scene drew criticism and was later reanimated, removing the objectionable caricature, transforming the Jewish peddler into a Fuller Brush Man. 
     A less famous example comes from “The Opry House,” released in 1929, in which Mickey Mouse lengthens his nose and lowers his ears to perform a traditional Hasidic folk dance. 
"The Opry House" - 1929
     These selections do—certainly by contemporary standards and by some standards then—show a lack of sensitivity to issues of ethnicity.  But within the era, this type of visual ethnic humor was commonplace in American entertainment.  The most objectionable examples of Jewish ethnic humor ended in the early 1930s at the Disney studio, but over at Warner Brothers (in the Looney Tunes series) they existed well into the 1940s. 
     Along these same lines, some animators remember Walt occasionally telling jokes that relied on ethnic stereotypes for their humor.  The examples I’ve heard are mild and come from the earlier periods of Walt’s career.  Here’s one depiction (from the 1930s) of Walt’s use of ethnic humor, as related by the great Disney animator, Ward Kimball.  “For a gag, I think, Joe Grant did a caricature of [himself] and Dick Huemer [both of them being Jewish], who were working in the same department then, drawing the ‘Grant-Hume bird.’ So when the bird appeared on the end of Pinocchio’s final stretch of the nose, that was the topper, even with a nest. To top that, he had baby birds—that’s how he did it, he had a Joe Grant bird and a Dick Huemer bird, kind of an in-house [joke], and Walt says, ‘Well, jeez, if you’re gonna do that, why don’t you have a little Ward Kimball Irish bird in between them.’”  The joke, of course, was that a bird modeled after an Irish animator would round out the ethnicities presented in the nest.

A Defense and Contextualization

Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York - 1935
In contrast to these activities, Disney had a strong and progressive connection to both the work of Jewish artists and to Jewish organizations.  As has been noted on dozens of other sites, Disney donated money to a Jewish orphanage, a Jewish college, a Jewish retirement center, even the American League for a Free Palestine.  As pointed out by our own Paul Anderson, Walt gave liberally to Jewish organizations (primarily children’s charities) going back to the early 1930s.  In 1935, the director of The Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York thanked Walt for his gift with a personal letter: “Our children, who are all enthusiastic Mickey Mouse fans, join with me in assuring you of our deep appreciation and we do hope that when you next come to New York, you will drop in and pay us a visit.”
     Robert Sherman, a Jewish-American composer who worked closely with Walt in the 1950s and 1960s, defended him with the following story: “One time, [my brother] Richard and I overheard a discussion between Walt and one of his lawyers. This attorney was a real bad guy, didn't like minorities. He said something about Richard and me, and he called us 'these Jew boys writing these songs.' Well, Walt defended us, and he fired the lawyer."
     Perhaps most importantly, the studio, under Walt’s guidance, employed dozens of Jewish artists and executives, dating back to its earliest years.  Jewish artists and executives worked in most every department and at high-levels of authority and expertise: from animation to publicity.  Kay Kamen, a marketing genius, helped keep the studio solvent during The Great Depression.  The brothers, Richard and Robert Sherman penned some of Disney’s most recognizable songs, including “it’s a small world” and “A Spoonful of Sugar.”  Some of the most memorable characters in Disney’s canon were animated by Jewish-American artist Marc Davis, including Maleficent, Cruella de Vill, and Tinker Bell. 
     Over the past two days, I’ve assembled a list of Jewish artists employed by Disney.  This list is by no means complete.  It’s simply those that I could easily identify.  Anyone who would like to make a charge against Walt as an anti-Semite—with the definition that Walt kept Jews from important roles within his studio—should first wrestle with this list.

