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Walt Disney and the F.B.I.
by Kate G.
2010-12-06 08:46:55
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Perhaps the ultimate storyteller of the 20th century. The father of Mickey Mouse and the one whose name identified with the magic of animation. He was born in Chicago, on December 5, 1901. After following various professions ending up as an ambulance driver in World War I, he decided in 1920 that the creation of animation was the job for him. Three years later he moved in California and set up his own studio in an old abandoned garage. Walt Disney counts a total of 600 movies and 22 Oscars. Some of these movies will remain in the history of animation, such as Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp and Jungle Book. He died on December 15, 1966 from a heartattack. The Disney company that continues Walt's and Roy's (Walt's brother) work, is now a giant in the entertainment field, with a turnover of 35 billion dollars, 133.000 employees and a large number of successes.

The first reference hinting to Disney's relationship with the F.B.I. is in a memo dated December 16th, 1954 sent from the SAC (Special Agent in Charge) in the Los Angeles division to director Hoover - (John Edgar Hoover - The first Director of the FBI of the United States.) The memo gives a brief summary of Disney's career and notes that he had volunteered one of his studios for the Bureau, concluding that it would be a valuable asset and should be accepted as an official SAC contact. Some believe that in fact Disney had been an informant of the F.B.I. during the war and that he received a promotion which allowed him to operate his own network of informants. It is quite hard to prove such accusations given the current state of evidence, there is a possibillity though that the Disney Company had an informant during the war.

On January 20, 1956, a representative of Disney dropped by the Bureau office to discuss shooting a video of the F.B.I. for the ABC Network. Despite the approval by the local SAC, Hoover refused. Few weeks later, it was Disney's turn to decline a request from the Bureau. On March 7th, SAC Malone visited Disney (his assigned contact in L.A.) and the Bureau was asked again for a cooperation on a special science exhibition at the Disneyland amusement park, as well as shooting a video for the Mickey Mouse club on ABC Network. Hoover refuses once more, citing a busy schedule. Not much later though, a request was made for a check on Disney's background. And that was what changed the relationships between them.

The following year in 1957, a SAC met with Disney and proposed an idea for a show that would commemorate the 25th of the FBI crime laboratory. Disney agreed. The motivations behind his acceptance of the project are described in the March 4th memo as highly altruistic: ''Mr Disney likes to do this kind of films occasionally as a public service''. But this also came as welcomed news for Disney given that two months earlier, the studios had signed a 2 year- 9 million contract with ABC Television for the production of three new series of programs. Despite a note subsequently written on the March 4th memo admonishing the SAC for going beyond his authority in initially approaching Disney, the Bureau unwilling accepted to follow through on the project, “on condition that we had the chance to review the film before it is used.” The FBI wanted to ensure that their image was controlled, so the Congress passed Public Law 670, giving the Bureau the abillity to protect their name from unwarranted commercial exploitation.

Filming for the Mickey Mouse club took place in April at the Bureau's Virginia office in Quantico and the storyline involved a young actor narrating a tour of the Bureau's laboratory operations and even at a point meeting Hoover himself. For the Club's viewers this scenario was common; often they featured programs outlining several professions for the audience. The Bureau received a copy of the unfinished film along with the complete script, as Disney had promised. But despite the positive reviews, recommendations for changing parts of the script were made. The changes were minor, but necessary, the film maybe generally complimented the Bureau but was also revealing. One of the film's purposes was to get across with youngsters the safe handling of guns. But in this point, the Bureau was against any suggestion to young children about using guns, so deletion of this scene was demanded. The film was very succesfull in portraying a positive and *kind of* romantic image of the Bureau. Children saw the FBI as a ''grown up kids gang'' and started Junior G-men clubs across the country. A young child wrote a letter to Hoover asking for his help in starting a club. ''We need weapons, bombs and other things to surprise the crooks'', he wrote.

In 1961 Disney hired a certain actor to play the role of an FBI agent in an upcoming movie about the first American shot into space. A memo shows that Disney tried to get in contact with the Bureau in order to inform about the movie's project, sensing their anxiety of the G-man's depiction in the film. Hoover was incensed about the way that the G-man was portrayed after reading the script, so he demanded that the SAC should meet immediately with Disney and arrange the propriate changes. Eventually Disney replaced the G-man with a generic representation of a security officer.

''Moon Pilot'' was released in 1962. In examining a critics review by the time it was released, we get a picture of the Cold War dynamic between individual entertainers and goverment agencies, and more specifically, Disney's relationship to American culture. A reviewer argues that the film had political motives in that it represented “the bitter struggle between what obviously is the F.B.I. and the NASA security bureau...this is fairly broad comment on sacred cows''. Disney in his own mind, saw himself as the one man who had to act and critique the security lapses that were occurring during his time, always mindful of his own role (as he conceptualized it) in the larger Cold War conflict that was taking place. He never abandoned the great sense of patriotic duty that he felt towards others. ''In fact, were the sources other than Disney's studio, howls from patriotic organizations would hardly be unexpected'', the reviewer continues. Disney's position as mediator and authority figure in American culture had long since been established and this allowed him to play an expanded role in the politics of the time.

''Movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives in the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal adulthood. Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world. '' - Walt Disney.

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