Saturday, January 26, 2008

Disney Was Not An Antisemite

Y'know, I've read something like this on various forums all over the 'net on the question on whether Walt Disney was an antisemite. I've always wondered why people would think that, and in various biographies about Walt, the evidence for Walt being such a person is just isn't there. Yet, the myth continues to perpetuate, much like his head being in a cryogenic state in storage somewhere. I suppose we could also include aliens at Area 51 and ESP remote sensing into this as well.

So what better way to debunk that myth than to have a Jew argue against it. This is as clear of an article as anyone can ask on why this myth about Walt is totally false. The author makes 3 major points:

First, Disney hired Jews, lots of Jews. Disney was not himself Jewish, of course, but the success of his business owed a great deal to a Jew. The bedrock of Disney was Walt’s merchandising partner, the Jewish Kay Kamen, the man who helped make Mickey Mouse into a cult and who once remarked that Disney had more Jews in it than the Book of Leviticus. This was not an accident, occurring against Walt’s wishes. When Harry Tytle joined the studio as a production manager and told Walt that he was half-Jewish, Disney replied: “It would be better if you were all Jewish.”

Second, the supposed antisemite was a frequent contributor to Jewish charities — the Yeshiva College and the Jewish Home for the Aged among them. And in 1955, he was made Man of the Year by the Beverly Hills Lodge of B’nai B’rith.

Third, and most important, is what there isn’t. There just isn’t any serious evidence of antisemitism. And this is not a charge that can be waved about without proof. Jews can enjoy Walt Disney. He was an inspiration.


Will this lay to rest this myth? Probably not. Not everyone in the world read this article, or my blog! :) But hey, if just one person finally realizes that this myth is false, that's enough for me.

Unfortunately, as good as this article is, there are a couple of issues with it, and I'm probably nitpicking here, so my apologies far in advance.


Out of the imagination of this boy from Kansas came a wholesome vision of America, a passionate commitment to quality and a constant flow of brilliant ideas to keep us entertained. I love Walt Disney.


Er... Kansas? I know we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto. I don't recall Walt having any significant residence in Kansas. He was born in Chicago, moved to Marceline, Missouri, and then later on to Kansas City, Missouri. So that "Kansas City" may have been confused with "Kansas". This might be a good time to point out to the official biography of Walt Disney at the Disney website that runs the Walt Disney Family museum webpage.

Secondly,

There is nothing stronger than that. Neal Gabler has now written a biography of Walt Disney (another fabulous book, incidentally) and searched through the record with great care. Gabler is not a man who pulls punches; he is known as a controversial media commentator and his biography is balanced and fair. He portrays Disney as a difficult man, given to rows with his associates. But he acquits Disney of the charge of antisemitism.


If he is referring to Gabler's "Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination", then it should be pointed out that Walt's only surviving daughter, Diane Disney Miller, has come out against this book. It has been reported that she faxed the Walt Disney Company on its wide support and endorsement of this book. Supposedly, part of the fax read something like:

... a monstrous piece of libelous junk. My parents were not the people he creates in this book, and I cannot understand why all of you who aided and abetted Gabler in writing this book, and who praise it and promote it, can do so without suffering serious qualms.


Of course, we don't know if Gabler's dismantling of the argument that Walt was an antisemite is included in Diane Disney Miller's displeasure of the book. So Gabler's point here may still be valid. Still, it is worth nothing that the person who should know Walt rather well isn't thrilled at all with this book.

Still, the bottom line: Walt is NOT an antisemite. So enough already.

Zz.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you have ever watched the toon Der Fuehrer's Face, Donald Duck and just about everything else in the video are covered in swastikas. At the end, it turns out Donald had a nightmare, but Disney never clarifies his opinion on the Nazi party. There is even a song where Sig Heil is the chorus phrase. If that isn't antisemitist, I don't know what is. And considering I am Jewish, I know.

ZapperZ said...

But really, that's like saying Mel Brooks is an antisemite for what he did in The Producers! One can easily look at the Donald Duck cartoon and see that it is nothing more than a parody. Or have you seen any of the old Bugs Bunny cartoons? Disney cartoons are harmless when compared to some of those!

