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Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince.

WALT DISNEY. Hollywood's Dark Prince by Marc Eliot (Birch Lane Press, 305 P.) is certainly an image rattler. To a lot of Disney's admirers, once they read this well-written and painstakingly researched book, "Uncle Wait" will never be the same again. He may have made wonderful animated films for children, and he was a great, intuitive artist with a vision, but he was also a miserable, seriously flawed human being. Eliot pi]es fact upon fact, and it all adds up to an unstable. prejudiced, right-wing little despot who betrayed his friends, refused to give credit, and saw a Communist under every bed. Little wonder that the Disney family rejects Eliot's portrayal and quarrels as much with his findings as his plentiful conclusions.

The most shocking revelation documented by Eliot is that Wait Disney became the Hollywood Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Edgar J. Hoover, reporting in detail on friend and foe and frequently simply to settle personal feuds. In turn, Hoover undertook to establish to investigate Disney's real origins since the animation king was haunted by the idea that he had been adopted and that his father (a fervent Fundamentalist) wasn't his father at all.

Eliot, who got absolutely no cooperation form the Disney Studios, and was denied access to the Disney archives (not surprisingly considering current Disney Studios policy) reproduces the FBI memo recommending Disney's appointment as Special Agent in Charge.

Walt Disney has been expertly stitched together to reflect the whole of the man, from his great talent (though there were always rumors that he couldn't draw a straight line) and his single-minded enthusiasm for animation and movie-making in general, to his many ugly sides as an FBI informer for 25 years, his various phobias, his vindictiveness, his heavy drinking and pill taking and his pronounced sense of inferiority in the face of the major studios which he saw dominated by Jews.

Disney did create Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck, and he was responsible for some of the best animation features and shorts ever made. His unflagging enthusiasm did put Disneyland on the map, but behind it all was a man with a split personality, few friends (he constantly fought with his brother, Roy), a huge ego and an overworked and under-paid animation crew that respected but did not love him.

At the beginning of the forties, an animators' strike which eventually led to the formation of The Cartoonists Guild, so disgusted Disney that he announced he

was quitting Hollywood, which he did--for a short while. To him, it was all part of a Communist conspiracy, and that's how he presented it to anyone who cared to listen, including the House Un-American Activities Committee.

After that strike one of his top animators was fired by Disney six times, and re-instated each time at the insistence of the government. If there was anything Uncle Wait couldn't stand was animators involved in a strike, or anyone who quit his studio to join the competition.

But, he himself also was in trouble. He had appeared at many America First meetings, and acquired a reputation as pro-Nazi. His open anti-semitism also didn't help though--curiously--he was honored by the B'nai Brith.

Eliot's characterization of Disney as a man close to being a psychopath, certainly as someone consumed with the passion of a moral and political zealot, at times seems almost over-drawn; and his assumption that some of the Disney insecurities were reflected in his cartoon and other characters seems somewhat far fetched.

The studio faced financial disaster when Disney produced the hugely-successful Dumbo and then launched into a series of government-sponsored films. From then, however, it was all up-hill. His films did well. On the political side, he vocally opposed Roosevelt as a "dupe of the Communist world conspiracy" and he joined the ultra right-wing Motion Picture Alliance which had as its objectives (among others) to combat "domination by Communists, radicals and crackpots" in the movie industry. It was Disney at his worst.

Eliot's book is a serious effort to present the real Wait Disney. not the kindly "uncle" but the hard-edged, deeply disturbed, compulsively hand-washing egoist, informer and crusading moralist. It's an almost painfully successful and relentlessly harsh--at times almost biased-- attempt to smash the clay feet of an American idol.
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Author:Hift, Fred
Publication:Video Age International
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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