Fact or Fiction: Was Walt Disney Into Mescaline?
When you think of Walt Disney, what springs to mind? Childhood memories of heartwarming animated films, a vivid and creative imagination or characters that will stay with you forever. Whilst all of those may be true to most people there seems to be another side to Walt Disney, a side that has long been rumoured but never confirmed.
Looking back at some of the vivid character designs and scenes from films like the coveted “fantasia” it would be all to easy to assume that some sort of drug taking was involved. I mean the china dance scene with the mushrooms, if that doesn't scream some reference to taking mushrooms then we all need a long hard look in the mirror. There has long been speculation members of the creative team were involved in the use of psychoactive substances, so is it such a far cry for Walt himself to have indulged as well? Are we dealing with cold hard facts or the result of years of hearsay and Chinese whispers?
To understand whether this statement could be true, we first need to understand what made Mr. Disney tick. Often regarded as the pioneer of animated cinema, he produced over 650 films or shorts in a career that spanned decades. Never content with the status co he was one of the first to produce using Technicolour in 1932 when no one else would entertain the idea, to him it seemed to be about learning something fresh and exciting. Mr. Disney was always interested in looking ahead and trying new things so it may then come as no surprise that films like “Fantasia” are often considered ahead of their time. The result of a true visionary and not influenced by the use psychoactive drugs like mescaline. More importantly, how did a naturally occurring substance like Mescaline, found in the peyote cactus, find its way to Walt?
In a letter by Paul Laffoley, an American visionary artist, Mr. Laffoley claimed that Walt Disney had indeed indulged in the use of the hallucinogenic drug mescaline. In an attempt to explain the “artistic implications of the new field of animation”, Walt arranged an interview with Josef Albers who was at the time the artistic director for Black Mountain College. Josef had turned down his initial advances unamused by the cute nature of Disney's vision. Walt then switched his intentions to the students so that he could find a way to influence them directly to aid his animated ventures. It was during this interaction with the students that he discovered they themselves were avid users of mescaline during their summer breaks in Chihuahua, Northern Mexico. Mr. Laffoley claims this proved to be the catalyst needed for Walt to become a frequent user himself. This is, of course, one man's recount of the events and since Mr. Laffoley has sadly passed away not an avenue that can be explored further.
Could it then be considered that it was the perception of the people watching and the era that his films were released that caused them to be synonymous with psychoactive substances like mescaline? If we take “Fantasia” as our prime example, the film was re-released in theaters in the 1960's after failing to attract adult crowds in its first run. The swinging sixties were awash with new experiences most of them involving a boom in psychoactive drugs and the alternative reality they offered. During this time flocks of new age adolescents would often get high or trip and watch Walt's latest re-run. Imagine that in a film so clearly ahead of its time, featuring an ensemble of classical music mixed with animated interpretation, watching it whilst tripping or high would indeed make you think that the film itself was made whilst tripping or high.
There is no denying that films like “Fantasia” and the characters that Walt created were truly unique and original. At a time when animated cinema was in its infancy, he was pioneering in his approach and his story creation. Could we go further and categorically say that some of the influence behind his work was the result of substances like mescaline? On this occasion unfortunately not. Whilst there are several sources placing Mr. Disney in a place or time where mescaline use may have occurred, as well as speculation that his creative team dabbled in the use of psychoactive drugs there is nothing concrete. Unlike modern times where drug use is often captured and posted over social media for the world to see, no such option existed in Walt's era. For now, we must be content with enjoying the films as they were intended, whether that be whilst under the influence of substances like mescaline or not. That mushroom scene, though...
Written by: Lucas
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