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Nelson’s Disney imposter

Updated: Jan 8

In 1950, a man registered himself in a Vancouver hotel as Walt Disney.

He certainly looked like the famed cartoonist. On that basis, he “was wined and dined … by the manager of a city club.” He also promised to visit children’s hospital and draw for the patients. “I like to feel I am working for the kids,” he said.

But he wasn’t Disney. In fact, he was a cook from a logging camp near Nelson. Someone got suspicious and complained to police, who arrested him, and had an ingenious way to establish whether he was the genuine article: they asked him to draw Mickey Mouse.

This he could not do to their satisfaction, so the jig was up.

A story from the Terre Haute (Indiana) Star of Sept. 6, 1950. The real Walt Disney is seen at right.

The man produced his unemployment insurance book, which gave his true identity, and police returned him to the place where he was staying on Richards Street while they considered whether to press charges.

In the meantime, the man changed his story, now claiming that although he wasn’t Disney, he had worked for Disney as an artist for seven years. This still seemed pretty dubious.

News of the phony Disney appeared in the Vancouver papers, and also in the Baltimore Sun, Cincinatti Enquirer, Arizona Daily Star, Los Angeles Times, Kansas City Times, and many other publications.

The creative headlines included: “Disney ringer draws blank”; “Disney personator admits he’s a cook”; “Disney without the artistic touch”; “Police art critics nail ‘Walt Disney’”; “Drawing Mickey Mouse stumps fake Disney”; “What! No Mickey Mouse? Would-be Disney is failure”; and “Mickey Mouse traps faker.”

No charges appear to have been laid and the man’s real name was never disclosed, so we have no idea who he really was, nor just how closely he resembled Disney.

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