Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Committee Director

John Weber

Committee Member

Elizabeth Zanoni

Committee Member

Brett Bebber

Abstract

The Walt Disney Company’s meticulously-crafted corporate mythos, as it developed in the mid-twentieth century, hid a conflicted history of anti-New Deal, nationalist ideology that was popularized during the clashes of the Hollywood labor movement in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act was passed as Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) entered full-scale production, and each were central to the labor-management conflict that lurked behind the scenes of the motion picture industry. By the mid-1940s, following the conclusion of the Second World War, Congress passed the Labor Management Relations (Taft-Hartley) Act and imposed a series of restrictions on U.S. labor organizations, including those in Hollywood. Compounding matters further, Hollywood’s elite and the federal government alleged that the specter of Communism had infiltrated major motion picture studios. In 1947, Walt Disney, among several others in the film industry, placed their fears on record before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The biographies of men like Walt Disney have continued to dominate historical discussions related to U.S. industry and cultural production respectively. To date, however, there has been a peculiar disinterest in the artists and laborers who toiled behind the scenes of the U.S. film making industry. This inattention to those artists has created noticeable gaps in the historiography of U.S. labor, more generally. In an effort to elevate the voices of Hollywood’s working class, this project places various primary sources, including organizational records, artwork, and oral history interviews in conversation with corporate and government sources. This thesis deconstructs the myth making carried out by the Walt Disney Company, and places the animation studio’s history at the intersection of U.S. labor organization and the proliferation of anti-New Deal ideology. This study argues that Walt Disney’s status as successful Hollywood industrialist, asset of the federal government, and rabid anti-New Dealer fueled his campaign to demonize the organizational efforts of his artists and depict their assertions of federally-guaranteed labor rights as the subversive actions of cartoonish villains.

DOI

10.25777/wdw1-yk94

ISBN

9798641708362

ORCID

0000-0003-4326-6338

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