1939 Disney memo warns of “gross language”

Rummaging through my archives last night, I came across this inter-office memo (click thumbnail below to see full size) distributed throughout Walt Disney studios on January 17th 1939:

Attention has been called to the rather gross language that is being used by some members of the IBT (Inbetween) 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 embarassment or humiliation. Your cooperation in this matter will be appreciated.

wdpmemo1.jpg


  • Rat

    Wow, Walt had girls working there? Well no wonder he didn’t want bad language, he employed children!

  • http://www.windupmagic.com Jay Taylor

    Ha, those rebellious inbetweeners! When will they learn! Very funny find, Jerry.

  • http://tangoland.com Cynthia

    This is classic! There’s also a letter from 1939 (I have it somewhere) which is a rejection to a woman who had applied to be an animator, saying that the animation jobs were reserved for “young men.” It’s the ink and paint department for you, woman!!

    So here we have a lack of career opportunities for the ladies, yet at the same time a reminder to have some respect and decorum for the females who are employed. Ahhhhh..fascinating priorities. I mean seriously. Which is more important..a great job or a totally antiseptic work environment.

    Heck, I’d rather listen to some off color language and be busy fulfilling my career aspirations.

    Also..who were the naughty in between guys!!!!! :)

  • http://jaydsmith.blogspot.com/ jay smith

    The dirty words were……..Screen Cartoonists’ Guild!

  • Scott

    It’s also pretty funny that ‘Mr.’ is a permanent fixture in the To and From spaces.

  • Animation Pimp

    Bitches.

  • Fred Sparrman

    “It has always been Walt’s hope that the studio could be a place where girls can be employed without fear of embarassment or humiliation.”

    Or advancement.

    Personally, I’m “embarassed” that typewriter didn’t have spell check.

    Re the in-betweeners, as Bob Hope said: “You can pull my right leg, and you can pull my left leg, but don’t mess with Mr. In-Between!”

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    Gee. When I worked at a civil service day job, the “girls” were as nasty as the “boys”. I heard more dildo and hysterectomy talk than I wanted to. The only topics off-limits for the “girls” was gore and poop – the two funniest things of all.

  • Robert Igoe

    This coming from such a progressive thinker that portrayed women in his cartoons in only two ways for the most part: beautiful, large-busted and heroic, or less attractive and evil.

  • http://dailygrail.com/blog/8389 red pill junkie

    Ah, the classic chauvinistic assumption that women don’t swear ;-)

  • TStevens

    You have to look at this from the POV of 1939. For all we know “fear of embarassment or humiliation” could mean a lot of different things ranging from fart jokes to cat calling and lude come-ons. Remember that women couldn’t even vote until 1920. I think while this seems like a cute and timely memo, it should be viewed in the context that most women, if not skilled, were limited to secretarial, teaching, nursing, or factory jobs as recently as the late seventies. Employing a large number of women alongside men was pretty revolutionary at that time. I can’t think of another profession where that was possible in 1939.

  • Rachel Willis

    Well, I have a slightly different take…this memo sounds rather advanced to me! How do we know that the ‘gross language’ wasn’t sexist in nature? It sounds to me like Walt was concerned about his women employees feeling comfortable and unharassed! I for one always appreciate a ‘gross language’ free zone.

  • http://www.rocarts.com/sabrecat Meredith

    I think some talk is inappropriate at work no matter the audience. Let’s have some professionalism out there.

    And this is coming from a former Marine, no less.

  • http://eggheadcheesybird.co.uk Alex

    I hate abbrebviations which have what the abbreiviations stands for written in brackets after it more than I hate institutionalised misogyny.

  • Reader

    I guess nobody here has been to any HR seminars? Or perhaps don’t actually work in the animation industry since every studio has them?

    Swearing wasn’t common among women in those days, but it was normal enough for guys hanging out in an all-guy environment. This was your grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s era remember. Women generally didn’t swear like sailors anywhere. Of course there were exceptions-and they stood out and were noted.
    Nowadays funnily enough women and men-whoever is made uncomfortable by it-has a right to not listen to crude or offensive language of the kind this memo refers to.
    There were no such rules mandated by any laws in 1939, but as a matter of courtesy the Disney studio wanted to enforce it anyway, clearly for the women’s comfort and no other reason. It actually was “progressive” thinking. “Normal” thinking for the time would be to tell the women: “don’t like it? Tough-find another job”

  • Brandon Cordy

    Why did I just picture an inbetweener in 30′s get-up behind his lightboard asking a girl, “‘ey shawty, what’cho name is?”

