The of living in the animation world. Walter

The five-week long labor strike, The Disney Strike of 1941, started because of a conflict the Animators’ had with Disney about their pay and labor.  Also with Arthur Babbitt, the highest paid Disney Animator, getting fired.  This resulted in Disney going on a trip to get away from the strike, having mediators, that ruled in favor of the SCG (Screen Cartoonist Guild), compromise the strike by giving animators up to fifty percent in raises, being able to earn pensions, medical insurance and the highest standard of living in the animation world. Walter (Walt) Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901, in Chicago, Illinois.

 He created Disney Animation Studio, Disneyland, and Disney World.  His family moved to Marceline, Missouri when Walt was four years old.  Once, Walt drew a picture of his neighbor’s horse and got a nickel.

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 He was only about seven years old at that time. It was the first time Walt thought of himself as an artist.  Walt’s family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1911.  Walt was nine then and he’d do paper routes before school and after school, but he still had time to draw.  He’d draw funny pictures at the local barbershop and the barber hung them up in the window.

 People even came into the shop when they didn’t need a haircut, just to see Walt’s drawings.  In 1917, the United States entered World War I (1914-1918). At age sixteen Walt lied about his age to join the Red Cross Ambulance Corps in France.  He didn’t see the fighting, he just drove people around mostly and he drew.  After a year, Walt moved back to Kansas City.  Walt heard that a company was looking to hire someone to draw ads.

 Walt was hired and that was the first time he could call himself an artist.  Then, in 1920, he got another job.  Walt wasn’t only making drawings, he was making them move!  Walt was so fascinated that he made his own company in 1922, Laugh-O-Grams films. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long because of money issues and Walt moved onto his next job.  Walt made a little movie called “Alice’s Wonderland” a movie distributor liked the short so much that he offered Walt a contract for a series of twelve “Alice Comedies”.  Things were going well for Walt he then moved on to his next job.

 He drew a rabbit and named it “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit”, but he met a distributor that offered him a contract that he accepted.  That man was Charles Mintz.  According to the fine print in the contract, he owned Oswald. Walt didn’t.  The whole way home on a train, Walt brainstormed about possible ideas for a new character, a better character.  Finally, a light bulb popped into his head.  He settled on a mouse.  He proudly presented his latest star Mortimer the Mouse to his wife Lillian.

 Lillian thought Mortimer was a horrible name for a mouse, so she thought Mickey was better and that’s how Mickey Mouse was born.  Walt’s business was growing and growing, but after his big hit Snow White, things just went downhill.   Disney produced a real movie called Snow White, which was a huge hit.

 Disney was so surprised about the hit that he made more movies. Unfortunately, his next two movies “Fantasia” and “Pinocchio” weren’t making as much money as Snow White did. He was actually losing money!  At an interview with Tom Sito, former Disney animator, he said, “At Walt Disney’s studio at the time, he had some people who were making five hundred dollars a month, and there were some artists that could actually afford servants, a maid, and a chauffeur.  There were other people making twelve dollars a week.” Disney Animators’ knew that was wrong, so they went on strike.  The Disney Animators’ started a labor strike on May 29, 1941.

 The Disney animators’ walked out on a strike because of low wages, salary cuts to arbitrary (based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system) layoffs, arcane bonus distribution systems, long hours.  The animators’ would labor six days a week, sometimes even on Saturday, with minimal pay.  No screen credit was allowed other than Walt’s.  Babbitt, one of the highest paid animators’ was fired, which was the last straw for the other animators’.  Babbitt sued Disney, claiming that Disney fired him for his leadership of the studio’s strike in 1941.  He won the case, so Disney got sued.  The strike was outside of the Walt Disney Animation Studio.

 The animators’ during the strike made signs saying, “Disney Unfair”, “There Ain’t No Strings On Me”, “Are We Mice Or Men”, etc.  Walt Disney was interviewed and he said, “The first people to put me – to smear and put me on the unfair list were all of the Commie (Communist) front organizations. I can’t remember them all – they change so often – but one that’s clear in my mind is the League of Women Voter, The People’s World The Daily Worker, and the PM Magazine in New York.” Not only did Disney Animators’ go on strike, the SCG (Screen Cartoonist Guild) helped out too. Unfortunately, only about half of the Disney Animators’ went on strike as the other half stayed at the studio. Mediators, who ruled in favor of the SCG, resolved the strike.

 Right after the strike, the pay animators’ got was up to 50% more than what Disney paid them.  A negative change was the family like bond at the Walt Disney Animation Studio was never the same.  Also, about half of the Disney animators’ left the company.  The Disney Animators’ were impacted the most by this strike.  They stood up for what they believed in, which was very brave.  The animators’ lost a lot but still gained a lot.  The Disney Strike impacted Hollywood animation and comics.

When the strike was happening the striking animators would create comics.  Four major comic strips were made.  Also, Walt Disney was impacted, too.  He lost some of his best animators and he lost about half of his staff.    The strike helped the animators to earn pensions, medical insurance and the highest standard of living in the animation world.  Everything seemed to be okay since the animators’ got what they wanted, but that wasn’t all true.  The animators that joined the strike had many friendships that were damaged beyond repair.  There was a clear divide between those who went out on strike and those who crossed the picket line for years after.

 The familial atmosphere was long gone and the work atmosphere became more formal, cold, and corporate as time went on. Many animators’ left Disney’s animation studio and many got fired.  The workers never forgot the “civil war of animation.”


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