"A Timely Letter From T. HEE"

April 2003

I recently stumbled upon this letter, written in the 1940s by animation legend T. (Thornton) Hee. I was really struck by the message he seemed to be giving to our generation of artists some 60 years hence, and asked the owner if I might reprint the letter on my web site as inspiration and encouragement for the many displaced animation artists in these trying times for our industry. I hope Tee's words of long ago, (transcribed below) will offer some enlightenment and hope to those who may need it today!

Sincerely submitted,

Dave Pruiksma

Dear Gurney,

In a "Frank Buck" movie, a lot of wary little monkeys watched hunters gather coconuts from under the trees and cut a hole in one end. But the hunters didn't eat the sweet, milky meat inside. With a long knife they scraped around inside the shell, loosening the succulent pulp. This they left inside the nut. Then, placing the coconut open end up on the ground, they pounded stakes into the ground at an angle, pinning the nut firmly to the earth. The hunters then retired to a distance to await results.

The monkeys, bursting with curiosity, clambered down out of the trees and approached the coconuts. To their delight, the little hole in the end of the coconut was just large enough for them to get one hand inside, where, delight of delights, the coconut meat was already cut away from the shell.

Filling his hand to capacity, the monkey was surprised to find he could not withdraw his fist from the nut without releasing the sweet, white, nutmeat. He was further surprised and dismayed to see the hunters calmly walking towards him with a large wooden cage. Dilemma. If he let go of the precious coconut meat inside the shell he could easily have scampered away. But, he held on with all his might, with an embarrassed grimace and tears streaming down his wizen, unhappy little face. And so, he was placed within the cage and shipped to the St. Louis Zoo, or wherever it is that stupid little monkeys wind up.

I was one of those monkeys with my hand in the coconut. But, thanks to you, I got my hand out of the nut hole in time to escape. And I am gratified to know that even though it takes a little more work, there are other coconuts in the world for the cracking and I still have my freedom. Again, thank you.

Working at the Disney Studio was life with one's hand inside the coconut. A beautiful and extremely comfortable edifice, wonderful co-monkeys, a delectable fare (just enough coconut meat to keep one from really working hard and developing, and not quite enough to make one wealthy or happy [and] enough prestige to dull one's creative urge). However, if one really got the urge to do something original, on his own, the realization that he would have to let go of the small, juicy nutmeat inside the coconut was enough to frighten him into rigidity. Perhaps there would be no other coconuts lying around and one would starve. Better hold on to the thing that was at hand.

You liked some zany cartoons I sent you and published them. I was born again. I was me. An individual. You'll never know just how nice it felt, (this ought to be put to music). Then you were kind enough to give me some publicity (verboten elsewhere). Thank you.

I was out at Disney's. Then things began to happen. Things. Nice things that should have happened long ago. I designed some dolls and started a doll factory that is flourishing, The Hollywood Flopdolly Co. Thank you.

I went to Paramount where I wrote for a year, at considerable more coconut meat than I thought existed, special material and an original story, "Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hope." Thank you.

The coconut meat I stored up permitted me to spend time writing, (with a fellow escapee) the book and lyrics for an All-Colored-Cast Broadway Musical Show for which that great, wonderful Duke Ellington has composed the score. "Angels" are now hovering over copies of the opus, "Coal Black and The Seven Dwarfs." Thank you.

But, most of all, thank you for awakening a creative urge that was either dying or in a stupor. I have just completed the book jacket design for the composer / conductor, Meredith Wilson's new Doubleday book, "And There I Stood With My Piccolo". In work, two books, A Picture Book for Children Over 21, (with no morals) An Illustrated Book for Grownups Under 12 (with a very important moral) and a novel, (My In-Laws Were Acrobats). Thank you.

AND- I've been doing some painting again and wondering if I might become a member of your "family" once more. It is with that thought in mind, since you were so kind as to like the things I sent you before, that you might like the [things] I am sending you under separate cover, and perhaps would care to foster me with your art editor. But Gurney, please understand. Just because I'm grateful to you, I don't want you to feel obligated to me. Even if you never buy another thing of mine I shall always be tempted to send you all the hairs on my head.

Most Cordially,

T. Hee

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