Debunking the Disney Disinformation
Meryl Streep has proven once and for all that she should stick to acting and stay away from speechifying.
This week at the awards for the National Board of Review, the organizers tapped Streep to give an award to Emma Thompson for her portrayal of P. L. Travers in the delightful Saving Mr. Banks. Instead of merely lauding Thompson for her masterful performance, Streep chose to aim daggers at the memory of Walt Disney, whom Tom Hanks portrayed in the film. Streep managed to trot out all the old saws of disinformation against Disney:
Disney's reputation has long been dogged by accusations of anti-Semitism, but Streep focused most of her attention on Disney's treatment of women, calling the legendary impresario a "gender bigot" and quoting longtime Disney animator Ward Kimball, who said his boss "didn't trust women or cats."
Streep also accused Disney of supporting "an anti-Semitic industry lobbying group," believed to be a reference to the Motion Picture Alliance, and quoted a letter purportedly written by Disney's company to an aspiring female animator which read, in part "Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men."
Of course the antisemitism charge has been repeated over and over by the Left. In Streep's case, if she is referring to the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, she is sadly mistaken. That organization consisted of conservatives in Hollywood who were committed to stamping out Communist influence and, well, preserving American ideals.
For years, the accusations of antisemitism against Walt Disney have come from sources on the Left with no proof. On the contrary, biographer Neal Gabler has noted that none of Disney's employees could recall his ever making antisemitic slurs. Gabler also said of the antisemitic rumors surrounding Walt:
That's one of the questions everybody asks me... My answer to that is, not in the conventional sense that we think of someone as being an antisemite... Walt himself, in my estimation, was not antisemitic, nevertheless, he willingly allied himself with people who were antisemitic, and that reputation stuck. He was never really able to expunge it throughout his life.
Walt Disney befriended the Jewish community in Los Angeles. One Jewish Chronicle writer noted:
...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...
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.
As for Streep's accusation of misogyny, I simply could not find any proof. Her quote from Ward Kimball, who maintained a long friendship and working relationship with Walt despite their political differences, sounds too much like a tossed off joke as opposed to serious proof that Walt was a woman-hater. Also, the letter Streep cites doesn't appear to ring true. From the earliest days of the studio, Walt and Roy Disney hired women to help with the animation process. Some of the women Disney hired went on to esteemed positions in production and Imagineering - most notably Mary Blair and Phyllis Hurrell.
Thankfully, animator and Disney Legend Floyd Norman, the first African-American artist to work closely with Walt Disney, has rushed to his aid. In a blog post this week, Norman condemned Streep's statements and eloquently defended Walt without deifying him:
It would appear a number of people in Hollywood and elsewhere know a good deal about a studio that never employed them. They also seem to be quite knowledgeable about a man they never met. This is to be expected, of course. When it comes to history it appears everybody’s an expert. However, the history we’re currently dealing with is the history of the Walt Disney Studio and Walt Disney in particular.
I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but the America of the nineteen thirties and forties is hardly the America we know today. Much has changed, and changed for the better. However, we can’t erase the mistakes of the past nor should we. We already know women were not given the opportunities they deserved back in the thirties. This was not something practiced at Walt Disney Productions alone. This was true of American business in general. Despite that, the women of Disney’s Ink & Paint Department have told me they’ve never had a better job. Were they denied the opportunity to compete with the boys over in the Animation Building? You bet they were. In spite of that, during the war years, young women proved they had what it took to compete with the big boys. Even in the forties, Mary Blair, Retta Scott, Bianca Majolie and Sylvia Holland showed they too had the right stuff. By the fifties, talented young women filled the ranks of Walt’s animation department and their names are too numerous to mention. For example, ever hear the name Phyllis Hurrell? She ran one of Walt Disney’s successful commercial departments at the studio. This was the early days of television and she made a ton of money for the mouse. You probably wouldn’t believe that Uncle Walt had a woman production head back in the fifties, now would you?
Then there was Joe Grant, Dave Detiege, Lou Appet and Ed Solomon. There was Mel Levin, Robert and Richard Sherman, and the list goes on and on. Can you guess where I’m going with this? Why were so many talented Jewish writers, song writers and artists employed at the Disney Studio? Did Walt simply not know? Yeah, he probably had no idea. I can also guess he had no idea why the young black man was in his story meetings. And, how did the famous “Hollywood racist” failed to notice Victor Haboush, Tyrus Wong, Dick Ung, Iwao Takamoto, Willie Ito, Ray Aragon and Ron Dias?
To be sure, Walt Disney had his faults like the rest of us. He was not a perfect man nor did we expect him to be. Like most of us, he continued to grow as he moved through life and in time he recognized women could compete alongside men. He knew that talent had no color or ethnicity and he judged people by their ability to do their job and do it well. Walt Disney was a man of his time, but he was determined not to be imprisoned by it. He dreamed of a better world and even had the audacity to try and build it. Hardly an American to be vilified. Walt Disney deserves to be celebrated.
What does Meryl Streep stand to gain by smearing Walt Disney? Why go so far to soil the reputation of a man who has been dead nearly fifty years? The answer is simple: the Left is threatened by the influence that Disney and his company have had on Western culture for the past ninety years.
Walt and Roy Disney stood for traditional, American, Judeo-Christian values like faith, family, free enterprise, and patriotism. The Disney brothers weren't perfect, but they stood for what they believed in. The Left cannot stand to see such values held high, and they see Disney's embodiment of those values (even today, to some extent) as a threat.
Last year, Glenn Beck wrote about Philip Glass's opera The Perfect American, itself based on a Walt Disney-smearing novel, noting how the Left seeks to tear down Walt's memory:
“These [claims] are fictional. There’s no evidence of this, none whatsoever,” Glenn said. “And the reason why they are doing it is because the guy was conservative. The guy did believe in America."
To the Left, Walt Disney's memory is something to be sullied and tarnished. Disney's commitment to traditional American values flies in the face of everything people like Streep stand for. Now that both of Walt's daughters and Roy's son have all passed away, I fear that the campaigns against Walt and Roy will only get worse. The Left stands at the ready to use disinformation against the Disneys at every turn. It's up to us who care about the truth to call out the lies and expose it for what it is.