Books About The Mickey Mouse Club
Hollywood's Dark Prince
by Marc Eliot
Carol Publishing, New York 1993
305 Pages, Photos, Notes and Sources, Index
This book is a curious blend of sometimes good research and occasionally credible narrative, intermixed with undocumented and unsupported assertions. It can be neither dismissed outright as sensationalism, nor can it be accepted as a serious biography. The author is at his best when dealing with the events and people of his subject's professional life. When he focuses on Walt Disney's personal life, particularly his long marriage, an air of unreality settles in, which Eliot's amateur psychoanalysis and sly insinuations do nothing to dispel.
In his Acknowledgments preceding the text, the author relates how access to the Disney Archives was withheld when he refused editorial approval of the completed manuscript. He then relates off-the-record comments by his Disney contact (something future Eliot interviewees should note), in which she states that "no one had ever been given information by the studio that it didn't want them to have". You can almost hear the arch chuckle and smell the brimstone. Of course, the Disney Archives isn't the public library, and it's hard to imagine any corporation allowing an independent researcher free access to it's most sensitive documents. That the archives exist at all is due to the foresight of one guy, Dave Smith, who is naturally loathe to jeopardize its existence by allowing somebody to root around for rocks to throw at the corporate founder.
Where Eliot's independent research does well is in his revealing Walt Disney's long association with the FBI, and in his narrative of the 1941 strike at the Disney studio. Eliot gives voices to guys like Arthur Babbitt, Dave Hilberman, Herb Sorrell, and other strikers. He also gives a strangely sympathetic picture of Walt Disney, who had been cheated many times in his business dealings, but had persevered to build the studio of his dreams, only to see it threatened by what he regarded as disloyal and ungrateful "sons".
Racketeer Willie Bioff and studio counsel Gunther Lessing are cast as the real villains of Disney's labor woes, the latter's disastrous advice nearly leading to the destruction of the studio. Eliot also shows how tenuous was the involvement of any left-wing fringe in the strike, though Disney himself was convinced that the communists were out to get him. Disney's vindictive treatment of the strikers he was forced to rehire by the National Labor Relations Board is given full treatment, this part of his personality being well-known and well-documented.
The weakest parts of the book are in the author's attempt to impart substance to Disney's marriage and personal life, and especially the embarrasing side-excursion into a fantasy genealogy. Eliot has drawn heavily on the Bob Thomas official biography for details of the Disney family life, to which he adds his own sinister and wholly unwarrented interpretations. The reader never gets the impression that the author actually believes any of this malarky, rather it is simply an exercise in outrageousness.
The author covers the Mickey Mouse Club in two pages, citing 1990 interviews with Cubby O'Brien and someone he identifies as "Sheri Alveroney", presumably Sherry Alberoni. This mis-spelling is consistent in both the text and the Notes and Sources, and is indicative of his careless approach to what is admittedly a very minor part of his book. Eliot for once displays an astounding credibility for studio publicity, stating in all seriousness that Walt Disney devoted himself to the show, creating most aspects of it and overseeing every detail of its production.
"With the network's [ABC] enthusiastic nod, Walt plunged into it's development, supervising every aspect. He personally designed the show's multifunctional television soundstage. He came up with the idea for the Mickey Mouse March; the Roll Call; M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E; and the songs and segments for "Do What the Good Book Says" and "Meesa-Mooska-Mouska-Teers" [sic], Mouse Cartoon Time Now Is Here."
He says that the show lasted seven years (it was actually four), but does correctly write that the studio subsidized it out of the profits from Disneyland and the prime time show, since the per episode working budget dictated by ABC didn't match the expense of production. However, he then makes a jaw-dropping assertion that Walt Disney was happy to do so. It is clear that neither Cubby nor Sherry told him any of this; they simply provided quotes about Walt Disney's working relations with them.
Eliot does better detailing the eventual disenchantment of Walt Disney with the FBI, caused by a studio request to do a Newsreel Special on the bureau for the Mickey Mouse Club. The multi-part special was to be hosted by Dirk Metzger, who had previously done the show's English Correspondent serial. His father, a Marine Corps Colonel, had recently been transferred from the United Kingdom back to Arlington, Virginia. A low-level FBI official received the request, and unaware of Walt Disney's special status, found old reports of Walt Disney attending two "suspect" meetings back in the forties. The irony was that Walt Disney had provided the bureau with the list of names that appeared in those reports. The newsreel special eventually went ahead after J. Edgar Hoover intervened, but Disney never again cooperated with the FBI.