Walt Disney was a Secret FBI Informant
Uncle Walt, a father, and a friend-like figure to a lot of children is mainly loved for his cartoon creations around the world. Walt Disney, in full Walter Elias Disney, is the creator of legends like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and was a pioneer of the animation industry in the United States. He was a television producer and an entrepreneur, who not only dominated the animation industry but also put forth the concept of a dream vacation destination i.e., Disneyland.
However, there is one secret aspect of the life of Walt Disney. It’s famously known that Disney was very conservative regarding his political life but very few people know that he had worked as an informant for the FBI from 1940 till his death. He made a lot of powerful connections throughout his career and one of them was J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover was an American law enforcement administrator and the first Director of the FBI.
This was brought to light by writer Marc Eliot in his biography of Disney, Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince, in the early 1990s. He obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act that disclosed the relationship between Disney and Hoover’s FBI. These files were inspected by New York Times investigators and were declared to be authentic. Out of the entire document we have access to only 750 pages of the document, while other pages of the ‘Disney File’ were censored but still, it’s worth the read.
The first evidence of their relationship leads back to 1936 when they were at the peak of their careers. Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was launched in 1937 as his first full-length feature film and Hoover was leading the FBI which was founded the year before, in 1935.
In 1941, the whole Disney workforce went on strike. The employees declared that poor leadership and bad morale as the factors leading to the strike, but Disney believed that the communists were involved in this incident. He even stated so to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Disney, while addressing them, not only blamed communism for this disturbance but also gave names. He said, “I feel there’s one artist in my plant, he was the real brains of this, and I believe he is a communist. His name is David Hilberman.”
Why was Walt Disney suspicious? The reason for it was that David Hilberman had attended Communist Party meetings in the late 1930s and early 1940s—worker’s rights, unions, women’s rights, and an end to racism – which were regarded as subversive.
Walt joined the Motion Picture Alliance in 1944 as the first vice president to protect American ideals. It was an anti-communist and anti-fascist society created to protect Hollywood and eventually American society against infiltration by the enemy. Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Ronald Reagan were notable members of this organization.
Later in 1947, another communist intrusion in the movie industry was suspected by the House Committee. Disney again testified as a principal witness in front of them. Well, neither the papers nor the reporters seem to know anything about it.
In 1955, Disneyland was opened, and Disney gave his FBI friends the free use of the complex for official and recreational purposes. Later, Disney opened a Tomorrow-Land Theme Park, the subject of which has been at the centre of many conspiracies that persist to the present day.
Walt contacted the Bureau and asked them if it was possible for them to demonstrate at his park how forensic science was utilized by law enforcement at the FBI’s laboratories and Identification Division.
Long-time FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was actively involved in the development of films and TV shows about the agency. One of the first movies to portray Hoover’s desired image of the FBI was “G-Man”, or “government man”. A term that was used by gangsters, and used it to illustrate federal agents as lawful, clean-cut characters.
Disney was able to promote Hoover’s “G-men” via his famous TV show “The Mickey Mouse Club”. Three exclusive episodes were aired featuring Dirk Metzger. They both were seen visiting the FBI headquarters and it was free publicity for the agency.
Disney showed the demo clips to the FBI, and they requested several changes, but Disney refused which cause a lot of tension between them and seemed to have been the beginning of souring relationships for both parties.
Nevertheless, Hoover helped Disney write the script of the movie “Moon Pilot”. It was released in the 1960s and portrayed Federal Agents in comedic and clumsy roles.
This made the FBI furious and today most of the files that the FBI has on Disney contain complaints regarding their comedic depiction in those films. The FBI applied a lot of pressure on Disney, going after the company and even going so far as to threaten the studio with Public Law 670 for ‘exploiting the FBI’s name’.
Disney assured the Bureau that from then on, the FBI will be portrayed positively in his shows and that they shouldn’t worry about it. The movie “The Darned Cat”, a whimsical tale of a Siamese cat who helps the FBI solve a kidnapping case was released in 1965, to popular reception.
Walt Disney, a lifelong heavy smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer and died shortly after in December 1966 died at the age of 66. His legacy survives to this day via his films and theme parks. But he also left many mysteries behind. To this day, we can only ask ourselves, how deep was his involvement in the persecution of perceived communists? How much was his work altered or censored to satisfy both J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI?
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