The Lost “Grampaw Pettibone” by Warner Bros. Cartoons

Researching animation history never ends for those of us who are endlessly fascinated by the films of the golden age and the people behind them. The internet era has allowed us to find lost cartoons, rare shorts and films we never knew existed. Case in point: this 1945 Navy training film produced at Warner Bros. Cartoons featuring cartoonist Robert Osborn’s character Grampaw Pettibone. I’d never come across anything about this one (embed below) in all my years of research. Carl Stalling’s music, Treg Brown’s effects and Frank Graham’s narration are unmistakable. Not sure who’s doing Grampaw’s voice. A more complete, time-code free version has been posted at CriticalPast.com.

I checked in with a few friends and all had interesting observations and factoids concerning this film. Amid Amidi told me that “Grampaw Pettibone debuted in January, 1943 in an issue of the “BUAER News Letter” (later “Naval Avaiation News”). The character was created by Commander Spencer “Seth” Hubert Warner and designed by cartoonist Robert Osborn, who also created “Dilbert” for the Navy. (We’ve posted about him before on the Brew.) Osborn continued drawing the character for the Navy until he passed away in 1994.”

About this film, Mark Kausler weighs in:

“Grampaw Pettibone was used in several other Flight Safety UPA films, I didn’t know that Warner Animation did any with him. Bobe Cannon did Grampaw in the other cartoons I’ve seen, but the animation here seems to be in the Rod Scribner school, without his gift for cartooning. The acting reminds me of the Snafu animation in “Fighting Tools”, where he shifts his head rhythmically on the lines “I ain’t no boob and I won’t be trapped…” It looks like Paul Julian did some of the backgrounds, especially that one with the arrow looking like TP all over the buildings.”

Mike Kazaleh hypothesizes:

“Cool film. I’ve never seen this before. The animation of Grampaw is all Ken Harris. The layouts look like Dave Hilberman’s work. Paintings are probably by Paul Julian. I’m not 100% sure who directed this. Possibly Frank Tashlin. If so, it may have been made slightly earlier than the 1945 date at the beginning, as Tashlin left the studio in 1944.”

Cartoon music historian Daniel Goldmark found this among Carl Stalling’s papers:

“Not only is that a Carl Stalling score, but the original handwritten score still exists; the title for the short on the top of the score is “Flight Safety.” The rest of the written score is pretty standard, except for the handwritten note at the end from Stalling to Franklyn : “Milt: This is a serious cartoon which, no doubt, you have discovered before now– Carl” Clearly Stalling (and Franklyn) had to tone down the comic music elements when doing training films (as opposed to the Snafus, Hooks, etc.).”

Amid suggested a comparision:

“Here’s the UPA short Join-Up Collisions. Look at the difference between how UPA (Bobe Cannon) interpreted the character (embed below) and the Warner Bros. version (above). It’s fascinating to see these two studios animating the same character, and how different their approaches were.”

Additional information on these films is gratefully accepted in our comments section below.

(Thanks, Jon Cooke)


  • http://popyea.deviantart.com/ nick

    these are fantastic.
    i prefer the warner brothers one.
    But both have such a great no nonsense attitude, they don’t tip toe around anything.

  • http://yowpyowp.blogspot.com Don M. Yowp

    It sounds like Bob Bruce doing Grampaw to me.

  • Toonio

    Nothing like the good old WB animation department to send a point across even when it’s grim as hell.

  • cbat628

    Both of these were great to look at, I love it when wise, animated elderly people tell stories or say what’s on their minds. There seems to be so much character to them. Although I have to say I enjoyed the WB short a little more because of their take on Grampaw Pettibone. He seemed to be a little less reserved and more lively than the other which drew me in a bit more and made me see the humor and useful advice in an otherwise bleak tale. However, I think the UPA short really nailed it with the visuals, the exaggerated metaphors and imagery were the perfect offset for UPA’s more humbled version of Grampaw Pettibone.

    Side Note: I find it funny that the WB short had more conservative visuals and an animated Pettibone and UPA was almost the exact opposite.

  • Fanatic

    Who directed “Dive Bombing Crashes”?
    Frank Tashlin? Chuck Jones?

  • uncle wayne

    omg! That’s what i luv about this site. The “gossip” (from decades before!) The Snafus we’ve all seen for decades….but this was BRAND new to me. Amazingl. It’s like Clutch Cargo Meets Carl Stalling Meets Jonny Quest Meets Warners!!! Fantastic. Thank yoo!

