Walt Disney Testimony Before House Committee Transcript
 
 
 
The Testimony of Walter E. Disney 
Before the House Committee on
Un-American Activities
24 October, 1947


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Source: Peary & Peary's anthology,
"The American Animated Cartoon," copyright 1980, published by Dutton,
ISBN 0-525-47639-3


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[ROBERT E.] STRIPLING [CHIEF INVESTIGATOR]: Mr. Disney, will you state
your full name and present address, please? 

WALTER DISNEY: Walter E. Disney, Los Angeles, California. 

RES: When and where were you born, Mr. Disney? 

WD: Chicago, Illinois, December 5, 1901. 

RES: December 5, 1901? 

WD: Yes, sir. 

RES: What is your occupation? 

WD: Well, I am a producer of motion-picture cartoons. 

RES: Mr. Chairman, the interrogation of Mr. Disney will be done by Mr.
Smith.

THE CHAIRMAN [J. PARNELL THOMAS]: Mr. Smith. 

[H. A.] SMITH: Mr. Disney, how long have you been in that business? 

WD: Since 1920. 

HAS: You have been in Hollywood during this time? 

WD: I have been in Hollywood since 1923. 

HAS: At the present time you own and operate the Walt Disney Studio at
Burbank, California? 

WD: Well, I am one of the owners. Part owner. 

HAS: How many people are employed there, approximately? 

WD: At the present time about 600. 

HAS: And what is the approximate largest number of employees you have
had in the studio? 

WD: Well, close to 1,400 at times. 

HAS: Will you tell us a little about the nature of this particular
studio, the type of pictures you make, and approximately how many per
year? 

WD: Well, mainly cartoon films. We make about twenty short subjects,
and about two features a year. 

HAS: Will you talk just a little louder, Mr. Disney? 

WD: Yes, sir. 

HAS: How many, did you say? 

WD: About twenty short subject cartoons and about two features per
year. 

HAS: And some of the characters in the films consist of 

WD: You mean such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Snow White and
the Seven Dwarfs [1938], and things of that sort. 

HAS: Where are these films distributed? 

WD: All over the world. 

HAS: In all countries of the world? 

WD: Well, except the Russian countries. 

HAS: Why aren't they distributed in Russia, Mr. Disney? 

WD: Well, we can't do business with them. 

HAS: What do you mean by that? 

WD: Oh, well, we have sold them some films a good many years ago. They
bought the Three Little Pigs [1933] and used it through Russia. And
they looked at a lot of our pictures, and I think they ran a lot of
them in Russia, but then turned them back to us and said they didn't
want them, they didn't suit their purposes.

HAS: Is the dialogue in these films translated into the various
foreign languages?

WD: Yes. On one film we did ten foreign versions. That was Snow White
and the Seven Dwarfs.

HAS: Have you ever made any pictures in your studio that contained
propaganda and that were propaganda films?

WD: Well, during the war we did. We made quite a few-working with
different government agencies. We did one for the Treasury on taxes
and I did four anti-Hitler films. And I did one on my own for air
power.

HAS: From those pictures that you made, have you any opinion as to
whether or not the films can be used effectively to disseminate
propaganda?

WD: Yes, I think they proved that.

HAS: How do you arrive at that conclusion?

WD: Well, on the one for the Treasury on taxes, it was to let the
people know that taxes were important in the war effort. As they
explained to me, they had 13,000,000 new taxpayers, people who had
never paid taxes, and they explained that it would be impossible to
prosecute all those that were delinquent and they wanted to put this
story before those people so they would get their taxes in early. I
made the film, and after the film had its run the Gallup poll
organization polled the public and the findings were that twenty-nine
percent of the people admitted that had influenced them in getting
their taxes in early and giving them a picture of what taxes will do.

HAS: Aside from those pictures you made during the war, have you made
any other pictures, or do you permit pictures to be made at your
studio containing propaganda?

WD: No; we never have. During the war we thought it was a different
thing. It was the first time we ever allowed anything like that to go
in the films. We watch so that nothing gets into the films that would
be harmful in any way to any group or any country. We have large
audiences of children and different groups, and we try to keep them as
free from anything that would offend anybody as possible. We work hard
to see that nothing of that sort creeps in.

HAS: Do you have any people in your studio at the present time that
you believe are Communist or Fascist, employed there?

WD: No; at the present time I feel that everybody in my studio is
one-hundred-percent American.

HAS: Have you had at any time, in your opinion, in the past, have you
at any time in the past had any Communists employed at your studio?

WD: Yes; in the past I had some people that I definitely feel were
Communists.

HAS: As a matter of fact, Mr. Disney, you experienced a strike at your
studio, did you not?

