President Emeritus Tom Sito notes:
Nov 24, 1941 — After suffering a strike and declining revenue because of the war in Europe, Walt Disney’s studio was in trouble.
Animator Ward Kimball noted in his diary for this day: “100 layoffs announced. Studio personnel from 1600 down to a Hyperion level of 300. Geez, It this the writing on the wall?” …
Walt Disney saved itself by doing Defense films for the Army. After limping through the 1940s, with the release of Cinderella in 1950 they were back on top…
Walt Disney Productions was on the brink of insolvency when World War II broke out.
Dumbo, the studio’s experimental low-budget feature, was a money spinner. But the high-budget Bambi, started right after Snow White but released in 1942, was not. “Who wants to see the life story of a deer?” was the lament inside 500 S. Buena Vista Street in Burbank.
Not enough people, it turned out, to push the company’s fifth cartoon feature into the black.
Happily, the Federal government rode to the rescue by turning the Disney Studio into Training Film Central and paying for all the instructional and intelligence films (many of which provided work for my conservative father) on a “cost-plus” basis.
At the time of the Disney job action in mid ’41, U.S. unemployment stood at 10.5%. Three years later, when the war effort was fully ramped up, the national jobless rte was 1.2%. (Anybody who wanted a job could get a job, and everyone else got drafted).
During that span of time WDP produced over 400,000 feet of educational war films, and more than 90% of studio workers worked on training and propaganda films for the government.
Want to know why Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Robert Iger, (not to mention John Lasseter and Ed Catmull) are rich men today? It’s because World War II and the national government kept a struggling cartoon studio afloat.