Disney parks are the place where dreams come true, and Disney movies kindle the imaginations of millions of children around the world. Yeah, sure, that’s the party line passed down by Walt himself, but they’re not exactly going to say true things like “Disney: Where sexual predators hide in plain sight” or “Disney: Where the ashes of the dead are scattered,” are they?
20. The mysterious death of Debbie Stone
In 1974, 18-year-old Debbie Stone landed the dream side-job as a hostess for “America Sings,” a new musical performance at Disneyland. During one evening performance after Debbie left the stage, park guests heard a horrifying scream and rushed to find the teenager crushed to death between the rotating wall and stage. Even to this day, no one knows exactly how it happened.
19. Brain-eating parasites at Disney World
River Country was Disney’s first ever water park, located on Bay Lake in the grounds of Disney World. In 1980 a young boy of 11 was killed by a brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, which lived in the semi-fresh waters of River Country that kids used to swim in. The park closed down in 2001 and remains eerily abandoned to this day.
18. Walt Disney was an FBI stooge
Unless you’re a criminal, you can’t really mock someone for working closely with the FBI; they’re there to keep us safe, after all. But in the ’50s at the height of the Red Scare, things were different. Walt Disney had a close relationship with FBI boss J Edgar Hoover and testified against a number of his own animators as being communists.
16. Throwing lemmings off a cliff
Aww, lemmings! Aren’t they silly? Throwing themselves off cliffs like that to their deaths? Actually, no, they’re not. This misconception stems from 1958 Disney “documentary” White Wilderness, where filmmakers pushed lemmings off a cliff into the water below to make it look like they were jumping. They then claimed that this was simply in the lemming’s nature. Lies! Disney lies!
15. Disney threatened to sue three daycare centers
In 1989 Disney threatened to sue three daycare centers in Florida that had lovingly painted life-sized versions of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Goofy on their walls, because… “trademarks.” The nurseries had to remove the paintings, but it all ended happily for them as Hanna-Barbera let them use its characters for free.
14. Cast member run over by Disney float
A Disney flotilla is a familiar site at Disney World, as costumed actors – hopefully non-predatory – dressed as Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and the like stand on ornate, slow-moving vehicles waving at passers-by like the Queen of England. But somehow, one of the costumed actors got run over by one of these floats back in 2004. He was playing Pluto at the time.
13. Walt Disney toured Nazis around his studio
Considering Walt Disney’s history of racist cartoons, the fact that he toured Nazi propaganda filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl around his studio in 1938 raised quite a few eyebrows. Especially since it was just one month after the anti-Semitic violence of Kristallnacht. However, Disney did go on to make some anti-Nazi propaganda films during the war, so maybe we’ll forgive him… this time.
12. Chef suicides
At Disneyland Paris, two chefs committed suicide in 2010. This was followed in 2013 by an employee who tried to set himself alight. One of the chefs left a note saying, “I don’t want to work for Mickey anymore.” His father said that his son was depressed about the food at the park being switched from freshly-made to frozen – surely the final straw for any Frenchman.
11. Disney cast members love to get high
Pinocchio snorting coke? Dumbo in an orgy? The Seven Dwarves smoking pot? Okay, that last one’s perfectly feasible, but actor Trevor Allen witnessed all these things when working as a cast member at Disneyland. Not afraid to get in on the action, Allen – conveniently dressed as the Mad Hatter – once tripped out on a pot brownie as well.
10. Too racist (even for Disney)
Disney’s 1946 animated/live-action movie Song of the South caused such outrage over its alleged racism that Disney ended up never releasing it on video in the U.S. (though edited versions can be found elsewhere). The main character – a happy-go-lucky black former slave called Uncle Remus – was so divisive that Disney has completely wiped this film from its history.
9. The ashes of the dead at Disney Word
Disney World is a decidedly better final resting place than a graveyard, which is probably why the park has to contend with people bringing their loved ones’ ashes onto rides, then sneakily pouring them out. The Haunted Mansion is seemingly a favorite among the recently deceased, and poor park staff need to use a special HEPA vacuum to clear them up. Yikes.
8. Disney blocked Snow White voice actress from having a career
Adriana Caselotti is best known as the voice of Snow White in the Disney movie. In fact, she’s only known for that role because Disney banned her from doing future work that entailed using her voice. Why? In order to preserve “the illusion of Snow White.” She was even banned from being interviewed on the radio, effectively ending her career right as it started.
7. The Club 33 speakeasy
There are many nooks and crannies to California’s Disneyland, leading people to wonder what mysteries lurk behind some of those innocuous-looking doors. One of these doors, in New Orleans Square, actually leads into Club 33, an exclusive speakeasy and one of only two places that serve alcohol in Disneyland.
6. The Tree of Life is actually an oil rig
The Tree of Life, which represents all nature’s diversity with hundreds of animal carvings, is the centerpiece of Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. It’s ironic, then, that it’s actually made from an oil rig. Just try not to imagine the pretty carved birds coated in the fallout from an oil spill.
5. Ducks being roasted alive
Disneyland is beloved for its pyrotechnics – but during one of its shows, which involved setting fire to water, a whole paddling of ducks quacked their last when they got burned to death. In fairness to Disney, it’s now inserted a bubble machine to scare the ducks away during shows.
4. Subliminal mind tricks at Disney World
Disneyland is full of mind tricks. First up, it uses “smellitizers” all over the park; on Main Street, for example, you inhale the sweet aroma of cookies despite there being no cookies. Cinderella Castle, meanwhile, looks bigger than it actually is thanks to forced perspective; the castle’s bricks actually get smaller the higher they go.
3. Real skull-and-crossbones on Pirates of the Caribbean ride
Most of the skellies on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World are fake – surprise, surprise. But the skull-and-crossbones on the headboard above the skeleton sitting in the bed looks a bit… different – because it’s real. Who knows who it once belonged to?
2. The secret Disney World horror movie
Disney World and Disneyland like to protect their squeaky-clean image; indeed, they would rather you didn’t know that a horror B-movie was once shot at both locations without Disney’s permission. Maybe Escape from Tomorrow director Randy Moore should be expecting a visit from the Seven Dwarves’ hit squad soon, or perhaps a Dumbo drone?
1. Disney refused to hire an animator because she was female
Today’s all-welcoming Disney would squirm at the way the company turned down a female animator for a job in 1938. Mary Ford’s rejection letter stated that all creative work at the company was “performed entirely by young men.” Worse still, the letter was penned by a female employee.