Hazel George (1904-1996)
Studio Nurse and Songwriter
"Gil" George was the name under which Disney Studio nurse Hazel George wrote songs for Disney films and television shows, including the Mickey Mouse Club. She was Walt Disney's long-time personal nurse, therapist, and close confidante, and was also the main collaborator and partner of Disney composer Paul Smith.
She was born Hazel Inez Gilman on February 21, 1904 in Bisbee, Cochise County, Arizona. Her parents were Merton R. Gilman, a copper miner, and Cora Shinkle. Hazel was the eldest of three children, the others being her brothers, John (called "Hoogie") and Francis. At thirteen, she and a friend attended an I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World, known as the "Wobblies") meeting as a lark. A few days later, in July 1917, she was a witness to the Bisbee Deportation, a large-scale labor uprising by copper miners, in which vigilantes, supported by the mine owners, forced 1200 striking miners at gun-point into railroad cattle cars, transported them to New Mexico, then dumped them out into the desert.
In the 1990's Hazel left recordings of oral interviews in which she said that she was a ward of the juvenile court, managed to become a psychiatric nurse in Bisbee, then went to California specifically to work for Disney during the 1941 strike.
Actually, Hazel's family moved to California many years earlier. Hazel graduated from UCLA in 1928 and married Emerald Robert George from Missouri that same year. They had a daughter Deborah Lee George in October 1929. Hazel and her child lived with her divorced mother and younger brother Francis in 1930. She eventually found work as a nurse at the LA County Hospital, while her husband worked as an office manager for an insurance agency. Sometime after April 1940 Hazel was hired by the Disney Studio.
She become not only the Disney Studio nurse, but also acted as Walt Disney's personal nurse. The genesis of this was the aggravating neck injury that Walt suffered while playing polo in 1938. Most afternoons around five she used to visit the sideroom off his office suite to treat this injury and his chronic sinus trouble. Walt called the room his "Laughing Place", and would sip a scotch while unburdening himself of the day's frustrations. She was circumspect in later years about what he told her in these sessions, but did contribute several anecdotes to the Disney biography written by Bob Thomas. She also said Walt was quite introspective and vocal, and expressed serious doubts about himself. Since he could no longer play polo, she suggested he take up another hobby to work off his stress, which led to his interest in railroading.
Hazel's husband passed away in October 1944, and her daughter followed a few years later in April 1947. In 1952, Walt Disney first proposed his "Mickey Mouse Park", to be built in Burbank near the studio, to his brother Roy Disney, and was only allotted $10,000 of company money for preliminary planning. Walt mentioned this to Hazel, then casually asked if she would be willing to contribute money to it. She consented (how many people would refuse their boss a loan?), and Walt then asked her to solicit funds from other studio employees. When Roy Disney heard that employees believed enough in the idea to lend their own money, he decided to support the project himself.
To the best of my recollection, no Mouseketeer has ever mentioned Hazel George in public interviews, and it seems unlikely that she had much contact with them. Instead, Hazel had, both directly through songwriting, and indirectly through her influence with Walt Disney, a minor role in shaping the show's style. She was a lyricist, collaborating mainly with her long-time companion, studio composer Paul Smith, but also worked with George Bruns and Jimmie Dodd, to write songs for the show.
She co-wrote over ninety songs for Disney, including Talent Roundup, The Wrong Syl la ble, Painting Aunt Polly's Fence, Roll Up the Rug, and Mickey Mouse Club Newsreel. She wrote all the songs for the Corky and White Shadow serial, the films The Light in the Forest, Perri, Tonka, and Old Yeller, and several songs for Disneyland, Westward Ho, the Wagons!, and Zorro. She also penned most of the Doddism ditties for Jimmie, like Beauty Is As Beauty Does, Good Samaritan, Safety First, and Everything is Fun.
Though she probably wrote most of these songs on assignment, it's equally likely that she sat in on story idea meetings, and initiated some of the songs, and the skits they went with, herself. This would be especially likely with the Doddisms, since in the later seasons Jimmie was too busy rehearsing, performing, and making personal appearences, to spend much time composing and songwriting.
Hazel seems to have left off writing songs in the early sixties, probably about the time Paul Smith retired. She continued to see and treat Walt Disney up to a few days before his death. It was she who first mentioned cryonics to him, arousing his interest in a subject that even today spawns rumors and urban myths surrounding the disposal of Walt's remains.
Hazel was interviewed by official Disney biographer Bob Thomas in 1975. He was surprised and pleased to find that she was the perfect source for the family authorized work. She was intimate with Walt's personal thoughts, had a twenty-five year daily working relationship with him, but was loyal to his memory, and could be trusted to be discreet. In his Forward, Bob Thomas acknowledged Hazel as providing the key to his understanding of Walt's personality.
Some ten years later their paths crossed again, as related by Bob Thomas in a newspaper article from 2009. Bob introduced Michael Jackson to Hazel at the pop singer's request. Jackson would continue to visit Hazel regularly for the next ten years, sending her flowers and bringing classical CD's as a gift. (Another regular visitor was Diane Disney). In her last years Hazel was cared for by nurse-companion Olga Sekulic and nephew Richard Gilman.
Though Hazel had since passed on (she died in Burbank, California on March 12, 1996), oral interviews of her were also utilized by Neil Gabler in his 2006 biography of Walt Disney. Neither author seems to have been aware of her songwriting, or else, they both discounted it as not important enough to mention.