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FTR #301 Mickey Mauschwitz: the Reactionary Politics of Walt Disney

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Along with FTR-304, this pro­gram might be enti­tled “The Pol­i­tics of Illu­sion.” Few Amer­i­can cul­tur­al or artis­tic fig­ures have come to be asso­ci­at­ed with whole­some, vir­tu­ous images as film­mak­er and ani­ma­tion pio­neer Walt Dis­ney. In both cin­e­ma and tele­vi­sion, Dis­ney estab­lished him­self as an Amer­i­can icon, and the merged cor­po­ra­tion he left behind after his death is one of the giants of the media world. The real­i­ty behind Dis­ney’s civic and polit­i­cal life is very dif­fer­ent from the benev­o­lent illu­sions pro­ject­ed onto big and small screens around the world.

In fact, Dis­ney was one of the pri­ma­ry fig­ures in the Hol­ly­wood black­list­ing era and had a long pro­fes­sion­al asso­ci­a­tion with fas­cist, anti-Semit­ic and orga­nized crime ele­ments.

1. This broad­cast access­es infor­ma­tion from a pen­e­trat­ing and insight­ful biog­ra­phy of Dis­ney, which high­lights the reac­tionary, vin­dic­tive polit­i­cal fig­ure behind the benev­o­lent facade he pre­sent­ed to his audi­ences. (Walt Dis­ney: Hol­ly­wood’s Dark Prince; by Marc Eliot; Birch Lane Press; Copy­right 1993 [HC]; ISBN 1–55972-174‑X.)

2. Dis­ney’s image as a paragon of whole­some, Chris­t­ian, “fam­i­ly” val­ues against the per­ceived world of immoral, sex­u­al, “Jew­ish” Hol­ly­wood was estab­lished by the suc­cess of Mick­ey Mouse (orig­i­nal­ly known as “Steam­boat Willie.”)

3. Eliot chron­i­cles the rise of the Hol­ly­wood film indus­try as a reac­tion to the gang­ster­ism of “the Trust,” the movie-mak­ing con­sor­tium estab­lished by sem­i­nal film­mak­er Thomas Edi­son.

4. “Two of the endur­ing­ly pop­u­lar myths of the his­to­ry of Amer­i­can film are that Hol­ly­wood gave birth to the movies and that the indus­try’s pio­neers were Jews who had immi­grat­ed from Europe. In truth, the Amer­i­can motion pic­ture indus­try began on the East Coast as the exclu­sive domin­ion of the urban Amer­i­can turn-of-the cen­tu­ry entre­pre­neur­ial elite . . . . Among these com­pa­nies, the most pow­er­ful was the Wiz­ard of Men­lo Park, Thomas Alva Edi­son, the head of the stu­dio that bore his name.

5. “For more than a decade Edi­son had been the unchal­lenged pre­mier mak­er and dis­trib­u­tor of most­ly eso­teric, non-nar­ra­tive, silent motion pic­ture ‘stud­ies.’ Edi­son was great­ly dis­turbed by the sud­den, sweep­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of the new cen­tu­ry’s first nov­el­ty, street-cor­ner nick­elodeons, amuse­ment par­lors that first appeared on New York’s Low­er East Side. He felt they cheap­ened the sophis­ti­cat­ed art of film by offer­ing ‘peep show’ films and oth­er lurid diver­sions meant to sat­is­fy the car­nal plea­sure of the work­ing­man.

6. “In 1910, Edi­son formed the first motion pic­ture alliance, which came to be known as the ‘Trust.’ Its pur­pose was to pro­tect the pub­lic (and his own finan­cial inter­ests) from the kind of immoral trash pro­duced by what he termed the ‘Jew­ish prof­i­teers,’ who not only ran the nick­elodeons but made their own movies to show in them.

7. “The Trust was pub­licly ded­i­cat­ed to the preser­va­tion of the indus­try’s moral integri­ty and pri­vate­ly devot­ed to pro­tect­ing Edis­on’s prof­itable monop­oly. Not only were nick­elodeon oper­a­tors and film­mak­ers denied mem­ber­ship in the Trust, but they were pre­vent­ed from buy­ing raw film stock and pro­jec­tion equip­ment, all of which Edi­son held patents on and absolute­ly con­trolled.” (Ibid.; p. 49.)

8. Not con­tent with sup­press­ing eco­nom­ic com­pe­ti­tion with monop­o­lis­tic mar­ket prac­tices, Edi­son turned to gang­ster­ism. “Edi­son, frus­trat­ed by his inabil­i­ty to wipe out his com­pe­ti­tion, resort­ed to hir­ing goon squads. They smashed the nick­elodeon arcades and set block-long fires in the neigh­bor­hoods that housed them. All the while Edi­son jus­ti­fied his actions in the name of pre­serv­ing the nation’s morals.” (Ibid.; p. 49.)

9. Ulti­mate­ly, the strong-arm strat­e­gy of Edi­son & com­pa­ny pre­cip­i­tat­ed the move by their com­peti­tors to Cal­i­for­nia. “The mob tac­tics of the Trust caused the inde­pen­dents to put as much dis­tance between them­selves and Edi­son as pos­si­ble. One by one they migrat­ed west, until they reached Cal­i­for­nia. There they found cheap real estate, a per­fect cli­mate, and the nat­ur­al pro­tec­tion of a three-thou­sand-mile buffer zone. Cal­i­for­nia gave them a sec­ond chance to make their movies. The films they made rede­fined the Amer­i­can motion pic­ture and the indus­try that pro­duced them. Unlike their ear­ly East Coast coun­ter­parts, the heads of Hol­ly­wood’s stu­dios were less inter­est­ed in artis­tic exper­i­men­ta­tion than prof­it. They put on the screen what sold the most. The pub­lic was will­ing to pay to see films filled with sex and vio­lence, and Hol­ly­wood was more than hap­py to make them.” (Idem.)

10. The ear­ly dynam­ics of the film indus­try framed the polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al debate over the “moral­i­ty” of the movie indus­try that sur­vives to this day. The stig­ma that attached to Hol­ly­wood gave rise to close scruti­ny of the indus­try in Wash­ing­ton. “By the ear­ly twen­ties, all that remained of Edis­on’s Trust was the issue it had raised regard­ing the moral con­tent of motion pic­tures. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment kept a close watch on Hol­ly­wood, the new cap­i­tal of the film indus­try, to make sure the movies it pro­duced remained ‘social­ly accept­able’ films.

