1941- 70 Years Ago- THE WALT DISNEY STRIKE- Labor pressures had been building in the Magic Kingdom since promises made to artists over the success of Snow White were reneged on, and Walt Disney’s lawyer Gunther Lessing encouraged a hard line with his employees. On this day, in defiance of federal laws, Walt Disney fired animator Art Babbitt, the creator of Goofy, and thirteen other cartoonists for demanding a union. Babbitt had emerged as the union movements’ leader. Studio security officers escorted Babbitt off the lot.
That night in an emergency meeting of the Cartoonists Guild, Art’s assistant on Fantasia, Bill Hurtz, made a motion to strike and it is unanimously accepted. Bill Hurtz will later go on to direct award winning cartoons like UPA’s "Unicorn in the Garden" and the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Picket lines go up next day in cartoon animation’s own version of the Civil War. Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Walt Kelly, Bill Melendez and more joined their brother and sister artists on the picketline.
Walt Disney almost had a nervous breakdown over the strike and was bundled off to Latin America so Roy could work out a deal. A federal mediator was sent by Washington to arbitrate. In later years, Uncle Walt blamed the studio’s labor ills on Communists. The studio unionized but hard feelings remained for decades after. For more details- Read AEF member Tom Sito's Book Drawing the Line.
1977- " MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU." George Lucas' space fantasy film STAR WARS opened. This blockbuster was the first film where the filmmaker retained the licensing rights for merchandise instead of the distributor, known in Hollywood as the 'backend deal'. Several studios including Universal passed on the film because the prevailing wisdom was sci-fi films didn't make money. Twentieth Century Fox picked up the distribution but let the backend go to Lucas, because they didn't think the film would do any serious business. Even George Lucas didn’t think the film would break even. Fox's market research department told studio head Alan Ladd, Jr.” a) don't make this movie; no one will go see a science fiction movie; and b) change the title; no one will go see a movie with "War" in the title. Fox executives had predicted the studios monster hit for that summer would be "Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry" with Peter Fonda and Susan George.
Star Wars was a monster hit. It was like there were no other movies playing that summer. George Lucas became a seriously rich man and developed THX Dolby sound, digital animation and Industrial Light and Magic special effects. The film’s popularity ran so ahead of expectations, that at Christmas when you purchased a Star Wars Game you got a box with a pink IOU note in it pledging to get you the game when they printed more.