Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Walt Likes Ike

While Walt Disney often possessed very strong political convictions, he rarely if ever used the company he and his brother Roy founded as a conduit to the general public for those opinions and viewpoints. Walt's political adventures have generally stayed under the radar, even when they have come to attain a degree of historical significance. This is especially true in the Disney Studio's creation of the what is largely considered one of the first presidential campaign television commercials, aired in 1952 for then Republican candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The animated "I Like Ike" one minute spot channeled the famous campaign slogan into a cross sectional demographic march to the White House led by Uncle Sam and followed close behind by a flag-carrying, drum beating elephant. Certainly benign by today's mudslinging standards, its harshest moment portrays Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate, riding a donkey away from Washington, accompanied by the lyrics "Let Adlai go the other way, we'll all go with Ike." But it was a bold move for 1952; Stevenson generally disdained the use of television commercials, but Eisenhower had no such qualms. He reached some 19 million viewers and went on to win the presidency in a landslide vote.

While Walt did have a reputation for sometimes bullying studio subordinates into making political contributions, he typically did not make many public endorsements. The Ike commercial was credited to brother Roy Disney as a producer and sponsored by the Citizens for Eisenhower-Nixon. It would be the genesis of a warm and friendly relationship between Walt and Ike that would extend all the way to Walt's death in 1966. Walt corresponded with the former president as late as summer of 1966; a few weeks following Walt's passing, Ike eulogized him, saying in part, "His work will endure so long as men and women and children retain a sense of wonder, a need for bright laughter, a love of the clean and decent. Consequently, Walt Disney's name and his creations will endure through generations. In honoring him, we salute an American who belongs to all the world."