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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Holling in Hollywood: The Missing Art

Much of Holling’s work for Disney is uncredited.  Worse, virtually none of it was released to the public.  An animated feature of Hiawatha was to be based on Longfellow’s 1855 poem.  The 1937 film Little Hiawatha was kept in development for many years, and Holling would have contributed rough sketches.  They’re mindful of the early Disney work audiences can still see in films like Pinocchio. Sadly, the picture has never been made.

We do know that a trip Holling and others from the studio made to Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador Oct. 8 to 30, 1943, influenced him greatly.  Holling’s formal report noted a hurricane in Mazatlan had rolled their plane into a building where a wing was torn off.  Afterwards, he writes, “We come to sunny Mexico where the beauties of Architecture, the simple dignity of the People and the lush coloring of Nature combine to give a group of artists and writers…quite a dither to decide whether to start sketching like mad or writing like mad.”

With tongue in cheek, he then declaims on the tortilla, which “hasn’t the felt-inner-sole feel of a griddle cake, but rather of some strange new plastic….  And thus we come to the taco.”  He continues, “The trick is to eat salad and plate together and come out even.”

Holling made many sketches of the people and places the group visited, of which at least 21 are preserved in the UCLA archives.  (Many more sketches centered on World War II images, his own studies, and scenes he saw of everyday Latinos and a medical clinic.)  But, what strikes one as the perfect combination of Holling’s exposure to Mexico and the Disney experience are his two charming illustrations of the Corn People.  The animation of corn kernels marching off the cob marries the naturalistic environment he was so fond of with a wry sense of humor.

It’s amazing to wonder what would have come from Holling’s paint brushes and typewriter if he had continued at the Disney studio.  But, then, we might not have had the succession of books published by Houghton Mifflin.