Leonard Patrick O’Connor Wibberley was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1915. When he was 8 years old, his family moved to London. When his father died seven years later, Leonard went to work as a copy boy for The London Sunday Express. Over the next two-and-a-half decades, he worked for newspapers in Singapore, Trinidad, New York, Washington and Los Angeles. Mr. Wibberley was an editorial writer for The Los Angeles Times until 1954, when he settled in Hermosa Beach, CA and embarked on a career as a novelist. A year later, he wrote one of his first novels, entitled The Mouse That Roared.

The book was a satirical novel based upon modern political events in the post-World War II period. It told the story of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, an imaginary country five miles long and three miles wide located in the Alps between France and Switzerland. The Duchy of Grand Fenwick declares war on the United States after its pre-industrial economy (based solely on its special brand of “Pinot Grand Fenwick” wine) is put out of business by a California winery which produces its own version of “Pinot Grand Enwick” wine. Expecting a quick and total defeat (since their standing army is only about 20 men equipped with bows and arrows), the country confidently expects to rebuild itself through the largesse that the United States bestows on all its vanquished enemies (as it did for Germany through the Marshall Plan at the end of World War II). With the counterfeit wine as casus belli, they send a formal written declaration of war, but this is misplaced by the United States Department of State. Receiving no response, the Duchy is forced to muster some troops and hire a ship to stage an actual invasion. Wibberley got the idea from the US peace treaty negotiated with Japan by John Foster Dulles, which included generous amounts of aid to Japan. He wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times which suggested that his native Ireland make a token invasion of the US to get aid. He then developed this into a novel changing Ireland to the Duchy of Grand Fenwick. In the 1959 film version, actor Peter Sellers played three roles: Duchess Gloriana XII, Prime Minister Rupert Mountjoy, and Tully Bascombe (leader of the invasion army).

Landing in New York City, the Duchy’s invading army find the city almost completely deserted above ground because of a citywide disaster drill. The invaders from Fenwick are sighted by a civil defense squad and are immediately taken to be “men from Mars” when their medieval chain mail is mistaken for reptilian skin. The United States Secretary of Defense pieces together what has happened (with help from the five lines in his encyclopedia on The Duchy of Grand Fenwick and the Fenwickian flag left behind on a flagpole) and is both ashamed and astonished that the United States was unaware that it had been at war for two months.

The Mouse That Roared was adapted for the stage in 1963. In the play, the arrival of Tully Bascomb’s invasion force coincides with a campus student protest, and are mistaken for eccentric protesters rather than as foreign invaders.  A sequel, The Mouse on the Moon was published in 1962, and was also made into a movie, but neither were as commercially successful as The Mouse that Roared.

On November 22, 1983, Leonard Wibberley died of a heart attack in Santa Monica, CA. His funeral mass was celebrated at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Hermosa Beach, on November 26 by Fr. Bernard Michalik, OFM Conv.

Sources: New York Times Obituary, 25 November 1983; Wikipedia, “The Mouse That Roared”; Photo Source – Official Leonard Wibberley Website (https://leonardwibberley.wixsite.com/author)

by Fr. Peter Mallin, OFM Conv.