It still doesn't change the FACT (i.e. it isn't just a matter of interpretation) that Walt has been honored by several Jewish organizations for his support, and that he hired many jews within his organizations. If you only focus on just one thing to paint the whole person, then I hate to think how you judge other people around you as well.

Zz.

Anacher Forester said...

Look, just because Disney hired lotsa Jews doesn't mean he wasn't anti-Semitic. He obviously wasn't stupid enough to avoid hiring the best artists regardless of creed. There was too much money to be made. If he felt forced to hire Jews, this would further fuel his anti-Semitism.

Also Disney's virulent anti-Communist and anti-union activities in the 1940's were legend and negatively impacted Jews disproportionately. As Uncle Walt was pushing for even greater mainstream acceptance in the post-WWII boom, I can't think of a better way to cover this possibly anti-Semitic past than contributing to B'nai B'rith and the like.

I have friends who used to work in the animation building at 500 Buena Vista. They heard whispers but still happily cashed their checks each Friday.

-AF

ZapperZ said...

I could easily use the SAME arguement that you use against you.

"Look, just because he appears to oppose communism and union activities doesn't make him anti-semite ... blah blah blah..."

You haven't presented any compelling evidence. If you think the argument presented in the article is weak, then yours is even weaker because it requires several level of assumptions, rather than a direct act.

Zz.

Anacher Forester said...

Zz-

I stumbled across yer blog and thought I'd weigh in. I'm not attacking on you or Disney. I'm playing Devil's advocate. Accusing anyone of bigotry is not something to be done casually. But before you declare an unequivocal “proof” on this or any subject, I ask you to consider historical facts & context, research multiple & ideally objective sources and use critical thinking. Evaluated thusly, your "proof" is far from compelling.

Walt Disney zealously guarded his reputation and brand. After his death, the Disney family and the Disney Company continued to burnish and protect his iconic image. Diane Disney Miller surely has unique insight into Walt Disney the man. She is not an unbiased source. The Walt Disney Museum is also not an unbiased source.

While I have not read Neal Gabler’s “Walt Disney: A Triumph of Imagination”, I cannot accept on faith any writer’s (Jewish or not) claim that Gabler “acquits Disney.” ”? Daniel Finkelstein’s unabashed Disney fandom gives me pause. Does the very credible Gabler actually prove then pronounce, “I acquit Walt Disney of anti-Semitism”? Or does Finkelstein add two anecdotes to the religious persuasion and influence of Disney’s staff and put those words in Gabler’s mouth?

It’s a relevant question. Walt’s hiring Jews proves nothing. For thirty years, I’ve worked in the entertainment industry. In that time I have encountered any number of bigoted people who were only too glad to enjoy and even profit from the art created by the very people they are prejudiced against. No matter what variety of ethnicities these bigots hired, they are still bigots. These pragmatic businessmen bury their bigotry in order to work with the best talent available. Once the “offending” artists or staff members are out of earshot, the slurs surface.

Disney did spend decades as an enthusiastic anti-Communist/union buster/FBI informant (activities which indisputably & disproportionately affected Jews in Hollywood).
Disney also dynamically supported Jewish charities.
Neither proves nor dispels the "myth" of Walt Disney's anti-Semitism.

Walt's Jewish charity work may have been sincere and heartfelt. Perhaps he did it out of guilt and contrition. Possibly it was pure PR to hide his prejudices. Maybe he hoped to dispel this "myth" once and for all. It could have been some combination thereof. Regardless of his personal motivation, it’s no coincidence that Disney the businessman was named B'nai B'rith MOY the same year Disneyland opened to the public.

I don't have any proof Disney was an anti-Semite. I didn’t offer any. I volunteered the overall impression shared with me by close friends who worked in Walt Disney's Animation Building. I didn’t and still don’t accept their stories at face value just as I do not accept the above proffered “proofs” on faith.

At this point in my life I really don't care. Fantasia still rocks my world and wouldn't exist without Uncle Walt.

-AF

ZapperZ said...

