March 19, 2014 posted by

“Wilbur Right and Wilbur Wrong” (1944)


Today, a World War II training film produced by the Army Air Force animation division, The First Motion Picture Unit (FMPU): Elementary and Pylon Eights (1944) – one of a “Lazy 8″ series – featuring the characters “Wilbur Right” and “Wilbur Wrong”.

This complete 16mm print recently came up for auction on Ebay, and the characters turn out to be the creation of Gus Arriola (1917-2008), creator of the comic strip “Gordo” (1941-1985). In Arriola’s biography, Accidental Ambassador Gordo by Robert C. Harvey and Gus Arriola, published in 2000 by the University Press of Mississippi, Harvey explains the creation of the characters Wilbur Right and Wilbur Wrong:

“Among the animation projects Arriola worked on (for the First Motion Picture Unit) were films teaching cadets in flying schools the correct procedures. For these, he created a couple of cartoon characters, Wilbur Right and Wilbur Wrong. The animated figures were superimposed on live-action footage, demonstrating the right way to do something as well as the wrong way and its consequences.”

There is also a production story that seems to touch on the making of this particular entry in the Wilbur Right and Wrong series, “Lazy 8’s”:

“Arriola spent most of his three year tour of duty in California, but once he went with his director (perhaps Frank Thomas?) to Randolph Field in Texas. The director wanted to interview the head of pilot training on the AT aircraft. ‘They took us up for a demonstration,’ Arriola remembered with a rueful grin. ‘And they did all kinds of acrobatics–lazy eights and different dives and loops and all that. Luckily the trainer had a greenhouse cockpit cover, and I slipped it back so I could get my head out. They had to wash the side of the plane after we landed.’ He chuckled.”

Arriola’s comic strip “Gordo” was launched in November of 1941; In December, the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, and Gus found himself drafted by 1942 and “Gordo” was put on hold for awhile, until Gus settled at the FMPU and could go home nights. That’s where he found time to continue the Sunday page for the duration.

fmpu-logoGus Arriola had quite a background in animation, starting in 1936 at the Charles Mintz studio, then working at the newly-formed MGM cartoons studio, working at first with Milt Gross. When Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising came on the lot as producers, Gus did assistant animation at first, then joined the story department and did boards and character models on shorts like The Lonesome Stranger, where the nascent Gordo was developed as a barrel chested Mexican bandit. To make the bandido into Gordo, Arriola just slid his chest down into his stomach, and gave him a big sombrero. Gus also designed the little weed character in Dance of the Weed, which Mike Lah animated, and Ivan Scavinsky Scavar, from Abdul the Bulbul Ameer, which Irv Spence and George Gordon animated. After a stint as an assistant, Gus never became an animator and thought animation too precise a profession. He preferred to design characters and draw storyboards.

It’s unclear who were the animators on “Lazy 8’s”, but Frank Thomas may have contributed, perhaps Amby Paliwoda, and other draftees who served at Fort Roach. The animation is a funny combination of full and limited, when Wilbur Wrong looks all around himself in the cockpit as a safety check, the blurry multiple heads are handled in a cycle, when Wilbur Wrong’s plane crashes, it falls apart in a burst of parts with full animation.

wilbur-cow_250Also handled in full animation are some gags in “Lazy 8’s ”which are expanded barnyard humor, as an alarmed cow with a big trailing udder tries to escape the low-flying propellor of Wilbur Wrong’s plane. The subtext of this business is the old washerwoman cliche; “Don’t get your tits in the wringer”.

It’s clear that the Snafu cartoons were an influence on Arriola’s character design of the two Wiburs, and that the vulgarity and sexy suggestiveness were appropriated from the Snafu series as well. Wait until you see what the animators did with Arriola’s ideas for the cows udder! It’s unique. There’s also a beautiful scene that’s a pan set-up over photostats as Wilbur Right’s plane flies from one wall chart to another.

The film also features a live-action on-camera narrator – character actor James Seay as the flight instructor – shot on sound stages at Fort Roach (Hal Roach Studios) in Culver City.