11. “They did­n’t know if their movies were morel or immoral and could­n’t have cared less. To them, films were strict­ly vehi­cles of prof­it, not instru­ments of expres­sion. The more mon­ey a film made, the bet­ter it was. As such, they ran their busi­ness­es like busi­ness­es and treat­ed their writ­ers, direc­tors, actors, and scenery movers as clock-punch­ing employ­ees rather than artists. When­ev­er the indus­try came under attack for being moral­ly cor­rupt, none of Hol­ly­wood’s own­ers believed the prob­lem had any­thing to do with moral­i­ty.

12. “Which, of course, was pre­cise­ly the prob­lem. Among those who cor­rect­ly per­ceived Hol­ly­wood as dom­i­nat­ed by Jews, to many in gov­ern­ment and the pri­vate sec­tor noth­ing more than hea­thens, unable to com­pre­hend, let alone project, the essence of Chris­t­ian moral­i­ty.

13. “They believed Hol­ly­wood’s Jew­ish busi­ness­men had cor­rupt­ed an art form for the sake of mak­ing mon­ey, and by so doing had con­tributed to the widen­ing moral cor­rup­tion of Amer­i­ca. They were, in Hen­ry Ford’s words, a per­fect exam­ple of Amer­i­ca’s grow­ing prob­lem, its turn-of-the-cen­tu­ry influx of ‘the inter­na­tion­al Jew.’ ” (Ibid.; pp. 49–50.) (For infor­ma­tion about Hen­ry Ford’s anti-Semi­tism and his role in fund­ing Hitler and the Ger­man Nazi par­ty in the 1920’s see Mis­cel­la­neous Archive Show M‑11.)

14. With the onset of the Great Depres­sion, scape­goat­ing of the “immoral­i­ty” of Hol­ly­wood for Amer­i­ca’s per­ceived “moral decay” increased. “. . . the finan­cial col­lapse of Wall Street brought renewed pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment from the most pow­er­ful inter­ests in the pri­vate sec­tor to reg­u­late the moral con­tent of motion pic­tures. This lat­est attack on the moral vacu­ity of Amer­i­can movies and the men who made them was led once more by those look­ing for a link between the nation’s eco­nom­ic down­turn and its moral one. And with each new attack, the nation’s Jew­ish-Amer­i­can stu­dio heads felt the chill of anti-Semi­tism cool Hol­ly­wood’s balmy, and quite prof­itable, cli­mate.” (Ibid.; pp. 50–51.)

15. Pub­lish­ing mag­nate William Ran­dolph Hearst led the charge against Hol­ly­wood, seek­ing to sell papers and sti­fle com­pe­ti­tion. (For dis­cus­sion of the Hearst Press and its open edi­to­r­i­al sup­port for fas­cism, see RFA‑1.) “In 1929, need­ing a ‘hot’ issue to boost his news­pa­pers’ sag­ging cir­cu­la­tions, William Ran­dolph Hearst ran a series of edi­to­ri­als demand­ing the revival of fed­er­al cen­sor­ship to reg­u­late the grow­ing immoral­i­ty of motion pic­tures. No friend of either Jews or the film indus­try, he con­sid­ered news­reels, shown in effect ‘free’ along with the fea­tures, a threat to his news­pa­pers.

16. “Hearst’s cam­paign received much sup­port in Con­gress, where the def­i­n­i­tion of movie moral­i­ty had expand­ed through the years to include not only sex­u­al provo­ca­tion but polit­i­cal sub­ver­sion. In March of 1929, U.S. Sen­a­tor Smith Brookhart summed up what he con­sid­ered the dete­ri­o­rat­ing sit­u­a­tion in Hol­ly­wood as noth­ing more than a bat­tle for prof­it at the cost of sex­u­al and social moral­i­ty between com­pet­ing stu­dios, led by ‘bunch­es of Jews.’ ” (Ibid. p. 51)

17. Enter Walt Dis­ney and Mick­ey Mouse (nee Steam­boat Willie), who were seen as the per­fect, “Chris­t­ian” anti­dote to the tox­in of “amoral” Hol­ly­wood. “What Hol­ly­wood des­per­ate­ly need­ed was a new hero who not only extolled the right virtues but under­stood what they were in the first place. What Hol­ly­wood got, as if on cue, was Walt Dis­ney’s Steam­boat Willie, the per­fect non­sex­u­al, apo­lit­i­cal movie star­ring a harm­less lit­tle talk­ing mouse who court­ed his sweet­heart by singing her a song. Overnight, every major stu­dio in Hol­ly­wood that had for the bet­ter part of a decade turned out the kind of lurid, vio­lent, sex­u­al­ly, sug­ges­tive flesh­pot films guar­an­teed to put mon­ey in their banks, was now eager to align itself with not only the very pop­u­lar, but now sud­den­ly polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect, film­mak­er.” (Idem.)

18. Next, the pro­gram exam­ines alle­ga­tions of pre­war Nazi activ­i­ty on Dis­ney’s part. As Eliot explains in his book, Dis­ney was the son of a Chris­t­ian evan­ge­list and was very anti-labor in his busi­ness deal­ings. (This was typ­i­cal of Hol­ly­wood stu­dio chiefs at the time.) These atti­tudes com­bined with resent­ment of the pow­er of many of the Jew­ish Amer­i­can stu­dio heads. Per­haps because of these views, Dis­ney appar­ent­ly began attend­ing Amer­i­can Nazi par­ty meet­ings in the com­pa­ny of Gun­ther Less­ing, Dis­ney’s attor­ney and chief advi­sor on labor issues. “Dur­ing the time Dis­ney helped orga­nize the inde­pen­dent film­mak­ers against the indus­try’s main­stream, he also was accom­pa­ny­ing Less­ing to Amer­i­can Nazi par­ty meet­ings and ral­lies.

