World War II Disney

by Wade Sampson, staff writer
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Why did people believe that the drawing of a naked woman being attacked by a confused bird that decorated a B-24 bomber in World War II was drawn by Walt Disney?

I promise to answer that question, but it is going to take a little while to get there, so I needed to catch your attention so that you would be patient. There are many things still left to be discovered about Disney history, and one area that fascinates people is Disney’s contributions during World War II, primarily because they were so numerous, varied, and, unfortunately, ill documented.

For those interested in Disney and World War II, Disney historian Paul Anderson is currently writing a book on the subject, based on the extensive research he did for the never-published final issue of the outstanding magazine, Persistence of Vision.

Anderson has written: “For a year now, I have been working on a book for the Walt Disney Family Foundation Press. The topic is Disney's work and contributions toward the greatest conflict of the 20th century. I am 10 years into the research on my magnum opus, but I know there is more out there. I am interested in hearing from anyone that may have information on this topic. Please e-mail me at: waltandthewar@gmail.com.”

For those who can’t wait, for the last four years, David Lesjak has been posting some amazing things on a frequent basis on his own Website devoted to Disney and World War II (link).

Lesjak was fortunate to have been able to conduct research at the Disney Archives before it was closed to outside researchers. He also had access to some private archives and collections related to the topic and conducted several interviews on Walt Disney and his contributions on the home front and the front lines during World War II. He shares some fascinating never before seen material at his site. He is currently working with the family of the late underappreciated artist Hank Porter on a book about the man who did the majority of the Disney insignias during World War II, some of which ended up being nose art.

Nose art is a decorative painting or design on the fuselage of a military aircraft, usually located near the nose that was never officially condoned by any branch of the service, but was certainly a morale booster. This colorful style of maverick folk art ranged from cheesecake pin-ups girls (both real like Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth and imagined) and cartoon characters like Popeye the Sailor. While there were a few examples in World War I, most of the classic nose art was created during World War II although it still continued to appear for decades.

Unauthorized and, sometimes, well-drawn copies of Disney characters from Mickey and Pluto to Grumpy adorned many aircraft. In fact, Disney studio artists who joined the military sometimes contributed their talents to this artwork.

This was not just an Allied phenomenon. General Adolf Galland, a World War II German fighter pilot and commander of Germany's fighter force from 1941 to 1945, was famous for painting Mickey Mouse on his aircraft, and that Disney mascot was adopted by his Gruppe during the early airwar phase of World War II. They were known as the “Mickey Mouse Squadron”.

“We started this in Spain, and when I painted it on my Me-109E in JG.26 it was holding a hatchet and smoking a cigar, which I loved,” said Galland in a post war interview where he claimed he loved Mickey Mouse and loved cigars.

To see some examples of Disney nose art, visit this link or this link.

All of this information is to preface the story of “The Near-Sighted Robin” that was painted on the side of a B-24. While not sexual in nature, the Paul Murry artwork does feature a totally naked young woman in the style of the cheesecake pin-ups that he and Fred Moore did while working at the Disney Studios. The image is blurry but definitely not safe for viewing at work. We realize that some mature MousePlanet readers may be curious to see it but also know that others would find it offensive so we are providing the link but with this warning. You can see the image here (link).

At the site, Navigator Robert Pacholski wrote: “One of the crew members of Avery's crew, told me that the nose art of "The Robin" was so unusual that the Crown Prince of Sweden came to see it!! J. C. Smith (our Pilot) got smashed at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. A few days later, he runs across the cartoon in the paper. It was of a comely young lady, falling off a ladder. A cross-eyed robin is "biting" her ... instead of a cherry! Hence, the name, The Near-Sighted Robin. The drawing was signed by Walt Disney. To this day, we do not know if he (or someone else pulling Smithy's leg) signed the drawing! Makes for a good story though.”

First, the drawing is not by Walt Disney because, among other things, by this time Walt wasn’t doing any drawing, except for an occasional sketch of Mickey Mouse for people he encountered while he was on vacation. Second, Walt had no great interest in this type of cheesecake artwork even though artists at the Disney Studio including Fred Moore, Bill Justice and others did such sketches on a frequent basis, sometimes as an offshoot of life drawing classes. Walt was not a prude but he never in his life showed any interest in anything of prurience.