Notable Jewish Artists and Executives Employed by Disney
Fritz Freleng – Animator (dating back to the Alice and Oswald cartoons)
William Banks Levy – Merchandising Representative in London (dating back to 1930)
Dick Huemer - Story / Animator (dating back to the early 1930s)
Kay Kamen - Lead Merchandising / Licensing Representative (dating back to 1932)
George Kamen – Head of Merchandising in Europe (dating a back to the mid-1930s)
Robert Hartmann – Representative in the Nordics (dating back to 1934)
Hal Horne – Editor of Mickey Mouse Magazine, Publicist (dating back to 1935)
Suzanne Claire Kaufmann – Disney Office in Paris (dating back to the mid-1930s)
Joe Grant - Story / Artist (dating back to Snow White)
Otto Englander – Story (dating back to Snow White)
Art Babbitt - Animator (dating back to Snow White)
Dave Hilberman- Animator (dating back to Snow White)
Harry Tytle - Production Manager / Producer (dating back to Snow White)
Marc Davis – Animator / WED / Walt Disney Imagineering (dating back to Snow White)
Berny Wolf – Animator (dating back to 1938)
Jules Engel – Layout / Animator (dating back to 1938)
Zack Schwartz – Art Director / Layout (dating back to the late 1930s)
Dave Detiege - Writer (who also married into the extended Disney family)
Ted Berman – Story (dating back to 1940)
Irving Ludwig – Film Distribution / Publicist (dating back to 1940)
Mel Shaw – Story / Animator (Bambi)
Maurice Rapf – Writer (So Dear to my Heart, Song of the South)
Armand Bigle – Disney Representative in Europe (dating back to 1947)
Leo F. Samuels – Head of Buena Vista Distribution (early 1950s)
Lou Apett – Animator (1950s)
Ed Solomon – Animator (1950s)
Richard and Robert Sherman - Composer and Lyricist (Mary Poppins, etc.)
Mel Levin - Composer and Lyricist
Marty Sklar - WED / Walt Disney Imagineering
Sid Miller - Director (Mickey Mouse Club)
Doreen Tracey – Mouseketeer
Roberta Shore – Actress (Mickey Mouse Club serials, The Shaggy Dog)
William Lava – Composer (Zorro)
Larry Orenstein – Songwriter, Scriptwriter (Mickey Mouse Club)
Richard Fleischer - Director (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea)
David Swift – Writer (Pollyanna, The Parent Trap)

B'nai B'rith Distinguished Service Citation - 1958
In ways, I’m surprised that the charge of anti-Semitism keeps returning to Walt with such force, as his own support of Jewish causes is well-documented and extends from the 1930s up through the end of his life.  In 1955, the Beverly Hills chapter of B’nai B’rith (the oldest Jewish service organization in the world) declared Walt its “Man of the Year.”  Three years later, in 1958, the Kansas City chapter of B’nai B’rith awarded him a Distinguished Service Citation. 
     Outside of the studio, Walt maintained close friendships with executives from other studios, many of whom were Jewish, including Samuel Goldwyn and Walter Wanger—who was his friend both before and after his association with the MPA.
     I’m also surprised that the press, in covering this issue, approached the figure of Walt as a static individual, as though the twenty-something Walt who produced “The Opry House” was identical to the man who appeared on TV in the 1950s and 1960s.  Early Disney cartoons were filled with barnyard humor and sophomoric sexual innuendo.  There were, for example, a number of gags involving cow udders.  The Walt who produced and approved those scenes is different in some important ways from the older Walt who championed the Toys-For-Tots campaign, created it’s a small world (which advocated for racial tolerance), and produced a series of seventeen documentary films that explored world cultures.  Hardly anyone remembers the People & Places series that Walt produced in the 1950s because these films never made their way to DVD, but included in this series are thoughtful presentations on the American Eskimo, the women of a Japanese fishing village, and the desert residents of Marrakech.  Most individuals—even celebrities—change and mature over time; most people, in my opinion, find that their sensitivity to others increases with age and experience. 
       The best example of this I can find in the life of Walt Disney concerns his feelings about Communist Russia.  Two years after WWII, as America was entering the McCarthy era of Communist paranoia, Walt told the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington D.C. that his films didn’t play in Russia.  “You can’t do business with them,” he said.  Twelve years later, he sent his Circlevision movie, “America the Beautiful” to Russia for a special engagement, following its appearance at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels.  In the 1940s, Walt Disney believed ideological control was crucial to limit foreign influence on American culture.  But by the mid-1950s and into the 1960s, he saw film as a way of celebrating cultural differences and presenting the uniqueness of American life to other parts of the world.


