Mickey Mouse on his Birthday
Disney’s politics in the era of the New Deal and FDR (from the NYTimes Book Review)
Mickey Mouse was introduced to the world on November 18, 1928, in “Steamboat Willie,” the first cartoon talkie. In 1978 the David McKay Company, noting that it was “Mickey’s first hardcover publisher,” reproduced from the color originals the first three books in which the mouse appeared. “Jumping Juniper,” Mickey would have said.
In some circles a Disney book may still be unwelcome. It has become routine to deride Disney Inc. This wasn’t true in the old days, in the days when Janet Flanner went to meet the master, when Jerome Kern would say that Disney “has made the 20th Century’s only contribution to music,” when Toscanini would ask to see him and Sergei Eisenstein would proclaim him an American genius. H. G. Wells used to brag that he introduced Chaplin to Disney.
Disney had a special affection for his own little tramp, the mouse with white gloves. For 20 years he supplied Mickey’s squeaky falsetto. And it was, no doubt, Disney who thought of merchandising Mickey to McKay.
In the first of “The Adventures” in this anniversary collection, Mickey outwits Claws, the Cat, by virtue of his size. While Mickey holds a dance for his barnyard friends, the cat is held in check, caught in her own mousetrap, after her claws have ventured on the far side of the hole grabbing for Mickey. Mickey has been assisted in this prank by Minnie (who lives a discreet distance away in the chicken coop and also sports gloves). After Mickey goes to bed Claws finally escapes, though she continues to see cartoon stars and ringed planets.
This is one of those rare and early stories in which Mickey was both heroic and gratuitously cruel. But he is, after all, the Little Guy, and it’s 1931 in Hollywood as well as Scottsboro and Harlan County.
Book II of “The Adventures” appeared a year later, when the Bonus Army encamped in Washington and the Lindbergh baby disappeared. Minnie, Mickey and Pluto (“his old houn’ dog”) set off to visit the impoverished Widow Church-mouse. In…