However, the infamous drawing was done by a Disney artist and that is a pretty interesting story and there is an official Disney connection that might have led to the confusion that Walt drew the picture.

During the war, Admiral “Bull” Halsey, who was the commander of the United States Third Fleet during the Pacific War against Japan, came to the Disney Studios with a special request concerning a piece of “Disney” artwork that he loved so much that he posted it on his cabin door. He wanted to meet the artist but the Disney Studios didn’t allow him to do so.

Here’s the story from the artist, Paul Murry, from an interview he did in the early 1970s with Don Ault, that was painstakingly transcribed by Murry scholar Germund von Wowern.

Murry remembered, “He wanted to meet me but they wouldn’t let him. I drew the picture he had on his cabin door and I had signed it. The name of it was ‘The Near-Sighted Robin’, a little on the risqué side. [laughter] The robin is nearsighted and in a cherry tree, and we have a young lady picking cherries. The robin was intending to pick a cherry, but not seeing the right thing. He grabbed her over her bare breast and thought he had a whole load of cherries. [laughter] I don’t know why anybody would think that was that funny. I didn’t think that was funny, but oh boy, it’s hard to understand what people would find humorous if you’d call it that.”

Besides working at the Disney Studio as an animator (check out my previous article on him at this link), Murry did a lot of gag cartoons for magazines. In fact, Germund who has an amazing 600 examples of Murry’s gag cartoons, does not have a copy of “The Near-Sighted Robin,” but did write that over the years Murry drew “similar gags, such as the one where a guy gets a slap in the face when he's grabbed a girl's breast instead of an apple in a 1960s Humorama cartoon.”

Murry recalled, of The Near-Sighted Robin: “I originally drew it for a woman, who was a … what do you call it? A seer. She did palm reading in Beverly Hills. Like a fortuneteller. I don’t know her name, I can’t remember her name. She was a quite nice lady, but I didn’t believe in what she did. Well, she had a son in the navy and … I drew that for her son who was over in the South Pacific somewhere. That’s how it got in the hands of Halsey. I don’t know whether the son was playing politics or Halsey saw it or what the connection was. I don’t know whether her son was just an ordinary seaman or what, but that’s how Halsey got hold of it.

“But Disney, you see, they wanted credit for this. You know what they did?. They wouldn’t let Halsey contact me. They wanted me to make another drawing for the other side of his cabin door. They actually made a painting of it, ran it through the inking department, on celluloid. I mean, a real fancy picture. They did that! That’s why they wouldn’t let Halsey meet me. But they insisted they wanted their name on it, so they ran it through the ink and paint department, put it in their color, and on celluloid. That’s exactly what they did. Of course, I couldn’t have cared less, really, but it seemed just a little bit … a little odd.”

But how did a drawing for the Navy end up on B-24 bomber? Well, there is a clue in the Murry interview when he revealed, “My wife was in the hospital, having one of the children, Peggy (born in 1944). The woman in the bed next to her pulled out one of my pictures and it was ‘The Near-Sighted Robin’. She didn’t know there was any connection to me. Somebody at Lockheed Aircraft was making copies and selling little ones at 25 cents a piece … all about that high … when the original was about like this. It was a direct copy of what I had drawn!”

To me, the biggest unsolved mystery is that, if this cartoon was so well known and reproduced so liberally, then why are there no posted copies of it other than that blurry picture on the fuselage of that B-24? Others supposedly thought it was the work of Walt Disney and, yet, the picture has never popped up on any of the numerous unofficial Disney websites.

Germund Von Wowern assures me that work continues on putting together an edition of the complete, but short lived, Buck O’Rue newspaper strip written by Disney storyman Dick Huemer (Dumbo, Der Fuerher’s Face”) and illustrated by Paul Murry.

“We'll have quite a lot of editorial stuff in the Buck volume, including promotional drawings, an introductory article, probably a text about Lafave's syndicate and piece on Dick that Richard [his son] will write. I've temporarily set aside 18 pages for editorial stuff, including the 1951 article from Editor and Publisher. Main drawback is that we're missing the next-to-last week of dailies (July 7-12, 1952) but I doubt they were ever published anywhere (we've scanned everything but a few 1952 Sundays from proofs).”

They may even include the 1960s Mickey Mouse newspaper strip where Floyd Gottfredson mentioned Buck O’Rue, so start saving your pennies today to add this collection to your personal archives.