The Spies Report
November 29, 2021 posted by Kamden Spies

Cartoon Yearbooks #1 – “The Copper Kettle” (1932)

What! No Mickey Mouse? What kind of a party is this?

That song was written in 1932 when Mickey was the most popular character in the world. Everybody wanted a piece of him, and his success spread like wildfire. High school mascots were not as common in the 1930s and 40s as they are today. Today, every high school has some kind of mascot. During this era, however, schools without mascots would create themes for their yearbooks. Frequently during the 1930s and 40s, cartoon characters would be used as temp-mascots for their yearbooks. At a time when characters weren’t as protected by their major corporations, Disney and Leon Schlesinger studios would lend their stars for free to high schools as temp-yearbook mascots. In the early 1930s, Walt Disney would even send a letter and signed photo of Mickey to schools that requested for Mickey to be a temp-mascot.

For this series of posts, I’m going to be showcasing some of the art featured in yearbooks with major animated stars. Much of the art was done by the students. Usually, the studios would permit the schools to use the characters. Occasionally, some schools used Mickey or other stars without permission. On rare occasions, the Disney studio artists had supposedly designed some yearbooks themselves (from what I can tell, that was only with universities with the budgets for elaborate yearbooks).

What’s interesting about these yearbooks isn’t just really the signed photo from Walt or the fact that Disney is a yearbook theme. It’s how the characters are used that makes the books stand out. In this post, I’m showcasing some art from the 1932 Arizona Copper Kettle, Douglas High School’s yearbook in which Mickey was the theme. The yearbook went so far even to have Minnie’s Yoo Hoo as the school anthem. Mickey is used to his full advantage. He’s used at least once on almost every page of the yearbook. He’s in most of the page corners, in almost every column header, and is featured somewhere in every school recreation page. A few examples are like the Superintendent’s message, which is framed with Mickey at the top. Another is a description of student Sam Johnson who’s description starts with a drawing of Mickey. Featured here are much the drawings that the students did. While they may be off-model, they’re still great to see!

Click the following to enlarge:

Misc. Page corner illos

10 Comments

  • Bill Melendez grew up in Douglas, Arizona, and he would have been a student at Douglas High School when this yearbook was made. So I think there’s a very good chance that some of these yearbook cartoons were drawn by the cartoonist who later worked as an animator at Disney and Warner Bros., and still later brought Charlie Brown and Snoopy to television and the big screen.

    • Paul,
      Oh wow! I had no idea. This is great info to add. I’m going to share this with the high school right now.

  • The more off-model they are, the more I like ’em.

  • Try to get a Disney character to illustrate your high school yearbook today, and you’ll get hit with either a hefty licensing fee or a cease-and-desist order and a threat of being sued for every nickel you’ve got.

    • Back then the schools could’ve done it without their approval too. I’m going to be showing some of them too. The schools like this one probably did the yearbook before sharing it with the Disney studio. This is the earliest one and so far the only that I’ve seen to have a letter directly from Disney’s desk. Many have a standard signed photo though.

      • My school did this with the Pink Panther in the 80’s and 90’s.

  • Is Bill Melendez pictured in the 1932 Copper Kettle yearbook? Melendez was born on 15 November 1916 (just one day before Daws Butler), so he would have been fifteen at the end of the 1931-32 school year and presumably a member of the freshman class. I’ve read that he was put back several grades when his family moved to Douglas from Mexico in 1928 because he couldn’t yet speak English, but he was also described as a fast learner and a very good student. I’ve been unable to determine exactly when the Melendez family moved from Douglas to Los Angeles, other than that it was sometime “in the 1930s”; I don’t know whether he attended high school in LA, but he studied at Chouinard before starting work at Disney in 1938. A photo of Melendez in the Copper Kettle yearbook would confirm his presence in Douglas in 1932 and also lend immense value to the yearbook as an artefact of Disney history.

    • Unfortunately the freshmen are shown in group photos but not identified. But it seems that another student, Manny Farber, is responsible for the Mickey Mouse art. On the yearbook credits page, under Art, it reads “Manny Farber – Mickey Rats.” Then there’s this website on Farber, who went on to an accomplished career as an artist and movie critic: tinyurl.com/3c5zzmj2

      • Menachem, you are amazing for pointing this out! I am going to mention this on the next one of these posts that I write (which will probably be the other Bugs Bunny one). You’re certainly going to be credited too!

  • This is so interesting, Kamden. Great job!

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