19. “Accord­ing to [for­mer Dis­ney employ­ee] Arthur Bab­bitt, ‘In the imme­di­ate years before we entered the war, there was a small but fierce­ly loy­al, I sup­pose legal, fol­low­ing of the Nazi par­ty. You could buy a copy of Mein Kampf on any news­stand in Hol­ly­wood. Nobody asked me to go to any meet­ings, but I did, out of curios­i­ty. They were open meet­ings, any­body could attend, and I want­ed to see what was going on for myself.

‘On more than one occa­sion I observed Walt Dis­ney and Gun­ther Less­ing there, along with a lot of oth­er promi­nent Nazi-afflict­ed [sic] Hol­ly­wood per­son­al­i­ties. Dis­ney was going to meet­ings all the time. I was invit­ed to the homes of sev­er­al promi­nent actors and musi­cians, all of whom were active­ly work­ing for the Amer­i­can Nazi par­ty. I told a girl­friend of mine who was an edi­tor at the time with Coro­net mag­a­zine who encour­aged me to write down what I observed. She had some con­nec­tions to the FBI and turned in my reports.’

20. “If Dis­ney and Less­ing were sym­pa­thet­ic to the Amer­i­can Nazi move­ment, their inter­est was most like­ly moti­vat­ed by the desire to regain favor with the once-lucra­tive, Nazi-occu­pied coun­tries where Dis­ney films were now banned. To that end Walt was also com­mit­ted to the ‘Amer­i­ca First’ move­ment and became one of Hol­ly­wood’s most active pre­war iso­la­tion­ists. Under Less­ing’s tute­lage, Dis­ney dis­cov­ered how the pas­sions and pow­er of polit­i­cal activism could be used as weapons for per­son­al gain. And lat­er on, for revenge.” (Ibid.; pp. 120–121.)

21. In a foot­note to the above pas­sage Eliot adds, “In her mem­oirs, Ger­man film­mak­er Leni Riefen­stahl claims that after Kristall­nacht she approached every stu­dio in Hol­ly­wood look­ing for work. No stu­dio head would even screen her movies except Walt Dis­ney. He told her that he admired her work but if it became known that he was con­sid­er­ing her, it would dam­age his rep­u­ta­tion.” (Ibid.; p. 121.)

22. Well before the end of World War II, Dis­ney was instru­men­tal in bring­ing gov­ern­men­tal inves­ti­ga­tors into his anti-Com­mu­nist activ­i­ties.

23. After ini­ti­at­ing a Cal­i­for­nia leg­isla­tive inves­ti­ga­tion of Hol­ly­wood labor activist Herb Sor­rell (a per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al ene­my of Dis­ney’s), Dis­ney act­ed as vice-pres­i­dent of the Motion Pic­ture Asso­ci­a­tion to cause the House Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties Com­mit­tee to upgrade its puta­tive pres­ence in Hol­ly­wood. “Dis­ney was instru­men­tal in point­ing the orga­ni­za­tion [HUAC] in the direc­tion of its first ‘Com­mu­nist rad­i­cal crack­pot,’ Herb Sor­rell. This was­n’t the first time Dis­ney had gone after Sor­rell. Ear­ly in 1942, after his suc­cess with the Car­toon­ists Guild, Sor­rell had found­ed the Con­fer­ence of Stu­dio Unions. . .

“As far as Dis­ney was con­cerned, the CSU was all part of the same Com­mu­nist con­spir­a­cy that had struck his stu­dio and con­tin­ued to threat­en all of Hol­ly­wood. As ear­ly as Octo­ber 1941, bare­ly a month after the stu­dio strike end­ed, Dis­ney had con­tact­ed Jack Ten­ney, chair­man of the new­ly formed Joint Fact-Find­ing Com­mit­tee on Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties of the Cal­i­for­nia Leg­is­la­ture and urged him to go after the strik­ers. After turn­ing over all the pho­tos tak­en dur­ing the walk­out, he urged Ten­ney to launch an inves­ti­ga­tion of ‘Reds in movies.’ Ten­ney took his cue from Dis­ney and did just that. The first wit­ness he called was Herb Sor­rell.

24. “Although the Ten­ney com­mit­tee was unable to prove a con­nec­tion between Sor­rel­l’s union activ­i­ties and the Com­mu­nist par­ty, the hear­ings nev­er­the­less chilled Hol­ly­wood’s lib­er­al left, who saw the actions of the Ten­ney com­mit­tee as a first dan­ger­ous step in the revival of the gov­ern­men­t’s belief that the enter­tain­ment indus­try was indeed an enclave of com­mu­nism.” (Ibid.; p.172.)

25. As indi­cat­ed pre­vi­ous­ly, Dis­ney played a piv­otal role in help­ing to focus the atten­tion of HUAC on the motion pic­ture indus­try. “One of Dis­ney’s first offi­cial duties as vice-pres­i­dent of the MPA was to send a let­ter to an arch-con­ser­v­a­tive U.S. Sen­a­tor, Robert R. Reynolds (D‑North Car­oli­na), dat­ed March 7, 1944, urg­ing HUAC to inten­si­fy its pres­ence in Hol­ly­wood. Walt want­ed a fell con­gres­sion­al inves­ti­ga­tion regard­ing the infil­tra­tion of com­mu­nism into the film com­mu­ni­ty, for the ‘fla­grant man­ner in which the motion pic­ture indus­tri­al­ists of Hol­ly­wood have been cod­dling Com­mu­nists and total­i­tar­i­an-mind­ed groups work­ing in the indus­try for the dis­sem­i­na­tion of un-Amer­i­can ideas and beliefs.’ In a move rem­i­nis­cent of the tac­tics of the anony­mous anti­strike Com­mit­tee of 21, the only offi­cial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion that appeared on the let­ter was ‘A group of your friends.’ ”

26. “The imme­di­ate result of that let­ter was the arrival in Hol­ly­wood ten days lat­er, of William Wheel­er, a HUAC rep­re­sen­ta­tive, to begin yet anoth­er inves­ti­ga­tion of Sor­rell, his Con­fer­ence of Stu­dio Unions, and their pos­si­ble link to the Com­mu­nist par­ty. The stu­dios hap­pi­ly opened their doors to HUAC, and the com­mit­tee took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to expand its inves­ti­ga­tion into every branch of the film indus­try’s work­ing-class pop­u­la­tion that had sought affil­i­a­tion with any union or guild dur­ing the past decade.”

