An Open Letter to the
Walt Disney Corporation
The controversy over Walt Disney’s forthcoming movie, “Hidalgo,” continues to grow.
In one corner: the Walt Disney company, which persists in pretending that the action-adventure film is “based on the true story of Frank T. Hopkins.” Some of Hopkins’ many and absurd claims were that he had been a dispatch rider, buffalo hunter, “ringmaster and star” of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, winner of more than 400 endurance races all over the world, witness to the Massacre of Wounded Knee, mentor of Billy the Kid, secret agent and the inspiration behind Zane Grey’s novels. He even claimed to have taken tea with Queen Victoria on the balcony at Buckingham Palace.
In the opposite corner: The Long Riders' Guild and an international team of 75 historians, academics, authors, curators and librarians who have together proved that Hopkins did none of the things he pretended to have done.
And in the middle, millions of people who have been deceived even before the movie’s release!
This movie is a massive distortion of history, which further degrades the reputation of the Walt Disney company, currently in total disarray. Roy Disney’s departure has highlighted the need for an integrity audit within the company.
Ironically it was the Walt Disney company which initially instigated The Long Riders' Guild research into Frank Hopkins! The Guild was approached in early February 2003 by a researcher at Bill Brummel Productions, which had been asked to make a History Channel documentary about Hopkins. The History Channel is one of Disney’s subsidiaries.
It only took a few telephone calls to set alarm bells ringing, and as the evidence against Hopkins mounted, The Guild shared the results of its research with the staff at Bill Brummel Productions.
It was not long before Bill Brummel himself agreed that Hopkins was a fraud.
In an email dated 5th March 2003 Brummel wrote: “Thanks for keeping us apprised of all your research on the Hopkins hoax. You have me convinced for sure. You have done some meticulous work. We are moving full steam ahead with our plans for the History Channel documentary. I have informed the network that the show is going to take a turn in that it will reveal the story of the movie to be untrue with a capital “U.” They are on board with that approach.”
Brummel ended his message with this paragraph. “Again, this is some fabulous research. Being someone who fancies history, I often get upset with people in my profession who fabricate stories and present them as fact. It’s pretty clear no one at Disney has researched this too closely. Maybe your research once it is out there, at least will make them back off claims of it being even ‘based on a true story.’”
The television program made by Bill Brummell Productions is scheduled to be aired on the History Channel to coincide with the release of the movie.
The Walt Disney company did not, however, wish to hear what The Guild was saying!
Emails to Arlene Ludwig, head of PR and media relations for Touchstone Pictures, and a registered letter to CEO Michael Eisner, were all ignored.
It would appear that the Walt Disney company and John Fusco, “Hidalgo’s” screenwriter, were determined to have a “true story,” to go head to head with “Seabiscuit,” the documented equine hero.
But it seems that there may have been more to it than just a race.
The movie was originally intended to be released in August 2003 – at a time when the Iraqi war-fever was at its height. A half-Lakota, all-American cowboy beating those pesky Arabs in a horse race, on Arabian soil? How much more chauvinistic – sorry, patriotic – can one get? The Walt Disney company must have thought it had a surefire formula for success!
But the research project led by The Long Riders' Guild has uncovered more and more evidence that Frank Hopkins, the “all-American hero” of “Hidalgo,” was one of the world’s biggest liars, plagiarists and slanderers. It has even been discovered that Hopkins had a secret wife and children, whom he had apparently left at the height of the Great Depression! The Guild is now looking for Hopkins’ descendants, and it will be interesting to hear what they have to say about Disney making a film about their ancestor.
As the research team published more and more shocking revelations like these, the release date of the movie was put back not once, but twice – from August 2003 to October, then from October to March 2004.
Meanwhile, the screenwriter, John Fusco, must know perfectly well there is no truth in the Hopkins story. On Thursday, March 13th he told a Hollywood Reporter journalist: “I've been researching Hopkins life for more than 12 years now and compiled research from more than 15 well-respected historians that verify this story,” Fusco said.
But Fusco has never revealed his research or his sources. Now, with no evidence to back up the Hopkins tales, the screenwriter has changed his tune. His new defense is to tell journalists that “all cowboys told tall tales!”
All the while the trailer for “Hidalgo” has been running for months, trumpeting on three occasions that the movie is “based on a true story.” So millions of people have already been misled.
But with $90 million invested in the movie, and the ink barely dry on a marketing deal with the Breyer toy company for Hidalgo plastic ponies, the executives at Disney are obstinately maintaining their mirage. They still pretend that Hidalgo, the horse that never was, won a race in Arabia that never happened.
