Bill Peet, a Disney animator often considered second only to Walt Disney himself for constructing stories and best known for writing-drawing “101 Dalmatians” and “The Sword in the Stone” as well as depicting Dumbo and many other famous character, died Saturday May 11 at his Studio City, Calif., home. He was 87, recently had pneumonia and had battled cancer and heart problems over the past several years.
Although not one of Disney’s fabled “Nine Old Men” of animation, he eventually worked closely with that legendary first crew that created Disney’s early toon classics.
Grandview, Ind., native was reared in Indianapolis, attended Herron Art Institute (now part of Indiana U.) and joined Disney in 1937 at age 22 after briefly working at an Ohio greeting card company. At first, Peet worked as an apprentice on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” then moved to the story department and for 27 years contributed many films.
He began drawing Donald Duck cartoons and was assigned to “Pinocchio” (1940) which helped raised his profile in the company. One of his favorites was “Dumbo” (1941), which brought him personal attention from Disney.
Among other Disney classics featuring Peet’s talents are “Fantasia” (1940), “Song of the South” (1946), “Cinderella” (1950), “Alice in Wonderland” (1951), “Peter Pan” (1953) and “Sleeping Beauty” (1959).
Peet was chosen to write the screenplay, “101 Dalmatians” in 1961. Two years later, he was tabbed again to write and draw the characters for “The Sword in the Stone.”
After that, he left the studio as his long-brewing testy relationship with Disney further deteriorated. (In his 1989 autobiography, Peet said he drew the evil Captain Hook in “Peter Pan” to resemble his boss.) Peet also asked that his name be taken from the credits of “The Jungle Book” (1967), which was in development, because he didn’t support changes made after he left the project.
He went on to publish more than 35 children’s books, including “Goliath II,” “The Pinkish, Purplish, Bluish Egg” and “Chester the Worldly Pig.” The last was in 1990, “Cock-a-Doodle Dudley.”
He received more a dozen awards for children’s literature and earned an Annie for contributions to animation.
Peet is survived by his wife of 64 years, Margaret; a son; and three grandchildren (a second son died in 1975).