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I just got my copy of Neal Gabler's new biography of Walt Disney, WALT DISNEY: THE TRIUMPH OF THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION. I have enjoyed Gablers past works like EMPIRE OF THEIR OWN, HOW THE JEWS CREATED HOLLYWOOD. A few years ago I attended a lecture he gave on that topic at the Motion Picture Academy and I found him a most engaging speaker.

Of course, since my interests right now are associated with my own book DRAWING THE LINE, I immediately flipped to the chapter on the 1941 Strike. Those of you who already have my book recall I said the Disney Strike story was like Kurosawa's Rashomon, where different realities clash, depending upon who was telling the story. Gabler had the complete cooperation of the Disney Studio archives, which I had not. I was worried if that might slant his recitation of events towards the Walt version of things.

But my concerns were soon put to rest. I think his narrative was more even handed than I had first expected. He did stay more on how things were effecting Walt than his artists, but after all, his book is about Walt while mine is about the artists. He got some great anecdotes that showed Walt with warts and all. I like the one where Walt threatened to throw Art Babbitt out the front gate if he didn't stop the union organizing. He filled in a few missing pieces in the puzzle for me.

If I have any nits to pick, it is that Gabler is doing as best he can as an outsider writing from a distance. He does not have much experience with unions and the inner workings seem alien to him. He does not understand that the management- organized Disney Federation of Cartoonists was a company union from its inception, a very old anti-labor tactic. Unless I'm reading it wrong, he made it seem like Babbitt invented the Federation himself, out of fear of the gangster Willie Bioff's intervention. He also failed to mention that Walt and Lessing's threats to fire Art Babbitt and the strikers were violation of Federal Law.There was no mention of the nationwide boycott declared by the American Federation of Labor, the ancillary strikes by the Editors and Publicists and the Technicolor engineers.

Neil Gabler also commits the error many writers do when covering animation, of isolating our world for specific focus. We of ToonTown are not isolated in a bubble, immune from the outside. The Hollywood animation community was very aware of events all around them. After the studio wage cuts of 1937 and the Wagner Act of 1935, that ruled that all American workers have a right to form unions, all Hollywood was wild for organizing. Editors in 1935, Writers 1936, Directors 1939, Actors 1937, Backstage groups fought for jurisdiction with citywide strikes in 1933, 1937 and 1945. Animators in NY had already held strikes in 1935 and 1937. So, is it any surprise that Hollywood animators would want one too, in 1938?

The Walt Disney Strike was not just about a few disgruntled Mickey artists seduced by a chip-on-his-shoulder Babbitt and Herb Sorrell, the labor Mephistopheles. It was Walt and his management team against the rest of the animation business. Artists from Warner Bros, MGM, Walter Lantz, George Pal, and Columbia and their families, even their children, walked pickets up and down Buena Vista right alongside their Disney brothers and sisters. They were supported by actors, cooks, Lockheed mechanics, newspaper printers, screenwriters like Dorothy Parker, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and more. All understood it was everyone's fight.

And Chicago gangster Willie Bioff did not come out of nowhere. Like Neil, I also don't have an exact date for the moment Bioff met Disney. Although he was considered a minor player, Walt Disney was invited to the regular meetings of the major Hollywood studio heads to discuss what was best for the industry. Movie-Moguls like Louis B. Mayer, Joseph Schenck and Barney Balaban had been dealing with Willie Bioff and doing business with him for years. He was their preferred "union-expert." It is possible that Walt, Roy and attorney Lessing may have made his acquaintance then.

Finally, I would take exception to bringing up the old commie charge, that the top union guys were all communists. I write in my book that in the heady atmosphere of the social conscious 1930's, if you were against Segregation, against Hitler, against Child Labor, and for worker safety laws, minimum wage and unemployment insurance, then sooner or later you would have attended a Communist Party USA meeting. Many American Jews at first applauded the Soviet regime that overthrew the hated Russian Czar, whose Cossacks persecuted their fathers and mothers and drove them to America. After Stalin signed the 1939 Non Aggression Pact with the Third Reich, many American progressives resigned from the party. But the label stuck, especially in the socially conservative McCarthy Era. Dave Hilberman never told me he was a communist party member. Often the topic was meant to distract from the central issues of the unhappy artists with their management.

All that said, I am enjoying Neil Gabler's book. It seems the perennial sport of film people is to throw rocks at each other's research. But my humble pinpricks don't in any way diminish my admiration for a great piece of scholarship. So far I especially like the retelling of the inside story of the pressure on the crew to finish Snow White.
Walt Disney, The Triumph of the American Imagination is a great read.

Welcome to November, Roman Month #9-Novembrius.

Birthdays: Benevenuto Cellini, Marie Antoinette, President Warren Harding, Stephen Crane, Marcel Ophuls, Larry Flynt, Walter Matthau, Fernando Valenzuela, Lyle Lovett, Willie D, Rick Allen of Def Leppard, Jenny McCarthy

To the ancient Romans this was the Feast of Homona, Goddess of the Harvest. Her offerings were bright apples, a staple of the Roman diet. In the Early Christian Church they changed the name to the Feast of All Souls Day. The custom of bobbing for apples at Halloween comes from the pagan ritual.

1512- Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel Ceiling is unveiled to the public for the first time.

1604- William Shakespeare's play "Othello the Moor of Venice" first performed.

1835- Davey Crockett, after losing his bid for re-election to Congress tells his Tennessee voters:" You can all go to Hell, I'm going to Texas!"

1895- Emil and Max Skladowsky set up a Bioscope Projector in Berlin's Wintergarden. Birth of German Cinema.

1920- The first issue of American Cinematographer.

1938- At Pimlico in Maryland this day was the famous horse race between War Admiral and Sea Biscuit, the two finest thoroughbreds of the age. War Admiral was sleek and aristocratic, sired from the blood of the great champion Man of War. Sea Biscuit by contrast looked ungainly and lame. But in the end The Biscuit he won the race by three lengths. The race was heard live on radio by one in three Americans.

1939- Rockefeller Center in New York City opened.

1946- THE FIRST NBA BASKETBALL GAME- The first professional game was the New York Knicks 68, the Toronto Huskies 66. The first basket was scored by Ozzie Sheckmann.

1968- The Motion Picture Ratings System introduced-"G,M, R, and X"- Later PG, PG-13, R and NC-17".