Perce Pearce (1899-1955)

To my amazement it has been almost impossible, up until recently, to find a biography on Walt Disney’s director and producer Perce Pearce. Pearce was not only the model for Doc in Snow White but worked for the Disney studios on many of their major productions, including Bambi, Song of the South, Treasure Island, Rob Roy and of course The Story of Robin Hood.
So over the last couple of years I have sent out pleas to hundreds of different Disney web sites for help to find even a snippet of information, on the life story of this mysterious man. At last, a week ago some details started to emerge from the Disney History website. Below I have taken the liberty to copy a post by George Grant on the life of Perce Pearce.

“This was printed from a microfilm copy of the Waukegan News Sun, dated July 5, 1955. The obit appeared on the front page of the paper, and the information in it was likely supplied by his sister, Isabel Pearce.

Percival C. Pearce was born Sept 7, 1899, to Dr Percival Pearce and Jessie Cook Pearce. He was born on his father’s birthday, which likely settled the issue of what to name him. His father was a physician-surgeon and sometime druggist. He had two older siblings: Stamford W. Pearce, who passed away at an early age, and Isabel Pearce. He may also have had a younger sister Margaret, according to his obituary.

His grandfather, W.S. Pearce, had been apprenticed to a druggist in Essex, England, before immigrating to the US. This grandfather settled in Waukegan, Illinois, around 1859, where he raised a large family and invested shrewdly in local real estate. Two of his sons (including Perce’s father) and one of his daughters became physicians, another daughter became a teacher, and yet another daughter, Winifred Pearce, became an artist. She also taught art to students, and operated a small art supply shop. (It was Perce’s uncle, Dr William W. Pearce, and not his father, who served as mayor of Waukegan).

Perce evidently took after his Aunt Winifred, who lived two blocks away from him. He is listed in the 1916 edition of the Waukegan City Business Directory as a cartoonist, at the age of sixteen, and the listing continues through 1919, when he lit out for Denver, Colorado. His first published work was a series of cartoons for the Great Lakes Bulletin, a military newspaper serving the US Naval Training center at Great Lakes, Illinois, and just a few miles south of Waukegan. He appears to have been hired for the job by a news syndicate called the Publicity Feature Bureau.

Perce’s cartoon series was named after its hero, Seaman Si. There are images of this series available around the internet, but if you need any others, let me know. The series ran in the paper, was collected into a soft-cover edition in 1917, and reprinted in book form in 1918. At the same time, Perce did editorial cartoons and political caricatures for his news agency, some of which appeared in the New York Evening Post, and were later included in a 1917 article in Cartoons Magazine called "Under the Big Dome" by Elisha Hanson (v. 11, no. 4, Apr. 1917).

In late 1919 Perce left his original position to work directly for a Denver newspaper as a cartoonist. He took a room in the house of John Cory, who was also a cartoonist for the same paper, along with a third cartoonist, Charles Cahn. (I don’t know the name of the paper, but suspect it was the Denver Post).

He worked as a cartoonist in Denver through 1920, but my trail of information on him dries up until 1930. He appears in the federal census for that year in Bay City, Michigan, as the president of his own company. He was still single, but within a year would marry June Herrig Swan, the daughter of a commercial salesman. June was born June 11, 1899, but in later years would shave months or even a whole year off her age, to hide the fact she was older than her husband. According to his obituary, Perce and June had two daughters, Anne and Georgia, both born in Michigan.

According to his obit, Perce started working for Walt Disney around 1934. I have no information on that, but can vouch that he and his wife were consistently registered to vote in Los Angeles County from 1938 through 1954. They initially lived at 1551 N. Stanley Ave in 1938, were both Democrats, with Perce giving his occupation as “artist”. By 1942 they had moved to 8050 Selma Ave, while Perce’s occupation was now “Director”, and later became “Producer” in 1944. He switched political parties to Republican in 1948.

One other unrelated item of information; besides the Southampton to NYC voyages already mentioned in your blog,Perce is listed as traveling from Honolulu to Los Angeles on the SS Mariposa, from Aug 31 to Sep 5, 1938. He was in first class as usual, and hence likely traveled at studio expense, but was not accompanied by his wife or daughters.

