Perce Pearce (1899-1955)

This blog was created not just to celebrate a classic movie, but also to learn more about the people that made it and the legend that inspired it. Over the years I like to think that with the help of my readers we have gone some way to achieving that. Of course there is still more to investigate. One of the people that remained a mystery for a while was Perce Pearce (1899-1955). He was chosen by Walt Disney to supervise and produce his early film productions in England, including Treasure Island, The Sword and the Rose, Rob Roy and of course, the Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). But to my amazement, when I first started this web site, it was almost impossible to find a biography about the man who had worked alongside Uncle Walt.

Perce Pearce

But gradually, as I made enquiries, information began to filter through. Here are a couple that helped me discover the man in the shadows:

"During the course of our lives, people often walk in, stay for awhile and then are gone from our lives. Sometimes we think of them and wonder what ever happened to so-and-so??

I was fortunate to have some wonderfully notable people in my life…some who came, stayed a bit, and then were gone as well as others that stayed. However, they all made an indelible impression on me, my life and interests. Now is my time to recognize and honor them!

One such man was Percival Pearce—“Perce” to his friends; and I actually never met the man…but I know his story and I remember the things he did for me.

Perce Pearce came from an old Waukegan family; his father had been an early mayor of the city and his sister was my mother’s dear friend. She owned Pearce’s Book Store on the corner of Gennessee and Washington Streets. From her every Christmas there came a wonderful Caldicott award-winning book or several of them and lots of advice on what books I should be reading!

Her brother was Perce and was an extremely talented artist, drawing cartoons to entertain his friends as a young boy. He always had a drawing pad close by and would draw a story on each sheet and would paste each picture in one of the windows of their 3 story house. Confident of his talent he decided in the early 1920’s to head for Hollywood to see where his talents would lead.

On the pier at Santa Monica, he happened to meet another young artist, also from the Chicago area, a man by the name of Walt who showed him some of the ideas he had to draw a mouse and all of his adventures. He convinced Perce to work with him, and, of course…you guessed it; it was Walt Disney.

Disney was just full of ideas to do storyboards and animation and create more characters that children could love and relate to. By the time he arrived in Hollywood in 1923, he had already made an animated featurette entitled “Alice’s Comedy” which debuted in New York City.

Walt was the brains of the operation—and the heart—while his brother Roy (who lived in California) helped supply the initial financing. With the ideas popping up rapidly, he relied greatly upon Perce to help to carry them out. As a result, there came the animated full-length movie “Snow White” in 1937, and “Bambi” in 1942; “So Dear to My Heart” in 1949. Perce was the director in charge of production and often the writer who helped create the characters and stories.

So……what does this have to do with me?? Every year, from 1948 through 1955, I received 8 movie tickets personally signed by Walt himself and Perce, along with a letter hoping that I would enjoy these movies! I always had young friends who wanted the pleasure of coming to a “movie party”! The movies returned to theaters every few years and always there were free tickets and a letter from Walt and Perce inviting me to attend with my young friends!

Perce Pearce and Richard Todd promoting 'Robin Hood'

Later, in 1950, Perce Pearce was sent to England to make the first live action movies for Disney….”Treasure Island”; to be followed by “Rob Roy” and “The Story of Robin Hood” and “The Sword and the Rose”. Each of these was produced by Disney and directed by Perce Pearce. Nevertheless, each year after that I received the customary 8 movie tickets with a warm letter from Walt and Perce, hoping that I would enjoy these movies with my young friends! I believe I even tried by this time to send a thank you note….but I think it was addressed to Mr. Mickey Mouse and therefore, I am not sure it ever got there!

When Perce was scheduled to return to California, the Bank of England told him that the money he earned in England would have to stay in England. So he settled there in a country estate and lived the rest of his life there.

The man that I never met who was so kind to me still remains somewhat of a mystery. Even “google” cannot shed much light on his life, other than his many accomplishments with Disney—although there are over 1,000 entries under his name.

So here’s to Percival Pearce, and to his many achievements! His sister and the Pearce family in Waukegan have all died, but their many kindnesses will remain with me in my memory.”

Judith Talcott Rogers

Perce Pearce's Obit

"I've been looking on the Internet for any mention of my Dad's family who all seem to have worked on (or watched as a child) the filming of Robin Hood, Treasure Island and many other films made at Denham. I'll have to double check with Dad but I'm sure that my Grandmother worked as some kind of housekeeper to Perce Pearce while he was there (they lived nearby). Dad always said she met Walt Disney and now it seems she did!! Wow this is amazing! My maiden name is Owen. I'm looking for the Denham archives to see if I can find any mention of my uncles Will, Eddie and Ralph. My Dad (Allan) was too young but watched the filming and my Grandfather I think is listed as Ned he worked on the props. Dad has so many stories about that time. Everyone loved Perce Pearce."

Kath Owen

Many thanks to all those who have sent in information.There are now over 11 posts about Perce Pearce on this blog, including many pictures of him taken during the production of the Story of Robin Hood. To see the pages please click here. Also our regular contributor Neil, has an excellent web site Films of the Fifties and has recently featured an article on Pearce here.

If you have any information about the making of Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood or the stars that appeared in it, please get in touch.


Clement Glen said...

Perce Pearce (1899-1955)

Behind the Camera

Please get in touch with any information you might have about the making of Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952)

Neil said...

Just looked at this and realised that Perce Pearce was only 56 when he died - a young age by today's standards. Wonder what happened to him. The comment made that his money earned in England was blocked here and couldn't be taken out of the country surprises me at that time but it may well be correct. Did he find work here after Rob Roy ? Was he retained on the Walt Disney payroll ? If not how did he earn a living as there seems to be no data on him in the film industry after that time ? Puzzling stuff this as we piece together all strands connected back to this film. Probably Richard Todd might have known something but sadly he too has gone.

Clement Glen said...

Hi Neil,
According to the obit, Perce Pearce had been making short films for the Disney TV shows before he passed away in 1955.