Bill Peet (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 on The Jungle Book, Song of the South, Cinderella, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, Goliath II, Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo, Pinocchio, Fantasia, The Three Caballeros, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and other stories.
Bill Peet was born in Grandview, Indiana, just two years before the United States entry into the First World War.
BIll 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 admits 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.
After college, upon hearing that Disney was hiring artists for their animated films, Peet sent off some of his cartoon action sketches. He was subsequently asked to come to try-outs. He trekked across the country to LA, 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 got in on the last minute effort. After the success of Snow White, Bill began work as an in-betweener--making up the frames between the key drawings. However, he found the work somewhat tedious. To bring in additional income, he sent character sketches for Pinocchio to production team. Before the verdict on his designs had come back, Bill 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. His monsters had come through in the nick of time.
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 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 handled the character designs for Cinderella. When the second world war broke out, Disney halted normal production, and contributed to the war effort making propaganda films. Bill helped here as well, but received his big break after the war was over. His work so impressed 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; abstractionist was in vogue and Peet's realistic paintings were out of date. He attempted editorial cartoons, but failed there as well. Bill 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 Walt over the years. After successes developing short stories for Disney, Peet had his first book published, Hubert’s Hair Raising Adventure.
Although Disney was not an artist, he was the final gatekeeper on the artistic side. He reviewed all the work and gave it the final go ahead. He was rather temperamental, and would often make irrational, emotionally based executive decisions. Because of this, Peet and Walt quarreled frequently. Eventually, after an especially heated argument with Walt on The Jungle Book, Peet left the Disney company for good.
Post-Disney, BIll turned his attention to writing and illustrating children's books. Bill developed many of his ideas from bedtime stories he had told his children. Peet eventually became known as a member of the children's story book triumvirate, including Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss. 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. Both the illustrations and the stories themselves easily capture the attention of almost all children. These features make these books excellent for even the most reluctant of readers.