27. “HUAC, with the full sup­port of the FBI, this time sub­poe­naed every­one sus­pect­ed of hav­ing any sub­ver­sive, or mere­ly sus­pi­cious affil­i­a­tions in their back­ground. Vir­tu­al­ly no one with any evi­dence of lib­er­al lean­ings escaped being sum­moned before the com­mit­tee.” (Ibid.; p. 173.)

28. Dis­ney worked with Roy Brew­er, who became head of the IATSE (the mob-dom­i­nat­ed Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­a­tion of The­atri­cal and Stage Employ­ees). In that capac­i­ty, Brew­er encour­aged Dis­ney to main­tain a posi­tion of intran­si­gence toward his car­toon­ists’ demands, so that the IATSE could co-opt their loy­al­ty from the Car­toon­ists Guild. Eliot describes the close coop­er­a­tion between Brew­er, Dis­ney and HUAC.
“Pri­vate­ly, Roy Brew­er, who had replaced Willie Bioff as the head of the Hol­ly­wood branch of IATSE, told Dis­ney a new strike would give IATSE the oppor­tu­ni­ty to play hero by regain­ing the car­toon­ists’ lost jobs, and along with them their loy­al­ty.
“The first night after the lay­offs, Dis­ney met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Guild and found them more amenable than he had expect­ed or hoped. Sor­rell, who believed Dis­ney was try­ing to pull the Guild into anoth­er strike, was deter­mined to reach a set­tle­ment. Sor­rell set­tled for the rehir­ing of only 94 of the laid-off car­toon­ists and two weeks’ sev­er­ance for the oth­er 215. The remain­ing cler­i­cal and main­te­nance work­ers received noth­ing. Dis­ney viewed these con­ces­sions as a total vic­to­ry.

29. “With­out los­ing a sin­gle day of pro­duc­tion, Dis­ney had won a sig­nif­i­cant reduc­tion of his staff and pay­roll and severe­ly weak­ened the Car­toon­ists Guild’s abil­i­ty to dic­tate stu­dio pol­i­cy. Walt then promised Brew­er com­plete coop­er­a­tion in help­ing to rid the indus­try per­ma­nent­ly of Sor­rell and his fel­low insur­gents.

30. “That oppor­tu­ni­ty came in Novem­ber 1947, with the com­mence­ment of HUAC’s next series of inves­ti­ga­tions into the enter­tain­ment indus­try. Now under the chair­man­ship of J. Par­nell Thomas, a noto­ri­ous­ly anti-labor con­gress­man, HUAC received the warm endorse­ment of IATSE, the Amer­i­can Legion, and the Catholic Church and the full coop­er­a­tion of Hol­ly­wood’s stu­dios. A group of left-wing writ­ers, which came to be known as the ‘Hol­ly­wood Ten,’ sym­bol­ized the relent­less­ly per­se­cu­to­ry actions of Thomas’s inves­ti­ga­tion. The Ten were deemed ‘unfriend­ly’ wit­ness­es after each cit­ed his right under the First Amend­ment to refuse to respond to the most famous ques­tion of the era: Are you now, or have you ever been, a mem­ber of the Com­mu­nist par­ty? All ten were imme­di­ate­ly black­list­ed, their careers shat­tered, and their lives dis­rupt­ed by jail sen­tences for con­tempt.

31. “HUAC’s inves­ti­ga­tion, the head of the Hol­ly­wood branch of IATSE sent let­ters to every major indus­try fig­ure, on-screen tal­ent and off‑, warm­ing that if they did­n’t now declare their open sup­port for IATSE, they would be con­sid­ered ene­mies of the Hol­ly­wood estab­lish­ment. He warned that fail­ure to sup­port IATSE would make them sub­ject not only to indus­try boy­cott, that is, inclu­sion on the black­list, but inves­ti­ga­tion by Thomas’s HUAC.” (Ibid. pp. 188–189)

32. Eliot writes that, even­tu­al­ly, many Hol­ly­wood labor lead­ers went with the polit­i­cal tides that were flow­ing through the coun­try, and that Dis­ney had begun an active col­lab­o­ra­tion as an FBI infor­mant. “By May 1947, the mere receipt of a HUAC sub­poe­na implied Com­mu­nist affil­i­a­tion, and inves­ti­ga­tion by the FBI’s ‘com­pic’ (Com­mu­nist pic­tures) team of Hol­ly­wood-based inform­ers, in which Walt was by now an active par­tic­i­pant. Among the first to capit­u­late to the specter of HUAC and Brew­er’s black­list were the lead­ers of the Screen Actors Guild, one­time lib­er­al Roo­sevelt sup­port­er Ronald Rea­gan and song-and-dance-man George Mur­phy, who hasti­ly con­vinced their mem­ber­ship to reject Sor­rell and the CSU in favor of IATSE.” (Ibid.; p. 191.)

33. Even­tu­al­ly, Rea­gan and Brew­er were to team up again, after Rea­gan became Pres­i­dent. “Accord­ing to Dan Mold­ea, in Dark Vic­to­ry, pp. 65–69, 332: ‘Instead of try­ing to rid the union of its gang­ster image and all rem­nants of mob con­trol, Brew­er was obsessed with elim­i­nat­ing the ‘Com­mu­nist Influ­ence’ with­in the union and the movie indus­try in gen­er­al. ‘When Browne [and Bioff] went to jail,’ Brew­er insist­ed, ‘that end­ed any con­nec­tion with the mob in IATSE . . . the truth is, [the Com­mu­nists] had this town in the palm of their hands, and they were call­ing the shots.’ Brew­er was appoint­ed by Pres­i­dent Rea­gan in 1984 as chair­man of the Fed­er­al Ser­vice Impasse Pan­el, which arbi­trat­ed dis­putes between fed­er­al agen­cies and the unions rep­re­sent­ing fed­er­al work­ers.’ ” (Ibid.; p. 188.)

