Posted in WB Cartoon Companion on March 22, 2004
Mythical beasties, “the little men who aren’t there”, allegedly responsible for “die-a-boll-lickal sab-o-tay-gee” in aircraft. While the Roald Dahl versions of the critters are probably best remembered -- he wrote a best-selling book about them while serving in the war -- variations on the characters go back to at least World War I. The critters took on a life of their own, and became part of the lore of World War II.
The Disney studio attempted to make a movie out of the Dahl book, but ultimately abandoned the project. Disney tried to urge other studios against working with his characters -- so of course, Robert Clampett went on to make two separate cartoons featuring Gremlins. First, he used a gremlin to battle Bugs, who, unusually, gets the worst of it in Falling Hare (1943). The title of the second cartoon was changed from Gremlins from the Kremlin to the somewhat less effective Russian Rhapsody (1944) before being released.
The gremlins in the latter cartoon are mostly caricatures of studio personnel, based partly on a Christmas card put out by T. Hee around 1936, up to and including studio head Leon Schlesinger as the gremlin with the little hammer. Other gremlins include Ray Katz, getting hit with a hammer, Mel “Tubby” Millar with a thumbtack for a head, Friz Freleng with a little green saw for a nose, Chuck Jones as a beefy off-white gremlin, and Henry Binder with a V-shaped hairdo. The gremlin in Falling Hare -- who, let us reiterate, is *not* Wendell Willkie -- has an elegant flying helmet/plane and tail design and a Benny Rubin-like laugh.