So recently, I’ve been noticing a lot more people starting to call Disney out on their bullshit, which is really awesome because Goddamn have they just gotten worse and worse as time goes on, but there’s one thing I’ve started to notice about these posts that I think warrants a really important addition that needs to be made to all future callouts.
You see in a lot of these cases the consensus is “Fuck Disney” and while that’s very true, in reality your kinda being extremely broad here, as the company is broken up into at least 8 different studios, split into different divisions like ones for the theme parks and resorts, one for the cruise line etc, and has hundreds of thousands of employees under its belt. A lot of times when companies like Amazon and Tesla are called out, people are also making sure to specifically calling out their CEOs and founders, in this case Bezos and Musk, and making it very clear that they are also very much so in the wrong here, rightfully so placing the responsibility onto them.
But I rarely ever see this happen with Disney, and I thinks it’s important we start to change that a bit. Right now Disney as a whole is being helmed by two men, Bob Iger and Bob Chapek, as even though Chapek has officially been named the CEO and Iger was on his way out, he decided to step back into the role for a bit due to the pandemic, so he’s still very much at fault for a lot of this as well. You might know Iger as the man responsible for buying up, well, pretty much every hot ticket property Disney has right now including Pixar, Star Wars, and Marvel as well as plenty of other shady deals. He’s even made it clear that’s he looking to take up a Presidential bid sometime in the next few years which is just Absolutely Yikes. Chapek on the other hand, is so notorious that even die-hard Disney fans more often then not will say they despise him, mainly due to his massive budget cuts in the theme parks that have not only dulled down the overall experience, but more importantly have resulted in thousands of cast members, even before the pandemic, being laid off because he didn’t see them as being “necessary”. His most common nickname is Lex Luther for a reason. And what’s worst, while they both agreed to cutting off their salaries completely at the start of the pandemic, they’ve since gone back to being paid-in full, and they’re still laying off massive amounts of their workers while their parks are being reopened, which I can tell you from personal experience is exactly what Chapek wanted all along.
There’s plenty more about these two guys that I could talk about, but the point here is it’s time to put faces and names to a lot of the shit the company has being trying to get away with over the years, and I wanna keep this post relatively short. So, just please remember, make sure whenever you say “Fuck Disney” that you also make sure to say “Fuck Bob Iger” and “Fuck Bob Chapek”. Make their names just as known as Bezos and Musk for all the wrong reasons, and maybe we can stop another fucking millionaire from having one of the highest seats in the US government.
Edit: I do want to make this clear since this has been gaining traction again, but I wanna stress that I’m not trying to tell people not be mad or angry or hold Disney accountable for what has happened with the company, but that I think it’s important that alongside that, people are aware of who’s at the top of this particular corporate ladder, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from making this post it’s that not a lot of people were aware of who either of these men are, despite the massive influence they’ve had on not only Disney but other companies as well, of which they will likely continue to have. I have an issue with the company itself and what’s its become over the years, as well as the two people who are currently at the head of said company.
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The Disney Company has made it’s back-catalog of work the foundation of the corporation since the 90′s. While at the same time, distancing themselves from the ugly realities that plague the companies history. Covering them up in hopes that the public forgets. Racism, animal abuse, and their now-obscure, former-superstar, young Bobby Driscoll.
The Disney Company, while so-often celebrating their “masterpiece collection” of films, and “Disney Legends” such as Mary Blair, Annette Funicello and Kathryn Beaumont, the name Bobby Driscoll remains conveniently left out. This is entirely intentional.
Who is Bobby Driscoll?
Discovered in a barber shop at the age of 5, Bobby was the first actor to ever be signed under-contract by Disney Studios. In 1946, his starring role in Song of the South made him an overnight sensation. At one point, he was the highest paid child actor in Hollywood. Soon, he was Disney’s golden-goose, with films like Melody Time, So Dear to My Heart and Treasure Island. He even won an Academy Award for his performance in the film noir, the Window.
Today, he is best remembered as the voice and live-action model of the titular Peter Pan.
What Happened to Bobby Driscoll?
Despite his success, Bobby could never seem to please his parents. They physically abused him, and kept him locked in a closet for hours at a time. Sometimes, all night. When Bobby was around 9, the beatings became so bad Disney temporarily moved the boy in with the family of his co-star, Luana Patten. They could not shoot, after all, if their star was battered and bruised.