34. Dur­ing the course of the HUAC hear­ings, Dis­ney’s per­son­al tes­ti­mo­ny lent con­sid­er­able momen­tum to the pro­ceed­ings. “Dis­ney’s tes­ti­mo­ny helped strength­en Brew­er’s indus­try-wide black­list. The mere whis­per of a name was enough to elim­i­nate some­one from con­sid­er­a­tion for a job. Because no proof was required, nor any defense short of con­fes­sion accept­able, the assump­tion of guilt until proven inno­cent replaced the con­sti­tu­tion­al rights of every­one accused, and plunged Amer­i­ca into one of its dark­est polit­i­cal peri­ods.” (Ibid.; p. 196.)

35. Eliot chron­i­cles the destruc­tion that the black­list brought to the pro­fes­sion­al lives of those affect­ed. One of the most famous film per­son­al­i­ties to fall vic­tim to the anti-Com­mu­nist witch hunts was Char­lie Chap­lin.

36. “Of those most direct­ly affect­ed by the black­list, some, like the Hol­ly­wood Ten, served time in fed­er­al prison on con­tempt charges. Oth­ers, includ­ing actor John Garfield, died pre­ma­ture­ly. Like Sor­rell, Garfield suf­fered a fatal heart attack while still in his late thir­ties. Still oth­ers, like vet­er­an actor Philip Loeb, grew despon­dent and, their pro­fes­sion­al lives shat­tered, com­mit­ted sui­cide.

“And still oth­ers, like Char­lie Chap­lin, were lit­er­al­ly exiled. Long a thorn in the side of con­ser­v­a­tive Hol­ly­wood, Chap­lin had been immune to the pow­ers of the indus­try because he him­self was one. After amass­ing a for­tune for his work in silent films and his par­tic­i­pa­tion in form­ing Unit­ed Artists, he began his own stu­dio.

“Through­out the thir­ties, up to and includ­ing The Great Dic­ta­tor, he made high­ly enter­tain­ing movies infused with pop­ulism. His active cam­paign for a sec­ond front against the Axis pow­ers dur­ing World War II and his pleas for the cur­tail­ment of anti­com­mu­nist pro­pa­gan­da angered Dis­ney, who had once so idol­ized Chap­lin.

“Chap­lin’s actions also angered HUAC. After three post­pone­ments of his sub­poe­naed tes­ti­mo­ny he sent HUAC a telegram in which he stat­ed that ‘I am not a Com­mu­nist; nei­ther have I ever joined a polit­i­cal par­ty or orga­ni­za­tion in my life.’ Although HUAC was appar­ent­ly sat­is­fied by his response and wrote back that his appear­ance was no longer nec­es­sary, the mat­ter was far from closed. Chap­lin, who was British, had nev­er applied for U.S. cit­i­zen­ship. In 1952, at the height of the black­list era, while Chap­lin was on a six-month tout of Eng­land and Europe, the Immi­gra­tion and Nat­u­ral­iza­tion Ser­vice barred his return to the Unit­ed States under a code deny­ing an alien entry on grounds of morals or Com­mu­nist affil­i­a­tion. Chap­lin vowed nev­er to set foot in Amer­i­ca again and blocked state­side show­ings of most of his fea­ture films.

37. “Thus end­ed the Hol­ly­wood career of per­haps the great­est sin­gle tal­ent the world of film had ever pro­duced. Although Walt declined to com­ment pub­licly on the mat­ter of Chap­lin’s exile, in pri­vate he told one of his ‘Nine Old Men’ stu­dio loy­al­ists that the coun­try was bet­ter off with­out ‘the lit­tle Com­mie.’ ” (Ibid.; pp. 196–197.)

38. Even­tu­al­ly, Dis­ney was pro­mot­ed by the FBI to the posi­tion of Spe­cial Agent in Charge con­tact, which enhanced his polit­i­cal pow­er against his pro­fes­sion­al asso­ciates. The bureau’s was seek­ing an insid­er to pro­vide them with infor­ma­tion about the nascent tele­vi­sion indus­try, and felt that Dis­ney (a trust­ed oper­a­tive in the past) would fill the bill.

39. “Next to that report was a let­ter he had received from J. Edgar Hoover, the con­tents of which meant as much to him as the finan­cial report. In his let­ter Hoover informed Walt he had been offi­cial­ly pro­mot­ed to the posi­tion of Spe­cial Agent in Charge con­tact.

40. “Here is the con­fi­den­tial 1954 FBI inter-office memo that describes the pro­mo­tion: ‘Mr. Walt Dis­ney is the Vice-Pres­i­dent in charge of pro­duc­tion and the founder of Walt Dis­ney Pro­duc­tions, Inc., 2400 West Alame­da Street, Bur­bank, Cal­i­for­nia. Mr. Dis­ney is extreme­ly promi­nent in the motion pic­ture indus­try and his com­pa­ny is the fore­most orga­ni­za­tion in the pro­duc­tion of car­toons.’ Mr. Dis­ney has recent­ly estab­lished a busi­ness asso­ci­a­tion with the Amer­i­can Broad­cast­ing Com­pa­ny . . . for the pro­duc­tion of a series of tele­vi­sion show, which for the most part are sched­uled to be filmed at Dis­ney­land, a mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar amuse­ment park being estab­lished under Mr. Dis­ney’s direc­tion in the vicin­i­ty of Ana­heim, Cal­i­for­nia. Mr. Dis­ney has vol­un­teered rep­re­sen­ta­tives of this office com­plete access to the facil­i­ties of Dis­ney­land for use in con­nec­tion with offi­cial mat­ters and for recre­ation­al pur­pos­es. . . .

‘Because of Mr. Dis­ney’s posi­tion as the fore­most pro­duc­er of car­toon films in the motion pic­ture indus­try and his promi­nence and wide acquain­tance­ship in film pro­duc­tion mat­ters, it is believed that he can be of valu­able assis­tance to this office and there­fore it is my rec­om­men­da­tion that he be approved as a Spe­cial Agent in Charge (SAC) con­tact.’

41. “Being made an offi­cial SAC con­tact pleased Walt great­ly, because it meant that in addi­tion to con­tin­u­ing to sup­ply his data to the bureau, oth­er infor­mants could now sup­ply reports to him. It was Hoover’s Christ­mas present to Walt, the tim­ing of which was no acci­dent. Hoover, as he implied in his direc­tive, want­ed to cap­i­tal­ize on Dis­ney’s involve­ment with net­work tele­vi­sion. The FBI had thus far been unable to pen­e­trate the mid­dle ech­e­lon of the new medi­um’s pow­er loop. What the Bureau want­ed was some­one it could trust on the inside. As far as J. Edgar Hoover was con­cerned, the man most qual­i­fied for that assign­ment was the Bureau’s proven Hol­ly­wood vet­er­an, the man every­one, includ­ing the head of the FBI, called ‘Uncle Walt.’ ” (Ibid.; pp. 224–225.)