"Neither proves nor dispels the "myth" of Walt Disney's anti-Semitism."

"I don't have any proof Disney was an anti-Semite. I didn’t offer any. I volunteered the overall impression shared with me by close friends who worked in Walt Disney's Animation Building. I didn’t and still don’t accept their stories at face value just as I do not accept the above proffered “proofs” on faith."

Then what are we arguing about here?

I offered that story piece as a series of "evidence" to COUNTER the accusation that Walt was an anti-semite. It wasn't a piece that came out of nowhere to proclaim that he was an anti-semite. So now you try to counter it by saying, effectively, that one can't use that to "prove" that he isn't. Well, I'm using that to prove that you can't say he is either!

I think you missed the point of that piece.

BTW, Diane Disney Miller HATED Gabler's book and called it a libelous piece of trash.

Zz.

Gregory said...

"I offered that story piece as a series of "evidence" to COUNTER the accusation that Walt was an anti-semite. It wasn't a piece that came out of nowhere to proclaim that he was an anti-semite. So now you try to counter it by saying, effectively, that one can't use that to "prove" that he isn't. Well, I'm using that to prove that you can't say he is either!"

I didn't really get the last sentence. How can you use his point to disprove his point? It negates the whole thing, doesn't it?

"I offered that story piece as a series of "evidence" to COUNTER the accusation that Walt was an anti-semite."

But it isn't evidence unless a) proper documentation of the sources used are shown(citations) and b) you use several sources for comparison. I can very well post a blog about evidence that Nazis didn't really hate Jews using some Nazi Propaganda book written before the full scale rights violations. If I use only one source, there's absolutely no way to prove it, as there aren't any more than that one item being used.

You can't count the alleged fax message as a source, as you have no proof it exists.

ZapperZ said...

This discussion is so old, I've lost interest.

Zz.

Anonymous said...

Mickey Mouse was intended to represent pure and good people (i.e. not jewish people). He was an open right wing bigot, supported the Nazis and Hitler, and forced his will upon his employees and parks. There is a LOT of documentation out there that supports that he was anti-semitic. Do some research, read some biographies. Just because he made shows you like as a kid doesn't make him a saint. Rumors like that don't just pop up without evidence, and there is a lot of evidence to support this.

ZapperZ said...

.. and you made some completely false assumption. He did not make shows that I liked when I was a kid. I was never a Disney fan as a child. I liked Loony Tunes way better (and still do).

The FACT that there's a completely different view on this, as documented this the article, is enough proof that this isn't a clear cut case at BEST. How you can be so judgmental and definite against someone you never met and only based on 2nd and 3rd hand account is beyond comprehension.

Didn't Nazis used to make that same time of overgeneralization and judgment?

Zz.

EthelG said...

Frankly, I hope and pray Walt wasn't an Anti-Semite. Seeing films such as "Education For Death" and "Reason and Emotion" seem to suggest that he despised the Nazi ideology and everything it stood for. Whether or not that's true, one thing is for certain: there were many people in this country, even in the State Dept., who weren't the least bit better. Sadly, that would include some very prominent people.

Incidentally, Henry Ford was an Anti-Semite, but we're still buying his cars.

Anonymous said...

So many things are left to interpretation. In 'Der Fuherer's Face' "Disney never clarifies his opinion on the Nazi party."

So what? So it's a nightmare had by a cartoon duck. It was a portrayal of the times.

Was Walt Disney a Nazi? An anti-semite? A racist?

Possibly. Possibly he wasn't. We can speculate all we want but we don't know the man so we can't REALLY know. Everything else is hearsay.

Don't you people have better things to do with your time?

Anonymous said...

I look forward to my Disney Hannukah pins that come out every year! To say Walt Disney was an anti-semite is just plain ridiculous! Being Jewish in America is a great thing. If you could compare the way the Europeans treated the Jewish people, to the way Americans have treated them, there would be no comparison, the difference is night & day. Sure there are some Americans that treat Jewish people bad, but that doesn't negate the fact that the American way of life has caused Jewish life here & abroad to flourish because of the freedom & opportunities that this great, God-given country brings.

Anonymous said...

