Welcome to the three hundredth and forty-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, discover whether Mickey Mouse was the code word for the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II! Plus, learn about an amazing attempt by the late, great Jerry Robinson to help a political prisoner in South America. Also, check out some Mad Magazine covers that were too “offensive” to see print!
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and forty-three.
COMIC LEGEND: “Mickey Mouse” was the code word for the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day.
Do a Google search for “Mickey Mouse D-Day password” and you will get countless hits. It is one of the most prolific Walt Disney urban legends, that the code word that the Allied forces used on D-Day was “Mickey Mouse.”
In our recent chat for Fred Van Lente Day, Fred discussed the story a bit and I realized that I never featured it as a comic legend and I really should have! So thanks, Fred!
In any event, no, “Mickey Mouse” was not a code word by the Allies for “D-Day.”
The great animation historian Michael Barrier finally found the cause of the legend in a piece on his awesome site here. You can read his site for the full details, but the bare bones of it is this – at one of the planning areas for D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II, the pass word to be allowed entrance to the rooms by the sentries was, you guessed it, “Mickey Mouse.”
And when the stories made it back to the United States in the weeks following D-Day, this is how it was relayed:
Mickey Mouse played a part in the invasion of northern France, it was revealed today.
Naval officers gathering for invasion briefing at a southern port approached the sentry at the door and furtively whispered into his ear the password of admission: “Mickey Mouse.”
That was transformed over the years into “Mickey Mouse was the password for D-Day.”
Thanks so much to Michael Barrier for finding out this important piece of comic history! And thanks to Fred Van Lente for reminding me to feature the legend. Come back tomorrow for the full transcript of our chat with Fred Van Lente!
COMIC LEGEND: Jerry Robinson helped secure the release of a Uruguayan political prisoner through a bogus art award.
STATUS: True Enough for a True
The great Jerry Robinson, who played such a major role in the creation of many of Batman’s most popular supporting cast members and Rogues, passed away this week at the age of 89.
In the various tributes to the great man, one story stood out that I thought I’d highlight here (thanks to commenter Julian for mentioning it).
Francisco Laurenzo Pons was a liberal cartoonist in Uruguay who went on the run when a military junta took control of Uruguay in 1973. He was eventually tracked down, branded a Communist and put into prison.
In the early 1980s, Amnesty International eventually got into contact with famed cartoonist and playwright Jules Feiffer. Feiffer took the situation to Robinson, who was a member (and former President) of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.
Robinson had an idea. Here was what he came up with:
I invented a new cartooning award, The Distinguished Foreign Cartoonists Award. The idea was that we would award it to Pons and request that he come to America to receive it, pretending that we didn’t know he was in prison. To further the ruse, we made it a joint award, the other winner being the Polish cartoonist Eric Lipinski. We explained to the Uruguayan ambassador what a big honor it would be for Uruguay to have Laurenzo Pons win this award! Several months passed, and the Uruguayan government sent us word that they’d let Pons’ wide and and son come to accept the award, but not Pons himself. This was amazing, because normally even the family of a political prisoner wasn’t allowed out of the country. So Mrs. Pons came to accept the award, and when she went back to Uruguay and visited her husband in jail, he was amazed that American cartoonists were working on his behalf. This gave him hope!
Pons’ conditions improved in the prison. Some health issues he had were treated at a hospital, for fear that he would die in jail and make the government look bad. Eventually, the government released him about half a year shy of his original sentence (which was roughly seven years). Of course, “seven year sentence” when you are a political prisoner does not necessarily mean anything, as they could easily keep you past your initial sentence.
Pons gave Robinson and the attention of the award a lot of credit for his release.
I do wish to stress a couple of points, though. One, while it sounds like it was a bit of a hidden ruse and everyone was just pretending not to know about the situation with Pons in prison, contemporary accounts of the award make it pretty clear that that is not the case. There were prosters, people wearing shirts saying “Free Francisco Laurenzo Pons!” and stuff like that. Heck, in later accounts Robinson even discussed the hoopla. It was not some big secret. Initially they tried to play it that way, but the Uruguayan government did not buy it (as, come on, who would buy that? The guy we happen to have in custody just won an American award?).
In addition, while I certainly do not disagree that Robinson and the award played some part in Pons’ release, it was not like they released him right away. I have seen a few accounts yesterday and today that made it sound like Robinson gave him the award and the government was so ashamed that they released Pons right then and there. Pons served more than two more years in prison after the award was given out in 1981. He was released in 1984.
So don’t get me wrong, Robinson did a very good thing here. He was a very good guy, a tireless advocate. I just don’t think we should fictionalize what is, at its heart, already a very cool story.
Thanks to Arie Kaplan and his book, Masters of the comic book universe revealed!, for the great Robinson quote.
COMIC LEGEND: Mad Magazine has had to change their front cover a number of times in their history due to tragic coincidences.
Mad Magazine has always tried to skirt the edges of what is “offensive” over the years, but there are times when the magazine knows it shouldn’t go somewhere.
The first time this happened was with the cover of Mad Magazine #122, featuring Alfred E. Neuman and the candidates for the 1968 United States Presidential election (drawn by Mort Drucker)…
Well, right before the cover went to print, Robert Kennedy was assassinated.
So they edited the cover…
This next happened in 1991, when Mad was all prepared to mock Preisdent George Bush…
and then the Gulf War broke out, so they replaced the cover…
Most recently, it happened again after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, 2001. Here, from the Mad Magazine blog, is a recap of what happened:
Like the rest of the nation, we were stunned by the 9-11 attacks and it just didn’t occur to us that a MAD cover showing a throng of runners racing through the canyons of downtown Manhattan, while an oblivious Alfred jumped over a dead body, could be interpreted as anything but a silly marathon gag.
Fortunately, the magazine’s printer at the time, Quad Graphics in Wisconsin, called and asked if we were absolutely sure that was the image we wanted on the cover of MAD given the recent events. We didn’t.
With only one day to conceive and deliver a new cover to the printer and still make our shipping schedule, Associate Art Director Nadina Simon disappeared into her office and soon returned with what became the cover of MAD #411.
The Alfred used is the classic Norman Mingo Alfred from issue #30, the very first time he appeared on the cover as Alfred E. Neuman. Not a traditional MAD cover by any stretch of the imagination, but given the time and mood of the country, it seemed right.
Thanks to the Mad Magazine blog for the info! And thanks to the Cartoonists Studio for the original cover images.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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See you all next week!