Keith Haring Almost Landed a Dream Deal with Disney, According to a New Biography

The offer from Walt Disney Studios came just days before the artist's death in 1990.

Keith Haring, "Untitled" (1982). Courtesy of The Brant Foundation, Greenwich, Connecticut, USA. © The Keith Haring Foundation.

Pop artist Keith Haring, who had long drawn and painted Mickey Mouse in his art, almost landed his dream deal with Walt Disney Studios, a new book has revealed.

Brad Gooch has penned a comprehensive, 502-page biography of the artist titled Radiant: The Life and Line of Keith Haring, which will be published on March 5 by the HarperCollins flagship imprint Harper. Although the writer Ingrid Sischy mentioned the letter from Walt Disney Studios midway through an article for Vanity Fair in 1997, seven years after Haring’s death, details of the studio’s offer were not known.

Gooch has revealed new information about the letter, which focused on “Mickey Mouse as seen through the eyes of Keith Haring.” The typed letter he received came from Louis Fullmer in Merchandise Services, he said in an email. “She wrote: ‘I would like to discuss with you a Disney-Haring venture. The focus would be Mickey Mouse as seen through the eyes of Keith Haring.’”

Tragically, Haring received the news within just a few days of his death in 1990. In his book, Gooch categorized the situation as “rueful irony” as it was a “lifelong wish of Keith’s” to work with Disney.

Julia Gruen, who worked as Haring’s studio manager beginning in 1984 and was a trusted confidante until the end of his life, recalled reading the letter to Haring at his bedside. In her comments to Gooch, she described Haring as completely alert at the time but said he “surprised her by doubting [the letter’s] authenticity and accusing her of trying to lift his spirits.”

Keith Haring Andy Mouse, (1985) Private collection. © The Keith Haring

Disney eventually would team up with the Keith Haring Foundation for a project in 2021, to produce a series of Swatch watches, Uniqlo T-shirts, Coach bags, and other items with the artist’s paintings of Mickey Mouse.

“Disney was a lifelong through line in Haring’s artistic passions. He would talk of Warhol, Picasso, and Disney as the great 20th Century artists,” Gooch said. “His father was a cartoonist and amateur artist, encouraging him to draw his own original cartoons and showing him the work of Walt Disney and Dr. Seuss. His grandmother had a how-to-draw manual from the Disney company that Keith loved.”

Haring told Interview magazine in December 1984, when being interviewed by Andy Warhol and the fashion designer Halston, “I’ve always wanted to work for Walt Disney. That’s what I thought I was going to do when I grew up.”

“By the time he received the proposal, he had already very much shown how Mickey Mouse was seen through the eyes of Keith Haring,” Gooch said, “especially in his ‘Andy Mouse’ series, where he melded Andy Warhol and Mickey Mouse into a single icon, as well as the influence of his beloved Disneyland that resulted in works such as his carousel now reconstructed at Luna Luna in L.A.”


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