In January 1956, a Disney Studios representative in Washington, D.C. named Jerry Sims took a public tour of the FBI's headquarters and thought it would make an interesting segment for the MMC. The senior agents at the FBI vetoed that request. A year later, a new Disney representative in Washington, Hugo Johnson pursued that request again and this time a March 1, 1957 memo reveals that Johnson along with MMC Producer Bill Walsh met with agent Malone in Los Angeles to once again pitch the idea of an FBI segment for the MMC.
Initially, correspondence indicates that the Bureau preferred an hour long show about the history of science in law enforcement on the more prestigious Disneyland television show on Wednesday night following the format of previous shows on atomic energy and aviation. Using a combination of animation and live action the program would trace law enforcement practices of the Dark Ages through the establishment of the FBI's laboratory in 1932 that would be celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary in 1957.
Walsh informed the FBI that Walt "is interested in filming the show on the FBI, but feels that a production on the Laboratory would be impossible at this time because of the amount of work which would be involved and the limited time available between now and the Laboratory anniversary." Walsh pointed out it took over a year and a half to produce Our Friend the Atom and that "this type of film is usually not profitable for the Disney company" but Walt "likes to do films of this type occasionally as a public service." A month later, Walt brought up the subject again with FBI Agent John Malone in Los Angeles. A memo from Malone on March 7, 1956 again met with disapproval from the senior agents.
Johnson continued to pursue the request through a friend of his, the Assistant to the Director, Louis Nichols, who recommended to Associate Director Clyde Tolson, Hoover's protégé, that the Bureau should cooperate with the Disney Studio. Tolson finally agreed after some proding. The fact that segments for the MMC could be produced quickly and that the Disney Studio was so eager to feature the FBI were the deciding factors to agree to proceed with the project so that the FBI Laboratory anniversary could be publicized.
The Washington series for the MMC series would feature young Dirk Metzger in Washington, D.C. Four parts dealt with the FBI and then two parts on Congress, three parts on the making of money and two parts on the White House. These were edited down to ten minute shorts.
From the script for that first episode:
EXTERIOR DAY-Dirk Metzger against backdrop of Washington, D.C. with Capitol Building in foreground, as seen through window. Desk in foreground. OPEN Close Up on window, pull back to find Dirk in Medium Shot partially facing backdrop. He speaks before turning. FADE IN.
"Washington, D.C. Quite a place! Believe me! I'm Dirk Metzger. Maybe some of you will remember me as a Mickey Mouse Club foreign correspondent from a couple of years ago. Well, Walt Disney has now assigned me to cover Washington..not from the tourist angle, as we just saw.but Washington from the inside. What goes on behind those big doors? As a Mickey Mouse Club reporter I did a little exploring, and for the next two weeks, I'm going to show you what I saw.where I went.what I did. Follow me!"
Friday afternoon January 24, 1958 . Dirk was photographed with J. Edgar Hoover on May 15, 1957 by Hugo Johnson using a hand held camera and one light in a matter of minutes in the Director's outer office. After that opening, Dirk goes right to Quantico and there is a sequence with firearms training.
Monday, January 27, 1958, Dirk visited the FBI Identification Division.
Tuesday, January 28, 1958, Dirk visited Quantico for a crime scene search, followed by a visit to the Laboratory to see the examination of evidence.
Wednesday, January 29, 1958, Dirk followed up the Tuesday episode with more time in the Laboratory.
In 1958, Dirk Metzger was fourteen years old and a freshman at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. His filming would take place in the afternoon after school in several establishing shots and then during the day the rest of the scene was shot around him. He was going to an American school in England three years earlier when his father, Marine Colonel Louis Metzger was stationed in London. From the seventh grade class of twenty-eight boys, Dirk was picked by the Walt Disney Studios to make twenty fifteen minute travelogues for the MMC.
One of the MMC newsreel segments in the first and second seasons featured Dirk Metzger as a correspondent in England. (There were also Italian, Mexican, Danish and Japanese correspondents.) For a year and a half, Dirk spent his weekends being filmed in and around London as he visited secret tunnels of a pirate's cover, took a lesson in roof thatching, watched wild ponies in the west of England and talked to what he remembered as a "grizzly sheepherder with a mouthful of teeth. But the most fun was riding a canal boat from Manchester to London."