For those of you interested in a historically-accurate and beautifully-illustrated account of Walt Disney's trip to Europe in 1935 (as opposed to the slanderous fantasies of Disney in Deutchland), I highly recommend Disney's Grand Tour by Didier Ghez, which is available as a gorgeous hardback book or an inexpensive Kindle edition.  

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Will you be my Valentine?- Pinocchio style!

We at DHI wanted to share some some special Valentine's Day cards from Disney's past with everyone, so Paul gave me a stack a few days ago and sent me off to scan them.  The five from Pinocchio were the most important as they moved, and many people have never had the chance to see them working.
When I got home, I started playing with them, [One of the perks here at DHI], and realized that just putting up a static scan of them wouldn't do.  The wonderful part about these valentines is that they MOVE. And the movements work so well... except the fish... that one freaks me out.
So, I decided to let everyone see them as they should be seen.

Enjoy, and Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Okay, here is weird one...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Adventures in Preservation: Slides

I love looking at the many different parts and pieces of Disney history, from documents, to merchandise to images of all types.  One I want to look at today is working with, and saving, old slides.  We're not talking about the kind that you sit on and go for a ride. We're talking about the old style way of showing a room full of people your pictures without getting finger prints all over them.  (To be honest, most of those experiences were nap inducing, and filled people with dread by being forced to look at hundreds of boring slides.  Thank goodness we are talking about Disney trips.)
While Disney sold PANA-VUE slides of the Parks in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, many people created their own from their trips. We can find clean versions of the ones Disney sold pretty easily, but the personal slides needed to cleaned by us.
I won't go through the whole process, as there are tutorials online that can do that job so much better then myself, but I will show you a before, a mid-work, and then the final for one of the PANA-VUE I worked on several years ago. I really like this image, and it's the only one I had all three versions of, where the rest had just the original and final image.

With the first one, you can really see how degraded the image has become.

The midway point show that, yes you can get the red out.

And here is the final version.

While not perfect, (I've never claimed to be an expert at correcting photos), it looks a lot better then the original.
It can also be pointed out that there are plugins for Photoshop and other image based software that can do this for you, however, there may be a cost involved to use them... And I really wanted to play with the color sliders!

Friday, February 7, 2014


The Salad Bowl Edition
by Paul F. Anderson

It has been a wee bit of time since my last Journal of a Disney Historian; seems as if life had a different course for me over the latter part of 2013. Yet, all is (seemingly) on the mend now (they say I’ll be “normal” in six months to a year--which I think is a bonus, as I don’t think I’ve ever been “normal”). As such, I hope to have regular Journal entries here at the Institute for the near future. One thing that sitting in a hospital for a long time does is gives you lots of time to think--especially when you get as close as I did to interviewing Walt ... personally. One thing that I realized is that I have spent three decades of avidly collecting historical material on Walt Disney; everything from interviews (lost count after 250) to historical documents, newspapers, magazines, art and so much more. Sadly, I haven’t spent as much time sharing what I have collected. And seeing as how that was sort of the genesis for the Institute, I decided I better rectify this situation before I try and head off to interview Walt again (as well as see old friends like Ken, Herbie, Sam, Claude, Robin, and others). So welcome to what will be (hopefully) a much more regular column here at the Institute. And enjoy!


