Since readers seemed to enjoy yesterday's history of the song, "Der Fuehrer's Face" so much, I thought I might share a little more obscure information about Disney's efforts during World War II. Most of the true Disney fans who frequent this site realize that -- for that last five years -- Paul Anderson has been working on the long delayed eleventh issue of "Persistence of Vision" which will be the definitive source for information on Disney during World War II. There will be many new discoveries as well as corrections of urban myths like the fact that "Mickey Mouse" was the code word for the D-Day Invasion.

One of the contributions in that issue which will hopefully see print this year is a massive definitive article written by Disney historian Jim Korkis on the story behind the unmade Disney animated/live action feature entitled THE GREMLINS, based on the first book written by Roald ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") Dahl and the only Dahl book owned by the Disney Studio and not the Dahl Estate.

Walt became fascinated by Dahl's story of these little leprechaun creatures who harassed aviators and put elaborate plans in place to develop an animated feature (with live action elements) to immortalize the story and increase morale during the war. However, this project was ill-fated to say the least and the Korkis manuscript is a fascinating document of how this dream became a nightmare. A very small part of that interesting story is how the Disney Studio attempted to merchandise the project in order to establish its copyright and trademark on the concept.

One of the challenges was that when Disney purchased the project, no one had heard of gremlins (which Dahl later claimed to have invented) but stories of the little imps became very popular as the war had dragged on. In fact, if Walt had initially feared that one of his challenges with the film was acquainting American audiences with the British Gremlins, the beginning of 1943 showed that the real fear was that Gremlin mania threatened Disney's rights to the characters. Count Basie recorded "Dance of the Gremlins". A short lived daily comic strip entitled "The Gremlins" began in January 1943. Fashionable ladies began wearing "Gremlin Hats" while still more articles and references to gremlins began to flood the American consciousness.

Even worse, other studios announced gremlin based short subjects. Warner's, MGM, Universal and Columbia all registered titles and Walt's brother, Roy O. Disney's initial efforts to stop them were thwarted by the Title Registration Committee who ruled against the Disney Studio prior claim for what Roy Claimed were "technical reasons".

An official Studio memo was sent down to all those involved in the Dahl project to push the character of Gremlin Gus, who had been developed as the friend of the aviator in the film treatment, and in all publicity and drawings to try and clearly establish that particular gremlin as an exclusive Disney property.

Roy, who be all accounts was more diplomatic than Walt, leveraged his Hollywood friendships and the good will of the Disney Studio to try to discourage competition at other studios. Leon Schlesinger at Warner's had two cartoons too far along in development to stop although he removed any mention of the word "gremlin" from the titles and agreed to drop any future gremlin projects.

"Falling Hare" was released 10/23/43 and was scripted by Warren Foster. It is a fast moving, gag filled confrontation showcasing Bugs Bunny trying to stop a lone gremlin bent on sabotaging a bomber. "Russian Rhapsody" was released 5/20/44 and was scripted by Lou Lilly. It was originally titled "Gremlins from the Kremlin" in reference to the song the gremlins sing in the cartoon. The story revolved around Hitler's efforts to fly a bomber to bomb Stalin and of course, is prevented by gremlin mischief. Both cartoons were directed by Bob Clampett and for decades, Clampett was puzzled by the title change until informed about the Schlesinger arrangement with Disney by animator Milt Gray in 1976.

One of the efforts by the Disney Studio to push the character of Gremlin Gus was to introduce the character in the popular selling comic book "Walt Disney's Comics and Stories."

From January 6, 1936 to September 12, 1941, Walt Kelly worked as an animator of the Disney Studios. Kelly resigned from the studio on good terms in 1941 since he had not taken sides during the strike. Kelly moved back to New York and started working for Western Publishing on DELL comic books which is where he developed his famous Pogo character and friends. According to Kelly's wife, before the artist left the studio, he met with Walt Disney who helped Kelly make contacts with the East Coast editors of Western Publishing who were producing comic books featuring the Disney characters.

Kelly did a series of two page Gremlin strips for "Walt Disney's Comics and Stories" starting in 1943 with issue #34 and ending in 1944 with issue #41. These self contained strips were known as "pantomime strips" in the business since they featured no dialog. At one point when Bruce Hamilton's Gladstone still had the license to reprint Disney comic books, it was announced that Gladstone was going to reprint all of Kelly's gremlin strips in one package with an informative text feature. That project never happened even though some individual Kelly gremlin strips did get reprinted.

These strips were always in a military setting where Gremlin Gus (occasionally assisted by two widgets--the term for baby gremlins) made every effort to cause mischief for airmen with everything from a saw to a gas can to a mousetrap to a smoker's pipe. Issue #34 also included a cut out paper doll of Gremlin Gus and issue #35 had a cut out paper doll of a Fifinella.

Another effort to establish the Disney version of gremlin characters was the creation of stuffed dolls. In 1930, Charlotte Clark made the first Mickey Mouse doll. Even when Kay Kamen started licensing out Disney merchandise and Clark's "Doll House" that operated near the studio had long since closed, she continued to design stuffed toys for the company for promotional purposes through the Forties and Fifties. Her work is fairly distinctive and emphasizes rounded shapes, wide eyes and, of course, attention to detail. Clark produced dolls based on the Disney designs for Gremlins, Fifinellas (female gremlins) and Widgets and there are several existing photos of Walt and Dahl posing with the dolls. The cloth Widget doll was produced in two different sizes and at least three different colors: red, blue and grey.

