These days, it seems any large corporation, franchise, or famous figure is fair game for conspiracy theorists, so it comes as no surprise that Walt Disney and his living empire have served as the subject of a wide variety of far-fetched speculations. Even by Conspirasphere standards, however, the conjectures surrounding Disney skew toward the decidedly odd.
Here are 10 of the most enduring and bizarre of the many myths and misconceptions that have sprung up over the years around the House of Mouse.
1. Walt Disney’s head is in cryogenic storage
This might be the most widespread and popular of all myths concerning Walt Disney and the Disney corporation. The story goes that, when Walt died in 1966, his head (or in some versions of the tale, his entire body) was cryogenically frozen, to be reanimated when the technology to do so became available. It seems the story may have first appeared in the tabloid newspaper The National Spotlight in 1967, cropping up later in the French magazine Ici Paris, and again in The National Tattler.
While it is true that the first instance of cryogenic freezing of a human took place in 1967, there is zero evidence that the Disney creator’s head or body are on ice. In 1972, his daughter, Diane, publicly repudiated the idea. Speculation may have been fueled by Walt’s particularly private funeral. In fact, he was cremated, and his ashes interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
2. Walt left behind five years of micromanagement videos for his executives
This might be the least far-fetched theory on this list. Walt’s death from lung cancer was relatively sudden, and came at a pivotal moment for the company. Walt Disney World was still under construction, and Walt’s brother Roy deferred his retirement to oversee the project. The myth persists that, during his last days, Walt taped a series of short films explicitly addressed to Disney executives which contained secret instructions concerning the future of the company, including a list of films which should never be released for the (not yet invented) home video market. Walt’s vision was so important to Disney, the theory goes, that he detailed every step that his followers should take.
The popular fact-checking website Snopes has already been over this one, pointing out the misconception that Walt had a tight rein on the company’s minutia. In fact, by the time of Walt’s death, Roy Disney was already running most of the day-to-day business. Walt’s role at that time was more akin to that of creative advisor, and he held far less than a controlling share in the company. The idea of him leaving these kinds of personal rundowns for his underlings is most unlikely.
3. Walt Disney left money in his will for the first man who gets pregnant
An utterly bizarre entry here. Even Snopes can’t help us out with an explanation about where this strange idea came from, beyond pointing out that the trope of an eccentric rich man leaving odd requests and stipulations in his will is very old. It must be said, however, that while Walt Disney was a creative thinker, he wasn’t particularly eccentric. Walt certainly had a keen interest in technology that might advance human potential in some way, but nowhere did he write or talk about human reproduction.
Unlike some of the items on this list, this one can relatively easily be put to bed, given that Walt’s will is now a matter of public record. It can readily be seen that Walt left 45% of his estate to his wife and children, and 45% to the Disney Foundation. The remainder was divided up among other relatives, with nary a future pregnant man to be found on the list.
4. Walt Disney was born out of wedlock
If it’s in print, it must be true, right? This cracker can be traced back to a single book published in 1994, ominously titled Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince. It was written by a man named Marc Eliot, and within its pages you’ll find accusations that Walt was an anti-Semite and a spy for the House Un-American Activities Committee, and that he faked his birth certificate, having really been born to a peasant woman in Spain.
In actuality, it’s well-documented that Disney was born in Chicago, and Marc Eliot has been thoroughly discredited by experts, including Disney historian Didier Ghez, who labeled the book as “So full of mistakes, guesses, intentional lies and non-intentional ignorance it is hardly worth mentioning.” Eminent animation historian Michael Barrier concurs, describing Dark Prince as “easily the worst Disney biography I’ve ever read.”
5. Cinderella Castle can be dismantled and moved
Although the origins of this is unclear, this myth at least kind of makes sense. Florida regularly suffers from extreme weather, situated as it is near the tropics. Hurricanes are a regular occurrence, especially during the summer months, when Disney World welcomes its highest numbers of visitors. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so surprising if one of the leisure park’s most-loved attractions, the 189-foot Cinderella Castle, could be dismantled in times of emergency.
There is, however, zero truth to this rumor. The castle was completed in July 1971, after 18 months of construction. Six hundred tons of steel bracing, together with a reinforced concrete wall and a concrete sub-structure, mean that the building can reportedly withstand winds of up to 125 mph. The castle’s exterior design takes inspiration from real-life medieval castles around the world. It isn’t a modular piece of architecture designed to be easily broken down and moved.
6. Disney World is covered by a giant protective dome
This is another of the most enduring myths on this list, and it seems like some people live to fuel it, judging by some of the posts on Quora. An incredible number of folk persist in believing that a giant invisible dome covers Disney World, keeping out both bad weather and pesky insects.
This story is easily repudiated by the number of holiday blogs which recommend the best times to visit Disney World in order to avoid rain. Further proof comes via the fact that the leisure park has pre-planned backups in case of bad weather, including a special Rainy Day Parade. The origins of this story possibly stem from a real project for a climate-controlled dome, which was originally planned to stand at the heart of Disney World. Provisionally named “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow,” the idea was abandoned before construction began.
7. No one can die at a Disney park
A macabre entry here, and a surprisingly popular one. To clarify, no one is claiming that Disney’s properties emit magical life-giving energy, at least so far as we know. Rather, the claim is that no one ever has been legitimately pronounced dead in a Disney park. This myth asserts that Disney staff always remove deceased bodies from park property before informing the authorities, presumably in order to avoid negative publicity.
Putting aside the legal implications of such an act, Snopes once again comes to our aid. The fact-checking site has unearthed at least three documented cases of deaths on Disney property, including four from the 1980s and another from 2018, when a utility worker at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort died after the cart he was working on flipped, pinning him to the floor. While the Disney corporation has certainly been accused of overzealous protection of its public image, on this one, it’s in the clear.
8. The busts in the Haunted Mansion are modeled on Walt Disney’s face
Disneyland in California, Disney World in Florida, and Tokyo Disneyland all feature the Haunted Mansion, a popular ride-through attraction which uses a mix of old theater techniques and state-of-the-art technology to summon up a host of ghoulish surprises. Some of the most famous residents of the Haunted Mansion are the singing busts, a group of five armless plaster torsos whose heads spring to life and regale visitors with some close-harmony singing, thanks to some nifty projected video effects.
In some versions of this myth, one of the busts is based on Walt Disney himself. In other versions, it’s all of them. While Walt was known as a versatile performer, this is another theory which can easily be dismissed, as the identities of the actors and singers behind the busts are well known. Verne Rowe, Thurl Ravenscroft, Chuck Schroeder, Jay Meyer, and Bob Ebright are the talents on display.
9. Walt Disney was a Nazi sympathizer
At least part of this inflammatory theory, which has been debunked, dates back to that discredited Marc Eliot book, Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince. But even modern animated comedies like Robot Chicken and Family Guy have featured jokes alluding to this myth. During World War II, Walt participated in the making of top-secret training films for the U.S. military, which would have required the highest level of security clearance. He also produced many propaganda shorts criticizing the Nazis.
It is true that German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, whose documentaries glorified Hitler’s regime, visited Disney Studios in 1938. She was in America to promote her new film about the Olympics. Walt invited her to a tour of his studio, but refused to screen her film or provide support for it. Stories that Walt also met with Benito Mussolini in Italy are false, and there is no credible evidence to suggest Walt was anything other than an American patriot.