Friday, May 08, 2009

Potty Mouths

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Ah. Now we know why Disney wanted all the women sequestered in Ink-and Paint back in the day.

All those nasty in-betweeners who swore like stevedores and carried on like sailors on shore leave were causing delicate ears to burn.

From the January 1939 memo:

Attention has been called to the rather gross language that is being used by some members of the IBT Department in the presence of some of our female employees.


It has always been Walt's hope that the Studio could be a place where girls can be employed without fear of embarrassment or humiliation.

Your cooperation in this matter will be appreciated.

The Diz administrators were looking out for the girls ... and wanted everyone to know it. That's a good thing, yes?

But we've traveled a long way. I didn't really learn to swear with piquancy and punch until my wife taught me how.

She was, of course, a long-time Disney employee.


Anonymous said...

It's just as likely that this was about crude sexual comments/harrassment as about "swearing". In fact more likely.

Floyd Norman said...

It always cracks me up when I read about sexual comments and harassment at the studios, as if we had to "protect" innocent young women.

This young tad received a few lessons in sexual matters when entering the business back in the fifties, and they all came from young women at the studio.

Exactly who needs protecting?

Kate said...

*snicker* If only they heard the language from us girls now.

Anonymous said...

It has always been Walt's hope that the Studio could be a place where girls can be employed without fear of embarrassment or humiliation.Putting aside, of course, the embarrassment and humiliation of being a "girl" working for Disney in 1939.

Anonymous said...

Well Floyd, this was many years before you worked there. The 1930s were a VERY different era even for the 1950s. Or do you think they put this memo out for nothing?

Women and "girls" were more used to being viewed openly as sexual objects whether they liked it or not then, in that culture-the age of the wolf whistle, "fresh" guys and "nice girls" etc, so there was probably some pretty crude stuff directed at some Disney females.

For every ink & paint girl who got married to some animator there also was likely unwanted attention from guys they weren't interested in.

Or maybe they were just crybabies and sexual hypocrites.

Floyd Norman said...

I see your point, but having had the opportunity to speak with many former staffers who worked for Walt in the thirties, these were rare incidents.

At least, that's what they tell me. Of course, I wasn't there. In any case, it would appear the young men and women had a hell of a lot more fun than the workers do in today's up tight and over managed studios.

Anonymous said...

You worked at Disney starting in the latter 1950s but you simply weren't there in the 30s and are not an expert with special knowledge of those times. I wasn't there either, but this is a contemporary internal memo from 1939 that makes a situation pretty crystal clear. It's beyond belief that that studio in those days would bother with such a memo if it was just one or two young women ("girls") that were being bothered. Seems to me that the studio was being very modern and cool about something that was "ohhhh, get over it!" in most places in those days.

I doubt that you spoke with all the girls who worked at Disneys in the 1930s (dozens were laid off every month if they didn't cut it), and it stands to reason that the ones who remained from their original hire dates in the 30s were middle aged by that time, more inured to what the culture had been, more blase-or simply more political about their youthful experiences(and who wouldn't be?).

There are an awful lot of women in the world today who as then just don't want to make a stink about stuff, and there are people who hate to complain in retrospect to anyone, especially to a male colleague. That's human nature and also protecting oneself, not wanting to be seen as a "whiner". And all the employees you talked to clearly loved working there under any circumstances since they were still there 20 years later, so why would they reveal personal or embarrassing stuff to you, someone 20+ years younger?

Take THIS memo for what it is. Do you seriously think it's too "uptight", Floyd? I agree that HR seminars are onerous and often ridiculous to have to sit through. But they exist not because studios are in a lather about the tender feelings of the employees, but because of LAWSUITS.

Lawsuits big companies LOST.

Ones they lost because there were ample, provable jury cases where far from "not so bad" and the old status quo notwithstanding, someone somewhere behaved really badly and went over the line in harassment.

So companies rightly want to protect themselves and it has the result that while not everyone complains, it's still against the law to be "crude" towards fellow employees.

I've worked for 15 years and have never had an experience where my behavior or another person's I worked with was curtailed due to PCness or an "uptight" attitude. To my knowledge, that is(there were third hand stories we'd hear later, and they were pretty bizarre). We all had fun along with stress and did/do pretty much as we please.
On the other hand, if I or anyone I worked with had crossed the line with someone I figure we'd have been cautioned about it. What he hell is wrong with that?

Anonymous said...

I think this memo shows that Walt wanted his studio to be a safe, respectful place for women to work, even though women in general were barred from animation. And as I understand it, he was similarly protective of young actors and actresses he employed. It was taboo to swear in the presence of a Mouseketeer, for instance. Contrast Walt's gallantry with the behavior of other studio heads in his time, such as the onerous Harry Cohn and Louis B. Mayer. Shirley Temple once told a story of how, when she was entering adolescence, Louis B. Mayer exposed himself to her. Her reaction was to laugh, which probably spared her a lot of hell. Her mother was propositioned by another studio head *the very same day*. So I think it's clear that it wasn't the mores of the time, but the quality of the man, that motivated Walt to try to protect the ladies who worked in his studio. As a woman, who's taken her share of grief in the workplace, I think he deserves credit, not derision, for that.

Floyd Norman said...

Point taken, but I never positioned myself as an expert, and no, I didn't speak to every woman who worked at Disney in the thirties.

I do applaud Walt Disney for creating a studio atmosphere that was respectful of all people, and that was why the company was such a delightful place to work for so many years. Walt Disney was a gentleman, and he was a rare individual for a town with Hollywood's racy reputation.

In any case, things have changed significantly since the thirties. Today, I see women working in all areas of the company, and that includes upper management. I think those changes are great even though we all know the purpose of HR is to cover the companies butt.

While I didn't intend to be flip about the Disney memo, and I agree the admonition was well intended, I see far worse things than this going on in corporations today.

observant reader said...

To the last anonymous: Bitter about something? Your comments seem more about yourself than this memo or discussion.

Anonymous said...

Just do the f'ing work and go home and battle with your sexual identity crisis in therapy. Better yet, go have a same-sex affair and be done with it already.Looks like somebody turned someone down for a "date". Gee, I wonder why? Couldn't be the classy personality, I'm sure.


Anonymous said...

I think that's rather a positive memo. No one's getting fired and it's just asking that co-workers be treated with basic respect.

That's hardly unreasonable or oppressive.

Did Disney have about 800 employees at that time? That's a lot different than a shop of 20 or 30. I bet the anonymity of the crowd led some people to think they could be more forward than they should have.

Steve Hulett said...

Ward Kimball remembers some of the fun that went on in the old days, in particular fun from the lovable Gerry Geronomi:

Gerry was a crude man. I had a woman assistant named (blank) who was very well constructed. She drove Jerry crazy and finally he couldn't stand it. And one day he came up behind her and he went "Rhhhrr!"... I heard this scream and the chair flew back and the desk got knocked over. And I went running in there and said "What the hell?" I knew Gerry had just left my room... Vince said that Gerry had grabbed Mary... I mean, that's terrible. That's not a class act. Hormones and libidos and impulsive actions can be not-nice things.

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