WALT’S WORLD (continued)

by Graham Hill

The Disney studio’s first career milestone was Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie in 1929. Not the first sound cartoon, but the first to have a post-synchronized soundtrack of dialogue, music and sound effects.

Disney’s chief rivals at the time were the Fleischer brothers Max and Dave. Working out of New York, the Fleischer’s were true animation pioneers who had established their studio before him and had invented the process called “Rotoscoping” –where animators trace over live-action film movement, frame by frame.

Disney would later raid Fleischer’s studio and take many of his best artists.

Walt was very shrewd and smart enough to know that he needed to have the best animation talent available, to become the best and most profitable animation studio. He also decided at the very beginning, that no one was going to get credit for anything except him. That’s how he got to personally win so many Academy awards,

One of the contradictions about Walt is that being a well known ultra-conservative and fervent anti-communist, through the 1940’s he primarily voted for Democrats. Later on, he was a big supporter of Richard Nixon and George Murphy. Yes he was an active FBI informant and a friendly witness before the House on Un-American Activities Committee.

A position, that was re-enforced after losing the 1941 bitter strike at his studio, when the government arbitrator ruled in the animators favor.

Feeling betrayed by his workers and not being able to handle the direct confrontation of the situation, he accepted the government’s invitation to go on a good will tour of South America.

He left his brother Roy and his studio attorney to face the music. Like any savvy politician, Walt liked controlled environments and dialogue. Above all else, his pristine whiter than white image had to be preserved at all costs.

As the years went by, it became an over-riding obsession for Disney and his staff to maintain and perpetuate that shining image of family values and virtues.

Walt had created his own world both physically and mentally.

A perfectionist by nature, he was obsessive in cleanliness –a trait that became evident to anyone who visited Disneyland for many years.

His mind had to be challenged and entertained. From animation, his focus would go on to live-action, then television, Disneyland, Worlds Fair, Epcot. Like Thomas Edison, he was always looking to do something new and innovative. And like Edison, he was not one to offer praise –ever!

Even his famed “nine old men”, the animators who were with him all along and his closest disciples as it were, even they will tell you “Walt only praised behind your back.”  And that was only for effect, to stimulate competition and ideas. He was not an easy man to work for or in some cases to like, but still he was surrounded by people that were totally devoted and loyal to him.

The people that accepted him on his terms and conditions wanted to be a part of his vision and were willing to be totally non-judgmental and compliant. Now remembering that up until the mid 1950’s, you worked a six-day work for regular pay. Hand-drawn animation was very labor intensive. Most of the agonizingly repetitive work was done by women.

As evidenced by one of Disney’s behind-the-scenes featurettes on the making of Snow White. They were supervised in an environment that made the staunch Bell phone company of the time, look totally liberal by comparison.

Strict dress code, timed breaks including the bathroom and not even the slightest flirting or mixing with then men. Another contradiction –the guys could not have facial hair, even though their boss was famous for his pencil-mustache.

No alcohol, an immediate fire-able offensive no matter what your job was. Naturally Walt was exempt and in later years his drinking intensified. It’s hard to imagine that a man, who could be so inspirational and inspiring, could have a drinking problem and suffer from depression.

This is where so many cannot accept that fact or even consider it for a second. Total denial by a blind faith that tells them he was a saint. He did create everything. He was the one and only one that filled their childhood dreams. Anything remotely negative or critical of Walt Disney, is seen by many as unholy, as spitting on the flag or to use the old damning word, of being “un-American”.

(Continued tomorrow.)

 

 

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