Robert McCabe, one of Hugh Wilmar’s professors at the Wildlife Management department at the University of Wisconsin, informs Wilmar that Disney is looking for a nature photographer and cinematographer. This is right up Wilmar’s sleeve. He seizes the opportunity with both hands. McCabe puts Hugh Wilmar in touch with Tom McHugh. McHugh heads Disney’s “Wildlife Photography” department.Based on his Savannah portfolio, Hugo Wilmar is hired in 1954. Together with his girlfriend Mary Pierce, he moves to Burbank, Calif.

“(…) Rarely, if ever, have I seen such a wonderful hodgepodge of all manner of exceedingly interesting talents and personalities together as I did during the noon hour in the studio cafeteria. Waiting patiently in the long line is Peter Lorre (…), a cameraman, Walt Disney (Himself) and Kirk Douglas, sound expert for Donald Duck (the man who ‘mimics the snark) (…)”

Employed by Disney

Hugo Wilmar fotografeert een jonge beer in Yellowstone National Park

Disney welcomes the adventurer with open arms. Hugo feels like a fish out of water with the Disney family. He enjoys life, his colleagues and, above all, the freedom when working in, – and with – nature. He notes that many of the Disney nature films are also staged. Hugo’s experiences with influencing reality in his reportage serve him well in this regard.

In his first few months employed by Disney, Hugo photographs mostly smaller productions, including bears in Yellowstone National Park and fighting bison in Nevada for the book “The Vanishing Prairie.” Hugo’s fine images do not go unnoticed – Walt Disney praises Hugo in the book’s prologue.

In a hidden studio in Murray, Salt Lake City, Hugo explores the possibilities of creating a photo story in book form from the production of the True Life Fantasy Film Perri. Perri is about a young squirrel, discovering the world and its dangers.

Wedding Mary en Hugo

On November 18, 1954, Hugo and Mary married. Erwin Verity is one of the producers of the True Life Adventure motion pictures. He is organizing a reception for the couple:

“And so I was married (finally) on November 18th in St. Finbar’s Church, Burbank, California. It was a beautiful day – about 90 degrees with the sun shining brilliantly. After the ceremony we had a luncheon at the Smoke Pit, located right across from Warner Bros. Studio and in the evening a party (with wedding cake and champagne) given by Erwin Verity, the production manager of the True-Life Series. It was all very wonderful, and considering that it took place miles from home and with no old friends nearby it was none-the-less very marvelous. (…)”

Huwelijk Mary en Hugh
Contact sheet van het huwelijk van Hugo en Mary op 18 november 1954
Contact sheet of the marriage of Hugo and Mary on November 18, 1954

White Wilderness

Hugo Wilmar filmt een IJsbeer met welpjes

Soon after, the couple leaves for Coral Harbour, Southampton Island, just below the Arctic Circle. Here they are working on the True-Life Adventure film “White Wilderness.” In and around the house, the couple cares for the film’s main characters: an Arctic fox, a seal and a polar bear family. While filming the two playing polar bear cubs on an ice floe, Hugo is attacked by mother polar bear. The Eskimo guide saves Hugo’s life, shooting the bear a few feet from Hugo. Hugo and Mary take custody of the two cubs. To achieve the desired Disney elan, the cubs roll, a hand up a steep snowy mountain. Preventing the polar bears from catching the domesticated seal is a bigger challenge.

When Mary is expecting their first child, Hugo fears, that once again his acquired freedom in nature will come to an end. In the fall of 1955, the couple returned to America, where their daughter Diana was born.

Hugh Wilmar aan het werk vanaf de omheinde studio in Brazilie, van waaruit de film "Jungle Cat" gedraaid werd

Jungle Cat

To Hugo’s relief, this fear turns out to be unfounded. Together with their newborn daughter, Hugo and Mary soon after move into the jungles of South America to film the infamous black panther for the film “Jungle Cat.” In flowery correspondence with the Disney producers in Hollywood, Hugo discusses in detail the challenges in making the nature films – from painting a jaguar kitten black for the scenes about the black panther to growing the paint into the animal’s fur. From the wooden enclosed studio, the animals in the film are introduced and portrayed in their natural habitats.

“(…) The dyed jaguar kitten has faded so rapidly within the last 2 weeks (although the hair on my hands is still black) that he has become completely unusable and as a matter of fact looks terrible. (…)”


An early ending

Just before Christmas 1957, on his way back home for the birth of his son, a train collides with the car Hugo is in. On Dec. 21, 1957, Hugo Wilmar dies of his injuries near the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu in Peru.

~ Caught in flight like a game bird ~

Hugo Alexander Wilmar is buried underneath the pine trees on a rolling hillside, overlooking Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif.

Disney photos


Beren fotograferen
Hugo Wilmar fotografeert een jonge beer in Yellowstone National Park

Hugh Wilmar's eerste opdracht in dienst van Disney stuurt hem naar Yellowstone National Park. In de vroege zomer van 1954 fotografeert hij de jonge beren voor de publicatie van de "True Life Adventure" filmserie.


Hugh Wilmar onderzoekt de mogelijkheid om een verhalend fotoboek te maken van de True Life Fantasy film Perri in Murray, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Huwelijk Mary en Hugh
Huwelijk Mary en Hugh

Op 18 november 1954 trouwen Hugo Wilmar en Mary Eddy in Hollywood, Californië. De huwelijksreceptie wordt door Disney aangeboden.

Productie White Wilderness
Hugo Wilmar voert een zeehond voor zijn Arriflex 16mm camera tijdens de productie White Wilderness

Hugo Wilmar en zijn vrouw Mary werken vanaf december 1954 tot en met de herfst van 1955 aan de productie van Disney's True Life Adventure film "White Wilderness". Ze verblijven in Coral Bay, Southampton Island, Canada.

Diana Wilmar
Mary en Hugo Wilmar met hun dochter Diana

Op 19 september 1955 wordt Diana, de dochter van Hugo Wilmar en Mary geboren. Niet lang daarna vertrekt het gezin naar Panama. Vanuit hier worden de voorbereidingen van de Disney Film "Jungle Cat" getroffen.

Jungle Cat
Jungle Cat

Vanaf september 1956 tot aan zijn dood in december 1957 werken Hugo en Mary aan de Disney True Life Adventure Series feature film "Jungle Cat". Dit doen ze vanuit een ommuurde studio in de jungle van Brazilië

Caught in flight like a game bird

Hugo Wilmar komt op 34 jarige leeftijd tijdens een treinongeluk in Peru om het leven. Het treinongeluk vindt plaats op 19 december, Hugo Wilmar overlijdt op de ochtend van 21 december 1957. Hij was op weg terug naar huis voor Kerst en de geboorte van zijn zoon, Mark Wilmar.

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