As much i love Walt its hard to tell if you have ever seen those Nazi Disney videos from the 40's. However i hope and think he has nothing against Jews or any religion.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe after watching the video on youtube anybody would think that Disney is pro Nazi. You need to watch it again where Hitler gets a tomato thrown at him. Nuff said. Use common sense please.

Laura said...

All those 1940s films, including Der Fuehrer's Face, were requested by the American government. There were films teaching Americans why it was good to pay taxes and how awesome air power was and whatnot. Der Fuehrer's Face was meant to ridicule Hitler and the Nazis. At this time in history, it wasn't absolutely disgusting to portray Hitler or a swastika- it was the portrayal of the enemy in a war (much like political cartoon depicting bin Laden nowadays). Even though the government asked Walt to make these films, it is clear that he was strenously pro-American. Victory Through Air Power, a film extolling the virtues of air power in war, was Walt's idea and not sponsored by the government- he wanted to help America win the war any way he could.
Now, it is true that Walt was anti-Communist and testified in front of the HUAC as a friendly witness. Yes, he screwed some people over and ruined careers, but it wasn't because he hated Jews. He blamed Communists for the strike against his studio in 1941. He even named one of the strike organizers, Herb Sorrell, as a Communist to the HUAC. So...Communist hater YES, Jew hater NO.

Anonymous said...

Well you're blog should be getting quite alot of hits after the Family Guy Epidosde tonight.

For those that didn't see it, Stewey and Brian are jumping through alternative universes. They land in a Disney universe where all the characters look like something out of a Disney studio in the 1940s. All is happy and they are singing a song about pie until a Jewish character walks in and they brutally kill him (mainly off screen).

This will certainly keep the discussion alive.

From what I have read, Walt Disney was clearly a Nazi sympathizer until Word War II, which goes hand in hand with antisemitism. Blaming Jews for all that was wrong with the world was a basic tenant of the Nazi political philosophy. Not to buy into that and supporting Nazi causes would be like be a Republican who believes in Socialism.

Whether he had a change of heart during or after World War II is unknown.

Gman said...

I don't know, walt may have not been in SS uniform. But he dos'ent really strike me as the kind of guy who was out there defending the jews if you get my drift. he may not have been public with his views but i suspect he did not respect the jewish people a whole lot.

Emily Hruza said...

Der Feuhrer's Face was made during the American War Effort on the SIDE OF AMERICA. It was too support OUR side. This poster by Disney was part of the war effort AGAINST Nazi Germany. http://z.about.com/d/history1900s/1/0/0/S/wwiip195.jpg

Maybe you should do some research before you make stupid comments.

Emily Hruza said...

Oh, and the cartoon was designed to illustrate the horrors of Nazi Germany, so of course there were songs like that. Those songs were actually sung there.... It's part of the illustration of the event smart one.

Anonymous said...

I would like to thank you abundantly for this article, because its totally true. I am also Jewish and guess what people my family's been working with the Disney Company since the mid 1930s. Disney was not antisemitic because my great-grandfather and he were very close friends. The only reason people believe Disney of being antisemitic was because some of the people he was friends with were. Hey most people have a friend who's a little racist towards someone that doesn't mean the person is too. Walt helped my family in it's darkest hour. And Der Fuehrer's Face was actually an anti-Nazi cartoon hence why Donald wakes up from the NIGHTMARE! And just so you know Jewish people worked on that cartoon, and the American Government paid for Disney to make it so don't go blaming the man for doing what was considered his patriotic duty! I hate how people talk about the great man, especially in today's world where one word can label you a racist, my advice is for people to lighten up and stop making up stuff about a dead man who can't defend himself.

hkisam said...

Lol I'm jewish too an actually der fuehrers face completely bashes the hell out of the nazi party. They demonized the Nazis like crazy. Its meant to make working for the nazi party look like hell. Disney pretty much clarifies his opinion very well, that nazis were brutal tyrants.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I sense the people that believe Walt was an anti-semite only do so because others around them told them he was. A bunch of kids in my Poli Sci class are constantly trumpeting this "fact" that Walt Disney was an anti-semite: when asked how they know this, they say "Uh, he just was, don't you know that? Everybody knows that. I found that out in high school." When asked from who, they say "Just, you know, my friends." It's a never-ending myth that NOBODY CAN SEEM TO PROVE, they merely base it off of what other people say.

