Saturday, 3 November 2012

Gremlin 101

It’s part of animation lore that the Disney studio was working with author Roald Dahl to produce a film on gremlins, the imaginary creatures blamed for all kinds of trouble with wartime British aircraft. Dahl’s book was published in 1943. The film never came about.

Evidently around Christmas-time 1942, the project was still a go. The studio churned out somewhat-veiled advance publicity for the movie, giving an introductory course on the various members of the gremlin family via Walter Winchell’s column. Normally, Winchell spewed one or two-line blurbs on the celebrity world. However, Winchell gave his column over to others when he was away and one of those others was Walt Disney, or someone in the Disney PR department who wrote under Walt’s byline.

The column was accompanied by appropriate illustrations, marked ©WDP (in the version below, most of the credit notations were deleted). It appeared in papers starting December 28, 1942. You’ll notice the resemblance to the gremlins in the Warners cartoon “Russian Rhapsody” (1944) in which the little creatures were caricatures of Leon Schlesinger, Friz Freleng, Tubby Millar, Artie Davis and others at the studio.

Lt. Com. Walter Winchell of the U.S. navy is temporarily unable to produce his column, which is being handled by guest columnists.

Pukka Gen* on Gremlins
*(RAF Slang for “the real low-down”)
Ever seen a real Gremlin? No?—Well, maybe it’s because you haven’t been up in a British Spitfire swapping bullets with a Messerschmitt, or dodging German flak in a bombing raid over Hamburg.
RAF fighter pilots and members of bomber crews who have seen real action are the only ones eligible to see real Gremlins.
Of course, lots of others think they’ve seen them, but they’ve only seen the imitations:—Gound Wallopers the pilots call them.
* * *
Ever since the Gremlins were discovered, the press has been deluged with drawings of grotesque hobgoblins, bearded dwarfs, misshapen elves, pixies, spooks and what-not, all trying to pass themselves off as Gremlins.
But don’t let them kid you. The real Gremlins, discovered by the RAF are a distinctively individual race; and are by no means ugly. They have their own original characteristics, and bear no resemblance to the outlandish monstrosities and gruesome nightmares cooked up by artists of the past.
* * *
How are we going to make a picture and write a book about them if we can’t see them?
That’s where we get a real break. Thanks to the British air ministry, all the RAF pilots who have seen Gremlins have promised to give us first hand information on them.
They’ve already supplied us with plenty of Gen to get started on, and letters are coming in every day filled with blow-by-blow accounts of the latest contacts with these remarkable little guys. The general consensus is that they’re less than a foot high and built on the chunky side. They wear zippered flying suits and their horns grow right thru their helmets.
Some affect green bowler hats and all have black suction-boots for walking on wings at 300 miles an hour.
After all, the RAF feels responsible for its Gremlins and wants them pictured just as they really are. And that puts us on a spot. They warned us that if we fall down on the job or put up any blacks they’d take a dim view of our efforts and probably tear us off a colossal strip, which we assume means pinning our ears back.
Only last month the British embassy sent one of the foremost Gremlinologists out to the studio; a flight lieutenant who has been on speaking terms with every known type of Gremlin.
He put us straight on lots of things. We found out, for instance, that Gremlins never operate higher than 30,000 feet. It’s the Spandules who take over above this altitude.
They hang on to the leading edge of your wing and slowly exhale, forming a nice thick coating of ice. Spandules are flat rug-like individuals covered with fur and have large pockets for storing hailstones, which they chew constantly.
* * *
From all reports, the Fifinella (that’s the female Gremlin) is a honey. They tell us her face is fizzing’ and she has wizard curves, all in the proper places. Nothing ropey about this little crumpet. We gather
from this that she’s really an eyeful. The boys tell us that you’ll never catch a Fifinella drilling holes in your wing, cutting your parachute straps or draining the alcohol from your compass. All a Fifinella has to do is hop aboard a plane for a joyride and the Gremlins will follow her in droves. (Statistics show one Fifinella to every 12 Gremlins.)
By the time they've chased her back and forth from one wing-tip to the other, wiggling your wing flaps, swinging on your aerial wire and playing see-saw on your elevators, you’ll wish she'd stayed at home to mind the Widgets.
* * *
Widgets?—They’re the new born Gremlins that appear in nests hidden in the dark corners of your aircraft. In every batch of Widgets you’ll find a Flibberty-gibbet. She’s the one who eventually becomes a Fifinella. Before they’re a day old, Widgets are up to mischief.
They have very high baby voices and chatter incessantly. Since they're not equipped with suction boots like older Gremlins, they usually concentrate on the instrument board and have a marvellous time putting all the gauges out of whack.
* * *
The fact that Gremlins have become so real and play such an important role in the thoughts and conversations of the flyers is really a tribute to the courage, morale and sense of humor of the RAF.
And when the gong sounds ending the final round of the war, the chances are that the Gremlins will be entitled to a large slice of credit for making their appearance during England’s darkest hour and carrying on in their mischievous way until victory was certain.

To be honest, I’m not a Disneyphile. And I don’t need to be because there are many animation fans out there who are, and have expertly studied the minutiae involving the studio. Wade Sampson has an excellent posting about Disney and gremlins at MousePlanet that you can read.

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