Robert McCabe, one of Hugh Wilmar's professors at the Wildlife Management training, explains that Disney is looking for a nature photographer and film maker. This is perfect for Wilmar. He seizes that opportunity with both hands. McCabe puts Hugh Wilmar in touch with Tom McHugh. McHugh heads the Wildlife Photography division of Disney. Based on his Spaarnestad Hugo Wilmar's portfolio was adopted in 1954. He leaves for Burbank, California with his girlfriend Mary Pierce.

“(…) Rarely, if ever, have I seen such a wonderful mix of all sorts of particularly interesting talents and personalities together as during lunchtime 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 imitates the chatter) (…)”

Working at Disney

Hugo Wilmar photographs a young bear in Yellowstone National Park

Disney welcomes the adventurer with open arms. Hugo feels like a fish in water with the Disney family. He enjoys life, his colleagues and above all, the freedom to work in - and with - nature. He notes that many of the Disney nature films are also staged. Hugo's experiences with influencing reality in his reports come in handy here.

In his early months of service at Disney, Hugo mainly shoots smaller productions, including bears in Yellowstone National Park and fighting bison in Nevada for the book “The Vanishing Prairie”. The beautiful images of Hugo do not go unnoticed - Walt Disney praises Hugo in the prologue to the book.

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

Marriage Mary and Hugo

Hugo and Mary married on November 18, 1954. Erwin Verity is one of the producers of the True Life Adventure feature films. He organizes a reception for the couple:

And so I was married (finally) on November 18th at 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. (…) ”

Marriage Mary and Hugh
Contact sheet of the wedding of Hugo and Mary on November 18, 1954
Contact sheet of the wedding of Hugo and Mary on November 18, 1954

White Wilderness

Hugo Wilmar films a Polar Bear with cubs

Shortly afterwards, the couple depart for Coral Harbour, Southampton Island, just below the Arctic Circle. Here they are working on the True-Life Adventure movie “White Wilderness”. In and around the house, the couple takes care of the main characters of the film: an arctic fox, a seal and a polar bear family. While filming the two polar bear cubs playing on an ice floe, Hugo is attacked by mother polar bear. The Eskimo guide saves Hugo's life, and shoots the bear a few meters from Hugo. Hugo and Mary take care of the two cubs. To achieve the desired Disney elan, the cubs roll, with a little help, down a steep snowy mountain. Preventing the polar bears from getting hold of the domesticated seal is more challenging.

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

Hugh Wilmar working from the gated studio in Brazil, from where the movie "Jungle Cat" was shot

Jungle cat

To Hugo's relief, this fear turns out to be unfounded. Shortly afterwards, Hugo and Mary, along with their newly born daughter, head out into the jungle of South America to film the infamous black panther for the movie “Jungle Cat”. In the flowery correspondence with the Disney producers in Hollywood, Hugo discusses the challenges in making the nature films in detail - from painting a jaguar kitten black for the scenes about the black panther to the paint growing in the animal's coat. The animals from the film are introduced and visualized in the natural environment from the wooden fenced studio.

“(…) 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 in 1957, on the way home for the birth of his son, a train collides with the car Hugo is in. On December 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 among the pine trees on a gentle hill, overlooking the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California.

Disney Photos


Photographing bears
Hugo Wilmar photographs a young bear in Yellowstone National Park

Hugh Wilmar's first assignment for Disney sends him to Yellowstone National Park. In the early summer of 1954, he photographed the young bears for the publication of the "True Life Adventure" film series.


Hugh Wilmar explores the possibility of creating a narrative photo book of the True Life Fantasy film Perri in Murray, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Marriage Mary and Hugh
Marriage Mary and Hugh

On November 18, 1954, Hugo Wilmar and Mary Eddy married in Hollywood, California. The wedding reception is offered by Disney.

Production White Wilderness
Hugo Wilmar carries a seal for his Arriflex 16mm camera during the White Wilderness production

Hugo Wilmar and his wife Mary worked from December 1954 to the fall of 1955 on the production of Disney's True Life Adventure film "White Wilderness". They reside in Coral Bay, Southampton Island, Canada.

Diana Willmar
Mary and Hugo Wilmar with their daughter Diana

On September 19, 1955, Diana, the daughter of Hugo Wilmar and Mary, was born. Not long after, the family leaves for Panama. Preparations for the Disney Film "Jungle Cat" are made from here.

Jungle cat
Jungle cat

From September 1956 until his death in December 1957, Hugo and Mary worked on the Disney True Life Adventure Series feature film "Jungle Cat". They do this from a walled studio in the jungle of Brazil

Train accident
Caught in flight like a game bird

Hugo Wilmar dies in a train accident in Peru at the age of 34. The train accident takes place on December 19, Hugo Wilmar dies on the morning of December 21, 1957. He was on his way back home for Christmas and the birth of his son, Mark Wilmar.

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