The strange, mythical, and dark side of the Walt Disney Company. (2 of 2)

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In part one of this blog, we explored fun, interesting, and downright bizarre facts about the fabled Walt Disney Company – the most magical business on earth. Now, we’ll document the strange, mythical, and dark side of the Walt Disney Company.

Walt Disney: the man, the myth.

As a young man, Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

Walt Disney passed away after succumbing to lung cancer on December 15, 1966.

An urban rumor abounds that Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen upon his death and his body is stored under the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, but this is not the case. The truth is that he was cremated two days after his death and buried in a plot in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

Disney’s private apartment still sits vacant and preserved in Disney Land, above the fire station on Main Street, U.S.A.

Every evening, a lamp in the window of the apartment goes on, meant to signify Walt Disney’s never-ending presence in the park.

Disneyland was completed in 1955 and Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida opened its doors in 1971, five years after Disney’s death.

When he was on his deathbed in 1966, Walt Disney scribbled something on a piece of paper. On that paper her wrote, “Kurt Russell”, but he passed away before he could explain what it meant and even actor Kurt Russell has no idea why Disney wrote his name, though he did have a connection, being a child actor who had just signed a ten-year contract with Disney Studios. During a 2007 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Russell confirmed the odd rumor, “It’s true. I don’t know what to make of that. I was taken into his office one time after he died and I was shown that.”
Stranger than fiction.

If it seems like it takes longer to walk into places like Main Street and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland and Disneyworld than it does to leave, you’re not going crazy. In fact, park architects used a sleight-of-the eye trick called “forced perspective” to make it so. By making second floor windows smaller in descending order, curving building lines slightly, and other subtleties, visitors feel like entering is a more grand experience than leaving.

It’s estimated that a mind-boggling 4% of all amateur photographs taken in the United States are snapped inside a Disney park!

Beneath the surface of Disney World where tourists walk around all day, a giant complex of tunnels exists, miles of hidden corridors. Called “utilidors,” they allow employees and staff to get around without being visible to tourists, trash to be collected, costume and wardrobe changing, and break rooms, etc.

There are plenty of Disney employees dressing up in Goofy, Pluto, and Mickey Mouse suits every day. But incredibly, these actors not only had to wear the suits but company-issued underwear, reportedly because their own “civilian” skivvies could bunch up and become visible to patrons, killing the illusion.

That doesn’t sound too oppressive EXCEPT for the fact that the Disney-issued under garments had to be shared by employees, who would hand them along with the suit to the next employee when their shift was over. They were supposed to be washed well every night after the park was closed, but employees quickly complained of unsanitary conditions, including lice and scabies in their shared underwear.

It became such a problem that the employees’ union got involved on their behalf, and in 2001, Disney allowed employees to take them home for washing at night if they wished.

Did you know that the sky above Disneyland and Disneyworld is national defense airspace, so if you fly a private plane or even a drone above the park, you’ll be arrested and prosecuted as a terrorist? After 9/11, the Federal Aviation Administration was justifiably on high alert to prevent terrorist attacks in big public areas, including Disney. So they set a no-fly zone in the airspace up to 3,000 feet above the parks, extending in a three-mile radius.
With all of that space, all of that trash, and all of that food, you’d think there would be more rats and rodents spotted at Disney parks. But in fact, over 200 cats inhabit each park, coming out at night to perform pest control duties. The cats are purposely kept feral so they are scared of people and only will come out at night.

Disneyland is home to a clandestine and super exclusive organization called Club 33. Located at 33 Royal Street by the Blue Bayou and Pirates of the Caribbean ride, it has about 400 members at any give time, with a membership waiting list of three years or more. It’s definitely not cheap, with membership costing anywhere from $9,500 to $25,000 to sign up and another $3-$6,000 annually. Club 33 remains shrouded in secrecy and not open to the public, but we do know it’s the only place in all of the Disney empire that alcohol can be consumed.

Disney helped the war effort in WWII by making training and propaganda films, like “Victory Through Air Power” and “Education for Death.” They also produced several anti-Hitler short films used to boost U.S. troop moral, including “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” which featured Donald Duck. By 1942, 90 percent of all Disney employees were working on producing those films.
The dark side of Disney.

During construction of the Pirates of Caribbean ride, an imagineer named George was killed in an accident. To this day, Disney workers say “Goodnight, George!” as they are shutting down the ride each night, a superstition meant to appease his ghost and prevent more accidents.

If George’s ghost wasn’t spooky enough, on that same Pirates of the Caribbean ride, a real human skull sits above the bed in the treasure room.

Disney is notorious for underpaying their employees. A significant number of Disney workers are unpaid interns or receive only minimum wage of $8.03 an hour, which amounts to $16,702 a year, even for full-time employees or those who work overtime.

That’s not considered a living wage that will even pay for a simple apartment in the area around the parks, where median rents are $800 a month or higher, not including utilities, food, etc. So many employees are on the verge of being homeless, sharing cheap daily and weekly-rate motels in the area between several people or families just to get by.
When the Disney Company found out that a local Florida daycare center had painted three murals of Disney characters on their walls for the children to enjoy, it threatened legal action against the center if the murals weren’t painted over or removed. The atrocious act of bullying got out to the press, who publically shamed Disney. When the executives at Hanna-Barbera Productions, Disney’s competitors who created Scooby Doo and Yogi Bear, heard about it, they took advantage of the PR opportunity by offering the daycare center a new mural with their characters.

In 1944, during the dawn of the age of McCarthyism and the Red Scare, Walt Disney was one of the founders of the “Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals.” The organization was created to keep communists and sympathizers out of the motion picture industry and during a congressional hearing, Walt Disney accused several of his former animators and employees of being Communists. He was also staunchly anti-union, blaming the 1941 Screen Cartoonists Guild strike on a Communist conspiracy.

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