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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Walt Disney: FBI Informer?

It is rumored that in November of 1940, legendary animator Walt Disney began serving as an informer for the Los Angeles office of the FBI. His job was to report back with information on Hollywood subversives. True or not, a series of exposes published in the 1960s and 70s revealed his work with the House UnAmerican Affairs Committee. As part of his support of Senator Joseph McCarthy's assaults on alleged "communist sympathizers," Disney agreed to participate in the blacklisting movement, thus forbidding the hiring of many artists for Disney films based solely on rumors about them.

During the same period, Disney became allied with a group called the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, which was an anti-Communist and anti-Semitic organization. His willingness to ally himself with people who were anti-Semitic, as well as the fact that he had produced some cliche depictions in some of his early cartoons of negative "Jewish-like" characters, is likely the impetus of the reputation that he himself was antisemitic. Although Disney ultimately distanced himself from the Motion Picture Alliance in the 1950s, he was never able to rid himself of the guilt by association, let alone the evidence of the decisively upsetting early cartoon work.

Later, in 1946 Disney was one of the founding members of the right-wing Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals along with Robert Taylor, Adolphe Menjou, Sam Wood, Norman Taurog, Gary Cooper, Clarence Brown and Clark Gable. The organization stated that they believed in the American Way of Life and were in sharp revolt against a rising tide of Communism, Fascism and kindred beliefs, that seek by subversive means to undermine and change the American way of life. This membership was one of the reasons why he was asked by HUAC to testify. That and the fact that he was always particularly anti-communist. He served as a "friendly witness" before the House Committee for Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1947, where he branded Herbert Sorrell, David Hilberman and William Pomerance, former animators and labor union organizers, as communist agitators. Disney went so far as to state on record that the 1941 strike led by them was part of an organized communist effort to gain influence in Hollywood.

Although Disney certainly saw himself as a hero at the time, he would face the wrath of Hollywood after HUAC was disbanded and seen as an over-reaching government force that wreaked havoc on many innocent lives. However, unlike others who testified who were later ostracized for their actions, Disney's public popularity carried him through. Many in the industry would bare grudges for years, but the fact that Disney productions continued to enjoy success year after year could not be disputed, nor squelched in any way. Say what you want about the man, he knew how to build a team of workers who created the best.

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