In the darkest hours
of World War II, the British Secret Service, led by "A Man called
Intrepid" (aka William Stephenson), infiltrated agents into both
enemy and neutral countries. The purpose of these agents behind
enemy lines is obvious; but in neutral America, Intrepid's agents
had a less obvious purpose: inspire sufficient public sympathy to
enable Roosevelt to openly support Britain
These agents included actors, astrologers, and — a children's
author! Not only that, but the children's author was infiltrating
Walt Disney's studios!
then a pilot injured in action with the RAF, was sent to the U.S. as
an air attaché. His outspoken style made him at once unpopular with
his Air chiefs, and a favorite of the cocktail set. He was packed
home, recruited by Stephenson, and sent back with a promotion, much
to the chagrin of the Air chiefs.
1943, Dahl wrote "The Gremlins", a book for children about the
hazards of being an RAF pilot. The Gremlins were little
havoc-wreaking creatures, the anthropomorphized explanation for any
mishaps experienced by pilots and their machines.
If a plane
experienced a hydraulic failure over the North Sea just as it was
being bounced on by Nazi fighters, it was said that it was the work
of the Gremlins.
Gremlins is the story of Gus, a British World War II fighter
pilot, who during the Battle of Britain turned to look out on the
wing of his plane only to see an amazing sight: a little man, no
more than six inches tall with horns growing from his head, drilling
a hole in the plane's wing. Gus was the first man to ever see a
Gremlin, and what happened after that would change the war, and the
[The Gremlins were] mythical
beasties, "the little men who aren’t there," allegedly responsible
for "die-a-boll-lickal sab-o-tay-gee" in aircraft. While the Roald
Dahl versions of the critters are probably best remembered — he
wrote a best-selling book about them while serving in the war —
variations on the characters go back to at least World War I. The
critters took on a life of their own, and became part of the lore of
World War II. The Disney studio attempted to make a movie out of the
Dahl book, but ultimately abandoned the project. Disney tried to
urge other studios against working with his characters — so of
course, Robert Clampett went on to make two separate cartoons
featuring Gremlins. First, he used a gremlin to battle Bugs, who,
unusually, gets the worst of it in Falling Hare (1943). The title of
the second cartoon was changed from Gremlins from the Kremlin to the
somewhat less effective Russian Rhapsody (1944) before being
Fifinella was created by Roald Dahl. He
created a female gremlin for his book, appropriately called, The
Gremlins. Dahl's story was about the hazards of combat flying, which
Dahl, as an ex-RAF pilot knew all about. The book was
published by Disney.
reasons uknown, was a good Gremlin. Disney looked to make a film
adaptation of the book and the cuter, more lovable gal Gremlin was
drawn for the movie. The movie was never made but Dahl's Gremlins
saw action with Bugs Bunny. Disney's version of the female Gremlin
was not to be retired. The Women Flight Training Detachment was
looking for a logo and requested permission from Disney to use her.
Fifinella became the official WASP mascot.
Gremlins weren't quite Dahl's
invention though: the name gremlin was first coined during the
1920's. RAF insider jokes blamed gremlins for all the technical
malfunctions in airplanes. Douglas Bader tells of a German Lager-Offizier
nicknamed "Gremlin George" in early 1942. Gremlin jokes were widely
used by the RAF during the World War II and so got into popular
culture as well.
Walt Disney and Roald Dahl
The book came to the attention of
Walt Disney, who planned to make a cartoon film version. In the
process, one small edition of a cartoon book was printed, featuring
somewhat Mickey Mouse–ish Gremlins. These certainly looked much
milder than some more recent portrayals of their species, and
probably much milder than Dahl's idea of them. At any rate, the film
was never made, some say because of the difficult task of making
loveable creatures who exist solely to destroy Allied airplanes.
(Disney actively tried to stop others from making Gremlin cartoons,