  • http://inspectorcleuzo.blogspot.com Sandro Cleuzo

    The Warner Brother’s one animated by Ken Harris (If it was the case) is also my favorite. The animation is great and much more fun to watch. The UPA one is more subtle, much more the way today’s animated film directors would prefer.
    great stuff.

  • mooki

    sounds like either Stan Freberg or Pinto Colvig doing Grampaw Pettibone’s voice.

  • http://www.thunderbeananimation.com Steve Stanchfield

    These cartoons are VERY hard to find. How cool to see them!

    In looking through the list of materials at the National Archives, these didn’t show up- then again, only about 65% of the material National Archives has in on the ‘Official’ list. In addition, sometimes the ref copies are not the same as the original materials- things have been clipped out of reels at times. It’s clear that at least some of these are at the National Archives, though other things (like the Hook cartoons) are not.

    One sharp-eye cartoon fan sent me a clip featuring SNAFU that I didn’t find in working this past year on the Snafu Thunderbean DVD- it was part of an Army-Navy Screen magazine – though the clip was missing from the the 16mm ref copy. Critical Past found it though, and I’m glad- perhaps it can be included in an update someday, or on another DVD of WW2 animation.

  • eeteed

    overall i liked the W.B. cartoon better, but grampaw’s mouth was much better animated in the UPA cartoon.

  • The Gee

    I’m a sucker for these shorts.

    Hopefully, there’s a way to find out more about them. But, who knows how deep that is buried. Shouldn’t the Library of Congress or the Navy and other military branches have archives that are accessible for those brave enough to dig through the records?

    It may not be online but hopefully someone finds more and shares.

  • Mike

    Grandpaw sounds like Will Wright to me.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_Wright_(actor)

  • http://thadkomorowski.com Thad

    The Ken Harris animation was superb, even before I read Mike’s comment I could tell it was his work straight away because of the perfect lipsync. But what really intrigues me is how these Warner guys were able to do all of these misc. things on the side in addition to the regular shorts without the quality of anything ever suffering, all while on a relatively low-budget and short deadline. Makes today’s crap all the sadder.

  • Sogturtle

    It’s really a stupendous find, even after my 30-plus years of research it never ceases to amaze me what still can turn up. Like I mentioned over on the GAC-Termite Terrace board this great nugget does not turn up in the Copyright Catalog under any of its possible titles despite its supposed Copyrighting.

    It’s a little amusing that we have open question up above not so much as to WHO the director is but instead who animated it.

    And as our friend Thad mentioned above, the quality is astoundingly high. Schlesingers/Warner’s was at the same moment not only doing the theatricals and the Snafus, but also several Hooks and a couple of animated sequences for outside features. PLUS this baby!! The talent of the Warner directors (and crews) had virtually no bounds…

  • Mike Kazaleh

    The animation of Grampaw Pettybone in the second film is by Ken Muse. Very nicely done. I hadn’t seen this film before, either. It’s interesting how differently the two Kens handle the same character.

  • Julian Carter

    I agree with you all. I am most impressed by the substance in these shorts, in that were I an American pilot in 1945, I would most definitely have learned a thing or two from them.

    I have an unrelated question, though. Is the Warners score by Carl Stalling an adaptation of the third movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique piano sonata? It sure sounds like that to me. In that case, Stalling can’t bill himself as composer, can he? Only as arranger, or something of the sort …

  • Stromberg Carlson

    The title ‘arranger’ wasn’t recognized as its own entity until relatively recently. It was not even possible to register one’s credit as a mere arranger with ASCAP back in the WWII era. All of the major film composers copped stuff from dead classical composers without crediting them.

  • Atwater Kent

    Have you ever seen Raymond Scott’s name in the credits of any cartoon containing his “Powerhouse” from the Golden Age of animation?

  • Tyler Williams

    Well, Daniel Goldmark said that the original hand written score for this piece still exisits, and I would love to see it digitized and on the internet. I love seeing the scores and comparing them with the actual short, it feels like it just gives a little more insight on the minds of the directors. Anyway, this is a great find, I have certainly never heard of it before, thanks.

  • Nose
  • Grampaw’s Daughter

    My father, Commander Oliver Ortman, was Grampaw Pettibones at Naval Aviation News from 1958-1963. He left me with a great collection of original Robert Osborn cartoons. I’d love to find a good home for them.