Walter Crawford Kelly, Jr, 1913 - 1973

portrait of Walt Kelly


Born: 25 August 1913, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died: 18 October 1973, Woodland Hills, California

Kelly was raised at Bridgeport, Connecticut, graduating from Warren Harding High School in 1930. He became a crime reporter on the Bridgeport Post and took up cartooning to illustrate a biography of Bridgeport native P. T. Barnum. The woman he hoped to marry, Helen DeLacy, moved to Southern California; Kelly followed her and got a job at Walt Disney Productions in 1936, first as a storyboard artist and later in the animation department, working on Snow White, Dumbo, and Fantasia. During a strike in 1941 he took a leave of absence rather than taking sides, returning to Disney to work on adapting Pinocchio and The Three Caballeros for Dell Comics. He worked at Dell until World War II, during which he worked in the Army's Foreign Language Unit illustrating manuals. He first drew Pogo in 1943 in Dell's Animal Comics, although he was then more opossum-shaped than the rounder and more lovable Pogo that came later. In 1948 he went to the New York Star as art director and political cartoonist, but the paper folded in early 1949 so he developed Pogo as a separate syndicated daily strip and a long series of books.

The anthropomorphic critters of Okefenokee Swamp skewered the political realm, particularly McCarthyism, to the delight of millions, but sometimes skated on the edge of the newspapers' sensitivity: During the 1964 and '68 elections he put out two strips every day, one with his normal swamp critters and their biting commentary, a second one with cute bunnies telling harmless jokes. His wife died in 1970, and he started working with Selby Daley on a TV special, We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us. His left leg was amputated due to diabetes in October of 1972, he married Daley in the intensive care unit a half hour before the surgery, but a year later he defied his doctors and took a couple of drinks, he lapsed into a coma and died at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital. Kelly has been a major influence on many current cartoonists, not to mention many of us who just love to see the language used effectively, and he won most of the major awards available in the field. In addition to the standard biographical links listed below, I can suggest Been Publishing, I'm Back's article on his cartooning career and Wikipedia's article on Pogo.

Biography from Wikipedia and Authors' Calendar

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