Watch a 1953 Animation of James Thurber’s “Unicorn in the Garden,” Voted One of the Best Animations Ever

Humorist James Thurber nev­er tired of sub­ject­ing puny male mil­que­toasts to pow­er­ful female bul­lies.

In his view, mem­bers of the fair­er sex were nev­er femme fatales or fussy matrons, but rather bat­tle-lov­ing war­riors in sim­ple Wilma Flint­stone-esque frocks. They are immune to the tra­di­tion­al­ly fem­i­nine con­cerns of the period—hair, chil­dren, the liv­ing room drapes… they get their plea­sure dom­i­nat­ing Wal­ter Mit­ty and his ilk.

(Was he ter­ri­fied of Woman? Resent­ful of her? The sto­ry he stuck to was that he’d con­ceived of his com­ic por­tray­al for the sole pur­pose of “egging her on.”)

There is one mem­o­rable instance where the lit­tle guy was allowed to come out on top. “The Uni­corn in the Gar­den” is a sto­ry first pub­lished in The New York­er on Octo­ber 31, 1939. No spoil­ers, but there’s a close resem­blance to Har­vey, Mary Chase’s much-pro­duced play about a mild-man­nered gent whose devo­tion to a 6’ tall invis­i­ble rab­bit dri­ves his dom­i­neer­ing sis­ter around the bend.

The 1953 car­toon adap­ta­tion above brought Thurber’s draw­ings to life, whilst pre­serv­ing the dia­logue of the orig­i­nal in its entire­ty. The orig­i­nal sto­ry was pub­lished with only a sin­gle illus­tra­tion, but direc­tor William T. Hurtz’s had hun­dreds of New York­er car­toons to draw upon. Leg­end has it that Hurtz pur­pose­ful­ly assigned some of Unit­ed Pro­duc­tions of America’s least gift­ed ani­ma­tors to the project, hop­ing to dupli­cate Thurber’s ”nice, lumpy look.” The plan was for “The Uni­corn in the Gar­den” to be part of a full-length Thurber fea­ture, but alas, the stu­dio pulled the plug on Men, Women and Dogs before it could be com­plet­ed. Moral: Don’t count your boo­bies until they are hatched.

“A Uni­corn in the Gar­den” was lat­er vot­ed #48 of the 50 Great­est Car­toons of all time by mem­bers of the ani­ma­tion field. You can find more lit­er­ary ani­ma­tions in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

Eudo­ra Wel­ty Writes a Quirky Let­ter Apply­ing for a Job at The New York­er (1933)

20 Ani­ma­tions of Clas­sic Lit­er­ary Works: From Pla­to and Dos­to­evsky, to Kaf­ka, Hem­ing­way & Brad­bury

New York­er Car­toon Edi­tor Bob Mankoff Reveals the Secret of a Suc­cess­ful New York­er Car­toon

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday


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