That's like making up a myth that Bill Clinton DESPISES black people...there's no evidence against that, so I might as well go around telling people that he is a racist. Although that was true. My friend told me he was a racist in high school. ::

Anonymous said...

I have no idea if Disney was or wasn't an anti-Semite. A staunch conservative, sure. But my mother, who is Jewish, worked for him as an animator during the 1940s. I never heard anything from her about him, other than admiration.

Anonymous said...

i know that this post is quite old, but if you still find the link on the net so:

I WANTED TO POINT OUT THAT ALL HIS FIGHTS AGAINST NAZI GERMANY DOESNT EQUALLY MEAN THAT HE IS DEFINITELY NOT ANTI SEMITIC.

the persecution of jews is much much older than just 80 years. the nazis did not invent it. disney was a traditional rooted man and it isnt odd to think that he was anti semitic.

the bigger part of the world was at this time...

keeshen said...

My Grandfather worked for Disney and he had only one Jewish employee in the early days, one of his Polo playing team mates from his child hood.

Anonymous said...

This is probably really old, but I don't think Walt Disney was anti-semitic. I mean, honestly, all he stood for was peace and love and friendship (not to be corny or anything). Basically being anti-semitic means you discriminate and show hostility against Jews and all that stuff? He obviously didn't discriminate and show hostility against Jews because he had donated to Jewish charities and hired like lots of them.

I don't know... But it's not like Jews aren't allowed to come to Walt Disney World/Disneyland. So it's okay. :D

Anonymous said...

I am a big Disney fan and have been all of my life. While I'm not Jewish I have many Jewish friends, have enjoyed many Seders with them, etc.

I really find it disturbing for allegations to be made about someone when they can't really be substantiated. So many of the accusations seem very subjective to me and are countered well. But unless there is something concrete, substantial, and irrefutable, I think it is disgusting to try and degrade someone's reputation. To ruin someone's reputation without huge evidence is tantamount to murder. Because it really destroys the person.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of "Family Guy", I seen that episode last night and as far as I'm concerned, that was just over the frick'n line!!! That was pretty sad that the artists there would degrade a dead man based on unproven inuendos just for the sake of a gag!

Akshara said...

I agree that Disney was not anti semitic. Thank you for the post. Plus all the arguments about Der Fuhrer's Face and Education for Death are baseless. The cartoons clearly portray a negative image of Nazi ideology. If a man is defined by his work, then we can let Disney rest in peace.

Pete said...

I doubt Mr. Disney was anything other than being Walt Disney. He was known to be a tough boss but that is abut it. The idea of Mr. Disney being anti Semitic has no proven basis. For all we know maybe he said a flip remark that was taken out of context. We all say things sometimes that are out of frustration or whatever. This could have been the birth of the myth. Personally as a Jew and the son of a survivor (of the holocaust) I do not believe that Mr. Disney had a black heart. I do not think he harbored any negative feelings towards any "ethnics". I do agree his cartoon Der Fuerher's Face was propaganda for the Allies against the Nazis. One must be mighty foolish to think that it is a pro Nazi cartoon. From my understanding Mr. Disney hired the best people no matter what they were. He was a businessman who made a ton of money and he was quite a miser too. Seems to me that anyone can make the argument that Mr. Disney was really Jewish! Ya right....Walter Disneyberg! Get a life people Mr. Disney was regular guy for the most part. He was a genius and we all love his visions (Disneyland).

Anonymous said...

The film that you are speaking of was commissioned by the United States government, as were other instructional and war related films. Walt Disney's studio was appropriated by the U.S Army before the war began. One of the only ways to survive the complete loss of the European and American entertainment markets was to comply and produce such commissioned films. By this time Hitler had banned all American culture throughout occupied territory and the Donald Duck film was created to purposefully be dropped on enemy lines. I hope that clarifies.