When shooting wrapped, he went back home. Child abuse was still extremely normalized during this time, and was also an accepted method of getting a good performance out of a child. Many of Bobby’s contemporaries describe being slapped in the face or being manhandled by adults as every-day occurrences on set.
Around this time, Walt Disney himself became fixated on Driscoll, Marc Elliot stating Walt often referred to Bobby as “the living embodiment of his own youth.” He saw the child as an extension of himself, and ignored Bobby’s own identity. Bobby was susceptible to the attention and latched onto Walt as a father figure. He came to see Disney Studios as a family, and indeed “Uncle Walt” encouraged this idea, especially among his child performers. One former animator described feeling uncomfortable by seeing higher-ups kiss Bobby on the face and mouth.
During Bobby’s pre-teen years, he was signed to a new 7-year contract and given a substantial raise of $1750 per week. Bizarrely, Bobby was now making the most money he ever would, while actually working less than ever before.
He was cast in the leading role of Peter Pan, as both the voice and visual inspiration for the character. Peter had Bobby’s wide eyes, and upturned nose. If you watch any Bobby Driscoll movie, and then watch Peter Pan in motion, you can easily see the character’s every facial expression and mannerism taken directly from Driscoll. His expressive eyebrows, nose-scrunching, even down to the way he positions his wrists.
As Bobby got older, Walt stopped speaking affectionately of him in meetings. He stated Bobby was no longer likeable enough to play protagonists. Meanwhile, Peter Pan was released, and is a massive hit.
In 1953, Bobby began to hear rumours he would be fired. He tried asking the higher-ups he was formerly friendly with, but none would speak to him. He went to Walt’s secretary, asking to speak to Mr. Disney. She refused to call him, and when Bobby asked again, she abruptly told him he was no longer needed and to get out.
Stunned, Bobby burst into tears. She called security, and had the boy escorted off of Disney property. Disney Studios told the press they had let Bobby go due to an extreme case of acne, which sullied his image with other movie studios.
Personally, I don’t buy the acne explanation. Acne can be covered, and Disney was focusing heavily on television at this time, which had terrible picture quality compared to film. Not to mention, Walt had already talked about shifting Bobby into playing unlikeable bully characters. But the true reason for the cancellation of Bobby’s seven year contract may never be known.
Unable to find work, Bobby’s parents enrolled him in public school. He was mercilessly bullied for his Disney roles, being beaten up by his classmates constantly. He stated he “became afraid all the time”, and it was at this time he began experimenting with drugs.
After being imprisoned for possession of marijuana, he was eventually sentenced to a “rehab centre”. The so-called first of it’s kind, employed no doctors or nurses, and used abusive psychiatric practices now outlawed.
During this time, Disney was making millions off of the heavy merchandising of Peter Pan. Bobby never saw a dime from this, despite his likeness being used.
Bobby’s life remained difficult, and although he had a few more acting roles, and became a talented artist in the beatnik scene, he just couldn’t make enough money to get by.
He died on March 30th 1968, aged 31, without a penny to his name. Alone, and forgotten. He was found on a dirty cot in an abandoned building. His body was unidentified, and police could not find anyone who recognized him. He was buried in a mass grave, unmarked, on Hart Island.
Eventually, his mother asked Disney to help find him, and he was finally identified through finger prints. Although, his remains were not moved to a cemetery, which would have been possible at the time.
The public did not learn of Bobby’s death until 1973, when Song of the South was re-released in theatres. After his death had been reported, actress Jane Wyman insinuated in an interview that Bobby had been sexually abused while working for Disney.
Erasure of Bobby by Disney
As mentioned above, Bobby has never been named an official “Disney Legend”, despite fan petitions and letter-writing campaigns since the start of the program in the late 80′s.
Both the Peter Pan VHS, and DVD making-of featurettes only mention Bobby Driscoll in passing. Compared to the Alice in Wonderland DVD, which features an entire documentary about Alice’s voice actress.
The DVD release of So Dear to My Heart was cancelled without explanation. Years later, it was quietly released as a Disney Movie Club Exclusive. Making it rare and difficult to find.
Fan requests for a memorial to Bobby Driscoll in Disney Parks have also gone unanswered. Disney will likely never own up to Bobby Driscoll, or what the company did to him. His story is tragic, and paints the company in an uncomfortable light, going directly against it’s branding of love, family and happy endings. After all, if the average joe-blows and Karens of the world knew what happened to Bobby Driscoll, they might cancel their Disney+ subscription. And Disney certainly doesn’t want that to happen.
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