  • Paul N

    I love it when people judge ephemera from the past based on modern sensibilities…

  • AutisticAnimator

    “So here we have a lack of career opportunities for the ladies…Ahhhhh..fascinating priorities”

    Perhaps it was a priority becaise this notion that there were hardely wany female aniamtors at Disney is a idiotic LIE. And if any of you posting here could read the letter was accusing the inbetween department of sexual harrassment, not just swearing for the nonsensical sake of it!

  • http://www.shawcartoons.com Scott Shaw!

    I doubt if Disney cartoonists — male AND female — have ever cursed longer, louder or fouler than when they were frantically working to get a storyboard approved by Sharon “Make It Less Funny” Morrill, a female executroid who was offended much more by humor than obscenity.

  • http://afrokids.com Floyd Norman

    Salty language was the least of their worries.

    What about the “unauthorized use” of those cool Kem Webber lounge chairs in the forties and fifties?

  • http://www.animationinsider.net/ Aaron H. Bynum

    G.R.O.S.S. = Get Rid of Slimy girlS

  • Ted Field

    Do you have any idea how much the stains on those lounge chairs are going for on eBay?

  • Zavkram

    I remember reading somewhere, a long time ago, that after production on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” had finished Walt had invited everyone to a weekend pool party/cookout; in order for his staff to unwind and as a reward to them for a job well-done.

    Not long after the party had gotten underway, if I remember what I read correctly, there was quite a bit of lewd and lascivious behavior on the part of a number of male and female employees… the kind of which caused a lot of awkward silence in the corridors of the studio the following week.

    I also remember reading a “tell-all” book written by a former Disney staffer (I forget who now) about some of the goings-on between the males and females at the Studio on a day-to-day basis.

    One story involved, I think, an animator named “Dick” and an ink-and-paint girl who got together for a tryst at his apartment one night… Long story short, this would-be Lothario was apparently unable to satisfy the girl because he was too drunk and she wrote a message on his stomach in lipstick while he was sleeping: “Dick is a lousy lay!” (or something to that effect).

    Sorry, I hope that story isn’t too risque for Cartoon Brew!

  • Jen

    The note is not referring to swearing. The note is referring to sexual harassment.

  • Richard

    I wonder how the Miley Cyrus would have been handled in 1939.

  • http://invaderpetblog.blogspot.com Brandon

    Hehehe, to quote Bugs, in Mississippi Hare: “Chivalr ain’t dead, yet.”

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    Re:
    –I also remember reading a “tell-all” book written by a former Disney staffer (I forget who now) about some of the goings-on between the males and females at the Studio on a day-to-day basis.–

    WALT DISNEY AND ASSORTED OTHER CHARACTERS by Jack Kinney, I believe. I gots all them books. I lurvs me some animation dirt. I wish Perez Hilton wrote about animators instead of those weird plastic people.

  • http://thadkomorowski.com Thad

    Back in the early days, they’d all take the ink-and-paint girls to a sleazy motel and sign the registrar “Ben Sharpsteen”. According to Jack Kinney anyway.

  • Tira

    Aw, bless. If only Mr. Adelquist heard the filth coming out of our mouths today. (Well, my mouth at least.)

  • http://Mr.FunsBlog floyd Norman

    These stories keep getting better and better.

    One Disney old timer told me he always signed the motel register with the familiar animation notation: “Reg ToBG.”

    I hate to say it, but the “old timers” had a lot more fun than the kids today.

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robcat2075

    I like that memo. It’s an honest, non-oppressive attempt to solve a problem without naming names or firing anyone.

  • Jill

    Well, AS A WOMAN, I don’t find that memo indicative of “oppression” or any of the other junk you GUYS are spewing. How about putting the memo in context of the times in which it was written? It shows consideration, even a kind of gallantry you don’t see much of these days. For example:

    *I doubt if Disney cartoonists — male AND female — have ever cursed longer, louder or fouler than when they were frantically working to get a storyboard approved by Sharon “Make It Less Funny” Morrill, a female executroid who was offended much more by humor than obscenity.*

    Since of course them dang uppity women executives have no sense of humor. We’ve come a long way, baby…

  • http://www.markmcdermott.com Mark McDermott

    How many other professions outside the “caregiver” or “steno” field were even hiring women in those days?

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    Re:
    …them dang uppity women executives have no sense of humor

    It’s funny because it’s true.

  • Brad

    What do you think the gross stuff was, anyhow? Boogers? Farts?

  • http://tsutpen.blogspot.com Stephen

    Robert Igoe wrote: less attractive and evil

    Really? I thought the queen in Snow White and Maleficent were way hotter than the heroines.

    As for women swearing, I direct you to the outtakes of Carole Lombard on the My Man Godfrey DVD from Criterion. She couldn’t have been a lone offender…at least, one would hope not.