GENIUS. Disney’s real name, we are told, was José Guirao Zamora.
The Chambers Biographical Dictionary (New Edition) is in no doubt about it. Walt Disney was born in Chicago, it says in the first line. The Oxford English Reference Dictionary solves the problem by avoiding all mention of his birthplace, and any Spanish encyclopaedia from the Franco era will tell us that Walter Elias Disney, the pseudonym of José Guirao Zamora, was born in Mojácar, in the province of Almería.
All we are certain of is that the remains of Walt Disney have been resting in the Glendale cemetery in California since 1966. And that now, a new Spanish documentary film, which took five years of research and was made on two continents at a cost of 180,000 euros, challenges the official Disney biography by claiming that he was born far from the Windy City.
In the nineteen forties, the magazine Primer Plano, whose editorial policy followed the Franco line, warned of the visit of a mysterious group of Americans to Mojácar, suggesting a hypothesis that is now being put forward in the documentary by director Eduardo Soler, who hopes to show his film in the coming San Sebastián festival. With the title ‘Disney through the looking-glass’, the film identifies a woman named Isabel Zamora as the great man’s mother, claiming she emigrated to the United States as a single mother to escape a life of shame and poverty at home. And home was Mojácar. She may have been a washerwoman or a prostitute, and when she reached Chicago, she handed her son over to the care of the family of Elias Disney, a carpenter of Irish origin, and his wife Flora, a schoolteacher.
“What started out as an urban legend ended up as a story worth investigating,” says script writer Javier Ercilla, who interviewed many people in Mojácar, searched through newspaper and other relevant archives in Chicago, Los Angeles and Ellis Island, where all immigrants from Europe were processed during many years as they tried to enter the promised land. “The Franco regime claimed Disney was born in Mojácar, and the only document in existence showing that Disney was in Chicago as a child is a baptism certificate, dated many years after his actual birth,” adds Ercilla.
One of the men who knew Walt Disney well is Tito del Amo. He lived next door to him as an adolescent in Los Angeles, and now, at the age of 71, he lives in Mojácar.
“Disney’s moral code was questionable enough,” says Ercilla. He was disloyal to his friends and colleagues during the McCarthy communist witch-hunt. He did this for various reasons, among them to keep secret his extramarital relationships while outwardly, he lived in the perfect world of the rich and successful American family.”
According to the scriptwriter, Disney was forced by the CIA and the FBI to make secret visits to Spain. This part of his life was already hinted at in an unauthorised biography written in 1994, titled ‘Walt Disney, the dark prince of Hollywood.’ In this book he was accused of being anti-Semitic, subject to serious depression, alcoholic and greedy. “It’s a sensationalist book, full of errors with respect to his place of birth, as we have been able to demonstrate in our film,” says Ercilla. Meanwhile, Walt’s granddaughter Diane Disney ridicules the theory that her grandfather was born in Spain.
The film is scheduled to be screened in the The Walt Disney Family Museum, a theme park inaugurated in San Francisco last October. The Disney family will, no doubt, have a keen interest in seeing it, but it will be at a purely personal level. None of them have any links with the giant Disney Corporation, which warned the Spanish film makers to be careful with intellectual property in the making of the film. “But we speak only of the man in the film, and not the trademark,” says Javier Ercilla.