I was privileged to have interviewed John Hench several times; the most notable back in 1994 when I was working on my 1964 New York World's Fair magnum opus. I would always stray off topic, to other favorite subjects, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (as those who follow the Institute here know of my Toad-like mania for this fantastic film). As I recall, as I strayed off topic towards the film, Hench started to tell me, in what seemed like hush-hush terms, a story about the Nautilus set design and its Nuclear reactor. To me, I was thinking, WOW, did Walt’s attention to realism go overboard, were they actually splitting atoms to obtain that realism Walt always wanted? Hench made it seem like it was a serious story, with grave implications.  Take a moment to revisit the film in your mind; can you recall that wonderful shot, with all the little convex "windows" each with a myriad of spinning multi-colored lights  whizzing away behind them? Apparently creating fantastical nuclear power that was driving the Nautilus! It was, for the movie at least, the source of Nemo’s power. In Jules Verne’s 1870 book the Nautilus was powered by massive sodium/mercury batteries (specifically, Bunsen cell batteries) to create an all-electric vessel.  For the Disney film, however, Hench updated the submarine with nuclear energy.  As I began to listen more intently it became clear that John was enjoying my gullibility (historians can be so literal at times).

Yes, there was a bit of a punchline waiting for me. He described how the nuclear reactor set was created from a framework of fiber glass, which was a major advancement in Hollywood set design, pioneered--for the most part--in 20,000 Leagues. Within this frame were “little holes” for each window, although why we would need windows to see the atom being split repeatedly is beyond me (it was a beautiful Disney set, that created that Walt Disney wonderment and fascination--that part is not beyond me). John had contemplated what exactly would make the ideal window. His solution?  Salad Bowls!!! Plug these into your frame and set spinning light wheels and color spots behind them, and you have a pretty convincing design for Nemo's Atomic-Powered Submarine! Many who worked with John Hench explain how his sense of color was nothing short of brilliant--the best they had ever seen. That “sense” was at work here with this set.

Yes, Hench went to the five and dime (for those of you under the age of "old-geezer" these were the early forerunners of Walmarts … only cooler! The Woolworth's of America) and purchased every plastic salad bowl that he could find. Thereafter they were forever immortalized in Walt Disney's incredible film!

And with all apologies to Paul Harvey (another old-geezer reference), now, you know the rest of the story!

Wonderful image shot at Walt's Woking Way home, complete with an entire range
of Charlotte Clark Mickey Mouse dolls.
Over the last two decades I have scoured the world's libraries and research institutes to try and find unpublished Walt interviews and quotes (which includes letters and other writings). I'm happy to say that, surprisingly, I have found a quite a bit of this special treasure, and I love sharing it at the Institute (so stay tuned, lots more to come). Not surprisingly, it is not always the "Dream Dream" and "Imagine Imagine" quotes that are so often bandied about everywhere (and more often than not these type of “Walt quotes” are a fabrication on some level).  My search is for the real Walt, which ultimately is what we want to know. Right? 

This quote comes from an unpublished 1964 interview with an Italian journalist (or so I believe it to be unpublished--if it is in print, it is in Italian--I was lucky enough to have found the questionnaire that was sent to Walt and his responses…fortunately all in English). It is a nice, basic "wrap-up" of Walt's thoughts on life and making films. The journalist asked Walt if it was his intention to create such an "optimistical [sic] vision with your characters." Walt response:

"I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter. With the laughs come the tears, and in developing motion pictures or television shows, you must combine all the facets of life--dreams, pathos, and humor."
                       -Walt Disney, 1964

The photo is a wonderful image shot at Walt's Woking Way home, complete with an entire range of Charlotte Clark Mickey Mouse dolls (if any Institute members are looking for the perfect "Welcome Back" gift for me, I'd be happy to accept any size of one of these magnificent specimens).


That got your attention, didn't it!? It is one of the most annoying of all Walt Disney myths that still to this day persists! The recent comments by Meryl Streep have proved that it is still prevalent in the Hollywood and Jewish communities. It created quite a stir and I wrote a lot about it over at our Disney History Institute Facebook page (where a daily and very active discussion on Walt Disney and his creative legacy is available--see the link at the end).

