I stumbled across the term “elephant walk” in a photo caption describing the U.S. Air Force’s recent “show of force” in the Pacific. Instantly, I had a Proustian tea-soaked involuntary memory of Henry Mancini’s 1962 classic “Baby Elephant Walk” waddling nonchalantly, languidly, hypnotically through my mind for the next day and a half. That splendid excursion was indeed a wonderful distraction from the news of the day. Upon returning from my mini Hatari-staycation, my first thought — desire really — was to find the true meaning and origin of this charming and evocative term. So I rooted around a bit and found that the term dates back to World War II, when large fleets of allied bombers would conduct missions containing upwards of 1,000 aircraft. Those observing the taxying herd of single-file nose-to-tail aircraft, according to Wikipedia, “said they looked like elephants walking to the next watering hole. Over time, it was incorporated into the lexicon of the United States Air Force to identify a ‘maximum sortie surge.'”
The term was used again during the Vietnam War to describe, “the long lines of Boeing B-52 Stratofortress aircraft as they approached their targets” and more recently to describe the taxying and takeoff formations of the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds, and Snowbirds flight demonstration teams. This term, however, should not be confused with the perturbed and stampeding pachyderms portrayed in the Paramount Pictures film Elephant Walk. For your consideration dear Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members, I am delighted to present to you this illuminating synopsis of that 1954 film featuring Elizabeth Taylor, Dana Andrews, and Peter Finch, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Colonial tea planter John Wiley (Peter Finch), visiting England at the end of World War II, wins and weds lovely English rose Ruth (Elizabeth Taylor) and takes her home to Elephant Walk, Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka), where the local elephants have a grudge against the plantation because it blocks their migration path. Ruth’s delight with the tropical wealth and luxury of her new home is tempered by isolation as the only white woman in the district; by her husband’s occasional imperious arrogance; by a mutual physical attraction with plantation manager Dick Carver (Dana Andrews); and by the hovering, ominous menace of the hostile elephants. The elephants end up destroying the plantation in a stampede that smashes most of the house and starts a fire.