Disney and fans have bid farewell to pioneering female animator Ruthie Tompson, who died Sunday at 111.
As an illustrator and storyboard planner at Disney, her work on some of the most iconic animated films in history, including “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937), “Sleeping Beauty” (1959), “Mary Poppins” (1964), “Robin Hood” (1970) and “The Aristocats” (1970), was largely uncredited.
She also took part in bringing “Pinocchio” (1940), “Fantasia” (1940), “Dumbo” (1941) and others to the silver screen.
“Mickey Mouse and I grew up together,” Tompson said.
The artist passed away at the home for Hollywood’s most influential seniors, the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Woodland Hills, California, the Hollywood Reporter reported Monday.
Born July 22, 1910, in Portland, Maine, Tompson moved from Boston, to Oakland, California, and, ultimately, Los Angeles in 1924. In a twist of fate, her family would just so happen to move-in down the block from Disney studio founders Walt and Roy Disney, who were living with their uncle Robert Disney when they first arrived in LA. Their homes were in close proximity to the original Disney Bros. Studio on Kingswell Avenue.
“Once Roy asked us neighborhood kids to play tag in the street, while he photographed us with a movie camera,” said Tompson during her Disney Legend honors interview, 21 years ago. “I suppose it was for the ‘Alice Comedies.’ He paid each of us a quarter, which I was glad for because I could buy licorice.”
At 18, she befriended Roy and Walt as adults while working at Dubrock’s Riding Academy, where the brothers often played polo. There, they invited her to work as an “inker” — “We’ll teach you what we want you to do,” they promised her, according to Variety — and later moved to the Paint Department, while launching the studio’s first motion picture, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
“I never wanted to do what I was supposed to do,” she said in the 2014 short film “Showfolk,” a documentary covering the few residents of the MPTF home. “My nose was just leading me to what I call trouble. That’s when I ran into Walt Disney.”
She continued that work on “Bambi” before being promoted to animation checker during World War II, a time in which many women assumed roles traditionally held by men. Tompson would help produce training and educational videos for the US Army that featured signature Disney characters Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy.
In 1952, she was lauded as one of the first of three women to join the International Photographers Union.
“Apparently the boys were impressed with my curiosity and decided that, [because of] what I did mechanically with the camera moves, that I should be a part of the camera union,” she said in “Showfolk.” “I was one of two women that were taken in. I thought, ‘That feels good.’ “
Tompson’s ascent continued as scene planner for several more classic works, such as “Alice in Wonderland” (1951), “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” (1961), “The Jungle Book” (1967) and “The Rescuers” (1977) before retiring from the studio in 1975 — though she would return to work in 1978, on Ralph Bakshi’s animated “The Lord of the Rings” and “Metamorphoses.”
In 2000, she was officially recognized as a Disney Legend for four decades of work, including that which she was not originally credited.
Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a statement, “RIP Ruthie Thompson … a true animation legend. Her contributions remain beloved classics to this day. While we will miss her smile & wonderful sense of humor, her exceptional work & pioneering spirit will forever inspire us.”