This idea has dogged me through my years as a Walt Disney historian. Seemingly, almost every Disney lecture or interview I have ever done (for a non-Walt crowd), I invariably get the Anti-Semitic question (especially on radio interviews). In fact, at one presentations I did at the Walt Disney Family Museum on World War II, a lady who was Jewish asked me about Walt's apparent hatred for the Jews. I spent a lot of time with her talking about this (until Diane finally came running down the side and asked me to move on). She didn't want it to seem like I was overly defending Walt (which I was). This lady wanted all the information so she could take it back to her community; it seems that many of her Jewish friends berated her for belonging to such an organization as the WDFF, because "that Walt was a rabid anti-Semite" and how could she ever be a member of such a horrible museum? Let alone give them her money?).
1934 Kay Kamen Merchandise Catalog

For the better part of two decades I have compiled research on this important question (and was the "go-to" guy for Diane and her projects when it came to the Anti-Semitic question). In the future, I have plans to share this research here at the Institute (perhaps a monograph). Until that time, I thought it would be appropriate for this Journal entry (as each version I try to write something about Walt’s charitable nature--thus, this will kill two birds with one stone). 

A little known fact, that was never touted by Walt or the Disney company (ever!), is that in the 1930s Walt gave liberally to numerous Jewish charities (orphanages and children's hospitals, mostly). Here is a wonderful example from the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York, dated December 12, 1935. As it goes, the orphanage had a group of "enthusiastic Mickey Mouse fans" … twelve of whom received a Mickey Mouse Watch (what a wonderful Holiday Season that must have been for them--a very happy haunukkah). To see what those little tykes got, I also present for your edification the page from Kay Kamen's 1934 merchandise catalog featuring the "new" Mickey Mouse watch! Before the naysayers start in with, "Oh yeah, big deal, he gave watches to a bunch of kids…" to which I respond, this is merely the tip of the iceberg (a berg that dwarfs in comparison that slippery piece of ice that sunk the Titanic). There is a wealth of this kind of information, and in the future here at DHI I will be sharing it! DHI, your home for the truth about Walt Disney!! (And also for "unknown" Walt history--make sure you check out the previous series we did on "Walt's First Park"… which is still receiving rave reviews!)

As always, Enjoy! … and in this particular case, after enjoying PLEASE SPREAD AND SHARE … as Diane and I discussed in one of our last lengthy conversations, the only way to truly change this perception is to provide as much truthful information as we can.


ANOTHER RARE DISNEYLAND PHOTO (gotta love DHI--there is a lot more over on our Facebook community page, see link below). People love vintage Disneyland; especially me. Any photo or image of something we do not see very often is always a pleasant find. Sadly, some of these photos are impossible to find--especially interiors of shops. I mean, who took these photos? Not many Disney historians around in those days to document this kind of history. And frankly, people did not waste there expensive film and limited shots on what was to them, mundane. Nope, they wanted beautiful shots of the Castle, or the Mark Twain, or ... you get the idea.)  This image is shortly after the opening of New Tomorrowland, so summer 1967, and many of the decorations from the Art Corner store are still present. It is at this time, however, called the Character Merchandise shop (at least in Disney documentation). Enjoy!


As winter rages away outside my window this blustery night (and across the country these last few months--wicked winter!) I once again harken back to the Institute's Standard Oil collection, with all of the Disney characters celebrating (or fighting as it may be) the current season. I have written about this at the Institute, which you can read about here: 

So here is another Donald Duck finery, for RPM Motor Oil showing us how to "knockout for winter." RPM was a division of Standard Oil--the Disney characters pitched not only the Gas Station, but also oil, tires, credit cards, clean bathrooms, and so much more for the west coast version of this large oil company. This is a full-size billboard as would be seen on the side of the road. The promotional campaign ran 1939 to 1940. Enjoy!

Until next time, leave some comments with any questions or requests.

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