“Jerky Turkey” tells us practically nothing about the Pilgrims or the origins of the American Thanksgiving, but it tells us a lot about 1945, the year in which this cartoon was made.
Directed by Tex Avery, we see several of Avery’s customary exaggerations and sight gags which propel the story of a hapless and somewhat dopy Pilgrim hunting a turkey that is too clever for him.
What is especially interesting are the topical references to World War II made in several of the gags, such as the “Mayflower” being a Henry Kaiser ship, complete with a World War II era cannon mounted in the rear, and being convoyed on the journey across the Atlantic by Destroyers and aircraft carriers. Finally arriving in the New World, the Pilgrims are greeted by the sign “Was this trip really necessary?” Younger viewers may not get this, or the references to long lines for cigarettes or the black market, but this makes an otherwise foolish cartoon educational. Throw in some American Indian stereotypes and you have a pretty good picture of what popular entertainment was like, and where the mindset was, in the US in 1945.
Bill Thompson, who does the voice for the Pilgrim, is well known to voice actor fans as Ranger J. Audubon Woodlore in several Disney cartoons, as the ever irritating Droopy, and a regular cast member who voice several characters in the old “Fibber McGee and Molly” radio show.
The cartoon was released in April of 1945. By Thanksgiving of that year, the war would be over, and it would be the first Thanksgiving home for many returning service personnel. Nothing like the real “first” Thanksgiving of course, though just as blessed, but then this cartoon is nothing like the real “first” Thanksgiving, either.
Watch “Jerky Turkey” here, and pass the cranberry sauce. Happy Thanksgiving.