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Ruthie Tompson loved to tell people that she and Mickey Mouse “grew up together”.
And that wasn’t an exaggeration: the legendary animator spent nearly 40 years with the Walt Disney Company, working on virtually every movie from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs To Rescuers until her retirement in 1975. She even earned the title of “Disney Legend” at the turn of the millennium, as an employee with the longest history with Walt and Roy O. Disney.
Tompson’s connection to the company dates back to her childhood in the 1920s, when she appeared as a live reference model for Disney’s first Alice comedies. She started her career in the ink and painting department as a teenager and eventually worked her way up to animation and scene verification, becoming one of the first three women to be admitted into the union. Hollywood cameras.
“The best way to describe Ruthie is simply ‘remarkable’,” said author and Disney historian Mindy Johnson. “She was perhaps the last link in the early origins of animation in Hollywood. Ruthie was a living witness and a vital contributor to the progress and growth of the animation industry as we know it today. . “
Tompson died Sunday at the age of 111. She “passed away peacefully in her sleep” at her Motion Picture and Television Fund home in Woodland Hills, Calif., Disney said in a statement. She is survived by two nieces and a nephew.
Bob Iger, executive chairman of The Walt Disney Company, remembered her as “a legend among entertainers.”
“Although we miss his smile and his wonderful sense of humor, his exceptional work and pioneering spirit will forever be an inspiration to all of us,” he said.
Curiosity led to her big break
Tompson’s family moved from Boston to California when she was eight (she remembered celebrating the end of World War I there while wearing a face mask, due to the flu pandemic). And, oddly for Tompson, their new Hollywood home was near the fledgling Disney Bros. studio.
As she recalled in a 2010 oral history, Tompson saw two women walking through a storefront at the studio painting and was immediately curious, returning each day to try to get a glimpse. She said she “snuck around so much” that someone – “I think it was Walt” – finally invited her inside.
“I saw how the guys turned the designs around,” she explained. “The Clark and Ub Iwerks were there, and Roy was in the back filming what the girls were painting on the backgrounds. As a child, I was fascinated. I would sit on the bench next to Roy, he had an apple box for me to sit on, and since it was getting late he was like, “I think you better go home. Your mom probably wants you to come home for dinner. “
She also recalled Disney taking pictures of neighborhood kids running and playing, for animation purposes. Their reward was a quarter or a 50-cent coin, which Tompson quickly brought to the candy store to exchange for licorice.
A few years later, Tompson, 18, was working at Dubrock’s Riding Academy. Walt and Roy Disney often played polo there and spotted her outside the check-in desk.
According to a 2010 Vanity Fair article, Walt “recognized his iconic Buster Brown haircut from his childhood appearance in one of his first silent films” and offered him a job in the department. ink and paint.
“I don’t care whether you know how to draw or not,” she recalls as she said. “We will teach you what we want you to do.”
Decades of hard work and happy memories
Tompson’s first animated feature was also the studio’s: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which premiered in 1937. She later called it her favorite movie to revisit over the years, remembering, “We worked all night, day in and day out, until we got it right! “
Tompson was quickly promoted to final checker, a position that involved reviewing animated cels before they were photographed on film.
She then moved on to animation and scene planning, where she was recognized for her mechanical talents and skill in guiding camera movements. Tompson was invited to join the International Union of Photographers (IATSE Local 659) in 1952 and became one of the first three women to be admitted.
“I’ve often said that Ruthie was our computer before computers were invented,” said Floyd Norman, a colleague at Disney Legend and the company’s first black animator. “Whatever the technical problem, Ruthie could usually solve it.”
Some of the greatest feature films Tompson has worked on include Pinocchio, Fancy, Dumbo, The Sleeping Beauty, Mary poppins, The Aristocats and Robin Hood. She retired from Disney in 1975 and worked on projects for other studios over the next decade.
Animated news site Cartoon Brew reports that Tompson has been busy in his later years at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Country House, applying his skills to in-house Channel 22 and trying to raise $ 110,000 during the pandemic. for a post-production suite on site at his TV and video installation.
She was also honored in 2017 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, alongside other women in the early animation industry.
Tompson celebrated his 110th birthday last year with decorations in honor of his two favorite things: Disney and the Los Angeles Dodgers. She said at the time that she didn’t want to be worshiped for her age, but rather known for “who I am”.
And she offered some life advice, drawn from her experience of over a century:
“Have fun. Try to do as much as possible for yourself. Remember all the good things in life.”