Friday, May 30, 2008

Meet Bill Peet

Bill Peet is known to Disney enthusiasts as a storyman with the Disney Studios from the early days. His involvement with the studio's animated films culminated with screenwriting duties on 101 Dalmatians and The Sword and the Stone. Peet also had a second career (outside of the world of Disney) as a children's book author and illustrator. His 30+ published works include How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head, The Pinkish, Purplish, Bluish Egg and The Caboose Who Got Loose. In 1989, Bill Peet became his own subject as he penned his autobiography simply titled "Bill Peet - An Autobiography". Although Peet is obviously front and center as the main subject of the book, he spent a good chunk of his life working for the Walt Disney Studios and as such Disney plays an important role in his life story.

His story, however, begins with his childhood and his love for drawing. Somewhat similar to Walt Disney, Peet had a cold and rather harsh upbringing and found peace and escape in his drawings. There were many points in Peet's young life where his talent for art was both a blessing and a curse. He was able to secure some odd jobs with his artistic talents but teachers often found him odd and unfocused. Peet tells about the few wonderful memories he had from his childhood and how they helped shape who he became. Peet met up with the Disney organization in 1937 and was hired on as an "in-betweener" mostly on Donald Duck shorts but also finding some side work on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Peet worked for Disney because he needed a job, but he hated the assembly line type work of drawing the same thing over and over. One day after a new assignment of Donald Duck drawings came in, Bill snapped and made quite a scene in the middle of the studio. Fed up with the repeativeness of his job, Bill stormed out of the building hoping to never return. He did return the next day, however only to pick up his jacket. It was then that he discovered that he had been let go from his job as an in-betweener and reassigned to the story department.

Peet went to work in the story department, drawing panels for the storyboards for Pinocchio. His first project was working on images for a proposed scene called Bogyland which featured little creatures and monsters. The scene was eventually cut and Peet went on to sketch storyboards for more films. All the time while at Disney, Bill Peet had hoped to one day on his own create books for children. Many of his ideas he scratched as he lacked confidence in his own writing abilities. After some successful contributions to Walt Disney's Cinderella, Walt asked Peet to develop some ideas of his own into cartoon short subjects. Peet went back to his own personal drawing board and took some of his abandoned ideas and turned them into to animated shorts. Lambert the Sheepish Lion, Goliath II, and Susie the Little Blue Coupe were all stories that originated from the pen of Bill Peet.

This book offers an interesting perspective on Walt Disney, the man. So many works about Walt Disney offer portraits of the man in either extreme. Often you get the corporate-approved, mythical, perfect Walt Disney that did no wrong and had no bad ideas. Other books set out with an agenda to paint Walt as an evil Nazi, racist, control freak. Bill Peet neither idolized nor hated Walt Disney. Peet offers a fair peek behind the curtain at this great man that we all love so much. Walt and Bill had their moments good and bad, and Peet isn't afraid to share what he though about Walt sometimes. As documented in the recent Jungle Book DVD, Peet and Disney came to odds over the script for The Jungle Book and eventually Bill Peet left the studio before the project was finished.

Bill Peet - An Autobiography offers a unique look into both the Walt Disney Studios of yesterday and the man Walt Disney. Oh yeah, and it also gives you a look into Bill Peet's life as well. You'll find this a fair but different portrait of Walt Disney than you are used to seeing. At almost 200 fully illustrated pages, Autobiography is a breezy informative ride into the Walt Disney cartoon factory and a look at a man trapped inside.

1 comment:

Biblioadonis aka George said...

Great review!

I'll add this one to my list of "to gets".

Are most of the 200 illustration in the book by Peet himself?