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“The Ropes At Disney,” A 1943 Disney Employee Manual

Ever wonder what it was like to work at the Disney Studio during the Golden Age of Animation? Think it was the “happiest place on Earth”? Think again. This 1943 booklet, given to all new employees, spelled it out for you. Gals ain’t allowed in the Penthouse Club, personal phone calls will be charged to you, and if you need to leave the studio, you cannot do so without an “Off the Lot Pass”. Oh, and “Any violation of the U. S. Espionage Act” will get you discharged.

UPDATE: We’ve learned the illustrations in this book were done by Tom Oreb.

(Thanks to Mike Van Eaton for sharing this with us)

  • solidus

    Which is worse? The atmosphere of golden age Disney or post millennium Disney where smug executives try to kill off their animation unit? I’d say the former.

    • Anoniguy

      …You prefer the death of the animation unit?

  • bucko

    Oddly it’s not that bad if you just ignore the NO LADIES ALLOWED, harsh timesheets, and personal phone calls. They had a better health plan, unionized(33!), onsite restaurant, and more vacation days compared to today.

    Look at today’s animation market. Having to compete with hungry students and workers willing to push in 100 hour workweeks doesn’t strike me as good times. I’m lucky I’m fast.

    • You mean you weren’t disgusted by the overtly-sexist drawings on every page?

      I agree the studio had a lot of good things going for it, but treating women like dogs wasn’t one of them.

      • Dogs?

      • Zekumi

        Ariel, maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I don’t think that was so much the studio’s fault as much as it was, say… the fault that it was the year 1943? :P

      • ;-)

        Ha! Right on brother. People weren’t racist it was just the 50’s you know?

  • joachim

    Why is he walking on a tightroap between good and evil? Wouldn’t it be easier just to walk on the side of the angel?

  • Law

    I wish our manuals had as much charm. how fun!

  • At first I thought “violations of the Espionage Act” was a joke, but then I thought of the paranoid post-war culture America was about to enter, and now I’m not sure.

    • Funkybat

      Well, in 1943 it was a “war culture” not just a paranoid “post-war/Cold War” culture. While I agree that the Red Scare and other fears of mid-century America were exaggerated, one can hardly blame them for mentioning it DURING the war, with the studio working for the military to produce training & propaganda films.

  • chris

    You can’t expect any company (despite what great work it may have produced) to be so far ahead of the cultural milieu of its time. It was 1943, post-war paranoia, sexism was everywhere. You can’t expect to look at one culture through your own. Then again, this is cartoonbrew!

  • Scott B.

    Not to hurt anyone’s feelings, but it sounds like some of you should learn a little history. This book was written in the midst of World War II. In 1943, things were still looking extremely bleak for the Allies (eg. the Italian Campaign). Espionage was a very real concern. Disney was involved in creating training films for the military, and was privy to secret information. Many of these regulations dealt with making sure security wasn’t compromised. Surely even the most liberal (of which I am one) among you can understand that.

    The sexist humor throughout is mild, though your mileage may vary. Actually, I suppose I, as a guy, could take equal offense at the “stupid man” humor on a lot of the pages. I imagine the prohibition against women in the “Penthouse Club” (likely a sweltering rooftop, with few real perks) was to protect the reputations (and more) of the female employees, not as a way to punish or suppress women. I could be totally wrong though. I do think it’s totally unfair that the women got twice as many sick days as the guys … but I’ll survive. :-)

    • Iritscen

      Well said. The only part of the depiction of the woman that offends me is her impossibly small feet. Size -5 shoes, anyone?

      • Adam

        Doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. At the turn of the century, the average woman’s size shoe was a size 2. Also, it is a stylized drawing.

    • WF

      The military had more or less taken over the studio at this time. I wouldn’t be surprised if this whimsical manual was the studio’s attempt to save morale in light of the restrictions imposed by military presence.

      • Zekumi

        I agree. I think that’s entirely possible as well.

  • Scott B.

    LOL, Iritscen! However, how about that average-height guy’s size 13 rowboats?!! :-D

  • I for one would like to know the name of that gutsy employee from the ink-and-paint’s girls who first challenged that outrageous ban from the penthouse club.

  • post-war? The war ended in 1945.

  • Stephen

    Off The Lot passes kind of make sense when you consider the size of the facility and how long it would take to get fromt the gate to your office/desk and back. Add in the travel time to where ever you’re going and any employer is going to be a little leary about it. Also I’m betting anti-Espionage played a part here too, tracking who went where for how long.

  • My God! It’s like they had policies they wanted to enforce to make sure production of a product stayed consistent! The nerve! Thank God those times are behind us. Now we can drink the nectar of our lackluster economy and lazy work ethic attitudes of today!

  • Conncept

    Anybody who thinks these regulations are unfair has never had a real job and and probably never will. These are not uncommon or unfair office rules.

    Can’t change the air-conditioner or open windows? They worked with archival ink, it had to be kept at a regular temperature.

    Tons of work places do not allow visitors, especially in the entertainment industry. Seriously, none of Blizzard’s employees have ever had a family member set foot in the studios. They also ALL have to carry identification with them when entering or leaving the studio ground, and most studios have ID badges/cards/placards that you are required to carry with you.

    5-10 sick days is about average for such a deadline drive industry.

    Yes, an ‘all men’ penthouse is stupid and sexist, but blame the time period not the studio, every work place would have had the same policy when this was written.

    The ‘charged for personal phone calls’ is the only thing in all these regulations which I could see as extreme. But even then, who of us hasn’t been stuck in a line for 10, 20 minutes or even an hour waiting for some unsupervised counter-jockey to finish a personal phone call when they are supposed to be serving customers?

    And seriously, some people are actually stupid enough to say that treason and espionage are not good reasons to be fired? Do you expect people to still employ you in jail?

  • MP

    CB had an entry on Hal Aldequist, mentioned in the pamphlet.