DISNEY INCREASING SEX SCANDALS AND CHILD ABUSE ISSUES HAVE THE PUBLIC
Straitlaced Disney, a Star Producer’s R-Rated Behavior Draws
Schumacher, the executive behind the new ‘Frozen’ musical, has been
accused of explicit sexual language and harassment in the workplace
Schumacher discusses the ‘The Lion King’ in New York on
the show’s 20th anniversary.PHOTO:JENNY
30 years atWalt
Tom Schumacher has become one of the most powerful and complicated
people on Broadway as he established his employer as a dominant
force in American theater.
reaches a new apex this Thursday when the “Frozen” musical, which
he produced, begins playing on Broadway. The $50 million-plus show
is a critical part of Disney’s plans to turn the hit animated
movie into a long-lasting cultural touchstone, in the lucrative
footsteps of “The Lion King.” The show’s debut comes just two
months after he was elected chairman of the Broadway League, the
industry organization that puts on the Tony Awards, confirming his
royal status on the Great White Way.
executives last as long as Mr. Schumacher has at a major
entertainment company, let alone reach new heights after three
decades. People who have worked with him say he is demanding and
intelligent, with a strong sense of what he wants and the
ability to work with creative talent to achieve it. Though
others at Disney thought her theater work was too avant-garde
for a Disney property, Mr. Schumacher championed Julie Taymor to
direct 1997’s “Lion King” musical. It is now the
highest-grossing stage show ever.
side of his success as a creative executive has been a harsh
demeanor and tendency to cross the boundaries of appropriate
workplace behavior, people who have worked with him said. Mr.
Schumacher has offended numerous employees over the years with
explicit language and behavior, including comments about
subordinates’ sexual attractiveness, discussions about
pornography and walking through the office in a bathrobe while
boasting he had nothing on underneath, according to people who
said they witnessed the episodes.
person close to Mr. Schumacher said he denied all the incidents
in this article, each of which was independently described to
The Wall Street Journal by at least two eyewitnesses.
Tom Schumacher and cast attend the ‘Newsies’ final
Broadway curtain call at the Nederlander Theatre in 2014.PHOTO:BRAD
Schumacher has “at times acknowledged using inappropriate
language, expressed regret, and committed to being more mindful
and adhering to company policies going forward,” the person
close to him added.
Disney spokeswoman said that “complaints are thoroughly
investigated and appropriate action is taken” at the company.
continued faith in Mr. Schumacher demonstrates the tensions at
entertainment companies attempting to balance typical standards
of corporate behavior with the looser rules of creative
environments. Broadway in particular is a small community with
its own norms and strictures, people who work there said, and
Mr. Schumacher appears to have benefited from his role as a
bridge between it and a family-friendly media giant.
division of around 100 people consistently makes profits of
between $100 million and $150 million, people familiar with its
finances said, and it gives the company a presence in live
entertainment that no other studio can boast, from Broadway and
London’s West End to world-wide tours, ice shows and school
Schumacher, 60, runs the business with broad autonomy. His boss,
the straitlaced Disney studios Chairman Alan Horn, and Chief
Executive Robert Iger rarely visit the theatrical offices 2,800
miles away from corporate headquarters near Los Angeles,
Schumacher sometimes has acted like a throwback to the past when
issues raised by the #MeToo movement were decades away, people
who have worked with him said. Mr. Schumacher seemed to view his
ribald comments as comedic. One person who discussed the issue
with him said the Disney Theatrical president, who is gay,
defended himself by saying a straight executive wouldn’t face
the same scrutiny.
Schumacher joined Disney in 1988, part of a wave of executives
from the theater world who took over its feature animation
business during the 1990s. Bawdy talk that was common backstage
made its way into the previously conservative offices of Disney
animation, people who worked there said. Mr. Schumacher,
however, at times crossed lines in ways that employees found
Studio Chairman Peter Schneider, left, and animation chief
Tom Schumacher in 2000.PHOTO:KIRK
MCKOY/LOS ANGELES TIMES/GETTY IMAGES
Williams, who worked in the story-development department
overseen by Mr. Schumacher, said he accused his then-boss of
the two worked closely together and socialized, Mr. Schumacher
took a sexual interest in the subordinate, Mr. Williams recalled
in an interview. At first flattered, Mr. Williams said he became
uncomfortable with what he described as “salacious and
inappropriate” remarks, including evaluations of how he looked
while climbing a ladder and “compliments on my ass.”
former Disney employees said they were aware of Mr. Williams’s
complaints about Mr. Schumacher’s behavior.
