14 Highly Uncomfortable Facts About Walt Disney

Would a so-called ‘sexist’ marry one of his employees? Checkmate, haters
14 Highly Uncomfortable Facts About Walt Disney

It’s unfortunate that the big man didn’t actually cryogenically freeze himself. Now we’ll never have the opportunity to reanimate his corpse and deliver the flying bicycle kick to the nards he so richly deserves.

He stifled art and science to profit off of Mickey Mouse for a few more decades

When Steamboat Willie was first animated, copyrights only lasted for 28 years. Disney lobbied to get U.S. copyright law changed, several times over, extending his company’s control of the character for 95 years. As a direct result, lots of art and vital scientific research will languish in copyright purgatory for a century before anyone can use it.

He yoinked plenty of stuff from the public domain

For a guy who dedicated his life and fortune to keeping his IP out of the grubby mitts of the general public, he benefited greatly from the public domain. Steamboat Willie and Snow White, among others, were public properties that he managed to spin into profit for himself.

He immortalized his least favorite employees as clowns in ‘Dumbo’

1941 saw a Disney animators’ strike, and also the release of Dumbo. He kept tabs on his employees who joined the strike, and had his more docile animators caricature them as clowns in the film.

He also had them blacklisted as commies

Disney testified in Congress against his own employees, blaming the whole strike on the scourge of communism. Lots of talented animators were forced out of the industry entirely, simply for lobbying for better treatment.

He had a bunch of lemmings executed

The whole myth that lemmings will follow each other off a cliff? That comes from a scene in the 1958 Disney documentary White Wilderness. In 1983, it leaked that the camera crew couldn’t find any instances of suicidal behavior, so they picked the lemmings up and hurled them off a cliff into icy, rocky water.

He stiffed a voice actor from ‘Lady and the Tramp’

Jazz singer Peggy Lee was paid a scant $4,500 for voicing three animals in the film that would make Disney $90 million. Her contract said she’d get a certain percentage of the profit if “transcriptions” of her work were sold, but Disney argued that VHS tapes didn’t count. A jury disagreed, and awarded her $2.3 million.

And let’s not forget that ‘We Are Siamese’ song

Peggy Lee voiced both cats in that grimace-inducingly racist song. Disney could have saved himself a lot of headaches if that song never existed. But it does! Great work, Walt!

Of course, the racism wasn’t just a one-time mistake

Disney’s early work is chock-full of racism, from the degrading African-American caricature of Sunflower, the centaur in Fantasia, to his cheerful, feature-length whitewashing of American slavery, Song of the South.

He married his secretary

It’s not illegal, but the power dynamics aren’t great. It’s sometimes held up as a reason he couldn’t possibly have been a sexist boss, which simply doesn’t track. In fact…

‘Women do not do any of the creative work’

There’s a 1938 rejection letter, sent to a woman who was interested in working for the company, that goes viral every few years. It states, “The only work open to women consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets.” In other words, the labor-intensive process of inking was done by an army of women he refused to promote.

He eventually changed his tune — when forced to by the war effort

In a 1941 speech, he explained that he’d need to start training his “girls” to do some of the drawing: “I believe that if there is to be a business for these young men to come back to after the war, it must be maintained during the war. The girls can help here.”

He was nowhere near as wholesome as he’s currently projected to be

There’s exactly one cool thing about the guy, and it’s literally been airbrushed from history. This dude loved to smoke and drink. And the remnants of his life of partying are still extant in the shrines dedicated to his wholesome legacy — eagle-eyed fans have noticed that, in most of the life-size photos of Walt at his theme parks, you can clearly see where a cigarette was airbrushed out of his fingers.

Was he anti-Semitic?

That’s a claim that’s tossed around as often as the whole cryogenic freezing thing, but is it true? On one hand, a Disney historian has said “of the Jews who worked there, it was hard to find any who thought Walt was an anti-Semite.” On the other hand, he once gave Nazi propaganda director Leni Riefenstahl a personal tour of his studios — a month after Kristallnacht. Not a great look.

His weird anti-tampon propaganda film

This guy produced a 10-minute animated film about puberty, The Story of Menstruation, that got shipped to high schools around the country. Um, why, exactly? He was hired by Kotex to make some propaganda about why Tampax tampons are bad, and Kotex pads are good. I’d like to see a sexist do that!

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