In Newsweek magazine for February 16th, 1953 there was a big feature article on the Disney studios and their latest animated feature film Peter Pan (1953). At the end of the article, Walt Disney had told the writer that the next animated feature after the upcoming Lady and Tramp (1955) would possibly be “either Beauty and the Beast or Walt Kelly’s Pogo the Possum”.
According to those who knew him, Kelly was horrified when he read that sentence. He felt that Disney would not be able to capture the subtle spirit of his comic strip.
In addition, he knew that Disney overpowered the original creator so that James Barrie’s Peter Pan became Walt Disney’s Peter Pan with the Disney version being the most prominent and dominant in public culture.
It was not that Kelly disliked Walt Disney or the Disney Studio since he had worked there for five years from January 6th, 1936 to September 12th, 1941. Among other things he did animation on Gepetto inside Monstro the Whale in Pinocchio (1940), Bacchus drunkenly riding his donkey in the Pastoral Symphony sequence of Fantasia (1940) and the ringmaster in Dumbo (1941).
He formed a close friendship with animators Ward Kimball and Fred Moore and kept up correspondence with them even after he left the studio. While working at Disney, Kelly also met the legendary animator Bill Tytla who animated Stromboli the evil puppeter in Pinocchio, Chernabog the demon in Fantasia and Baby Dumbo in Dumbo. Like everyone else at the studio, Kelly was in awe of Tytla’s work that is still inspirational today.
So perhaps it was not surprising perhaps to circumvent the possibilty of a Disney animated feature that in 1958, the two former Disney animators tried to produce an animated hour-long television special using Pogo and his friends.After leaving Disney in February 1943, Tytla worked as a director at Terrytoons and Famous cartoon studios. In 1950, he turned to directing commericals for television and worked on roughly two thousand of them for Tempo Productions, Academy Pictures and finally his own William Tytla Productions Inc.
In 1957, Kelly had discussed producing some type of animated Pogo film and had contacted producer Mike Todd who was interested. Kelly had also contacted Tytla who was based in New York to handle the animation not only because of Tytla’s talent but because Kelly was also based in New York so could easily oversee what was being done. However by 1958 with the death of Todd in an airplane accident and Kelly’s doctors telling him not to overextend himself, the deal was never finalized.
Yet, roughly a year later, the project again was seemingly “on” again with Kelly writing to Tytla to press forward on development.
Tytla immediately put together a presentation folder and on December 28th, 1959, Kelly wrote: “The presentation folder was very well done and I, too, hope it gets some place. Sometimes I worry about the amount of additional work this all may mean, but console myself with the thought that at least, if it happens, it will be fun.”
The presentation folder included color and black-and-white artwork of Pogo and the other characters on every page; a one page description of how Pogo is now “a household word” and a little about the strip itself; a one page description of Kelly accompanied by laudatory quotes about him from important people; and a one page description of the accomplishments of Tytla ending with a statement from Kelly himself that “only Tytla can bring Pogo to life on film”.
The main page described the proposed production: “The one hour TV film in color will be produced by William Tytla Productions, Inc. William Tytla will serve as producer of Pogo.
“Richard Saunders is a producer at Tytla’s. He has spent the past twenty years working with the outstanding people in the theatre, radio and TV as actor, writer and producer. Saunders will work with Bill Tytla in producing POGO.
“POGO will cost approximagely $350,000 for a fully animated TV film in color running 52 minutes in length. A precise budget and schedule will be submitted to the client for his analysis and approval. POGO will take approximately eight months to one year to complete.”
Saunders had a long distance telephone conversation on January 6, 1960 with executives from 3M, an American multinational company, with a formal presentation scheduled for February. Unfortunately, 3M decided to pass on the project for undisclosed reasons but probably cost.
The POGO project continued to generate interest but with no company willing to put up the necessary money. On March 19, 1962, Tytla wrote to Lee Goldman of Quartet Films, Inc. in Hollywood: “On Friday, we had a nice meeting with Walt Kelly and he seems very enthused over the prospect of getting this into production. Very definitely, Walt will have to be consulted on anything of a musical nature, since the musical part will play an important role in this project.
“When it comes to casting for voices, Walt feels very strongly as to what they should sound like. During our meeting, Walt mentioned his desire to do a storyboard. Lee, we’re very happy about this progress. As soon as we have a storyboard, we will contact you.”
In 1962, Tytla had taken a sabbatical from his company and was in Hollywood at Warner Brothers directing the animation on The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964) since live action filming had begun on the back lot in July 1962. However, he was still actively trying to get the POGO project started.
He wrote to Kelly: “Just a ‘quickie’. A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with two important Leo Burnett Agnecy men – one, Wendell Williams of the Hollywood office; the other Lee Bland from the Chicago office. The lunch was very pleasnat and they seemed very interested in the POGO project.
“Hoping that you are comfortably ahead of your work schedule, also hoping like mad that you’re getting a Pogo storyboard ready for a presentation.”
Kelly responded on August 8th, 1962: “The press of work continues and there’s no vacation in sight. A number of acute personal problems have siphoned off the remaining time. Inasmuch as the summer is about done and you should be back here for the fall, why not put off additional planning until then?
“Please reassure Bland et. als (sic) that I am interested but there’s only one of me right now. Maybe by September or October I may grow a third hand.”
Tytla wrote to Bland on August 14th, 1962 summarizing Kelly’s letter. Bland responded August 21, 1960: “Many thanks for updating us on Walt Kelly’s status. All is well and we shall stand by. Push the plunger when ready to reconvene and we’ll shake all three of Walt’s hands.”
Work on Limpett delayed Tytla from coming back to the east coast until the end of December. By then, Kelly had decided to abandon any further work on the animating of Pogo and his friends. Both Tytla and Kelly moved on to other projects.