Paul Murry: The Wayne DeWald Letter

by Wade Sampson, staff writer
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I have always liked the work of Disney artist Paul Murry.

Born November 25, 1911, Murry joined the Disney Studios in 1938 and was an assistant animator to the legendary Fred Moore on Pinocchio.

Murry became a full animator on Dumbo and worked on Fantasia (where he did some work on the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence), Saludos Amigos, Song of the South, some Mickey Mouse shorts (like The Pointer 1939), as well as other projects (like 1946's The ABC of Hand Tools), although his name never appeared on screen.

Murry got his start in newspaper cartooning by doing strips for Disney based on Jose Carioca and later Panchito from The Three Caballeros. From October 14, 1945, through July 1946, Murry penciled the “Uncle Remus” comic strip. It was Murry's work on this strip that offered his first opportunity to do comic book work when he provided an Uncle Remus story for Dell Four Color 129.

He quit the Disney Studio in 1946 and began doing freelance work for Disney-related comic books, in particular stories featuring Mickey Mouse, since Murry had been assistant to Fred Moore, considered the expert on the Mouse. Perhaps Murry is best known for doing the artwork on many of the Mickey Mouse serial adventures in the back of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories comic book for many years.

His first Mickey Mouse story was Mickey and the Whale, which was a 24-page story in “Vacation Parade No. 1” (1950). Murry teamed briefly with storyman Dick Huemer in 1952 to produce an original comedy Western newspaper strip, “Buck O’Rue” that will be reprinted in book form soon. Murry was also known for doing “good girl” girlie panel cartoons for a variety of magazines like Gags, Pepper and Charley Jones’ Laugh Book Magazine.

Murry died on August 4, 1989 at his home in Palmdale, Calif. He was survived by 29 grandchildren.

In the late 1960s, I met through correspondence another comics fan named Wayne DeWald. One of the things he shared with his fellow comic friends was a letter he received from Murry.

At the time, DeWald was just beginning work as a corporate writer, a career that eventually spanned more than 40 years, but he was also a big comic book fan. He was a member of an amateur press alliance (a group of writers who print a pre-determined number of copies of a contribution sent to a central mailer who then selects a copy from each contributor and staples them all into one magazine sized fanzine and then sends a copy back to each of the contributors) called CAPA-Alpha (or K-a) that was the very first comics amateur press alliance (apa).

DeWald, who lived in Florida at the time, wanted to do a series of profiles on animation and comic book artists and wrote to them in hopes of getting a response that he could use in his zine for CAPA-Alpha called “Therefore.” The membership of that apa was less than 50 members, so very few people ever saw DeWald’s work.

Today, DeWald works as a quality control manager for a direct mail agency and a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Boys’ Life magazine—and still has fond memories of those fan days when he briefly interacted with some of his heroes like artist Al Williamson.

Through a mutual friend, I tracked DeWald down to ask him about how and why he connected with Murry and got such a great letter. I sent him a copy of the letter that I had, hoping that it might help spark some memories from when it was first published in Fall 1970. Some of the contents of that letter from Murry that Wayne reprinted in K-a have popped up in articles about Murry over the years.

DeWald responded:

“Boy, that letter sure brought back lots of memories! Thanks for sending it! I certainly had no idea that the content of that letter lived on in articles about Murry. That's kind of cool.

“At that time, I would do stuff like read that an artist lived in a particular area and simply tried to find a phone listing or address for them so if anybody like a Mike Barrier mentioned where Murry lived it's possible that's how I found him.

“That's how I met C.C. Beck, the artist on the original Captain Marvel. Cold called him after reading he lived in Miami and actually became pretty friendly with him.

“In Murry’s case, I don't know if I wrote him via Gold Key comics or what. In those days I regularly wrote letters to just about every artist I could think of, usually getting at least a note in response.

“I wrote Ward Kimball, wanting to do one of those PRO-files interviews I did for my apa zine. ‘Therefore’ was the name of my zine, but I ran a feature called PRO-files that included responses to my questions from artists like Don Martin, Hal Foster and a few others. Got a response from Kimball essentially telling me he had just done a lengthy interview with Mike Barrier and that he had covered most of my questions in that interview.

“I wish I could help you out more about my correspondence with Paul Murry.

"He was one heck of a nice guy and we exchanged several letters—none of which I still have unfortunately. The letters were lost as the result of several cross-country moves: Florida-Utah-Florida-Texas (Houston to Dallas). I am certain they will never resurface.

“To the best of my recollection I think we were in touch about 1968-1970. He did four or five illustrations for me of Mickey Mouse, Pluto and Goofy and those are also gone, although my good friend Gary Brown still has two of the Mickey Mouse ones that he used for his K-a apa zine, Ibid. All the artwork Murray did (for free) was done in India ink and it was on art board.

“Along with one letter he sent me a map of the Los Angeles area with notations on what was located where as far as the Disney operation. He seemed to have really enjoyed his time in animation. We mostly talked about animation. Besides the correspondence, I may even have spoken with him on the phone as I recall.

