In a time where men dominated the animation force at Walt Disney Company, there were a few women who stood out and made a place for themselves. Although it was difficult for women to be hired and respected in the male-dominated field, the women that Disney employed were very important to the early days of Disney film and Disney parks.
Whether they painstakingly painted character’s faces or designed sets, here are 3 facts about influential women in Disney’s history.
1. Ink And Painters
There were about 100 girls who worked in the Ink and Paint Department at Disney during the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The drawings were traced onto celluloid sheets, and the ink and painters would fill in the colors on the reverse side, being very careful to not go over the lines.
The women worked tirelessly, dedicating long hours for the project. They were said to just fall asleep wherever they were, or go under their desks for just a little bit of sleep. They worked hard to bring depth to the film. The ink and painters, after inspection by Walt, found Snow White’s looks to be flat, would add blush, lipstick, eyeshadow, and highlights to her hair.
2. Harriet Burns
One of the great Disney artists was Harriet Burns. She was originally hired to paint sets for the Mickey Mouse Club television show. After that, she joined Walt Disney Imagineering where she helped design and create the classic Disneyland spots that we know and love: the Sleeping Beauty Castle, New Orleans Square, and Haunted Mansion. She also designed all the birds in The Tiki Room.
Burns worked alongside with men who wore slacks as they built sets. But since it was the 1950’s she was expected to wear her lipstick, dress, and high heels. However, she did carry slacks in a little purse just in case she had to climb to high places.
3. Leota Toombs
Leota Toombs started with Disney as an Ink and Painter, then later became an Imagineer. Her creativity lead her to work on the models for Haunred Mansion, Country Bear Jamboree, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Her most famous contribution to the parks is her portrayal as Madame Leota in the crystal ball at the Haunted Mansion. Although her voice was not used for Madame Leota, they used her voice to say “Hurry back !” at the end of the ride. Her daughter, Kim Irvine, became a legend in her own right.
Irvine trained under her mother in the 1970s at the model shop and later went on to become a Disneyland Park Art Director.
It was not easy for women to get hired or to navigate their jobs in the early days of Disney. Without their work, Disney would not look anything like the way it does today.
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