42. Even­tu­al­ly, Dis­ney him­self came under sus­pi­cion, iron­i­cal­ly enough, as the result of his hav­ing attend­ed a memo­r­i­al ser­vice on whose guests he report­ed to the FBI. “That same year, 1956, Dis­ney’s rela­tion­ship with the FBI took an unex­pect­ed turn. It was a bizarre episode that demon­strat­ed the spread­ing infec­tion of polit­i­cal para­noia. The FBI had begun to ques­tion the alle­giance, patri­o­tism, and loy­al­ty of one of its own, most revered, and pre­sum­ably immune oper­a­tives.

‘The trou­ble began ear­ly in the year, in Jan­u­ary, when Dis­ney sent pro­duc­er Jer­ry Sims to Wash­ing­ton to final­ize plans with the Bureau for a two-minute ‘Mick­ey Mouse Club’ news­reel of a group of chil­dren tour­ing the Bureau’s D.C. head­quar­ters. Sims sub­mit­ted a pre­lim­i­nary script to an FBI agent iden­ti­fied as Kem­per, who duti­ful­ly passed it on to Lou Nichols, the Bureau’s head of pub­lic rela­tions. Nichols reviewed the mate­r­i­al and ini­tial­ly approved the ven­ture. How­ev­er a week lat­er he appar­ent­ly changed his mind when he returned Kem­per’s report with a mes­sage scrawled in ink across the bot­tom that read “i don’t think we should.” Kem­per then called Sims and told him the bureau would be unable to assist on the project.

“When Walt received news of the FBI’s turn­down he phoned Hoover to find out why. Hoover told Dis­ney he would per­son­al­ly look into the sit­u­a­tion and ask his close friend Clyde Tol­son, the Bureau’s assis­tant direc­tor and sec­ond to com­mand, to inves­ti­gate the mat­ter. Tol­son ordered a com­plete review of what had now become in FBI head­quar­ters as the ‘Dis­ney Sit­u­a­tion,’ after which he reaf­firmed Nichol­s’s deci­sion not to coop­er­ate with Dis­ney.” (Ibid.; pp.238–239.)

43. “The unsigned memo was prob­a­bly request­ed by Hoover. Incred­i­bly, some mid-lev­el bureau­crat, unaware of Dis­ney’s sta­tus with­in the FBI, had turned up what he believed was infor­ma­tion that linked Walt Dis­ney to sub­ver­sive Com­mu­nist orga­ni­za­tions and activ­i­ties in the ear­ly for­ties. Even more aston­ish­ing, of the two ‘inci­dents’ cit­ed, the first, the ‘Coun­cil for Pan-Amer­i­can Democ­ra­cy’ had been attend­ed by Dis­ney as an under­cov­er spy for the FBI, either by his own ini­tia­tive or at the Bureau’s direc­tive, after which he sup­plied a detailed report to his Los Ange­les SAC. As for the ‘trib­ute’ to Art Young, Dis­ney had nev­er made a secret of his admi­ra­tion for the renowned artist’s work, and upon Young’s untime­ly death in an auto­mo­bile acci­dent, Walt attend­ed a pub­lic memo­r­i­al, made a small dona­tion to a memo­r­i­al fund for Young’s fam­i­ly, and filed a com­plete report about who else attend­ed the trib­ute to his SAC. Some­how, the FBI had con­strued from these two inci­dents that Walt’s polit­i­cal loy­al­ties were ques­tion­able. They did so in spite of his offi­cial SAC sta­tus and long his­to­ry of inform­ing, his anti­com­mu­nist activ­i­ties, his gov­ern­ment con­tracts, his involve­ment with the Hol­ly­wood Alliance, his friend­ly tes­ti­mo­ny before HUAC (which he had been instru­men­tal In bring­ing to Hol­ly­wood), and his active sup­port of the black­list.”

44. “When Hoover final­ly read the memo, he was aghast and imme­di­ate­ly approved the ‘Mick­ey Mouse Club’ seg­ment.” (Ibid.; p. 241.)

See also; AFAs 2 and 37. (Record­ed on 5/10/2001.)


8 comments for “FTR #301 Mickey Mauschwitz: the Reactionary Politics of Walt Disney”

  1. I find it iron­ic that Jew­ish moviemak­ers were rep­re­hend­ed for dis­re­gard­ing moral­i­ty in pur­suit of prof­it when appar­ent­ly Walt Dis­ney attend­ed pro-Nazi meet­ings in pur­suit of prof­it.

    Posted by David Gollub | May 27, 2010, 9:37 pm
  2. When work­ing as a tech­ni­cal writer at WED enter­pris­es on EPCOT in the late 70s, one could fre­quent­ly hear gos­sip about Walt Dis­ney’s mon­strous ego and reac­tionary views. Giv­en the extreme right-wing views of many in the lily-white neigh­bor­hoods of Bur­bank and Glen­dale where Dis­ney had is home, I’d assumed the rumors were true. I still do.
    Weren’t most of Amer­i­ca’s entre­pre­neur­al lumi­nar­ies “good ole boys”? Was­n’t it a giv­en that the rich were white and to the right? Was­n’t it a boost to one’s career to be mem­bers of tra­di­tion­al­ly white, con­ser­v­a­tive orga­ni­za­tions like the Rotary Club, the Cham­ber of Commerce–and occa­sion­al­ly the KKK.
    But,whatever Disney’s faults, his dri­ving ambi­tion, busi­ness acu­men, and mon­u­men­tal achieve­ments bequeathed to Amer­i­ca a cor­nu­copia of delights. His pio­neer­ing in film, ani­ma­tions, children’s car­toons, and theme parks pro­vide the excite­ment and men­tal land­scape of children’s hopes, dreams, inspi­ra­tion, and edu­ca­tion. Which is why one has to crit­i­cal of his prod­ucts, as much of his small mind­ed­ness and big­otry crept through.

