By Grace O’Connor ’22
Animator Ruthie Tompson’s contributions to Disney did not go unnoticed over the course of her lifetime, and will continue to be honored after her passing. Through her work on films from Snow White to The Rescuers, she proved herself to be a dedicated and talented woman. As Walt Disney Co-Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board, Bob Iger, expressed, “While we will miss her smile and wonderful sense of humor, her exceptional work, and pioneering spirit will forever be an inspiration to us all.”
During her long life of 111 years, Tompson saw Disney evolve from its humble origins to its status as a mainstay of American culture today. She lived near Disney Brothers Studio in the 1920s. According to Deadline, when reflecting on those years, she said, “once Roy [Disney] asked us, neighborhood kids, to play tag in the street, while he photographed us with a movie camera.” She recalled how he insinuated it was for character studies in movement, explaining how she “supposed it was for the Alice Comedies.” She added how “he paid each of us a quarter, which I was glad for because I could buy licorice.” This early experience ignited Tompson’s interest in Disney, and she went on to become a painter in the studio’s Ink & Paint Development Department.
Tompson started her career with Disney at 18 years old, quickly working her way up through the ranks. She is best known for her animation work in Disney’s first full-length animated feature, Snow White. As Walt Disney World News Today explains, she went on to work on Disney Classics such as Dumbo, Sleeping Beauty, Mary Poppins, and The Aristocats. According to Disney Insider, Tompson was then promoted to the final checker position, where she reviewed animation cells before they were photographed onto films. Notably, in 1948, Tompson made history in Disney’s camera department when she became “one of the first three women admitted into the International Photographers Union.” This impressive accolade speaks to her skill and hard work.
Tompson dedicated 40 years to Disney, eventually retiring in the 1970s. She was honored by Disney Legends Program in 2000 for the incredible work that she did throughout her time with the company. As Filmmaker Leslie Iwerks expressed, “Ruthie was a true Disney Legend. As a young girl who began as an ‘extra’ in the 1920s Alice Comedies—she was directed by Walt Disney himself and watched over the shoulders of Roy O. Disney and [Disney Legend] Ub Iwerks, working the silent cameras—and living to 111 years old, she was the only person still alive who had known Walt Disney since his earliest Hollywood years.” Tompson’s contributions will always be remembered as monumental, and for helping to make Disney what it is today.