If you’ve come for family-oriented feel-good stories about Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse, today’s not your day, pal. Instead of discussing what’s happening at Walt Disney World or Disneyland, we’ll dive into a little-known, raunchy fact about Disney that may change your perspective of the typical nostalgia-inducing, family-friendly company. Today’s story has it all: nuns, nudity, and maybe a laugh or two along the way as we explore the wild but true story of Walt Disney’s Gentlemen’s Club. Buckle up; this is going to be a fun one!
Disney’s Repressed Public Image
When you think of Disney, more specifically Disney animation, you’ll likely conjure up images of princesses, talking mice, castles, wishes, and magic. What you don’t think about is debauchery and nudity. Despite Disney’s squeaky-clean public image, the company and its Burbank studio aren’t without their fair share of wild stories.
Many may recall the rambunctious party that Walt Disney once threw. Walt’s Field Day in 1938 was an over-the-top celebration where animators cut loose to celebrate the wrap of Snow White at the Norconian Resort in California. Although infamous, the party is viewed nowadays through a comedic lens, even though the tales of riotous behavior don’t align well with the image Disney typically portrays to the public.
When you watch a Disney movie or visit a Disney park, the last thing you expect is adult imagery, especially the kind that is expeditious enough to make a nun blush. Although there have been several cases and suggestions of rumored innuendo placed in Disney films like The Lion King (1994) and Aladdin (1992), Disney maintains its child-friendly repression in media.
Although guests’ behavior within Disney-owned establishments like Disneyland and Walt Disney World doesn’t always reflect the same traditional values that Disney has come to claim as their own, ultimately, despite being more progressive nowadays, Disney strays from images that may shine a negative light on the company. The brand has to be protected, after all.
Maybe That’s Why You Don’t Know About the Disney Penthouse
Protecting its family-friendly brand is something that Disney takes seriously in all arms of its business. Its studios, parks, and cruise ships are all designed to present immaculately as if there’s no care in the world. The image is a big part of why people become loyal to Disney World or Disneyland as vacation spots.
With that in mind, it makes sense that you’ve probably not heard much in terms of the adult side of Disney outside of a few speculative articles regarding animators hiding explicit text and imagery in their films. For instance, did you know that Walt Disney had a gentlemen’s club?
Of course, you didn’t because it’s off-brand for the company. Much like photoshopping cigarettes from the hands of Walt, the entertainment-specializing company doesn’t openly talk about the titillating penthouse social club that was part of the Animation Building at Walt Disney Studios.
After a Long Day of Drawing Cartoons, Sunbath at Walt Disney’s Gentlemen’s Club
Yep! You read that correctly. Accessible only by elevator, Walt Disney Studios had a Gentlemen’s-only club within the confines of their studios that hosted many famous Disney animators and legends like Rolly Crump.
The Gentlemen’s Club was an exclusive, no clothes required, spot for a select few to enjoy after a long day of animating Disney princes, talking animals, and evil villains. As the term “gentlemen’s club” has certain connotations, you wouldn’t be far off in your assumption that some wild stories manifested themselves within the hidden space of the social club.
Members of the gentlemen’s club could enjoy the typical leisure that you’d expect from a classy joint that requires exclusive membership. Cocktails, smokes, and nudity were all part of the space dedicated to allowing hard-working artists to wind down and take a much-needed break.
You probably thought we would just breeze over that “nudity” part, huh? Nope! An enticing benefit of Walt’s gentlemen’s club was sunbathing. Animators could escape the confines of their animation spaces and “let it all hang out” while catching a few rays. Sun, drinks, and cigars! The place was Pleasure Island long before Michael Eisner reigned over The Walt Disney Company.
Disney’s Gentlemen’s Club Causes a Ruckus
You probably are wondering when the nuns enter the story. Well, we’re getting there. First, let us paint a picture for you.
According to the Disney History Institute and friends over at Disney Fanatic, “the club entrance welcomed patrons with a mural featuring topless women. Members could mingle on the floor with access to amenities such as a bar, barber shop, masseuse, steam baths, and even beds. One of the more accepted activities amongst the men was card games. Walt Disney’s personal trainer also held classes in the exercise room.“
The gentlemen’s club came complete with a rooftop patio that one would assume was probably a popular spot to hang out and enjoy the sunny California weather. True, but it was also where members would strip down and “work on their tans.”
So, there’s nothing extremely scandalous going on outside of a few naked guys relaxing on a roof, right? That would be true IF there weren’t a Catholic hospital right across the street within full view of the rooftop patio. According to Matt Santoro, the nuns of the hospital weren’t pleased with the fact that fully nude men were hanging out across the street, which led to a series of complaints.
Rolly Crump Tells All
You’d think a few upset nuns would be enough for the men attending Disney’s gentlemen’s club to cover up, wrong! According to Rolly Crump, despite the complaints of nude men sunbathing on their lunch breaks, the antics continued for a while. However, eventually, a compromise would be reached, with patrons of the social club wearing towels when in direct eyesight of the hospital.
Few know about the scandalous penthouse club at Disney Animation Studios, however a subreddit aptly named /todayilearned, dedicated to sharing obscure facts, is who really got this author interested in learning more about what was going on behind closed doors, and well, rooftops in the 40s at Walt Disney Animation Studios.
TIL that back in the 1940s there was a male-only “Penthouse Club” at the Walt Disney Studios for their top animators, including a rooftop patio where they used to take nude sunbaths. They had to stop when it became known that nuns in the neighboring hospital were peeking at them
It’s unclear when the practices changed at Walt Disney Animation Studios. As Disney Fanatic’s Michael Stoyanoff pointed out, the location has been through a lot of change since those early days. However, realizing that Disney animators once upset nuns with their break-time nudity at Walt Disney’s Gentlemen’s Club is a story of note. As times change, the past is an amazing thing to examine in relation to the current climates of today. With that said, it’s safe to assume, the Gentlemen’s Club, or at least the nudity part, no longer exists.
This post originally appeared on Disney Dining.