Willis Pyle, Famed Animator on 'Pinocchio' and 'Mr. Magoo,' Dies at 101

1940's Pinocchio- Photofest-H 2016
Walt Disney/Photofest

He also worked on 'Bambi' and 'Fantasia' at Disney as well as on the Oscar-winning 'Gerald McBoing-Boing.'

Willis Pyle, the legendary animator who drew for such classics as Pinocchio, Bambi, Fantasia and Mr. Magoo, has died. He was 101.

Pyle died June 2 in his penthouse apartment on Broadway, his family announced.

His brother was the late Denver Pyle, best known for playing Uncle Jesse on the 1979-85 CBS series The Dukes of Hazzard.

A native of Lebanon, Kan., and the son of a Dust Bowl farmer, Willis Pyle was attending the University of Colorado as an art student and working as an advertising illustrator at a clothing store when he noticed a poster on campus from the new Walt Disney studio. It was looking to hire animators to come to Hollywood.

He moved to Los Angeles and started at Disney in November 1937 as a office boy, then worked on Pinocchio (1940) as an assistant animator to Milt Kahl.

“The character had to act — raise its eyebrows, turn and jump and react to other characters,” Pyle said of the wooden puppet, brought to life by a fairy, in a interview with Coloradan Magazine. “And the way you could do it was by looking at yourself in a mirror to see what that expression looked like.”

Pyle also assisted on Fantasia (1940) and Bambi (1942) before leaving Disney to briefly work for Walter Lantz, where he helped out on Woody Woodpecker cartoons.

After serving in the U.S. Army Air Force First Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, Pyle drew for Vogue and created the nearsighted, accident-prone Mr. Magoo for United Productions of America. He was then hired by Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) to animate the cartoon short Gerald McBoing-Boing — about a boy who talks in sound effects  — which won an Academy Award in 1951.

Pyle later had a successful freelance career, working on such TV shows as Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure, Halloween Is Grinch Night and Charlie Brown specials.

He donated his personal archives to Indiana University’s Lilly Library.

Survivors include his nephew David.

Contrary to popular belief, Pyle was not the nephew of Ernie Pyle, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was portrayed by Burgess Meredith in the 1945 William Wellman film The Story of G.I. Joe, according to Owen V. Johnson, associate professor emeritus at Indiana University and author of the recent book, At Home With Ernie Pyle.

Updated at noon on June 10 with information about Ernie Pyle.