Williams brought his concerns to two superiors in 1994, he said.
Soon after, he recalled, a human-resources representative told
him, “We’ve spoken to Tom and he apologizes,” adding, “this time
I think he’s heard us.”
separate the two men, Disney moved Mr. Williams “to the gulag,”
he said—a nearly empty floor in another building where he had no
work to do.
1995, Mr. Williams decided to leave Disney. Now 60 and working
as an usher in a Minneapolis theater, he said he has struggled
with depression, which he attributes in part to his experience
with Mr. Schumacher and subsequent treatment by Disney. “I never
felt the same about a workplace again,” he said.
Disney spokeswoman said the company had no record of a complaint
by Mr. Williams.
the ensuing years, Mr. Schumacher’s career prospered. He worked
on films such as “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas” and helped
forge Disney’s relationship with Pixar Animation Studios. In
1999, he became president of feature animation.
Schumacher has presided over both hits and misses during
his time running Disney's live-theater business.
Note: Doesn’t include grosses from regional or international performances
Source: Broadway World; Photos: Getty Images (5); Deen van Meer (Newsies); Cylla von Tiedemann (Aladdin)
the same time, Mr. Schumacher started overseeing Disney’s
nascent theatrical business, which primarily adapts animated
movies for the stage.
people who worked with him then, Mr. Schumacher was divisive.
“Tom is one of the smartest producers I ever worked with and
very savvy in navigating the world of Disney,” said Stuart
Oaken, who worked at Disney Theatrical from 1994 through 2004.
Mindlin, who worked in animation and theatrical from 1994
through 2003, is one of several former colleagues who said Mr.
Schumacher made clear who was part of his inner circle and who
was not. “If he liked you, you were treated well, but if he
didn’t, he could be very unkind,” she said
2003, Mr. Schumacher left his job in animation after several
flops and moved to New York to oversee the theatrical division
full-time. His workplace behavior seemed to become more
frequently inappropriate, colleagues said.
people recalled a day in the mid-2000s when Mr. Schumacher
arrived at the office in wet clothes following a rainstorm and
changed into a bathrobe. While walking around, he told employees
he had nothing on underneath, these people said.
Schumacher made no secret in the office of his attraction to
Josh Strickland, who played the title role in Disney’s 2006
stage version of “Tarzan,” said employees. He boasted that he
had gone “naked tanning” with the former “American Idol”
contestant and discussed his interest in helping to fit the
star’s loincloth, said former employees who heard him.
Strickland said in a statement provided by his manager that,
while he did go to a tanning session with Mr. Schumacher to
develop the look for the Tarzan character, “at no point did I
ever feel uncomfortable” and that “any suggestion of nudity…is
Tim Jerome, Jenn Gambatese and Josh Strickland at the
opening night curtain call of ‘Tarzan’ in 2006.PHOTO:PAUL
Schumacher made jokes about the sexual prowess of black men
after a former assistant of his, Jane Buchanan, brought her
biracial son into the office, witnesses said. Ms. Buchanan is
allegation was among a number made by Ms. Buchanan against Mr.
Schumacher soon after she was dismissed around 2006, said people
with knowledge of her case. Following a human-resources
investigation, Ms. Buchanan left with severance and a
nondisclosure agreement, these people said.
for comment, Ms. Buchanan said, “Regretfully, I can not talk
about anything that happened during my time at Disney
Schumacher has continued to use sexual language in the past two
or three years, according to colleagues, including discussing
Schumacher celebrates the unveiling of his caricature at
Sardi's in 2008.PHOTO:JEFFREY
talent and drawbacks as a leader will be put to the test as he
is front and center with “Frozen.” Its four years of development
have been bumpy, including what Mr. Schumacher described as a
“painful” decision in 2016 to switch directors during
show’s budget is huge by Broadway standards, and resellers are
offering tickets for more than $2,000.
biggest chunk of Disney Theatrical’s annual profits still come
from the 21-year-old “The Lion King,” currently playing in six
countries, people familiar with the company’s finances said.
Disney is hoping Mr. Schumacher will take “Frozen” to a similar
level of success.
Schwartzel, Jim Oberman and Ellen Byron contributed to this