Sunday, August 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mr. Kelly

Now with Add On!

One hundred years ago today, Walter C. Kelly was born. You probably know him from this:

Kelly was also a Disney animator and storyboard artist, working at the studio from 1936 to 1941. Kelly departed the studio around the time of the strike, went to work for Dell Comics, and found his way to immortality via a cartoon possum and a lively and literate mind. (The fact that W.C.K. drew real well didn't hurt either.)

Mr. Kelly died at the age of sixty, way before he should have gone, but he was never a man who enjoyed robust health. Still, we're grateful for the years that he shared his talent, and Pogo.

TAG President Emeritus Tom Sito's observations about Mr. Kelly and the '41 strike:

Scanning the articles about the 100th Birthday of Walt Kelly, I notice some of the old revisionism still in play about his whereabouts during the Great Disney Strike of 1941. That he was "ambivalent about the Strike" and so he coincidentally left the studio for a "family leave".

Before Roy Disney ended it in 1991, this mythology was spread to give the idea that 1-That nothing was bad enough at the Disney Studio to necessitate the artists being so ungrateful to Walt as to strike, and 2- No one of any importance left because of it, which Walt put out as a press statement at the time.

I talked to the strike leaders like Littlejohn, Hilberman, Hurtz and Selby Kelly, who told me Walt Kelly indeed was pro-union and was involved. You can read about it in my book Drawing the Line. From today's vantage point, it's easy to dismiss the notion that Kelly might care about the conditions of his fellow artists. It's much easier to ascribe his actions to pure self-interest. But that was not the spirit of the age, nor the spirit of the strikers. Passions among the artists were building and anger rising for months before the summer of 1941, The debate occupied a lot of Ward Kimball's thinking then, and he was Kelly's close friend. It is absurd to believe Walt Kelly paid no attention of any of it, and that a man of his principles should pick the climax of this argument to suddenly cut and run "for family reasons".

If as some say, Kelly expressed misgivings about the strike years later, well so did Bill Tytla. A lot of people in middle age come to feel embarrassed about the passions of their youth. One thing that is undeniable is that Walt Kelly was a man of conviction, and not afraid to stick his neck out for what he believed.

So I say Happy 100th Birthday not just to Walt Kelly the great cartoonist, but to Walt Kelly the believer in the rights of artists!


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