    Posted by David Fredericks | May 8, 2011, 11:08 am
  3. @David F.: To be hon­est, Dis­ney him­self was quite over­rat­ed any­way. It was his friends & acolytes who did all the work, at least as far as the movies went. The Mick­ey Mouse car­toons were prob­a­bly a dif­fer­ent sto­ry, but as far as I’m con­cerned, that’s about all the cred­it he real­ly earned, was those shorts. Just about every­thing else was done by, well, every­body else.

    @David G.: I can agree with that.

    Posted by Steven | May 9, 2011, 12:28 am
  4. @Patrick: To be hon­est, I don’t think Dis­ney was even close to a hard­core fas­cist, and he did in fact, pro­duce quite a few anti-Nazi car­toons. But, I think we can both agree that Dis­ney found it high­ly con­ve­nient that the Nazis hat­ed ‘the Bol­she­viks’, and most like­ly allied with them due to his rather fer­vent anti-Com­mu­nist beliefs.
    Frankly, the same gen­er­al thing can be said for Hen­ry Ford as well(although his care­less­ness caused far more dam­age).

    Posted by Steven | October 27, 2011, 8:09 pm
  5. [...] [...]

    Posted by Why the sudden leftist interest in repub politics? - Page 3 | January 23, 2012, 1:22 pm
  6. [...] FTR #301 Mick­ey Mauschwitz, the Reac­tionary Pol­i­tics of Walt Dis­ney This entry was post­ed in Counter-Com­mu­nism, Media, Pro­pa­gan­da and tagged Car­toon­ists Guild, Catholic Church, Char­lie Chap­lin, East Coast, Evan­gel­i­cals, FBI, Gun­ther Less­ing, Hen­ry Ford, Hol­ly­wood, House Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties Com­mit­tee, Inter­na­tion­al Jew­ry, Inter­na­tional Asso­ci­a­tion of The­atri­cal and Stage Employ­ees, J.Edgar Hoover, Leni Riefen­stahl, Marc Eliot, Steam­boat Willie, The Great Dic­ta­tor, The Trust, Thomas Edi­son, Walt Dis­ney, William Ran­dolph Hearst. Book­mark the perma­link. ← Inter­view with Jules Archer about the 1934 coup attempt to seize the White House [...]

    Posted by Discover the reactionary character of Walt Disney on For The Record | Lys-d'Or | July 26, 2012, 10:42 am
  7. This infor­ma­tion has an unnerv­ing res­o­nance in view of the police mur­ders and repres­sion occur­ring now in Ana­heim, in the shad­ow of Dis­ney­land.

    Posted by ironcloudz | August 1, 2012, 1:31 pm
  8. Here’s a remind that The Ghost of anti-Com­mu­nist Christ­mas Hys­ter­ics Past is one of the scari­er Christ­mas ghosts out there:

    Raw Sto­ry
    Ayn Rand helped the FBI inves­ti­gate whether ‘It’s a Won­der­ful Life’ was com­mie pro­pa­gan­da
    Michael Win­ship, Moy­ers & Com­pa­ny
    23 Dec 2014 at 14:28 ET

    A num­ber of years ago, I was telling a long­time city dweller friend of mine yet anoth­er sto­ry about the small, upstate New York town in which I grew up.

    Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly baf­fled and cap­ti­vat­ed, he said, “I think you were born and raised in Bed­ford Falls,” the fic­tion­al burg at the cen­ter of Frank Capra’s clas­sic Christ­mas movie, “It’s a Won­der­ful Life.”

    Well, I wasn’t. Actu­al­ly, I grew up about 27 miles west of there. Its real name is Seneca Falls, NY – yes, the same place that’s also the birth­place of the women’s suf­frage move­ment. While not absolute­ly cer­tain, there’s a com­pelling body of cir­cum­stan­tial evi­dence that Capra had the town in mind when he cre­at­ed his cin­e­mat­ic ver­sion of Bed­ford Falls. The steel bridge over the canal, for exam­ple, like the one from which the hero George Bai­ley con­tem­plates jump­ing in a sui­cide attempt, only to dive in to save his guardian angel, Clarence. The old Vic­to­ri­an homes, the design of town streets, a large Ital­ian pop­u­la­tion, men­tions of near­by cities Rochester, Buf­fa­lo and Elmi­ra are just a few of the oth­er sim­i­lar­i­ties. There’s even the per­haps apoc­ryphal tale of Frank Capra find­ing inspi­ra­tion after stop­ping in Seneca Falls for a hair­cut on his way to vis­it an aunt.

    Enough coin­ci­dences abound that Seneca Falls now holds a year­ly “It’s a Won­der­ful Life” fes­ti­val, and although it may not draw as many vis­i­tors as the near­by Women’s Rights Nation­al His­tor­i­cal Park, there’s also an “It’s a Won­der­ful Life” muse­um. What­ev­er the ulti­mate truth, there’s no deny­ing that the movie is a sto­ry­book evo­ca­tion of bygone small town Amer­i­ca, places like Seneca Falls and my own home­town, right down to the under­side of greed and mal­ice that often lurks just around the cor­ner from the film’s com­pas­sion and whole­some neigh­bor­li­ness. As for Frank Capra, as he pre­pared to make the movie, he told the­Los Ange­les Times, “There are just two things that are impor­tant. One is to strength­en the individual’s belief in him­self, and the oth­er, even more impor­tant right now, is to com­bat a mod­ern trend toward athe­ism.”

    Which makes it all the cra­zier that when the movie first came out, it fell under sus­pi­cion from the FBI and the House Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties Com­mit­tee (HUAC) as Com­mu­nist pro­pa­gan­da, part of the Red Scare that soon would lead to the black­list and witch hunt that destroyed the careers of many tal­ent­ed screen and tele­vi­sion writ­ers, direc­tors and actors.