We have no idea of how many films were in the Wilbur Right and Wrong series, as the preservation record of the FMPU’s cartoon training films is very scant. The print we are using here is a 16mm original from 1944, in remarkably good condition for it’s age, we can only guess at what happened to the original negative for this subject. One of the only films from the FMPU era that has wide circulation is Camouflage, a two-reel color subject directed by Frank Thomas, some of the cels have survived from Camouflage as well. It’s fortunate that 16mm film was diacetate and triacetate safety base, as these training films were shipped all over the world, and a few prints have survived to this day.

Camouflage is on Thunderbean’s Cartoons For Victory dvd; A slightly edited print of Elementary and Pylon Eights is also contained on More Cartoons For Victory.

I love the early Gordo strips that resemble Arriola’s early character designs for MGM cartoons, here’s the first few dailies from 1941 (click to enlarge):


Mark Kaulser blogs regularly at Mark Kausler’s CatBlog. (Special Thanks: Ed Hulse and Steve Stanchfield)


  • “Blame It On Wilbur!” was a catchphrase around the early ’40s popularized by cartoonist Rube Goldberg in his newspaper comic strips. I wonder if this had anything to do with Arriola’s naming his characters Wilbur Right and Wilbur Wrong in these training films.

    I can’t find any examples of Goldberg’s newspaper strip, but here is a comic-book reprint from “Crack Comics”.

    • Wilbur Right could be a play on Wilbur Wright, of course, but then I would expect the other character to be named Orville Wrong.

    • Still that’s a name pun besides. I guess if they had called the other guy Orville that would’ve brought it home.

    • I’m just baffled that there can *be* any doubt where the name “Wilbur Wrong” came from. I realize the conscientious columnist has to allow for any and all possibilities when there isn’t a nailed-down source, but this is pretty obvious.
      Another point is that Wilbur Wright was a public figure and had been dead since 1912. His name had long since entered popular folklore. But Orville Wright was very much alive during World War II and lived until 1948. Lampooning his name, if they had thought of it, might have been touchier.
      Something that’s kind of funny is a strip in AIR-FIGHTERS COMICS #2 (effectively the title’s first issue in a restart) in 1942, that has a scene in aviators’ heaven, with all the great flyers and air pioneers of the past who have gone on. Wilbur and Orville are *both* depicted in the heavenly setting. Apparently someone hadn’t realized Orville was still with us then.

    • “Something that’s kind of funny is a strip in AIR-FIGHTERS COMICS #2 (effectively the title’s first issue in a restart) in 1942, that has a scene in aviators’ heaven, with all the great flyers and air pioneers of the past who have gone on. Wilbur and Orville are *both* depicted in the heavenly setting. Apparently someone hadn’t realized Orville was still with us then.”

      Heck there was a cartoon in the mid 60’s that joked on Orville and Wilbur trying to get their idea patent at a patent office only to be turned down while showing them as really old men in aviator’s outfits. Of course they were already long-gun by that point but they needed something to spoof for that moment.

  • much thanks for posting this. i’m a huge fan of arriola’s work, and I think it’s horrible that gordo hasn’t been collected. not too long ago fantagraphics put out some reprint collection, and they were hyping it by saying something like, “this is the last important work that hasn’t been collected.”, and I thought to myself, “what the heck? what about gordo?”

    ‘sfunny, just yesterday I was thinking to myself that gordo would be a great property for an animated feature, as it’s storylines and its characters were so rich.

    • There was a 128-page hardcover “Gordo” collection published by Doubleday & Co. in 1950, which I don’t think was complete even to 1950. Judging by the photos of it on a “Gordo” website, it looks like it was an arty collection of highlights of the strip.

    • Fred,

      It’s a collection of one specific story line from the comic. What made the book special was that the art was repostioned and given beautiful highlights and flourishes by Gus Arriola’s assistant Lee Hooper.

      While on the subject of Lee Hooper, I suspect from what i’ve read that Mr. Hooper contributed to Gordo far more and for a far than longer period than Gus Arriola gave credit.

