Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bill Peet says what he thinks

I was just reading this really interesting interview with Bill Peet at Hogan's Alley.Peet is generally considered to be one of Walt's top story people. A writer who draws his stories.
In the interview, he is very candid and says things that if anyone said today, they would be lynched. His gruff statements remind me a lot of Friz, who I've worked for and had many funny encounters with.
Here are some highlights:

Dried Up Newspaper Cartoonists, Walt's Favorites in the 30s

Province: Obviously not receiving screen credit bothered you a great deal.

Peet: Yes, it was a crusher. There was a committee of the older men which was kept secret. These were mostly old dried-up newspaper cartoonists and people Walt felt had experience even though they couldn’t draw as well as the younger men. This was who decided who got screen credit. They hated the younger men who had talent because they were a threat to their jobs. They gave credit to themselves and their friends. We dared not complain since in the long run it would always be Walt Disney’s [name] and that long list of names [below his] like a page in the phone book. The drawing quality had to be improved when we went into features, and that’s when the younger talent began to do more. Walt began to realize that these people were real artists and not just dried-up old newspaper cartoonists.

Peet Redrew Timothy

Province: Fred Moore is often described as the boy genius of the studio.

Peet: There’s nobody that good. He was a great Mickey Mouse artist. He had the juices and was very creative. He created the dwarfs for Snow White, and he had a real loose, natural style and was a natural for animation. He gave a new flexibility to the whole art of animation. I think he was too young when he hit his peak, for one thing. He was only twenty-four. Freddy drank himself out of sight and got a little bit cocky and thought he was too good for the whole thing. He would hardly do any drawing, and his assistants would cover up for him. He thought you could draw and drink and you can’t do that. I worked on the mouse [in Dumbo] a lot for Freddy. It was his last big animation assignment. Ironically it was the drunken mouse scene. The champagne bottle falls into the tub of water, and the bubble comes up and then the mouse falls into the tub. Freddy just couldn’t draw a mouse that didn’t look like Mickey. It was so ingrained in him after drawing just thousands of them. The nose was too round, so I went over Freddy’s things including the storyboards. Freddy did a fine animation job on it, but I refined his drawings so they looked like Timothy.

Peet fixed Tytla’s Elephant Drawings

Province: Two of the best, Bill Tytla and Fred Moore, worked on Dumbo.

Peet: People were always amazed at Bill Tytla, that he could draw the giant devil for “Night On Bald Mountain,” and the giant in “Brave Little Tailor;” these ponderous, muscled characters, and then do this little elephant. After he got his first scene on Dumbo, he passed me in the hall and said, “Y’know, Bill, I can’t draw these goddamned little elephants. If I send Nick [his assistant] up with the scene, would you see if you could work it out?” Nick brought up this stack of drawings, Bill’s scene where the elephants first appear was just a mess. So I went over every one of them, probably a couple of hundred drawings, every damned frame in the picture, and redrew the whole scene. They shot the pencil test and showed it to Walt. He was ecstatic! Nick came up and told me, “Walt loved that thing, and I want to shake your hand!” Well, Bill never bothered to thank me, Walt either.

Disney’s Humor was suspect, but he could organize people

Province: Would you say Walt Disney had forgotten where he came from? After all, his own artistic ability was modest.

Peet: He couldn’t do any of the things he was famous for. His humor was suspect. I would call it sarcasm at best. He also couldn’t write or draw. I ran into a barber many years ago who had a Donald Duck drawing on the wall of his shop down in Hollywood. He said it was an original drawing by Walt Disney. It was from around ’36 or ’37. I thought it was funny because Walt could never have done that. He would sign the stuff, but he was always scared to death that somebody was going to ask him to do a drawing. He was a catalyst. He could take a room full of people and organize them into doing it. He could spot talent and pick this guy as good for that and someone else would be good for this.

Walt Hired Screenwriters and Playwrights and Didn’t Use Their Work

He was always hiring these big-time screenwriters and playwrights. These people had no conceptions in visual terms at all, all dialogue. So they really couldn’t handle the stuff. He paid them a hell of a lot of money to fail. When it came down to it, we had to do it. He was very excited about Disneyland and working on that. Then to have to come back to the studio and work on the same old stuff he had been doing for years.

More to come....