Walt Dis­ney ex­perts re­but anti-Semitic claims

The China Post - - ARTS - BY LYNN EL­BER

Walt Dis­ney was a com­plex fig­ure, both cel­e­brated and con­demned, but al­le­ga­tions that he was a ra­bid anti-Semite are un­proven, Dis­ney ex­perts said.

Talk­ing to TV crit­ics Sun­day about PBS’ “Amer­i­can Ex­pe­ri­ence” Septem­ber doc­u­men­tary on Dis­ney, com­poser Richard Sher­man (Dis­ney’s “Mary Pop­pins,” “The Jun­gle Book”) dis­missed such lin­ger­ing crit­i­cism out­right.

It’s “ab­so­lutely pre­pos­ter­ous to call him anti-Semitic,” said Sher­man, the son of Jewish im­mi­grants. He and his brother Robert, his writ­ing part­ner, were treated like sons by Dis­ney, he said.

His­to­rian and so­cial critic Neal Gabler, au­thor of “An Em­pire of Their Own: How the Jews In­vented Hol­ly­wood,” said he ex­haus­tively re­searched Dis­ney for the 2006 book “Walt Dis­ney: The Tri­umph of the Amer­i­can Imag­i­na­tion.”

“I saw no ev­i­dence other than the ca­sual anti- Semitism that” was com­mon to non-Jews dur­ing Dis­ney’s 20th-cen­tury era, Gabler said.

Sarah Colt, pro­ducer and di­rec­tor of the four-hour film air­ing Sept. 14 and 15, said a doc­u­men­tary she made about Henry Ford, who she de­scribed as a “vir­u­lent anti-Semite,” gave sig­nif­i­cant at­ten­tion to his views.

But there wasn’t any ev­i­dence that Dis­ney held such at­ti­tudes, she said, although the la­bel has been at­tached to the man who launched a still-ex­pand­ing film, TV and theme park em­pire on the back of the Mickey Mouse car­toon char­ac­ter.

The pan­elists’ agree­ment on that topic was in con­trast with their dif­fer­ing views on other as­pects of Dis­ney’s life and ac­com­plish­ments.

“Ev­ery­one was ter­ri­fied” of Dis­ney as a boss, Gabler said, call­ing him a stern taskmas­ter who de­manded ad­her­ence to his cre­ative vi­sions. More than pan­elist said that Dis­ney didn’t hes­i­tate in fir­ing work­ers he thought were fall­ing short, la­bel­ing them “dead­wood.”

Sher­man, who be­gan work­ing for Dis­ney in 1960, said he never feared him and be­lieved the en­ter­tain­ment ti­tan may have re­laxed and mel­lowed by that point af­ter decades of achieve­ment.

But oth­ers said that Dis­ney was driven to the end, and that on his deathbed in 1966 he was fill­ing in his brother, Roy, on his plans for the Ep­cot theme park at the Walt Dis­ney World Re­sort in Or­lando, Florida.

Dis­ney treated his em­ploy­ees like fam­ily, one pan­elist said, while another dis­missed his kind­ness as a cyn­i­cal ploy to get the most out of his work­force.

Sher­man was stead­fast in his de­fense of his for­mer boss.

“He was a great soul, he re­ally was. And he had his flaws, of course. Who doesn’t? But the main thing is he was driven to do good things,” he said.

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