What was Walt Disney — the man — really like?
That’s the central issue in an escalating battle between “Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince” author Marc Eliot and the Disney family, which Monday released an extensive treatise that claims the recently published book is more fiction than nonfiction.
Lillian Disney, 94, and Diane Disney Miller, 59, released several documents refuting the book’s allegation that Walt Disney acted as an FBI informant and “more than 150 (other) glaring factual errors” by Eliot in the unauthorized biography released last week.
In response, Birch Lane Press publisher Steven Schragis fired back with a statement that supported Eliot as “a scrupulous researcher who has presented all the facts of Walt Disney’s life.”
In addition, Eliot called on the Disney family and the FBI to “release all the FBI documents, with nothing removed or edited.”
The Walt Disney Co. has brushed the book about its founder aside as so much hoo-ha. It condemned the book when it was in manuscript form last May.
“Obviously we think the book is a mishmash of inaccuracies and flights of fancy,” said Walt Disney Co. VP of corporate communications Thomas Deegan. “But this particular campaign and the treatment put out by the Disney family is from the Disney family. We think the book is beneath comment.”
Eliot’s book, which openly repeats “unfounded rumors,” portrays Disney as an anti-Semitic, alcohol-abusing, sexually impotent snitch.
“I am distressed to learn of a new book about Walt that actually invents incidents that never happened, distorts our life together and distorts other incidents well and honestly covered in previous biographies,” Walt Disney’s widow, Lillian, said in a statement.
The tension between the Disney family and the publishing house sets the stage for a full-scale media blitz on the book, which landed in stores earlier this month.
Eliot starts an extensive book tour this week. Citing government documents, Eliot claims that for 26 years Disney informed on suspected communists among the ranks of Hollywood actors, writers, producers, directors and union activists.
Disney also gave then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover scripts and let him make changes in a few movies and an episode of “The Mickey Mouse Club”, the book alleges.
The Disney family on Monday released letters by ex-FBI director William Webster and two ex-agents declaring there was no evidence Walt Disney was an FBI informant.