WD: Yes.

HAS: And is it your opinion that that strike was instituted by members
of the Communist Party to serve their purposes?

WD: Well, it proved itself so with time, and I definitely feel it was
a Communist group trying to take over my artists and they did take
them over.

CHAIRMAN: Do you say they did take them over?

WD: They did take them over.

HAS: Will you explain that to the committee, please?

WD: It came to my attention when a delegation of my boys, my artists,
came to me and told me that Mr. Herbert Sorrell

HAS: Is that Herbert K. Sorrell?

WD: Herbert K. Sorrell, was trying to take them over. I explained to
them that it was none of my concern, that I had been cautioned to not
even talk with any of my boys on labor. They said it was not a matter
of labor, it was just a matter of them not wanting to go with Sorrell,
and they had heard that I was going to sign with Sorrell, and they
said that they wanted an election to prove that Sorrell didn't have
the majority, and I said that I had a right to demand an election. So
when Sorrell came, I demanded an election. Sorrell wanted me to sign
on a bunch of cards that he had there that he claimed were the
majority, but the other side had claimed the same thing. I told Mr.
Sorrell that there is only one way for me to go and that was an
election and that is what the law had set up, the National Labor
Relations Board was for that purpose. He laughed at me and he said
that he would use the Labor Board as it suited his purposes and that
he had been sucker enough to go for that Labor Board ballot and he had
lost some election-I can't remember the name of the place-by one vote.
He said it took him two years to get it back. He said he would strike,
that that was his weapon. He said, "I have all of the tools of the
trade sharpened," that I couldn't stand the ridicule or the smear of a
strike. I told him that it was a matter of principle with me, that I
couldn't go on working with my boys feeling that I had sold them down
the river to him on his say-so, and he laughed at me and told me I was
naive and foolish. He said, you can't stand this strike, I will smear
you, and I will make a dust bowl out of your plant.

CHAIRMAN: What was that?

WD: He said he would make a dust bowl out of my plant if he chose to.
I told him I would have to go that way, sorry, that he might be able
to do all that, but I would have to stand on that. The result was that
he struck. I believed at that time that Mr. Sorrell was a Communist
because of all the things that I had heard and having seen his name
appearing on a number of Commie front things. When he pulled the
strike, the first people to smear me and put me on the unfair list
were all of the Commie front organizations. I can't remember them all,
they change so often, but one that is clear in my mind is the League
of Women Shoppers, The People's World, The Daily Worker, and the PM
magazine in New York. They smeared me. Nobody came near to find out
what the true facts of the thing were. And I even went through the
same smear in South America, through some Commie periodicals in South
America, and generally throughout the world all of the Commie groups
began smear campaigns against me and my pictures.

JOHN MCDOWELL: In what fashion was that smear, Mr. Disney, what type
of smear?

WD: Well, they distorted everything, they lied; there was no way you
could ever counteract anything that they did; they formed picket lines
in front of the theaters, and, well, they called my plant a sweatshop,
and that is not true, and anybody in Hollywood would prove it
otherwise. They claimed things that were not true at all and there was
no way you could fight it back. It was not a labor problem at all
because-I mean, I have never had labor trouble, and I think that would
be backed up by anybody in Hollywood.

HAS: As a matter of fact, you have how many unions operating in your
plant?

CHAIRMAN: Excuse me just a minute. I would like to ask a question.

HAS: Pardon me.

CHAIRMAN: In other words, Mr. Disney, Communists out there smeared you
because you wouldn't knuckle under?

WD: I wouldn't go along with their way of operating. I insisted on it
going through the National Labor Relations Board. And he told me
outright that he used them as it suited his purposes.

CHAIRMAN: Supposing you had given in to him, then what would have been
the outcome?

WD: Well, I would never have given in to him, because it was a matter
of principle with me, and I fight for principles. My boys have been
there, have grown up in the business with me, and I didn't feel like I
could sign them over to anybody. They were vulnerable at that time.
They were not organized. It is a new industry.

CHAIRMAN: Go ahead, Mr. Smith.

HAS: How many labor unions, approximately, do you have operating in
your studios at the present time?

WD: Well, we operate with around thirty-five-I think we have contacts
with thirty.

HAS: At the time of this strike you didn't have any grievances or
labor troubles whatsoever in your plant?

WD: No. The only real grievance was between Sorrell and the boys
within my plant, they demanding an election, and they never got it.

HAS: Do you recall having had any conversations with Mr. Sorrell
relative to Communism?

WD: Yes, I do.

HAS: Will you relate that conversation?

