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Encyclopedia > Disney animators' strike

The bitter animators' strike of 1941 at Walt Disney Studios was a psychological turning point within the company. The strike had relatively little effect on Walt Disney's reputation with the public, but damaged his standing with left-leaning intellectuals who had heralded "jazz and the animated cartoon" as the two art forms which America had given to the world. The strike destroyed the paternalistic relation between Disney and his animation staff, and cemented the studio's derogatory nickname of "the mouse factory". For the company founded by Disney, see The Walt Disney Company. ... For the company founded by Disney, see The Walt Disney Company. ... This article needs additional references or sources for verification. ...

The 1930s led to a rise of labor unions in the motion picture as in other industries. The Screen Actors Guild was formed in 1933. Animators struck Max Fleischer's New York studios in 1937. The Screen Cartoonists' Guild was formed in 1938. In 1941, they began a push and obtained contracts with Walter Lantz, Screen Gems, George Pal and MGM. Leon Schlesinger of the Warner Brothers cartoon studio attempted a lockout, but soon gave in to the union. Face The 1930s (years from 1930–1939) were described as an abrupt shift to more radical and conservative lifestyles, as countries were struggling to find a solution to the Great Depression, also known in Europe as the World Depression. ... The Screen Actors Guild (S.A.G.) is the labor union representing over 120,000 film actors in the United States. ... 1933 (MCMXXXIII) was a common year starting on Sunday. ... Max Fleischer (July 19, 1883–September 11, 1972) was an important pioneer in the development of the animated cartoon. ... Year 1937 (MCMXXXVII) was a common year starting on Friday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 1938 (MCMXXXVIII) was a common year starting on Saturday (link will take you to calendar). ... For the movie, see 1941 (film). ... Walter Lantz in 1983, with painting of Woody Woodpecker Walter Lantz (April 27, 1900 – March 22, 1994) was an American cartoonist and animator, best known for founding the Walter Lantz Studio and creating Woody Woodpecker. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... George Pál (February 1, 1908 - May 2, 1980) was a Hungarian-born American animator and film producer. ... MGM logo Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM, is a large media company, involved primarily in the production and distribution of cinema and television programs. ... Leon Schlesinger (1884 - December 25, 1949) was a producer at the Warner Bros. ... Warner Bros. ... A lockout is a work stoppage in which an employer prevents employees from working. ...

Although Disney artists were the best paid and worked under the best conditions in the industry, there was discontent. In The Disney Version, Richard Schickel writes, "Many of the employees had given Disney large quantities of free overtime during the drive to complete the 1937 Snow White", and despite the fact that Snow White was an enormous success, "instead of getting the bonuses they had been vaguely promised, they were faced with a string of layoffs... The salary structure remained crazy-quilt, and the only general wage increase Disney granted in those years was self-serving: he brought a number of workers up over the forty-dollar-a-week level, at which point, under the Wagner Labor Relations Act, they ceased being entitled to time-and-a-half for overtime." Schickel says that Disney "responded gracelessly to the pressures of his increasingly difficult economic situation". Story conferences became brutal. "An animator working on Fantasia took piano lessons at his own expense" to increase his understanding of music, and when Disney found out about it, he snarled "What are you, some kind of fag?" This quote may, however, be apocryphal, since according to other sources, more sympathetic than Schickel, Disney did appreciate his artist's interest in art forms other than animation. In Bob Thomas' biography, Disney is quoted as saying: "What young artists need is a school where they can learn a variety of skills, a place where there is cross-pollination" (i.e. CalArts). Richard Warren Schickel (b. ... Year 1937 (MCMXXXVII) was a common year starting on Friday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ... Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a 1937 animated feature, the first produced by Walt Disney. ... The National Labor Relations Act (or Wagner Act) is a 1935 United States federal law that protects the rights of most workers in the private sector to organize labor unions, to engage in collective bargaining, and to take part in strikes and other forms of concerted activity in support of... Time-and-a-half is when a worker (or workers) is paid 1. ... Overtime is the amount of time someone works beyond normal working hours; these may be determined in several ways, by custom (what is considered healthy or reasonable by society), by practices of a given trade or profession, by legislation, or by agreement between employers and workers or their representatives. ... Fantasia is a 1940 motion picture, the third in the Disney animated features canon, which was a Walt Disney experiment in animation and music. ... The California Institute of the Arts, commonly known as CalArts, and located in Valencia, California, grants degrees in visual and performing arts. ...

