According to the L.A. Times:
David Hilberman, whose union activities at Walt Disney Studios and
brief membership in the Communist Party led to his blacklisting and
shadowed a long career that included founding the innovative United
Productions of America studio, has died. He was 95.
Hilberman died of natural causes July 5 at Stanford University Medical Center, according to his family.
Hiblerman, was an accomplished artist and studio operator, but is perhaps best remembered, at least in Disney circles, as being the man singled out by Walt Disney before the House Un-American Activities Committee in regard to the 1941 animator’s strike that Hilberman helped organize. Disney, allegedly, believed the strike to be affiliated with communists and told the committee that one artist was
"the real brains of this, and I believe he is a communist. His name is
Needless to say, this was not a ringing endorsement for Hiblerman.
“Needless to say, this was not a ringing endorsement for Hiblerman.”
And historically speaking, it’s not such a ringing endorsement of Walt Disney, either.
I was blessed in having met David Hilberman over 30 years ago, when I was a mother with young children, and an artist just beginning my career (as Norma Auer Adams).
He and I were in a watercolor workshop together, and we became good friends. I was in touch with him until close to the time of his death, and he was unfailingly good-natured, kind and willing to give of himself generously as an artist, as a friend, and especially to my young children.
My children grew up at a time when there was a renewed interest in Disney’s early classic full-length cartoons, and I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled they were to have Dave bring over sketches from some of the Disney features on which he’d worked.
His talent was immense, and his gentle nature towards his abilities was filled with grace and modesty. In his later years, he worked with the Palo Alto Children’s Theatre, advising on sets, productions, etc., still giving of his experience to bring joy to young families.
I would hate to have the only memories of this very good man be as narrow and as unfeeling as those words presented above. I’m sorry he’s gone, and I’m glad we, in the world, had his presence for as long as we did.
Dave and I discussed, at times (and generally obliquely, because I didn’t want to intrude on his privacy), the Disney years and the ending of his time as a Disney artist. Perhaps no one knows the hardship Walt Disney enacted on those who wanted a more fair working environment for the Disney artists, but it was from the example of those like Dave Hilberman that the artists were subsequently given better working conditions and wages.
We even discussed the issue of Communism, and Communism as it was experienced by many creative, outward-looking people of the time was not the Communism that was defined ultimately by Russia and McCarthy.
For most creative people of that era (including Dave), any brush with Communism was just that, a “brush”, and it didn’t become a deep passion or commitment. It was an act of a creative, inquiring mind to look at the yeast of ideologies that were swirling around in that period. Dave told me more than once that he was never a Communist as we have come to define Communists. His desire for better working conditions was fomented from within the Disney organization itself. He was an early-day example of a “whistle-blower”, and because of this his reputation has paid a high price.
As an artist myself, I can speak to this issue: the life of an artist is a challenge, for it’s a very subjective field. You are rewarded based on others’ value of your creative work, and the income can often be irregular at best. Dave was trying to secure better incomes and working conditions within the Disney workshop by trying to promote a union, to give a voice to the artists. The Disney company was adamantly against this.
Dave and his wife Libby raised a wonderful family that they’d seen expand into many areas of the creative world. Dave would tell me of his children and grand-children, even great-grandchildren, and the ways in which each was bringing something new to the world.
I deem in an honor and a blessing to have known David Hilberman for as many years as I did. I miss him, even today — it’s why I looked his name up on Google, and was so disappointed to find this entry.