Trifling errors all, if they weren’t so numerous and if they didn’t cast serious doubt on the thoroughness of Mosley’s research. Since they are (Disney archivist David R. Smith has listed over 100 of them) and since they do, one is left wondering how accurate are the central claims of his book – such as Disney’s alleged suicide attempt and his semi-alcoholism; his dislike of his adopted daughter, Sharon; his hatred for his nephew, Roy E. Disney; and the assertion that Uncle Walt is not dead and buried, but frozen against the day when a cure for cancer will be found. Mosley supports these revelations with quotes from Walt talking intimately and explicitly about his family and colleagues in language not usually associated with Mickey’s Daddy. The only provenance given for these verbatim conversations is a passing comment which explains that ‘this and other quotations are reconstructed from later conversations with directors and animators… with whom Walt frequently reminisced.’
Mosley’s third-hand evidence may have made an otherwise dull book into a compelling read, but it has also made for a highly suspect piece of biography. What is quite inexplicable is that the Disney studio, always so circumspect in granting permission for the use of copyright illustrations, should have allowed Mosley to include sixteen pages of photographs, thereby suggesting that this misbegotten project has their approval.
Significantly perhaps, having set out to dispel the myths about Walt Disney, all Mosley has actually succeeded in doing is establishing a new mythology of his devising. And unlike Richard Schickel who, for all his criticisms, admits to an admiration for Disney and his achievements, Leonard Mosley doesn’t even seem to have liked his subject very much.
Great men are seldom perfect – that is what makes them interesting – and Disney was no exception. Mr Mosley, however, perceives things rather differently; he believes, quoting a phrase by George Kaufman, that ‘all heroes are horses’ asses’. Maybe, but then so too, of course, are a good many writers.
The Real Walt Disney: A Biography by Leonard Mosley is published by Grafton Books.
The Disney Version: The Life, Times, Art and Commerce of Walt Disney (Revised and updated) by Richard Schickel is published by Pavilion/Michael Joseph.
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Printed in Animator Issue 16 (Summer 1986)