The only person from within the Disney corporation who has made any comment about “Hidalgo” is Nina Heyn, Disney's Executive Director of International Publicity. When questioned by an international journalist, Heyn dismissed concerns about Hopkins’ authenticity out of hand.
"No one here really cares about the historical aspects. Once a movie has been shot people move on to the others. …. If it transpires that the historical aspects are in question, I don't think people would care that much," Heyn told the media.
The Long Riders' Guild and the 75 historians who have helped uncover Frank Hopkins’ lies, plagiary and slander most emphatically do not agree with Heyn’s attitude.
Dr. Vine Deloria, Jr. is a leading Native American scholar, a retired professor emeritus of history at the University of Colorado and the author of many acclaimed books.
Deloria wrote, “Hopkins’ claims are so outrageously false that one wonders why the Disney people were attracted to this material at all - except of course the constant propensity to make money under any conditions available. One need only peruse the mass of material purporting to deal with the Oglala Sioux and Hopkins' claims regarding them to see that almost anything can be acceptable to the money-mad titans of Hollywood. … Hollywood in all its fictional ventures of the past has never treated history with just such a dismissive attitude. Disney must need the money to take such a bold step.”
Dr. Deloria went on to denounce Hopkins as an Indian imposter, and called him the “World’s Greatest Liar.”
Professor Henry Giroux, author of “The Mouse that Roared – Disney and the End of Innocence,” was equally scathing.
Giroux wrote, “Actually, this scandalous behavior on the part of the Disney corporation does not surprise me at all. Truth telling is not one of their signature characteristics. Ironically, CEO Michael Eisner constantly claims that the Disney corporation just entertains the public and in doing so, he hides behind this deceptive mantle of innocence. Yet he knows full well, as the "Hidalgo" travesty suggests, that the Disney Corporation doesn't simply entertain, they often misrepresent and distort and in doing so mis-educate. I hope this issue raises enough public attention to both reveal their misrepresentation of history and to educate the public to that side of Disney which undercuts history as it simultaneously misrepresents it. It is a shame that something your organization [The Long Riders’ Guild] is both knowledgeable about and believes in [equestrian travel] has to be treated so trivially by Disney executives.”
The outrage over the movie “Hidalgo” is not confined to historians. The equestrian world is now demanding answers as well.
Susan Gibson, the publisher of Trail Blazer magazine, was forthright in her denunciation of Hopkins, the counterfeit cowboy.
“When I first saw the ad for the upcoming Disney movie, “Hidalgo,” it said that this was based on a true story of an amazing equestrian hero, and I could hardly wait! But my excitement soon turned to disbelief when I received this story from The Long Riders' Guild. Our editorial staff checked all of the research and sources that were gathered by The Guild, and every piece fits into place and appears to be authentic. Once upon a time, Frank Hopkins wrote fantasy stories about his adventures on horseback, and his fantasy stories have been repeated over and over as truth without anyone taking the time to verify their truth. Not a single piece of evidence has ever been brought forth that shows that Frank Hopkins ever rode a horse in a long distance horse race. Not in America, not in Arabia. Not ever. Why are we [Trail Blazer] going out on a limb and printing this explosive expose? Because, simply put, it isn’t right that a man who was a teller of tall tales be elevated to the status of American Hero in the Hidalgo movie. Our heroes need to be real,” Gibson wrote.
Finally, one of the historians whom screenwriter Fusco claimed supported the Hopkins fantasy was Dr. Donald Worcester, Distinguished Emeritus at Texas Christian University and noted Old West historian.
But Dr. Worcester has also denounced Hopkins as a fraud.
“If the Walt Disney studio does not announce that the movie “Hidalgo” is fiction, then years from now people will be misled into believing it is a true story.” said Worcester. “If these people don't admit they were misled, then I wouldn't trust them on anything else!”
This controversy is not about Viggo Mortensen’s acting ability.
It is not about the Lakota people.
It is not about the breed of horse Hopkins supposedly rode.
As far as the historians are concerned, it’s about the truth.
But as far as Hollywood is concerned, it’s about profit and propaganda.
The Walt Disney company should issue a public apology, admit that serious research mistakes were made, and declare that the movie “Hidalgo” is entirely fictional.
If the Disney studio does not do so, then Roy Disney is right: the company is “rapacious, soulless, and always looking for the quick buck.”