Hope this helps!

George Grant

By the way, according to the Disney Archives, Perce started at Disney on February 18, 1935, left on October 2, 1953 and died on July 4, 1955.”

Judi Rogers managed to find a lot more info about Perce Pearce:

“Percival Pearce was born in Waukegan, Illinois, on September 7, 1899. He graduated in 1918 from high school and later graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago. He moved to Los Angeles where he met Walt Disney and became a writer, producer and director. He married June Swan and they had two daughters, Mrs. Stanley Kramer of Beverly Hills, and Georgia Pearce, London.

He died suddenly in London on July 5, 1955, of a "coronary thrombosis" (heart attack) while preparing a series of films scheduled for use in the (new) Disney television program that was to begin that fall. He was said to be the model for "Doc" in "Snow White". Only one daughter remains alive but I do not know which one! He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles.

There is a copy of his obit that should be on the Waukegan News-Sun website for June 5, 1955 along with a picture. I don't have a scanner, or I would send it to you myself!

I think we're getting somewhere now! I read that Anne Pearce married Stanley Kramer in 1950 and they were later divorced. I believe she was his 2nd wife. Not sure if she's still alive--but will find out!

In addition:

Percival Pearce is listed on 4 different passenger lists from Southampton, England to New York:

Dec. 1946 - Percival is listed as traveling with his wife, June. Their address at that time is listed as 8050 Selma Avenue, Hollywood, CA.

Mar. 1950 - Percival is listed as traveling with his wife, June, and daughter, Georgia. Georgia's birth date is listed as approx. 1933, born in Michigan. Their address at that time is 8050 Selma Avenue, Hollywood, CA

Nov. 1951 - Percival is listed as traveling with June. Their address is the same.

Feb. 1954 - Percival is listed as traveling with June. Their address at this time is 3576 Berry Drive, Hollywood.”

Also from Judi:


"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!

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

A very big thank you to the
Disney History blog and especially George Grant and Judi Rogers for sharing this information with us.


Clement Glen said...

Perce Pearce (1899-1955)

Anonymous said...

What a wonderfully imformative post this is dawing as it does from the memories of people who knew or knew of Perce Pearce. Many of us have wanted to know so much more about him and this is a terrific account of his life and times although I feel there is still so much more to find out. Walt Disney must have had great confidence in him to send him to England to supervise his very first Live Action film. Perce Pearce must have known what he wanted and he produced a terrific film in Treasure Island. Story of Robin Hood came next as we know and all four films made money and more to the point were excellent films that have become cinema classics. Interesting to note that he was not permitted to take his earnings out of the country so stayed here. He must have liked it here. Well done for this informative post.

Clement Glen said...

Thanks Neil.

As I said, its taken a long time to get anything at all. But at last we are starting to learn something of one of the creaters of the Disney magic.

Thanks to the input from people like you Neil, and others who contribute information, we are beginning to learn a lot more of the actors, actresses and production crew of this wonderful film.

Unknown said...

What a great post! That was some wonderful information - thanks!

Anonymous said...

I've tried to email you a few photos of a chalk ware Indian caricature signed by Perce Pearce in 1927. I hope you receive the photos. It's an amazing little piece of work and thanks to you I was able to find out something about the artist who made it.
As Neil said, I can't believe there's so little written about him; if anyone has information and would like to get in touch, please let me know by posting an update here.
Thanks for the wonderful research,

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Kath said...

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.

Unknown said...

I have Perce Pearce's cartoon book 'Seaman Si',The Adventures of a Blue Jacket on the High Seas of Fun and Trouble' which appears to be a collection of cartoons originally drawn for and published for the Great Lakes Bulletin, the Naval Training Center newspaper. Thought of passing this on to someone if anyone may be interested.

Anonymous said...

Jack Kinney's book "Walt Disney and Other Characters" has some of Kinney's firsthand memories of Perce Pearce while working on Bambi with him...not terribly favorable, I regret to say.