Artist Willie Ito, man behind iconic 'Lady and the Tramp' kiss, Former Walt Disney Cartoonist

By David Ono

Monday, February 19, 2018

LOS ANGELES (KABC) – This is a story about a kiss, but not just any kiss. It’s perhaps the most famous and creative Hollywood kiss of all time.

But the man behind this iconic moment has an extraordinary story of his own.

In Hollywood, like life, it’s that magical moment of a first kiss that changes everything. Yet, there’s one kiss so unique it has captured our imaginations and inspired imitators around the world.

It’s that accidental spaghetti kiss between two beloved dogs in 1955’s “Lady and the Tramp.” So who created this brilliant smooch?

“Along with the double feature, you always had a cartoon,” Willie Ito said.

Meet 84-year-old Ito, from Monterey Park. Ito remembers being 5-years-old in 1939 and going to a movie theater in San Francisco. That’s when his life changed.

“The most memorable thing was seeing ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ for the first time. Seeing the seven little men marching across the screen, singing, ‘high ho, high ho, it’s off to work we go.’ I thought to myself: that’s it! That’s what I want to be. Not one of the seven dwarfs, but an animated cartoonist,” Ito said.

But before he could learn anything about being an artist, he had to learn some tough lessons about the world. Like the lessons of Dec. 7, 1941.

“Practically every street corner had news boys shouting out, ‘Extra! Extra! War!’ I never heard that word war before,” Ito said.

At 8 years old, Willie was locked up in an internment camp with thousands of other Japanese Americans, imprisoned simply because of his ancestry.

“Some of the early arrivals had to stay in the horse stables. The stables were just packed - dirt and manure - the stench was something else,” he said.

He talked about the losses he suffered in the camp.

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