In May of 1943, Dahl had sent to Walt a request for twelve of the Widget dolls, even offering to pay. Walt sent the dolls with a note saying he preferred that Dahl not pay because Walt "prefers to keep the 'Gremlinologist' indebted to him."

In a December 18,1943 telegram, Dahl asked: "Very special request for a Fifinella Doll and two Widgets, but especially Fifinella. Are there any chance any around? If so, most grateful. Send airmail."

Walt responded December 20th: "Terribly sorry, but there isn't a Fifinella on the place. Widgets, yes-in fact, they have sold so very well that Mrs. Clark (the lady who personally makes all of our dolls) has been devoting all of her time to Widgets for the past several weeks. At no time have we ever had more than just a few Fifinellas-they didn't sell well so we discontinued making them. However, three Widgets were air expressed to you today. Best Christmas Greetings-Sincerely, Walt."

The cover of the May 1943 issue of "Playthings" magazine (the national magazine of the toy trade at the time) announces "Walt Disney's Gremlins of the R.A.F." and featured a puzzled fighter pilot whose Hurricane fighter is infested by a widget, a fifinella and a gremlin (who is drilling holes in the right wing). A small box at the side announces:

"Like all Walt Disney characters, Walt Disney 'Gremlins' are authentic. The definition of 'authentic' is --- 'having a genuine origin or authority'. That origin or authority is the R.A.F. All drawings, all titles, all scripts are fully covered by U.S. and foreign copyrights. All rights reserved. Walt Disney GREMLINS offer unusual opportunities for merchandising tie-ups. For further information write or call: KAY KAMEN representing Walt Disney Productions."

The Character Novelty Company (a Disney licensee from 1940-1947) manufactured a Widget hand puppet in at least three different colors: pink, yellow and grey. The puppet which was produced in 1943 originally sold for $1.50 with a paper tag that read: "This is an exclusive Walt Disney design of one of the famous Gremlin characters discovered by the RAF."

"A Walt Disney Picture Puzzle" from Jaymar in 1943 had over 300 pieces showcasing a color illustration of eleven gremlins, one widget and one fifinella attacking an Allied fighter plane with the addition of left and right vertical margins featuring characters from the unproduced film.

They even appeared in an ad for Mint O Green, Spear Mint and Pep O Mint Lifesavers. "GREMLIN CHASERS. You've heard of the Gremlins...pesky little troublemakers that hang around air fields...army camps...ports of call...and battle stations. One good antidote for Gremlins is LIFE SAVERS..they cheer a fellow up when the Gremlins get him down. Maybe that's why our armed forces are ordering so many of them...so ...if you have trouble getting some favorite flavor...blame it on the Gremlins." And the color picture accompanying the ad show gremlins, fifinella and widgets running frantically away from huge multi-colored lifesavers which were rolling towards them.

The ad prompted Dahl ,who was becoming even more difficult in regards to how Disney was handling his Gremlins, in a letter dated May 19,1943 to protest about the possible damage to the mystique of the characters being used in such a commercial way:

"I was horrified not only because the Gremlins were being completely misrepresented, but also because I could see you destroying in the eyes of the public the legend around which you are going to build your film, and upon which the success of the whole movie will depend. We hope to infuse a certain mystic quality into the film, and in order to achieve this we must try to avoid Pep O Mint and Wint O Green Tablets.

"Please do not think that I do not realize that you depend to a great extent for your revenue upon advertising rights and that it is essential for you to make use of this medium if you are going to make any profits out of the deal, but surely you realize that if the public are going to see Gremlins playing with peppermints, bitching up bicycles, trying out tooth brushes, and telling the people that if they use Listerine Antiseptic, they will not get dandruff in their hair, then I think, in fact I am convinced, that the legend will be ruined. You see, people are beginning to regard you as an authority on these things, which is as it should be because you are rapidly becoming one though the medium of your advisers; therefore, anything you say about Gremlins from now on, goes."

Walt very patiently reassured Dahl it was all just part of the process to establish copyright in a reply dated May 26,1943: "Your letter of May 19th received and contents noted. You may rest assured that any suggestions you have will always be given careful consideration. A copy of your letter is being sent to my brother, Roy, and Mr. Kay Kamen in New York. However, I would like to correct an impression which was indicated in your letter. It is not the financial returns with which we are concerned, but through this medium we are able to establish our rights to characters through various forms of publication, and unless these rights are established, we may not have any control over the Gremlins when they do come out. Our entire idea is one to establish our copyrights with no thought whatever of financial gain."

Kay Kamen called Dahl long distance and reported to Walt that he "had a nice chat and explained to him that I didn't believe that the proper understanding existed about the way in which we have to handle Walt Disney subjects for the purposes of protection and for other reasons" and arranged to try to get together with him personally so that "it will straighten out in the end."

Jim Korkis covers this whirl of merchandising (as well as all the different treatments of the story and the film projects) in much greater detail in his manuscript written over four years ago and added to all the other material that Paul Anderson has gathered, the eleventh issue of "Persistence of Vision" will be one of those "must haves" for every fan of Disney history or of World War II. The real question is why Disney hasn't chosen to reprint Dahl's book, the only Dahl book that has been out of print since its first limited publication and the very first book by this outstanding author. Accompanied by the Korkis manuscript and some additional artwork and photos, that would be one of those Disney treasures worth displaying on a book shelf.