As the biggest and most successful animation studio, Disney was an obvious target for the Screen Cartoonists' Guild. There was a layoff which seemed to target members of the Guild selectively, and things reached a boiling point when Disney fired animator Art Babbitt, whom Disney regarded as a "troublemaker". Three days later, on May 29, 1941, the strike began, instigated by Herb Sorrell, described as a "tough left-winger" (and, by conservative writer Peter Schweizer, as a Soviet spy). Thomas relates that Disney had insisted on a vote among his employees, but Sorrel feared he would lose the vote, and decided to strike without a vote. Sorrel also used outside people, "sluggers", in the picket lines. Arthur Art Babbitt (October 8, 1907 - March 4, 1992) was a Disney animator. ... is the 149th day of the year (150th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... For the movie, see 1941 (film). ... Herb Sorrell was head of the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU) in the late 1940s. ... Peter Schweizer is a conservative author and a research fellow at the Hoover Institute. ...

The strike occurred during the making of the animated feature Dumbo, and a number of strikers are caricatured in the feature as clowns who go to "hit the big boss for a raise". Dumbo is a 1941 animated feature film produced by Walt Disney and first released on October 23, 1941 by RKO Radio Pictures. ...

The strike lasted five weeks. Toward the end, Disney accepted a suggestion by Nelson Rockefeller, then head of the Latin American Affairs office in the State department, that he make a tour of Latin America as a goodwill ambassador. His removal from the scene enabled passions to cool, and in his absence the strike was settled with the help of a federal mediator, who found in the Guild's favor on every issue. The Disney studio signed a contract and has been a union shop ever since. Irreparable damage to the psychology and mood of the studio had, nevertheless, been done. Schickel quotes a letter in which Disney said that "it cleaned house at our studio" and got rid of "the chip-on-the-shoulder boys and the world-owes-me-a-living lads". Those that left, however, included such notables as Walt Kelly and Virgil Partch. The departures also included a group that formed the new animation studio, the United Productions of America or UPA. The UPA's innovative work took artistic leadership of the animated cartoon field away from Disney. Afterwards Disney was no longer seen as a practitioner of an American art form, but merely as a motion-picture manufacturer who stamped out high-quality product in a glossy but formulaic house style.[citation needed] Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller (July 8, 1908 – January 26, 1979) was an American Vice President, governor of New York State, philanthropist and businessman. ... The United States Department of State, often referred to as the State Department, is the Cabinet-level foreign affairs agency of the United States government, equivalent to foreign ministries in other countries. ... The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent agency of the United States Government charged with conducting elections for union representation and with investigating and remedying unfair labor practices. ... Walter Crawford Kelly, Jr (August 25, 1913 - October 18, 1973), known simply as Walt Kelly, was a cartoonist notable for his comic strip Pogo featuring characters that inhabited a portion of the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. ... Virgil Franklin Partch, known by his pen name VIP, was one of the most-prominent American gag cartoonists of the postwar era. ... United Productions of America, better known as UPA, was an animation studio of the 1940s through 1970s, and a distributor of Japanese films from Toho Studios from the 1970s onward. ...

Ironically, an unfair labor practices suit brought by Art Babbitt worked its way through the courts while Babbitt was serving in the Armed Forces, and Disney was forced to rehire him when he returned at the end of the war.


  • Schickel, Richard. The Disney Version: The Life, Times, Art and Commerce of Walt Disney. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968. ISBN 1566631580
  • Sito, Tom. Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2006. ISBN 0813124077
  • Thomas, Bob. Walt Disney: An American Original. New York: Simon and Schuster, New York, 1976. ISBN 0671223321

External links

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