Disney—the corporation, the man, and the way-of-life—has long been a flashpoint for misinformation and conspiracy theories. The corporation’s “have fun or we’ll break your arm” philosophy, the life of its enigmatic founder, and Disney’s ownership of our collective imagination in the form of Marvel, Star Wars, and more make it seem like anything you hear about Disney could be true. When you factor in the unbelievable-but-verifiable facts about the company and the man, no one could be faulted for mistaking Disney fiction for Disney fact. Maybe Disneyland really was used for CIA mind control experimentation! You don’t know!
Disney is currently the boogeyman of cranks on the right side of the political spectrum, with extremists calling for boycotts of its parks and cruises over their “wokeness” and allegations that the corporation’s real purpose is not making money, but “grooming” children. But Disney used to be every bit as deeply distrusted by cranks on the left—not for grooming kids, but for its corporate malfeasance and cynical profiteering. The result: There are many flavors of misinformation to enjoy in the expanded Disney Conspiracy Universe. Below, I’ve compiled a collection of lies about Disney, along with an equal number of truths that are nearly as unbelievable.
Lie: Disney’s head was cryogenically frozen
The granddaddy of all Disney conspiracy theories is the one about Walt Disney attempting to cheat death by freezing his head (or his whole body) so he could be thawed out and reanimated at some future date. This story originated as far back as 1967, when a reporter for a tabloid called The National Spotlite claimed he’d snuck into the hospital where Walt Disney died and saw his body had been frozen in liquid nitrogen. From there, it caught on and grew for no real reason beyond the fact that it seemed like something Walt Disney might do. Sadly, the rumors are not true: Disney was cremated and his ashes are interred in Glendale.
Truth: Disneyland still maintains an apartment for Walt Disney
Walt Disney spent so much time at Disneyland during its construction that he had an apartment built for himself above the firehouse on Main Street so he could avoid commuting to work. Sensible maybe, but why did Disneyland keep the rooms as he left them after he died? Why is there a light on in the window to this day? The park occasionally offers tours of the room (for a price, of course), but is it really a stretch to think the real reason they keep Walt’s apartment is because they’re hoping he’ll will return one day, with his thawed head attached to a new body, ready to start production on Song of the South 2? (Yes.)
Lie: Walt Disney was a Nazi
As far as we know, Walt Disney was not a Nazi—but it’s complicated. When Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl visited Hollywood in 1938, the industry gave her a cold shoulder—but not Walt Disney. Walt gave Riefenstahl a tour of his studios, but he refused to watch or endorse Olympia, Riefenstahl’s documentary about the 1936 Olympics. He also hired a lot of Jewish people who never reported any incidents of antisemitism. But the best evidence for Disney’s non-Nazism is an anti-Nazi cartoon Disney produced. “Der Fuehrer’s Face” stars Donald Duck and features music by Spike Jones, and it is such an effective takedown of Nazi Germany that it’s doubtful a Nazi would have approved it.
Truth: Walt Disney was a racist
Disney’s live action/animation feature Song of the South is racist, and not just when viewed through modern eyes. During its production, both the NAACP and the American Council on Race Relations basically told Disney, “Hey, your movie is really racist.” The Hays Office reviewed the script and demanded the removal of objectionable racial terms. Crew members quit the production over the film’s depiction of African Americans, and it was met with protests on its release. So Walt knew full well that his movie was racist, but he didn’t care, and made no move to make it less racist.
Lie: Disneyland is removing Donald Trump from its “Hall of President” display
This piece of outrage bait comes from the “satirical” website Mouse Trap News, an outlet that propagates many fake news stories designed to appeal to modern conservatives’ hatred of Disney. Donald Trump will remain in the Hall of Presidents, so bored visitors seeking an air conditioned place to sit can check out his animatronic likeness. (Also, for the record: Disneyland is not planning to serve human flesh in any of its restaurants or snack bars, Moana is not “the First Transgender Disney Princess,” and Mickey Mouse is not going to play a leading in The Mandalorian season 4.)
Truth: Richard Nixon loved Disneyland
Until recently, our most corrupt president (as far as we know) Richard Nixon was also a huge Disney fan. He visited Disneyland multiple times, oversaw the dedication of the Monorail when he was vice-president, and, when president, invited Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe Revue to perform at the annual White House Correspondents’ dinner. (I’m sure they delighted D.C.’s cynical political reporters.) But the best Disney/Nixon crossover of all is the fact that Nixon’s famous “I am not a crook” speech was delivered on the grounds of Disney’s Contemporary Resort in Florida.
Lie: Lemmings commit mass suicide
This isn’t a myth about Disney, but one that Disney helped spread. The mistaken belief that lemmings intentionally kill themselves when their population reaches a certain point existed before Disney’s 1958 “documentary” White Wilderness, but the film cemented the untruth in the popular imagination by showing footage of hundreds of lemmings leaping off a cliff to their deaths. Except the lemmings were actually pushed off the cliff to get the footage. To be fair: The Walt Disney Family Museum says that photographer and filmmaker James R. Simon Simon faked the footage without the approval of Walt Disney.
Half truth: Walt Disney’s last words were “Kurt Russell”
While he didn’t mutter “Kurt Russell” on his death bed (again, as far we know), the actor’s name was the last thing Walt Disney wrote before he was brought to the hospital, where he died due to complications of lung cancer. At the time of Disney’s death, Russell was a 15-year-old actor on the Disney lot shooting Now You See Him, Now You Don’t. Russell’s name appears in Walt’s hand on sheet of paper with the printed title “TV Projects In Production: Ready for Production or Possible for Escalation and Story.” No one knows exactly why. “I assume, as [does] everybody else, that he was talking about some movie that he was thinking about having me in…I don’t know what to make of it other than that,” Russell once told Barbara Walters.
Lie: No one is allowed to die at a Disney park
There is a widely believed rumor is that Disney is so protective of its parks’ image that they will transport dead or dying people off the property to ensure that no one will ever be declared dead at a Disney park. While Disney has never publicly disclosed its internal policy regarding guest deaths, people have indeed been declared dead at Disney parks at various times over the years.
Truth: The Beatles broke up at Disney World
While the end of The Beatles didn’t involve an ill-fated ride on the Matterhorn, it is true that the Beatles broke up while at a Disney resort. John Lennon signed the legal papers finalizing his exit from the band while he was on vacation at the Disney World Polynesian Resort. You can even stay in the “death of the Beatles” room if you want.
Lie: Walt Disney’s will contains a clause promising $10 million to the first man who gets pregnant
This is really strange rumor that spread through chain emails in the 2000s. There doesn’t seem to be a discernible reason to believe that this could be so—Disney never said or did anything in his life that suggests he had any interest in seeing this scenario play out—but there is something weirdly plausible about the theory. It just feels like something that’s true. But it’s not. From what we know about Disney’s will, he actually left 45% of his estate to his immediate family, 45% to the Disney Foundation, and 10% his sister, nieces, and nephews.
Truth: Harlan Ellison was fired from Disney for imitating Disney characters having sex
Irascible science fiction writer Harlan Ellison once worked for Disney, and according to an autobiographical essay in his 1982 book Stalking the Nightmare, Ellison’s tenure ended after one day at lunch with his co-workers when he jokingly suggested Disney should make a porn movie starring his well-known creations. He then acted out the noises various Disney characters might make in said porn movie. What Ellison didn’t realize was that Roy Disney was at the next table and overheard the whole routine. Roy apparently didn’t find it amusing, and Ellison was terminated.