      Mr. Arriola claimed that Lee Hooper contributed very little to Gordo (not much more than lettering and ruling pencil borders), and for a very short time. but when asked who did the beautiful additions to Gordo book, Mr. Arriola said that Lee Hooper did the work. when asked how the very popular leprachaun character was conceived, Gus Arriola said it was based on folk tales that Lee Hooper shared with him. also, i once saw an original Gordo daily that had inking instructions writtin on it for “hoop”. All these things happened after Lee Hooper supposedly left Gus Arriola’s employ.

      I suspect that Lee Hooper left gordo after “the great style change”.

  • An excellent post, Mark! It’s nice to see Gus Arriola receive some attention on a major site like this: he remains one of the most underrated and intellectual cartoonists of the past century. There’s some unparalleled writing and story-telling in “Gordo” post-WWII.

    Count me in as another who’d be glad to contribute/kickstart to a full reprint run of Arriola’s “Gordo”—the strip gracefully morphed through the decades, not only adjusting to the times and sliding away from Hollywood Latino stereotypes, but Arriola’s drawing and drafting style as well. The early strips posted above certainly reflect the early MGM style, then take a turn to sharper, adventure-style comic art à la Milt Caniff, then effortlessly adjusts into a post-modern look not unlike Gene Hazelton’s line work and moves forward from there. This evolution is expertly shown through the decades in Gus Arriola and R.C. Harvey’s “Accidental Ambassador Gordo” which is an absolute treasure of a book.

    P.S. Gus and his wife Mary-Frances took part in a DVD extra for the “Tom and Jerry: Spotlight Collection Vol. 2” if anyone is interested in hearing his take on MGM and the cat and mouse.

    • “P.S. Gus and his wife Mary-Frances took part in a DVD extra for the “Tom and Jerry: Spotlight Collection Vol. 2″ if anyone is interested in hearing his take on MGM and the cat and mouse.”

      At least he managed to leave his mark there. Maybe not enough to get people curious into knowing more about him, but it’s a start.

    • By the way, I assume that you are the same Dan Cunningham who has just done the fine cover for my book of my “Funny Animals and More” columns, from Theme Park Press, and with a Foreword by Jerry? Thank you very much! This is keeping it in the Cartoon Research family.

    • I am indeed the same Dan who illustrated the cover of your upcoming book, Fred! It was a fun job—looking forward to reading what you have to say on the inside, as well as Jerry’s Introduction/Foreword. Wishing you the best of success for the book release!

  • “Wait until you see what the animators did with Arriola’s ideas for the cows udder! It’s unique.”

    Lord knows we’ll probably never see that again! That was definately unique!

  • And this is why we need a COMPLETE HAPPY HARMONIES collection, so we can hear Gus talk about his work on the films you mentioned, Mark. But I wonder–you said that he also worked with Milt Gross. Did he work on the cartoon, “WANTED, NO MASTER”? It happens to be my favorite of the two Gross shorts around his own characters, and I know I’m saying this, having no recollections of seeing either film, literally, but I like the premise. It just seems like a Warner Brothers cartoon idea brought to MGM. Maybe this is partially due to the fact that Mel Blanc’s voice work is all over these films!

    • In the first photo, the guy in front is obviously Jules Engel.I think the psreon front and center in the second photo is Joe Smith, who later became a well known movie poster artist (he illustrated the poster for Ben-Hur).Standing in front of Frank Thomas in the last photo is Rudy Larriva.There’s a photo of most of the crew in Cartoon Modern. I don’t have it handy but maybe somebody could get a few more idents out of that.

  • Maybe only one Wilbur cartoon was made, it has happened before that only one cartoon was ever produced in proposed series. But based on the reading above I get the feeling that they were more than one in the Wilbur series.

    Perhaps it could be good idea to dig through old copyright catalogs and similar material to uncover the truth how many the Wilbur cartoons were there.

    But far as im concerned, its shame that there is no official filmography for FMPU makes this an unessery guessing game on how many films where there, but thats what historian have to live with when it comes to such a secretive topic as FMPU is

Leave a Reply to Kevin Wollenweber Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *