Walt Disney: Big Jerk or Super Big Jerk?
Starting tonight, Circle Theatre will present the final weekend of its engrossing Southwest premiere Something Intangible, and as this week’s ”Stage” review indicates, Bruce Graham’s script depicts a thinly veiled Walt Disney as a high octane jerk: A paranoid hater of Jews and gays, a merciless exploiter of his animation staff, and an artistic pioneer whose vision surpassed uncompromising and headed straight into dictatorial.
The most recent biography of Walt Disney, Neal Gabler’s 2007 Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, is apparently the most exhaustively researched and annotated so far and it refutes the frequent charges of anti-Semitism. But accusations of control-freak assholishness still stand. The dishiest Disney bio is out of print – 1994’s unauthorized Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince. Author Marc Eliot alleged that Disney was an informant for J. Edgar Hoover who ratted out a number of “politically subversive” people – mostly union sympathizers — to the FBI. Eliot’s book also claims that Walt liked to wear his mother’s clothes when he was a child; that, as an adult, he sometimes packed his testicles with ice to increase his sexual potency with his wife; and – my personal favorite – that he harbored a “narcissistic jealousy” toward Mickey Mouse.
In the end, I’m amused but apathetic about the Walt Disney legend and all its crazy dimensions. Early in my childhood, Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones and Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz got under my skin and stayed there. The dull-edged Disney never had a chance.