Bill Peet (born William Bartlett Peed; January 29, 1915 – May 11, 2002), was an American children's book illustrator and a story writer for Disney Studios. He joined Disney in 1937 and worked first on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) near the end of its production. Progressively, his involvement in the Disney studio's animated feature films and shorts increased, and he remained there until early in the development of The Jungle Book (1967). A row with Disney over the direction of the project led to a permanent personal break. Other feature films that Peet worked on before he left include Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940, The Pastoral Symphony sequence), Dumbo (1941), The Three Caballeros (1944), Song of the South (1946, cartoon sequences), So Dear to My Heart (1948, cartoon sequences), Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Sleeping Beauty (1959), 101 Dalmatians (1961), and The Sword in the Stone (1963). Peet's subsequent career was as a writer and illustrator of children's books.
Bill Peet was born in Grandview, Indiana, on January 29, 1915. Peet began drawing at an early age, and filled tablets full of sketches. Often, instead of doing lessons, Peet would draw in the margins of his textbooks—which were very popular for their added illustrations when he sold them back. Animals were always a love of Peet's. He and his friends would go traipsing through the woods looking for frogs, tadpoles, minnows and crawfish. Most of his adventures as a boy to catch animals were in the hope that he could capture them and sketch them. The young Peet would also sneak onto greeting parties at the train station as a boy just to see the train's mechanical workings. In addition, as a teen, he would try to sketch the circus big top, but he was always in the way of the set up crew. He memorized the scene and would reconstruct it from memory.
It was about this time Peet entered into Arsenal Technical High School. At first, he had little interest in pursuing a career as an artist. However, after failing all his classes but physical education, he followed the advice of a friend and took some art classes. Peet did extremely well, and experimented with a broad range of media. He eventually received a scholarship to the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, where he attended for three years. In the first class, Bill found himself very interested in a girl that sat in the front row. That girl, Margaret Brunst, eventually became his wife in 1937. Peet took quite a few painting classes that first year, and he admitted his paintings were always somewhat macabre. His favorite subjects were grizzled old men, “perfected with age, like a gnarled oak tree.” Another favorite subject was the circus—but always the big tops, never the people.
Following college, Peet sent off some of his cartoon action sketches after hearing that the Disney Studio was hiring artists for their animated films. He was subsequently asked to come to try-outs. He trekked across the country to Los Angeles, and participated in a one month audition process; only three of fifteen survived the period. It was at this time Disney was working on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Peet began work towards the end of its production. After the success of Snow White, he began work as an in-betweener (making up the frames between the key drawings) on the Donald Duck shorts. However, he found the work somewhat tedious. To bring in additional income, he sent character sketches for Pinocchio to the production team. Before the verdict on his designs had come back, Peet felt like he had enough, and went screaming out of the studio, “no more lousy ducks!” Fortuitously, he came back the next day to pick up his jacket and found an envelope, informing him he had been promoted to the story department.
Peet then officially began working as a sketch artist, putting the words of a story man into pictures on the film. Peet’s first encounter with Walt Disney directly was at this time, when Disney reviewed the storyboards Peet had put together. Even though both his boards were eventually cut from the film, Peet continued to work on Pinocchio for another year and a half. After that period, Peet worked on Fantasia and Dumbo. When World War II broke out, Disney halted normal production, and contributed to the war effort making propaganda films. Peet helped here as well, but received his big break after the war was over. His work was so impressive to Walt that he made him a fully fledged story man who also handled the sketching end of character design.
Peet started to paint again at this time, but soon found he had lost touch with the brush. Fine art had changed dramatically during the years Peet had been at Disney; abstractionism was in vogue and Peet's realistic paintings were out of date. He attempted editorial cartoons, but failed there as well. Peet decided to continue working at Disney, where he developed a few short cartoons and worked on the feature films of the period. At this point, he was working very closely with Walt Disney; Peet respected Disney's creative genius, but found him to be a sometimes difficult man. A large part of his autobiography is dedicated to his dealings with Disney over the years. Peet described the Disney studio as a "brutal" place, rife with rivalries and jealousy. After successes developing short stories for the company, Peet had his first book published, Hubert’s Hair-Raising Adventure.
Although Walt Disney himself was not doing any animation by this time, he was in charge of the major decisions on the artistic side. He reviewed all the work and gave it the final go-ahead. As they were both strong-willed and passionately creative men, Peet and Disney quarreled frequently about parts in the films such as the dancing/romance scene in Sleeping Beauty. Peet left the company on January 29, 1964, which was his birthday, following an especially heated argument with Walt on The Jungle Book.
Post-Disney, Peet turned his attention to writing and illustrating children's books. Peet developed many of his ideas from bedtime stories he had told his children. Much of the success Peet's stories have enjoyed is due to the memorable themes they contain: trying when there's not much obvious hope, not allowing taunting of others to prevent individual success, finding compromise in solutions and others. Unlike most other children's authors, Peet did not dumb down the vocabulary of his stories, but somehow managed to include enough context to make the meaning of difficult words obvious. All of his 36 books published by Houghton Mifflin Company remain actively in print.
- The Ant and the Elephant
- Big Bad Bruce
- Bill Peet: An Autobiography
- Buford the Little Bighorn
- The Caboose Who Got Loose
- Chester the Worldly Pig
- Cock-a-doodle Dudley
- Countdown to Christmas
- Cowardly Clyde
- Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent
- Encore for Eleanor
- Farewell to Shady Glade
- Fly Homer Fly
- The Gnats of Knotty Pine
- Goliath II
- How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head
- Hubert's Hair-Raising Adventure
- Huge Harold
- Jennifer and Josephine
- Jethro and Joel Were a Troll
- Kermit the Hermit
- The Kweeks of Kookatumdee
- The Luckiest One of All
- Merle the High Flying Squirrel
- No Such Things
- Pamela Camel
- The Pinkish, Purplish, Bluish Egg
- Randy's Dandy Lions
- The Spooky Tail of Prewitt Peacock
- The Whingdingdilly
- The Wump World
- Zella, Zack, and Zodiac
- Seldom Re-Peeted: The Bill Peet Interview, Hogan's Alley #7, 1999
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Bill Peet Books List
- Meet Bill Pete, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Author Biography
- Bill Peet, 87; Disney Artist, Storyteller Wrote '101 Dalmations,' Children's Books Los Angeles Times, May 14, 2002
- Bill Peet, Disney Artist and Children's Book Author, Dies at 87 New York Times, May 18, 2002
- American Library Association Caldecott Honor Book