November 10, 1953 – The Special Short Film Ben & Me Premieres in Theaters
“Information! Ben, when the sun’s up, it’s up! Why read about it?”
On November 10, 1953, the special short film Ben & Me premiered in theaters. It was adapted from a 1939 children’s book of the same name by Robert Lawson, and was released alongside the True-Life Adventure The Living Desert. It was nominated for an Academy Award at the 26th Academy Awards as best two-reel short film, but lost to Disney’s other nomination, Bear Country. The story was adapted by Bill Peet, Winston Hibler, Del Connell, and Ted Sears, and was directed by Hamilton Luske. It features the vocal talents of Sterling Holloway as Amos, Carlie Ruggles as Ben Franklin, and Hans Conried as Thomas Jefferson.
The short begins with a group of schoolchildren being taken to the statue of Benjamin Franklin to hear of all the amazing things he did. At the same time, a group of schoolmice are taken to the statue of a mouse on top of Ben’s head, who actually is the one who had all the great ideas for which Ben is credited. The tour guide for the mice holds up a book of Amos’ memoirs, and the story begins with Amos’ meager upbringing as a church mouse. He decides to leave his parents and 26 brothers and sisters to seek his fortune, and sets out into the winter storm. He tries to look for work, but is unable to find anything due to his being a mouse. By nightfall, he takes refuge in a run-down store run by a Benjamin Franklin, printer and bookbinder. He comes across Ben, who sneezes hard enough to break his glasses. Ben is also being chased by debt collectors, and is given 24 hours to come up with the money, or else. Amos gives Ben the idea of creating a stove in the middle of the room, so he can provide the room with more heat. While Ben works on the stove, Amos creates a pair of bifocals for Ben to wear from his two broken pairs of glasses.
Amos then takes a look at Poor Richard’s Almanack, Ben’s paper, and renames it the Pennsylvania Gazette. He then heads out to find out the news from the local taverns and streets, and the two set to work to create the new newspaper. The Gazette is a hit, and Ben is able to pay off his debts. Amos continues to assist Ben by staying in his hat, ready to offer advice at the ready. The years flow by, and Amos assists with Ben’s letters while Ben works on his experiments, including static electricity. Ben’s experiments take a toll on Amos (as he uses these experiments to pull pranks on Amos), and Amos decides to leave. He only agrees to stay when Ben promises not to play any more pranks, although Ben is lying during the promise. Later, Ben takes up kite-flying, and Amos is attached to the kite so he can have a “bird’s eye view” on the town for his reporting. Unfortunately, Amos doesn’t see that Ben is using the kite for an experiment on electricity, and gets shocked by lightning multiple times. Ben tries to pull Amos down, but it’s too late, and Amos is swept away with the wind. Angry by Ben’s broken promise, Amos decides to leave forever, returning to his family in the church.
The years continue to go, with revolution heating up within the colonies. Ben is chosen to go speak as an envoy to the king, but he returns with a heavy heart, as the king will not listen to the colonists. Ben tries to convince them that there can’t be a war, but he’s unsure of any other way. Amos wants to go back and help Ben, but his pride prevents him. In the summer of 1776, Ben goes Amos’ church residence and begs Amos for his help again. Amos agrees on his own terms, and draws up an agreement for Ben to sign. Amos arrives at Ben’s the next morning with the agreement, and as Ben begins to read it, Thomas Jefferson arrives. Jefferson is in trouble, as he had problems with the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. Amos demands that Ben read his contract now, and when Ben relents and reads is aloud, Jefferson is inspired and uses the words from the contract for the Declaration.