Walt Disney was one of the most influential people in the history of cinema as well as in the public imagination of American citizens.
Walt Disney was well known for his sentimental populism and had major contributions to shape up his image as an enterprising innovator. He was the one to pass on Disney’s legacy for further centuries.
Keeping these things aside, Walt Disney was also a large political figure whose actions hurt the livelihoods and lives of several people, who had different beliefs.
It was found out that Disney was a spy for the FBI, from 1940 till his death, and supplied information about his workers to the Bureau. He also manage to wreck the movements that were orchestrated by unions by tagging them as “communist agitators”.
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The reports are available on the Bureau’s website which gave details about Walt Disney’s exchanges with the FBI. These had been released to the public after the Freedom of Information Act was passed and as per these reports, Disney actively expressed his admiration for the insidious machinations of the FBI and even let FBI director J. Edgar Hoover make creative decisions about some of the projects.
What Was Walt Disney’s Reward In This Co-operation?
Walt Disney got various favors from the Bureau which included protection and other political advantages and was also allowed to shoot a film in the Bureau’s headquarters.
Walt Disney provided such valuable intel that he was made ‘Special Agent in Charge Contact’ by the FBI in 1954, signifying that Disney was an individual who was capable of providing resources to the FBI and taking care of PR issues as well.
It should be kept in mind that the political atmosphere of this era was quite volatile, due to the Red Scare and Senator McCarthy.
Walt Disney was actually too shrewd in this matter and utilized these attitudes to his advantage and made sure that his services to the FBI helped his own business.
Walt Disney once said: “Once a man has tasted freedom he will never be content to be a slave. That is why I believe that this frightfulness we see everywhere today is only temporary. Tomorrow will be better as long as America keeps alive the ideals of freedom and a better life. All men will want to be free and share our way of life. There must be so much that I should have said, but haven’t. What I will say now is just what most of us are probably thinking every day. I thank God and America for the right to live and raise my family under the flag of tolerance, democracy, and freedom.”
Disney showed this face to the common public but was a tyrant to his labor unions and political alliances.
In July 1941, the animators at Disney went on a strike to protest unfair working conditions and Walt Disney immediately utilized the opportunity to run an advertisement in Variety where he said: “I am positively convinced that Communistic agitation, leadership, and activities have brought about this strike.”
Disney later testified that several of the named animators in the strikes were communists. This made it crystal clear that Disney was ready to utilize his connections to achieve his goals. The FBI also played a role in the establishment of Disneyland which was used by the Bureau for their own operations.
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The document that was released stated:
“Mr. Disney has recently established a business association with the American Broadcasting Company-Paramount Theatres Inc. for the production of a series of television shows, which for the most part are scheduled to be filmed at Disneyland, a multi-million dollar amusement park being established under Mr. Disney’s direction in the vicinity of Anaheim, Calif. Mr. Disney has volunteered representatives of this office complete access to the facilities of Disneyland for use in connection with official matters and for recreational purposes.”
Walt Disney was not the only spy in Hollywood. Other examples included Ronald Reagen, who supplied intel to the FBI about colleagues who harbored communist sympathies.