One of my favorite tourist spots in San Francisco is the Walt Disney Family Museum. Tucked along the edge of the Presidio, it’s flanked by the Golden Gate Bridge and offers stunning views of the Bay and Alcatraz Island. In the main building, its two-story gallery houses an impressive array of artifacts, awards, and memorabilia from Walt Disney’s life as a cartoonist, ambulance driver, father, filmmaker, and theme park visionary. It’s the kind of place you can visit dozens of times without catching every last detail or wearying yourself of the story.
These days, I can’t seem to walk into the museum without detouring into its gift shop, if only to add to my collection of hard-to-find Disney fanzines. The now-defunct “E” Ticket magazine is unparalleled in its interviews with Disney Imagineers, coverage of attractions vintage and retired, and gorgeous photography from decades past. (Luckily, issues that normally go for $20-200 on eBay are only $12/each here.)
During a recent visit, I picked up issues #32 and #45, the latter of which featured an extensive seven-page interview with Imagineer and Disney Legend Alice Davis. Davis has, perhaps, been a little overshadowed by the legacy of her late husband, Marc, who was counted among a core of legendary animators often referred to as Walt’s ‘Nine Old Men.’
In fact, Davis says as much during this interview, explaining to The “E” Ticket that she had “a lot of trouble” because she was married to such a prominent figure at the studio.
“Here I was working weekends for nothing and getting paid half of what everyone else was getting and my co-workers thought I was freeloading because I was a big shot’s wife,” she said.
If others gave her the cold shoulder or looked sideways at her presence in the department, they were soon awed by her ingenuity and hard work. Davis’ creative costuming introduced designs and techniques that have persisted through the decades, not only in classic attractions like “it’s a small world” and Pirates of the Caribbean, but behind the scenes as well. A fearless trailblazer and remarkable talent, she became a pivotal member of WED Enterprises at a time when the entire operation was quite literally flying by the seat of its pants. (Oh, and she finally got that well-deserved raise, too.)
It seemed only fitting to profile Davis’ history with the company for my next installment of women working in the Disney Parks. I know it’s no longer Women’s History Month, but hey, women’s history is just history, and there’s never an inopportune moment to dive deep into an interesting story like hers.
“While Disney’s WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering) worked out the particulars of creating and operating the hydraulics-powered muscles behind Abraham Lincoln and the Carousel of Progress’s all-American family of the 1890s, 1920s, 1940s, and 1960s (not to mention the dozens of macaws, cockatoos, forktails, and toucans that comprised the Enchanted Tiki Room’s musical menagerie), they were still in dire need of a costuming expert who could design outfits durable enough to withstand repeated motion and accessible enough for frequent upgrades and repairs.
Enter legendary Disney costumer Alice Davis, whose imaginative work on “it’s a small world,” Pirates of the Caribbean, the Carousel of Progress, and Flight to the Moon not only enlivened some of the most well-known pieces and personas of the Disney Parks, but set important precedents for the company’s future projects as well. An aspiring animator and illustrator, Davis’ exceptional understanding of the human form and her ingenious costuming skills were instrumental in helping Disney perfect the Audio-Animatronic as quickly as they did.
Here’s how she pulled it off…”
Find the rest of the article at Theme Park Tourist here. Previous installments of this series can be found below: