Cinema: Mammal-of-the-Year

  • Share
  • Read Later

In beleaguered Europe, in blood-stained Russia, on the tank-tracked Libyan desert, above & below the earth's seas, Santa Claus was getting short shrift. Even in the U.S., his last, best hope on earth, Adolf Hitler and his hissing Japanese friends had tried to thwart him. But their attack came too late to destroy all the fruits of a U.S. Christmas. Now, more than ever, Americans were thankful for what they were about to receive. They were thankful, too, for Dumbo.

Last week this lovable little baby elephant with blue eyes and a winning manner seemed to be all over the place. His name was in lights on the marquees of some 200 cinemansions. He was getting a big play in a majority of the nation's big-city department stores. Toyland was his without a struggle. He was selling giant green peas and bottles of ink, gasoline and women's collars. As a children's book, Dumbo of the Circus, he was sensational — 50,000 copies at $1 each. The tunes from his picture (Dumbo) were heard everywhere.

Manhattan had seen him first (TIME, Oct. 27). One look at his pincushion shape, outsize ears, spriggy elephant trunk, wistful bemused expression, and 350,000 New Yorkers (to date) took him to their cosmopolitan bosoms.

Many a man with big ears has become famous,* and Dumbo, who can wrap himself up and go to sleep in his, is no exception. The advent of war made him more than ever a superb expression of the democratic way of life. He could only have happened here. Among all the grim and forboding visages of A.D. 1941, his guileless, homely face is the face of a true man of good will. The most appealing new character of this year of war, he is almost sure to end up in the exclusive kingdom of children's classics. He may not become a U.S. folk hero, but he is certainly the mammal-of-the-year.

War Baby. Dumbo is already a legend at the Disney studios. He arrived there in manuscript form (authors: Helen Aberson & Harold Pearl) in the spring of 1939. Everyone was feeling out of sorts. They had shot the works on Pinocchio and Fantasia. Disney's artists were tired of tracing blueprints for their prodigal perfectionist boss. They wanted a chance to express themselves.

Dumbo turned out to be their chance. Dreaming of further epics, Disney couldn't get interested in the little fellow. He tried to make a short out of him. At length he turned the little elephant over to one of his best writers, moody, sad-eyed Joe Grant, to see what he could do.

That was what Grant and his happy-go-lucky partner, Dick Huemer, were waiting for. Knowing that Disney, the idea man, gag man, visionary and impatient genius, would never sit still long enough to read a long-story treatment, they decided to give him the episode treatment. One of the early ones closed: "Dear Reader, if you are at all fainthearted, or impression able, we earnestly advise you to stop right here. Read no further! Do something else! Go to the movies—or to bed —anything; but skip the rest of this chapter." They were scarcely a quarter of the way through their story when Disney steamed into their office one morning, the latest installment bunched in his hand. "This is good!" he sputtered. "What the hell happens tomorrow?"

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3