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Monday, September 1, 2014

Pollen Man

Pollen Man, A Quick Look at an Article from The New Yorker
I’d like to take a quick moment here to present an article shared with me by a team member at the Walt Disney Family Museum. Such was published in The New Yorker magazine on November 1, 1941. The article, entitled Pollen Man describes an interesting encounter with Walt Disney. Walt ensues to describe himself and his role at the Studio using the fascinating metaphor of a bee pollinating the artists. Please see the featured PDF to read the article in full.

Cover of the November 1, 1941 issue.
Image Source: http://archives.newyorker.com
           Contextually, this article came during a time of continual change and development for the Studio. By November 1941, the company had been crippled in strength and spirit by the strike, which had lasted most of the summer. Walt and the company known as “El Grupo” were freshly returned from the South American trip, anxious to busy themselves on new projects. But even further developments would come in just over a month, as the attack on Pearl Harbor catapulted America into the Second World War. By 1943, all Disney productions were war-related.
Walt had arrived in New York on Monday, October 20 aboard the ship Santa Clara direct from South America via the Panama Canal. He remained there for a week, and during this period would have spoken with the credited writers of Pollen Man, Harold Ross (1892-1951) and St. Clair McKelway (1905-1980) in the described “hotel room.” Ross was no less than the founder and editor-in-chief of The New Yorker. A respected New York journalist, Ross was a member of the famed Algonquin Round Table, a group of celebrated writers, which included humorist Robert Benchley, star of Disney’s feature from earlier in 1941, The Reluctant Dragon. McKelway had been a staffer on The New Yorker since 1933, was an early editor, and hired many writers who would later be celebrated.
Disney historian Jeffrey Moffit, graciously read the article and applied his knowledge for some commentary:

“It’s interesting to discern the implicit trust Walt had in the members of his team.  He wasn’t a leader who felt he had to watch his staff members’ every move.  He was content to let them do their own thing (in the process of working on a film or project) while he brought input, or “pollen,” every now and then to help them.  I think that kind of arrangement helped The Walt Disney Studios become as successful as it did.  It would certainly do wonders for an employee’s confidence.

“Reading Walt describe why he didn't draw as regularly as he did earlier in his career was also illuminating.  He recognized, unabashedly, that his artists drew better than he did, which goes to show that he thought more of the team effort than of personal notoriety.  Walt was also someone who had so many other things on his mind that he realized he could be more effective to his organization if he let his artists do what they did best.”

Perhaps Walt, in the midst of such turbulent times, was rethinking his role at the Studio, and this proved an opportunity to explain such publicly.
I’ll end on one of the more interesting quotes from Walt herein, “You know, the hardest thing to get is a good man who has a sense of humor. A man with a dramatic sense but no sense of humor is almost sure to go arty on you. But if he has a really good dramatic sense, he’ll have a sense of humor along with it.”


Sources
-Kaufman, J. B. South of the Border with Disney: Walt Disney and the Good Neighbor Program, 1941-1948. New York: Disney Editions, 2009. Print.
-Michaud, John. "Eighty-Five from the Archive: St. Clair McKelway - The New Yorker." The New Yorker. Newyorker.com, 4 Feb. 2010. Web. 20 Aug. 2014.

-"Pollen Man. - The New Yorker." The New Yorker. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. <http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1941/11/01/pollen-man>.

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