Learn about Disney Legend Bill Peet, born 1/29/1915.
When you think of the work of Bill Peet, you probably recall his iconic art style on display in children’s books like Chester the Worldly Pig and How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head. But the talented illustrator and storyteller began his career drawing for a different medium: film.
William Bartlett Peet spent many years working as an animator at Walt Disney Studios, and his litany of creative contributions led him to being inducted as a Disney Legend in 1996.
Let’s go beyond his famous children’s books and look at the rest of the man’s career. Here are five facts about Disney Legend Bill Peet.
Lead photo courtesy of D23
1. Born to Draw
Life wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for Bill when he was young—even though he did like to draw those. He was born into poverty in a rural town on the southern tip of Indiana.
From a young age, the imaginative dreamer found doodling to be an enjoyable escape from life—which he practiced in the margins of his textbooks instead of doing his homework.
Despite his poor grades, Bill’s teachers saw his natural skill and encouraged him to pursue a career in art. Although the boy was skeptical that he could make a career out of something so enjoyable, he received a scholarship to attend John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis.
He tried a handful of jobs—including at a greeting-card company in Dayton, Ohio—before heading west to work as an animator for Walt Disney Studios.
2. A Rough Start
Despite what Bill may have imagined would happen when he strolled through the door at Walt’s animation studio, he was not immediately given a seat as a lead animator.
On the contrary, Bill was given a job in a small annex building as an “in-betweener,” filling in intermediate frames in the Donald Duck cartoons that the studio was churning out at the time. The young man found the work so tedious that he threw a tantrum one day and stormed home.
Instead of coming back the next day to find a pink slip on his desk, Bill found a letter notifying him of his promotion to the story department. From there, Bill continued to rise through the ranks of the studio.
3. Taking Charge
Bill was a hard-working, talented animator, and his vision drove him to helm the creation of multiple Disney-produced films.
That’s a lot of work, but it shows how skilled Bill was at envisioning all aspects of a story to form a cohesive, compelling whole—a quality of his that Walt appreciated.
4. King of the Jungle
The last work that Bill did with the Walt Disney company was early pre-production planning on the studio’s animated adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s novel, The Jungle Book.
Bill, who was the person to suggest the book be Disney’s next film, yet again took the lead on the project and storyboarded his vision for the production.
While Bill aimed to craft an adaptation that maintained the novel’s dark themes and morose tone, Walt didn’t find the idea fitting for his company, and eventually Bill left the company in protest of making the changes his boss wanted.
5. A Clash of Creative Minds
Although Bill did some magnificent work for Walt Disney studios during his career in animation, the man didn’t get along with the infamously obstinate visionary.
Throughout the nearly three decades working at the company, Bill frequently got into heated arguments and tenacious standoffs with Walt, his boss. Though both men were very talented in their own ways, they often disagreed on how things should be done. In later interviews, Bill claimed that Walt’s writing and drawing skills weren’t very good—nor was his humor.
In fact, Bill admitted that he drew Captain Hook in Peter Pan to resemble Walt!
It was this tumultuous relationship that led to Bill leaving the company in 1964 to become what we remember him as: a children’s book author.
Remembering Disney Legend Bill Peet
Although Bill and Walt didn’t see eye to eye, the company still highly regards the animator, proudly inducting him as a Disney Legend in 1996. His influence on bringing a dozen of the studio’s classic films to life cannot be overstated—and should not be forgotten.
Did you read any of Bill Peet’s children’s books when you were young, or do you share any of them with your children now? Which one is your favorite?
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