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Maurice Sendak on Mickey Mouse

Maurice Sendak with one of his characters from "Where the WIld Things Are" in January, 2002. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

In 2009, two important cultural figures celebrated their 80th birthdays. One was Mickey Mouse. The other was Maurice Sendak.

To mark the occasion of Mickey's 80th, Edward Summer, the director of the Buffalo International Film Festival, organized a celebration in Shea's Performing Arts Center featuring rare cartoons, prints and a talk by the ever-engaging Mickey expert John Culhane. That tribute, to my mind, was one of the most underrated cultural events of the last several years. (My story about it is here.)

And, as Summer reminded me this week, it featured a tribute to Mickey written for the occasion by none other than Sendak, the children's book illustrator who died this week at 83. Summer, a friend of Sendak, asked him to write a short tribute to Mickey Mouse for the program, which he promptly did. It follows:

Mickey was my hero. He was the delight of my life.

Life at home in the 1930s was not a pleasure. Going to the movies was. And it was only a block away

I would go with my sister. She said when the cartoon began, I would go berserk.

When that great, great shining [Mickey Mouse] face with yellow sunbeams shining out in all directions came onto the screen, I would go bonkers and scream and holler.

My sister would hold me from one side, my brother from the other.

The bright colors so excited me, they brought our my first creative impulses.

I learned from Mickey that there was such a thing as "Pleasure," that "Pleasure" could actually be in the world.

The capacity of a little creature to do that changed my life forever.

Happy Birthday, Mickey!

signed Maurice Sendak, April 2009

This week, as we mourn the loss of one of the great artists of the 20th century, it's at least a small comfort to look back on something that brought this troubled man so much joy.

--Colin Dabkowski


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