Photos From The 1941 Disney Artist Strike That Changed The Studio Forever

disney strike 1941Disney artists on strike crowd an employee car as it heads to the studio in Burbank, California.

Photo: California State University Northridge Digital Collection

For five weeks in 1941, Disney cartoonists launched an artist’s strike on the company which ultimately changed the dynamic of the studio. The strike reshaped the rights of Disney animators and made the Mouse House a union shop.  

Check out the photos and fliers from the event > 

During the production of “Snow White,” animators were said to have worked overtime on the film with alleged promises of bonuses if the film were to take off. Of course, the film went on to be one of the most successful films of 1937, grossing nearly $75 million in that year alone. Despite this, the cartoonists allegedly never received bonuses for their work.  

Instead, funds were reinvested back into the company for a new studio featuring a volleyball and badminton courts, a rooftop gym, and a snack shop

With World War II nearing, Disney found itself in financial trouble with rumours of layoffs pervading.  

Highest-paid animator at the time, Art Babbitt, resigned from his post as president of the Disney Company union to head the Screen Cartoonist’s Guild and lead the artists on a strike in May, 1941.  

Nearly half of Disney’s more than 800 animators went on strike picketing in front of the studio’s Burbank offices and film screenings. 

It took the intervention of F.D.R.’s administration to end the strike five weeks later.  

The end of the strike resulted in future salary negotiations by the Screen Cartoonists Guild.

Thanks to Retronaut, for spotting these photos.

Here are cartoonists in a picket line at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California.

The sign near the top right corner of the photo reads 'Local 852. San Fernando Central labour Council.'

This two-sided flier from cartoonists on strike featured Mickey Mouse wearing an American Federation of labour (AFL) button:

The back of the flier notifies that, despite reports stating otherwise, the artist's strike was still on:

Artists lined up in protest as a Disney employee drove to work.

Note the picket sign that says, 'It's Up to Walt To Call a Halt.'

With most of its artists on strike, the Walt Disney company parking lot was relatively barren of cars.

This is another flier featuring a frustrated Donald Duck alerting that the strike was still ongoing.

The artists wore masks representative of Mickey Mouse and Snow White dwarves.

The film was a disaster after Disney's previous hit 'Snow White,' meant to showcase the harmonious relationship within the company while, in reality, most of its animators were on strike. The role of 'animators' in the short were filled in by actors hired to play their roles.

Here's a clip below. The dragon reminds us vaguely of the Caterpillar featured in 'Alice and Wonderland.' Both the dragon and Sir Giles can be found in 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit.'

This was a two-sided newsletter given to supporters and members of the Screen Cartoon Guild explaining the origin of the strike.

The second side of the newsletter highlighted marriages between Disney artists and offered a few choice picket sign verbalization's that effectively used Disney's characters:

'Snow White and the 600 Dwarfs'

'One Genius Against 600 Guinea Pigs'

'I sign your drawings-- You Sign Your Lives'

'It's not cricket to pass a picket' (accompanied by a sketch of Jiminy Cricket)

Now that you've seen retro photos from Disney ...

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