Dumbo, the orphaned son of an elephant shot by Burmese police in the early 20th century, rocketed to stardom as a child on the basis of his huge ears and his unusual ability to fly, a skill not usually associated with elephants outside your local bar and grill. The young pachyderm’s rise to fame and fortune was instantaneous; he was one of Hollywood’s bare handful of overnight stars; and his well-documented fall from fame and fortune into an abyss of drugs, drink, and debauchery filled thousands of inches of newspaper column space and shocked a nation. Dumbo went from being one of the most admired to one of the most despised stars in Hollywood in the early 1950’s, although he blamed all of his misfortunes on the Communists manipulating Walt Disney and the studio. His drunken antics, hidden carefully from the public by the Disney publicity machine, reached public notice in 1954, when he over flew the White House and tried to urinate on Mamie Eisenhower as the First Lady played hostess at a state dinner for the Prime Minister of Sweden. Dumbo tried to dismiss the incident as a childish prank, but Disney did not renew his contract afterwards, and the young star could no longer find work in films in the United States. He tried to work in France and in then Italy, where he carved out a small niche for himself in spaghetti Westerns, but even there, his insatiable demands taxed even the indulgent Italian film industry to the limit.
Humiliation followed humiliation: a failed marriage, a custody fight in which his now ex-wife exposed for the first time the full extent of his sexual indiscretions, and then the revelation that he had once given money to a known Communist for a bag of peanuts ended any chance of his return to American films. In the end, circumstances reduced Dumbo to the fourth elephant in the elephant line in a tenth rate circus touring Mexico and Central America.
Dumbo disappeared for a few years; there were reports that he was homeless in New York, while others thought that he might still be in Latin America; and then he turned up in India, where he started, as a member of an ashram. He’d gone there in the 60’s with the Beatles, trying, as he put it in one of the last interviews he gave, to get his head together and get his life back on track.
For a while, it seemed to work. There was talk at Disney of inviting Dumbo back for a sequel to the film that made him a star, but that idea eventually fell through. The old demons that haunted Dumbo from his youth reappeared and he turned to drink, raiding villages along the coast for rice beer with a gang of younger bull elephants who went out of their way to egg the now aging star on to ever more outrageous behavior, behavior that led, in the end, to a drunken rampage on a hot summer’s night and a policeman’s bullet. In a strange coincidence, on the day of his death an Indian court threw out Dumbo’s lawsuit against the estate of George Orwell for the wrongful death of Dumbo’s father, citing the fact that, while Burma at the time of the star’s father’s death, was a part of Britain’s Indian empire, along with what are now the states of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, Burma no longer was a part of India, and so the court had no standing to hear a case that occurred in a foreign country. Dumbo was nearly 70 at the time of his death, and he left no survivors, his only son having died in an automobile accident in 1969.