    Screen­play cred­its on “It’s a Won­der­ful Life” went to Frances Goodrich and her hus­band Albert Hack­ett, Capra and Jo Swer­ling, although a num­ber of oth­ers took turns at dif­fer­ent times, includ­ing Clif­ford Odets, Dal­ton Trum­bo and Marc Con­nel­ly – not an unusu­al sit­u­a­tion in Hol­ly­wood. But a 1947 FBI mem­o­ran­dum, part of a 13,533 page doc­u­ment, “Com­mu­nist Infil­tra­tion of the Motion Pic­ture Indus­try,” first went after the writ­ers Goodrich and Hack­ett:

    “Accord­ing to Infor­mants [REDACTED] in this pic­ture the screen cred­its again fail to reflect the Com­mu­nist sup­port giv­en to the screen writer. Accord­ing to [REDACTED] the writ­ers Frances Goodrick [sic] and Albert Hack­ett were very close to known Com­mu­nists and on one occa­sion in the recent past while these two writ­ers were doing a pic­ture for Metro-Gold­wyn-May­er, Goodrick [sic] and Hack­ett prac­ti­cal­ly lived with known Com­mu­nists and were observed eat­ing lun­cheon dai­ly with such Com­mu­nists as Lester Cole, screen writer, and Earl Robin­son, screen writer. Both of these indi­vid­u­als are iden­ti­fied in Sec­tion I of this mem­o­ran­dum as Com­mu­nists.”


    Wait – it gets nut­ti­er. Accord­ing to the media archival web­site Aphe­lis, “Among the group who pro­duced the ana­lyt­i­cal tools that were used by the FBI in its analy­sis of ‘It’s a Won­der­ful Life’ was Ayn Rand.”

    “Abbott and Costel­lo Meet Ayn Rand” – what a com­e­dy hor­ror pic­ture that would have made. Rand’s group told the FBI:

    “The pur­pose of the Com­mu­nists in Hol­ly­wood is not the pro­duc­tion of polit­i­cal movies open­ly advo­cat­ing Com­mu­nism. Their pur­pose is to cor­rupt non-polit­i­cal movies — by intro­duc­ing small, casu­al bits of pro­pa­gan­da into inno­cent sto­ries and to make peo­ple absorb the basic prin­ci­ples of Col­lec­tivism by indi­rec­tion and impli­ca­tion. Few peo­ple would take Com­mu­nism straight, but a con­stant stream of hints, lines, touch­es and sug­ges­tions bat­ter­ing the pub­lic from the screen will act like drops of water that split a rock if con­tin­ued long enough. The rock that they are try­ing to split is Amer­i­can­ism.”

    But redemp­tion of an odd sort came for “It’s a Won­der­ful Life” at the infa­mous Octo­ber 1947 House Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties Com­mit­tee hear­ings. Just days before the appear­ance there of the Hol­ly­wood 10 – writ­ers (and one direc­tor) who refused to tes­ti­fy and sub­se­quent­ly went to prison — a parade of “friend­ly wit­ness­es” (includ­ing Ayn Rand, Gary Coop­er, Ronald Rea­gan and Walt Dis­ney) came before the com­mit­tee to insin­u­ate and weave dark tales of Com­mu­nist infil­tra­tion and sub­ver­sion in the movie busi­ness. One of them was a for­mer Com­mu­nist and screen­writer named John Charles Mof­fitt. Aphe­lis reports:

    “When asked by HUAC Chief Inves­ti­ga­tor Robert E. Stripling if Hol­ly­wood is in the habit of por­tray­ing bankers as vil­lain­ous char­ac­ters, Mof­fitt takes the oppor­tu­ni­ty to try to clear the rep­u­ta­tion of Frank Capra’s movie ‘It’s A Won­der­ful Life:’ he tries to argue that the film isn’t, in fact a Com­mu­nist movie.”

    MR. STRIPLING. The term “heavy” has been used here as a des­ig­na­tion of the part in which the per­son is a vil­lain. Would you say that the banker has been often cast as a heavy, or con­sis­tent­ly cast as a heavy, in pic­tures in Hol­ly­wood?

    MR. MOFFITT. Yes, sir. I think that due to Com­mu­nist pres­sure he is over­fre­quent­ly cast as a heavy. By that I do not mean that I think no pic­ture should ever show a vil­lain­ous banker. In fact, I would right now like to defend one pic­ture that I think has been unjust­ly accused of com­mu­nism. That pic­ture is Frank Capra’s “It’s a Won­der­ful Life.” The banker in that pic­ture, played by Lionel Bar­ry­more, was most cer­tain­ly what we call a “dog heavy” in the busi­ness. He was a snarling, unsym­pa­thet­ic char­ac­ter. But the hero and his father, played by James Stew­art and Samuel S. Hines, were busi­ness­men, in the build­ing and loan busi­ness, and they were shown as using mon­ey as a benev­o­lent influ­ence.

    At this point, there was a bit of com­mo­tion in the hear­ing room.

    THE CHAIRMAN. Just a minute. Come away. Every­body sit down. Will all you peo­ple who are stand­ing up please sit down? And the pho­tog­ra­phers.

    MR.MOFFITT. All right.

    THE CHAIRMAN. Go ahead.

    MR. MOFFITT. Well, to sum­ma­rize, I think Mr. Capra’s pic­ture, though it had a banker as vil­lain, could not be prop­er­ly called a Com­mu­nist pic­ture. It showed that the pow­er of mon­ey can be used oppres­sive­ly and it can be used benev­o­lent­ly. I think that pic­ture was unjust­ly accused of Com­mu­nism.

    Since then, the movie has been more than redeemed as it slow­ly became a sen­ti­men­tal and beloved hol­i­day peren­ni­al. And if any­thing, its por­tray­al of a vil­lain­ous banker has been vin­di­cat­ed a thou­sand fold as in the last sev­en years we’ve seen fraud­u­lent mort­gages and sub­se­quent fore­clo­sures, bankers unre­pen­tant after an unprece­dent­ed tax­pay­er bailout and unpun­ished after a mind­bog­gling spree of bad calls, profli­ga­cy and corkscrew invest­ments that raked in bil­lions while oth­ers suf­fered the con­se­quences.

    It’s a won­der­ful life, all right, but not if you’re home­less or unem­ployed tonight, not it your kids are hun­gry and you can’t pay for heat. There are still a lot of Mr. Pot­ters in the world. We know who you are and we’ll keep call­ing you out. God rest ye mer­ry, gen­tle­men.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 25, 2014, 8:04 pm

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