Dirk was asked to continue and stay in England and make more segments when his family returned to the Untied States but he declined saying, "London is an adult town. America is better in every way." Robbie Serpell replaced him.
However, when Disney decided to do a series based in Washington, D.C., they were delighted Dirk was living in Arlington. For the series, Dirk got to meet President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover and other Government officials as he visited various Washington landmarks.
"I waited a couple of weeks in the President's outer office," Dirk told a newspaper reporter in April 1958, "Then the President talked to me for eight minutes instead of two. He asked me quite a few questions like what does my family do. The President was really terrific and so nice - nothing but the best. He told me about his Bureau of the the Budget. I wasn't too interested in that. He also said two of his grandchildren watched the Mickey Mouse show."
Dirk was flown for two weeks out to Hollywood to record his commentary. The FBI liked the fact that Dirk was a Boy Scout.
"This young man makes an exceptionally fine appearance and is the son of a Marine Corps Colonel assigned here to the Fiscal Section of U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters. Metzger is not a professional actor and he has greatly impressed the Bureau personnel with20whom he has come in contact during the course of films shot at Quantico last week" stated a memo from May 15, 1957. (In that same memo, it was revealed that the FBI investigated Dirk's father and found nothing negative.)
However, his fame did bring him some teasing at school. As he told a reporter, "I didn't advertise too much. Sometimes I sort of get it in the face. There's always some Mickey Mouse show viewer at school who yells 'Hey, you forgot your ears!'"
The FBI reviewed the initial rough cut footage and composed a memo on October 22, 1957 of twenty-two things they wanted changed in the four episodes. Some were as elaborate as "the scene of the Agent firing two revolvers simultaneously and breaking the clay targets does not show the targets themselves breaking. This footage is available, and it is felt that if the scene is used at all, it should show the Agent's bullets breaking the clay targets" to simple phrase changes like "in line 3 of the narration, the word 'department' should be deleted and the word 'division' inserted."
A follow up memo from October 28, 1957, "The contents of the memorandum regarding the above captioned program were discussed in detail with Mr. William Park, News Reel Editor and Mr. Douglas Duitsman, News Reel Staff Writer, who composed the script for the film by Special Agent John Cashel at Disney Productions, on October 25, 1957. The changes suggested were reviewed and made in the film script. Both Disney executives indicated that any subsequent changes which might be desired by the Bureau in connection with this program would be readily undertaken. It was their opinion that no retakes of scenes will be necessary in order to accomplish the suggested changes."
While all of this correspondence sounds fairly positive, the problems began when the Bureau was shown the scripts and rough unedited film but not the finished films that they felt they needed to see and approve before release. A series of memos to Disney expressed concern that the Bureau had not seen the final cut.
Walt wasn't comfortable with others having final approval, a situation that would be revisited with Mary Poppins and P. L. Travers.
The situation escalated to the level of Hoover himself who wanted confirmation (which he received) that the Disney Studios had agreed that the Bureau needed to see the films for clearance before airing on television. A memo from January 23, 1958 (one day before the broadcast) included the statement: "Obviously, the mishandling on the part of the Disney Studios and failure to live up to their agreement will be taken into consideration when future approaches are made to the Bureau by this outfit."
Apparently, Disney was to supply to the Washington Bureau the completed films no later than Monday, January 20. The Bureau protested the situation with Disney's Washington representative, Hugo Johnson, who was also upset and shared his communications with the Disney Studios in Burbank urging them to send the films.
An official memo from Friday morning January 24th indicated "Apparently our protest with Disney Studios took effect. Hugo Johnson, local manager Disney Studios, advised at 9:45 a.m. this morning that he was en route to the airport where he would pick up the film and would have it back to us no later than 10:45 a.m. this morning. We have arranged an immediate viewing of the film."
After all that turmoil, the FBI saw nothing objectionable in the films. A letter from Hoover to Walt Disney on January 30, 1958 included the statement: "I thought that the whole series was exceptionally fine in that it gave very young people an excellent concept of the operations of the FBI." Hoover even sent a note of praise to Dirk Metzger as did President Eisenhower.
However, a bond of unspoken trust had been strained and some at the agency felt angry at the perceived snub and on a later memo there is a scribbled comment by Tolson "no further cooperation".