WD: Well, I didn't pull my punches on how I felt. He evidently heard
that I had called them all a bunch of Communists-and I believe they
are. At the meeting he leaned over and he said, "You think I am a
Communist, don't you," and I told him that all I knew was what I heard
and what I had seen, and he laughed and said, "Well, I used their
money to finance my strike of 1937," and he said that he had gotten
the money through the personal check of some actor, but he didn't name
the actor. I didn't go into it any further. I just listened.

HAS: Can you name any other individuals that were active at the time
of the strike that you believe in your opinion are Communists?

WD: Well, I feel that there is one artist in my plant, that came in
there, he came in about 1938, and he sort of stayed in the background,
he wasn't too active, but he was the real brains of this, and I
believe he is a Communist. His name is David Hilberman.

HAS: How is it spelled?

WD: H-i-l-b-e-r-m-a-n, I believe. I looked into his record and I found
that, number 1, that he had no religion and, number 2, that he had
spent considerable time at the Moscow Art Theatre studying art
direction, or something.

HAS: Any others, Mr. Disney?

WD: Well, I think Sorrell is sure tied up with them. If he isn't a
Communist, he sure should be one.

HAS: Do you remember the name of William Pomerance, did he have
anything to do with it?

WD: Yes, sir. He came in later. Sorrell put him in charge as business
manager of cartoonists and later he went to the Screen Actors as their
business agent, and in turn he put in another man by the name of
Maurice Howard, the present business agent. And they are all tied up
with the same outfit.

HAS: What is your opinion of Mr. Pomerance and Mr. Howard as to
whether or not they are or are not Communists?

WD: In my opinion they are Communists. No one has any way of proving
those things.

HAS: Were you able to produce during the strike?

WD: Yes, I did, because there was a very few, very small majority that
was on the outside, and all the other unions ignored all the lines
because of the setup of the thing.

HAS: What is your personal opinion of the Communist Party, Mr. Disney,
as to whether or not it is a political party?

WD: Well, I don't believe it is a political party. I believe it is an
un-American thing. The thing that I resent the most is that they are
able to get into these unions, take them over, and represent to the
world that a group of people that are in my plant, that I know are
good, one-hundred-percent Americans, are trapped by this group, and
they are represented to the world as supporting all of those
ideologies, and it is not so, and I feel that they really ought to be
smoked out and shown up for what they are, so that all of the good,
free causes in this country, all the liberalisms that really are
American, can go out without the taint of communism. That is my
sincere feeling on it.

HAS: Do you feel that there is a threat of Communism in the
motion-picture industry?

WD: Yes, there is, and there are many reasons why they would like to
take it over or get in and control it, or disrupt it, but I don't
think they have gotten very far, and I think the industry is made up
of good Americans, just like in my plant, good, solid Americans. My
boys have been fighting it longer than I have. They are trying to get
out from under it and they will in time if we can just show them up.

HAS: There are presently pending before this committee two bills
relative to outlawing the Communist Party. What thoughts have you as
to whether or not those bills should be passed?

WD: Well, I don't know as I qualify to speak on that. I feel if the
thing can be proven un-American that it ought to be outlawed. I think
in some way it should be done without interfering with the rights of
the people. I think that will be done. I have that faith. Without
interfering, I mean, with the good, American rights that we all have
now, and we want to preserve.

HAS: Have you any suggestions to offer as to how the industry can be
helped in fighting this menace?

WD: Well, I think there is a good start toward it. I know that I have
been handicapped out there in fighting it, because they have been
hiding behind this labor setup, they get themselves closely tied up in
the labor thing, so that if you try to get rid of them they make a
labor case out of it. We must keep the American labor unions clean. We
have got to fight for them.

HAS: That is all of the questions I have, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN: Mr. Vail.

R. B. VAIL: No questions.

CHAIRMAN: Mr. McDowell.

J. MCDOWELL: No questions.

WD: Sir?

JM: I have no questions. You have been a good witness.

WD: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN: Mr. Disney, you are the fourth producer we have had as a
witness, and each one of those four producers said, generally
speaking, the same thing, and that is that the Communists have made
inroads, have attempted inroads. I just want to point that out because
there seems to be a very strong unanimity among the producers that
have testified before us. In addition to producers, we have had actors
and writers testify to the same. There is no doubt but what the movies
are probably the greatest medium for entertainment in the United
States and in the world. I think you, as a creator of entertainment,
probably are one of the greatest examples in the profession. I want to
congratulate you on the form of entertainment which you have given the
American people and given the world and congratulate you for taking
time out to come here and testify before this committee. He has been
very helpful. Do you have any more questions, Mr. Stripling?

HAS: I am sure he does not have any more, Mr. Chairman.

RES: No; I have no more questions.

CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Disney.

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