'Disney Dearest' psycho-bio gives all Walt's warts Animator played informer for FBI

May 06, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

If your capacity for disillusionment is infinite, be informed -- and saddened -- that Walt Disney was not a happy-go-lucky, selfless, whimsical, contented soul.

The May Los Angeles magazine contains an excerpt from "Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince," Marc Eliot's new biography. This excerpt opens by asserting that Disney and older brother Roy were victims of brutal physical punishments at the hands of their father.

In quick fashion, it then informs us that Disney liked to secretly wear his mother's clothes and makeup, and that he was furious to learn that Roy was getting married, seeing it as an act of betrayal.

Disney, who is depicted as an impotent, hard-drinking, deceitful loner, responded to word of his brother's impending marriage by ambling into the painting department of the Disneys' fledgling animation company and, out of the blue, proposing to an inker named Lillian Bounds.

She accepted and they were married, the start of what Mr. Eliot says was a miserable relationship. It was marked by his attempts overcome impotence, by Lillian's bearing a daughter and, later, by her I-want-another-kid-or-a-divorce ultimatum that prompted adoption of a second daughter.

This psycho-historical analysis turns on the claim that Disney was haunted by fears that he was an illegitimate child.

Raised on a Missouri farm, he thought he'd been born in Chicago on or around Dec. 5, 1901. Yet Disney's inquiries resulted in word that Cook County officials could find no birth certificate of anyone with such a name around that time, though Illinois data recorded a birth of a Walter Disney to Ellis and Flora Disney (his parents) 10 years earlier, on Jan. 8, 1891. That didn't make sense.

His father insisted that some administrative mistake was to blame. Disney remained uncertain, and, Eliot writes, doubt "would eat away at his soul the rest of his days and find its way into the themes of his greatest movies: the stepchild abandoned in the woods in 'Snow White'; the puppet who longs to be Geppetto's real boy in 'Pinocchio'; the little creature who loses his mother in 'Bambi'; the sorcerer's apprentice in fearful servitude in 'Fantasia'; the baby elephant separated from his mother in 'Dumbo.'

All have in common their main characters' quests to find their real parents."

But his fear played out in a less creative way: According to Eliot, Disney, who showed some pre-World War II Nazi Party sympathies, cut a deal with J. Edgar Hoover to become an FBI informant at the height of Hollywood's anti-Communist mania. In return, he'd get Hoover's help in confirming his parentage.

Disney died in 1966 without such confirmation and, Eliot suggests, with a lost soul. He'd moved into a Disneyland apartment whose decor (heavy on the lavender, red and pink) resembled a New Orleans whorehouse.

As often happens with such microscopic forays into the private lives of legends, little is offered here about a body of work that, of course, was prodigious and is Disney's real legacy.

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