Quick, can you name your favorite Disney Character? I know that without a doubt and hesitation, mine is Mickey Mouse. This original, classic character started it all, and put the Disney Studios on the map. Mickey was followed up by some of the worlds most beloved and iconic cartoon characters ever to come from one studio. But can you name the oldest, continuing character in Disney history? Many fans remember that Walt’s earliest animations came about when he formed the Laugh-O-Gram Film Company in May of 1922. Here Walt and his fledging staff produced six fairy tale cartoons for the Pictorial Clubs Company, which soon went bankrupt and in turn causing the downfall of Walt’s first studio. But there was no permanent “Central” Character. After the failure of the Laugh-O-Gram Studio, Walt made that celebrated trip to California with only $40.00 in his pocket; it was here that he and Brother Roy started the Disney Brothers Studios. At the studio, they produced the first of the “Alice Comedies” starring a live little girl playing in an animated world. The first Alice, “Alice’s Day at Sea” was released on March 1st, 1924. Although the Disney Company acknowledges Mickey’s birthday on November 18th, 1928, his actual debut was the short “Plane Crazy” a silent film shown in early May, 1928. Alice preceded Mickey by four years and seven months!
The Alice Comedies were the vehicle Disney rode to becoming the eminent pioneer in animation. But although she was his first “Character”, Alice only lasted until August 22, 1927 when her popularity waned. But if we go to the short, “Alice solves the Puzzle” (Shown on February 15th, 1925) we see the first appearance of the villain, “Bootleg Pete” ( A nod to the bootleggers of Prohibition) He appears as an anthropomorphic cat that in the cartoon, sees Alice doing a crossword puzzle, and Pete, a collector of rare puzzles needs her puzzle. Alice refuses to give up the puzzle and is chased by Pete until pushed off a lighthouse by Alice’s cat Julius. This is the acknowledged first appearance by Pete. Although Pete first appeared as a cat, he has also been seen as what looked like a grizzly bear to what some describe as a “Rat” through the years.
Pete appeared in several more of the Alice Comedies as a foil to Alice. His appearance became more familiar to fans, he was big, burly, usually had a cigar in his mouth and his trademark peg-leg. After the Alice Comedies had their run, Walt was asked by Universal Studios for a new series, in 1927. Walt and Ub Iwerks came up with Disney’s second major character, “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” In this successful series, Pete was known by “Putrid Pete” and again was the villain against Oswald. (Who has a remarkable resemblance to a famous Mouse?) In fact, over the years Pete has been known by a gaggle of monikers… Black Pete, Pete the Bear, Peg leg Pete, Putrid Pete, Bad Pete, PeeWee Pete, Peg leg Pedro, Pierre the Trapper, Baron Pete, Count Pete and Mr. Sylvester Macaroni. You get the idea! After Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was legally taken from Walt by Charlie Mintz in early 1928, Pete was still used as an antagonist for Oswald when Walter Lantz’s studio took over.
The first time Pete antagonizes Mickey is in the short, “Galloping Gaucho” first released August 2nd, 1928 and in the short that soon made Pete and Mickey household names, “Steamboat Willie” In both shorts, Pete is shown as a cat, and was portrayed as such since. Pete is the archetypal bad guy. Every single major character in the Disney shorts had dealings with him one time or another. Pete’s most famous trademark, his peg-leg had been a bone of contention for the Disney animators for quite a while! It seemed no one could decide what leg it should be on. He would have it in one short, and not in another. In the short “Mickey’s Service Station” it appears on one leg and then switched to the other! After a time, Disney decided to dispense with it altogether.
Pete was also a staple enemy in the comics as well. In the comics his ancestry is further explored. He is depicted as descended from outlaws, highwaymen and villains. His mother is known as “Maw Pete” first mentioned in the 1942 story “Donald Duck finds Pirates Gold” In the story “River Pirates” published in 1968 we are introduced to Pete’s twin brother Li’l Pete. In the December 1998 Mickey Mouse comic strip, we are introduced to his sister, Petula. For the most part, Pete is more of a threating, menacing figure. From an unreasonable boss, a desperado, bully or nasty neighbor, Pete usually gets his in the end. But he does have his moments of pure evil.
Pete’s popularity as the oldest of the Disney characters and villains has kept him in the limelight. In addition to playing villain to Mickey, Pluto, Donald and even Chip and Dale (He appeared in only one cartoon, “The Lone Chipmunks, 1954”) he has appeared on the 1987 series “Duck Tales” in 1992’s the “Goof Troop” the “Mickey Mouse Works” and “The House of Mouse” In addition, he appears in the new “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” but in a subdued version for the kids, numerous Disney movies, i.e. “Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) “Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Cameo) and “A Goofy Movie” He is the central villain in “The Prince and the Pauper” You can see him in “Mickey’s House of Villains” and “The Three Musketeers” Pete even stars in a multitude of video Games. He has been voiced in the beginning by Billy Bletcher through the ‘50s, than Will Ryan and Jim Cummings.
You can see the longevity and popularity that Pete has earned as Disney’s oldest character and villain. It’s hard to believe that after 86 years, Pete is still as vibrant and evil as he was when he first tried to steal Alice’s puzzle, way back in 1925. So however you conceive Pete, he is the same bad guy who menaced Alice, Mickey and Oswald over the years. I’m sure as long as there are Disney Villains, Pete will be there to lead the way.
Contributed by: Bill I. (NDH #35). Bill is our resident historian.