Thursday, August 17, 2006

Stalag Luft III - I Wanted Wings

Disney artists designed somewhere between 1,100 and 1,300 combat insignia over the course of the war. This particular one is a favorite and researching the complete story behind this design's creation took me several years.

A version of this design appeared in a 1944 issue of Popular Science magazine. The very abbreviated story that I was able to research starts on March 22, 1943 when an American B-17F Bombardier named Emmet Cook and his fellow crew aboard "Holey Joe" were shot during a raid on Palermo Harbor. Emmet was was one of only three crew to survive the crash. He was eventually incarcerated at Stalag Luft III, where the so-called "Great Escape" took place. Emmet drew the above design in his YMCA supplied diary, on a postcard he mailed to his mother form the camp and he made a patch using a piece of khaki cloth and oil paints, which he attached to his jacket.

Another POW named Robert Bishop saw the image and copied it onto a postcard he sent to his girlfriend. Bishop asked his girlfriend to forward the postcard to Walt Disney, with the request that he be given permission to reproduce the Donald Duck image on the back of his flight jacket.

Disney had artist Hank Porter clean-up and slightly alter Emmet's original design. Disney then approached at least one insignia company in Los Angeles with the intent of having them make patches for the men in the POW camp. When he ws informed the patch manufacturer was severely backlogged, Walt Disney instead sent the original art to Bishop's girlfriend.

Over the course of five years I was able to locate Emmet Cook and the family of Robert Bishop's WW II girlfriend. I have become close friends with Emmet and have interviewed him extensively. Among numerous other items, Emmet gave me the postcard. I was also able to secure copies all of the correspondence between Walt Disney and Bishop's girlfriend.

I have a database that contains information on 1,086 Disney-designed combat insignia. This design has by far been the most interesting to research and a full accounting of the story will be published in a book I am currently writing, the tenative title of which is: Cartoon Crests of World War II - Disney Designs.


Didier Ghez said...

My oh my! A blog from you is one of the things I had been awaiting for years! This will be announced on the Disney blog on monday, I can assure you.

David said...

Hello Didier. I am pressed for time these days but will do my best to keep this blog interesting. Thanks much!