“I'm not sure why we stopped corresponding. It seems to me that about this time I was going through a lot of changes—like getting married, etc.—so I may have dropped the ball at some point. It certainly wasn't a case of him being unhappy or anything. He was very cordial.

“My overwhelming recollection is what a nice guy Murry was and how eager he was to talk about his animation days.

“I'm really very sorry I can't help you more. The letter you are reprinting was definitely the longest I received from Murry.”

Here, from one of my old manila file folders, is the only surviving letter from the correspondence between DeWald and Murry that was originally printed in K-a in Fall 1970. I’ve quoted from it in the past but never gave DeWald full credit for its origin which I am attempting to rectify somewhat by doing so in this column now.

Murry starts by talking about the Hyperion Studio, but when he mentions the calling to get food service to his cubicle and the Firehouse Five, he drifts into discussing the new Studio in Burbank. Obviously, his first meeting with Walt was at the Hyperion Studio. I’ve learned that this type of “overlapping chronology” was typical in interviewing people who worked at Disney for a period of time. The information is basically correct, but the timeline might be a little askew, since Murry started his Disney career at the Hyperion Studio for about two years and then another six years at the Burbank Studio.

Here is that famous letter and it is so filled with wonderful stories that it makes me mourn the loss of the other correspondence while at the same time, it makes me truly grateful that this bit of Disney history survived.

“The Studios in ’38 were located in east Hollywood on Hyperion Avenue near the Hyperion Bridge leading to Glendale. It was a simple strung out set up built in Old Spanish style. It included quite a few small residential houses in the neighborhood added to it due to needed expansion. Imagine an office complete with kitchen, bedrooms, dining room, bath, etc.

“Sounds modern but was anything but that. I had a friend at the time working on the old ‘Felix the Cat’ comic strip who had one whole house to himself. May sound good but was pretty lonesome. You can imagine during the hot summers, trying to work without air conditioning.

“I was always located in the main building. The furniture was simple and cheaply built. The drawing desks were made by some carpenter of soft wood and painted orange and yellow. They were covered with carved initials and cigarette burns. We sat in old straight back kitchen type chairs—pretty hard on the human posterior even with cushions stacked on them. Everyone was happy though and it actually was a paradise compared with other places. The freedom we had was almost unbelievable.

“We were given three days a week sick leave with full pay and no questions asked. If we were out more than three days during a week, we were then checked by the studio nurse and, if legitimate, our pay continued. As you can see it was a good way to weed out the dead wood. We could pick up the phone and order anything to eat or drink (not alcoholic) we wanted and it would be delivered to our rooms. Some kept small refrigerators. We came and went from the Studios as we pleased.

“There were no time clocks, no signing in or out. What if you were a couple hours late to work or left a couple hours too soon? The freedom seemed to be unlimited. And again, this would show up the dead wood. The result was the Disney Studios had the best talent in the industry. Of course, there were those who consistently abused these privileges and did not work and were released.

“My first encounter with Walt Disney himself will always stick in my memory. It amuses me now but then—not so! I had only been there a few months but was lucky enough to have the top animator, Fred Moore, take me under his wing. Fred and his unit always had a beer break at 3 o’clock every afternoon. Me, being the newcomer, had to collect the money from each one and go through the front gate over to Ma Applebaum’s drug store directly across the street and buy the beer; then, bring it back to the Studio.

“After we drank it, I had to make the return trip back to return the empty bottles, which was also getting rid of the evidence.

“This had been going on for weeks without repercussions. Came the day when I was walking out the front gate loaded down with empty beer bottles. There stood Walt, talking with someone else. He looked me over as I walked by, but said nothing and I wasn’t about to say anything. I stalled around in the drug store, hoping he wouldn’t be there on my return trip. He was still there—never mentioning the beer bottles.

“I was a bit uneasy not knowing what the results of that encounter would be. I immediately told Fred Moore what had happened and he said not to worry about it. A few minutes later he received a phone call from Walt asking Fred to come up to his office for a little talk. I heard no more about the incident, but needless to say, there were no more afternoon beer breaks.

“We played as much as we worked, but when we did work we turned out a superior product which was what Walt wanted. It was during this period that Ward Kimball organized his now-popular band The Firehouse Five Plus Two. Their practicing could be heard all over the studio during business hours and their sounds weren’t always pleasurable to the ears. Such goings on spread discontent among those who didn’t believe in such and those who were just plain jealous. Sooner of later unionism was inevitable. It produced a sort of class system—those who couldn’t play and get away with it and those who could.”

There is an obscure book in English about Murry and his work that is part of the “Profili Album” series titled Paul Murry: Mice, Ducks and Cheesecake edited by Alberto Becattini (one of my heroes for his work in chronicling the work of Disney artists for so many decades) and Antonio Vianovi that was published in 2002 by Glamour International Associated. The text is in both English and Italian.

For those who need immediate gratification, here is a (link) to a good article on Murry’s work on Disney comics.