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Walt Disney’s Fascinating Political Journey

The Man Behind The Mouse underwent a political transition from naive socialist cartoonist to staunch conservative mogul.

by
Chris Queen

Bio

May 3, 2013 - 2:00 pm
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Walt & Lillian Disney with Richard Nixon and his family at Disneyland, 1959

We tend to think of Hollywood as a bastion of leftism, and rightly so. Books like Ron Radosh’s Red Star Over Hollywood demonstrate the deep-seated left-wing dominance of the entertainment industry. Even with the leftism prevalent in Hollywood’s Golden Age, many unabashed conservatives found success without compromising their principles, including one of the most creative minds in the business — Walt Disney.

Several biographers and writers that I’ve read have tried to declare that Walt Disney was apolitical, but I find this conclusion not to be true. Diane Disney Miller once said that her father was “kind of a strange figure” politically, and Walt admitted his own political naiveté:

A long time ago, I found out that I knew nothing whatsoever about this game of politics and since then I’ve preferred to keep silent about the entire matter rather than see my name attached to any statement that was not my own.

But plenty of people surrounding Walt Disney knew the truth: that he was conservative to his core. Ward Kimball, one of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” said that Walt’s right-leaning politics made him uncomfortable and that politics drove a rift in their friendship in Disney’s later years. Radical writer Maurice Rapf, who worked on several Disney films, including Song of the South, said, “He was very conservative except in one particular — he was a very strong environmentalist.” However, Walt Disney’s conservatism did not manifest itself until after he had been a businessman for several years.

Walt Disney’s early exposure to politics came from his father, Elias, who was a Socialist — in particular, he followed the philosophy of J. A. Wayland. Wayland created a unique strain of Prairie Socialism in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Daniel J. Flynn, in his book A Conservative History of the American Left, tells of how Wayland “reached Americans with the message [of Socialism] that had been heretofore explained in a German, Yiddish, or Russian accent, but never with a Bible-belt twang.”

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“He was very conservative except in one particular — he was a very strong environmentalist.�

Leave it to a brain dead liberal to assume that anyone who believes in freedom and private property rights somehow also wants to ravage the landscape.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (11)
All Comments   (11)
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This is great to know. I always hoped that Walt was one of the good guys. I grew up around WDW in Florida in the '70s, and always had a good feeling about him. Knowing about his political and spiritual side just leaves me respecting him all the more, and wishing the Disney empire still reflected his personality. I'm more convinced than ever that EPCOT/Progress City as he envisioned it would have been awesome!

Thanks for these articles, Chris!
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Great article! (When I share this on FB though, the recommend is for the Eisenhower Presidential Campaign video, not an article about Walt Disney. Any way to fix it?)
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
When the Jews that owned the distribution network and many of the theaters tried to force Disney to hand over all rights to Mickey Mouse as the price for having his movies made available to the public, Disney opened up Disney Land. It was only after other Jews in Hollywood chose to not go along with the boycott of Disney that he finally got the recognition he deserved.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
“He was very conservative except in one particular — he was a very strong environmentalist.�

Leave it to a brain dead liberal to assume that anyone who believes in freedom and private property rights somehow also wants to ravage the landscape.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Environmentalism has co-opted conservative conservationism in the same way that liberal feminism co-opted the suffragist movement. Neither was a leftist movement in the beginning.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Great -- old school commies in Disneyland. Run the red flag up the matterhorn. Dress the ticket takers in Mao Pajamas. Stencil the AK-47 onto Dumbo the elephant. We must remember these cartoonists were former art school students. Some things never change.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
And phallic imagery hidden in many Disney cartoons by these same Commie artists.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Whether his statement reveals his political naiveté or whether he was thinking of the classical notion of liberalism remains a mystery."

My guess is that Walt had finally seen clearly that progressives weren't "liberals," but that they had hijacked the word in the 1930s to make themselves politically acceptable again, and, worse, that they weer being played for suckers by the far left. (See Kengor's "Dupes.") Walt may not have read Locke or Mill, but I wouldn't be surprised if he meant an older, "classical" liberalism.

Walt Disney was a hero to me growing up in Southern California in the 60s, and Disneyland a slice of Heaven. It's nice to see his politics were good, too.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
"An employee’s politics were not of any particular concern to him if that employee was not challenging him"

Yep, Leftists can thrive under the Right, but the reverse is not true.

"You know, I consider myself a true liberal.” Whether his statement reveals his political naiveté or whether he was thinking of the classical notion of liberalism remains a mystery."

Not a mystery. It is a statement about these false "Liberals". Just a bunch of Progressives who had to co-opt someone else's label, because they had so tarnished their own. They ruin everything they touch.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Great article about a fascinating man.

Why has conservatism been so outside the mainstream for so long, I wonder?
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
“He was very conservative except in one particular – he was a very strong environmentalist.”

Actually in the 1940s environmentalism was a conservative cause. Progressism was all about beating Mother Earth into total submission. The classic example is the film adaption of HG Wells, Things to Come. Fast forward to 4:00 and behold progressive environmentalism in FDR's day.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5tm7KnfoKM
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
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