Ruthie Tompson, who worked on such cornerstones of Disney animation as Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, and Sleeping Beauty, has died. Per The Hollywood Reporter, a Disney spokesperson confirmed that Tompson died on Sunday at the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. She was 111.
Born on July 22, 1910, in Portland, Maine, Tompson’s family resided in Boston. When Ruthie was eight, the Tompsons headed west, reaching Oakland, CA on Armistice Day to celebrate the end of World War I.
Though largely uncredited, Tompson’s work includes scene planning on Disney’s earliest works, but her collaborations with Disney predate the proper formation of Walt Disney Studios. Growing up near Disney Bros. Studio in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, Tompson would occasionally appear in Roy and Walt’s early films. As Ruthie often put it, “Mickey Mouse and I grew up together.”
“I used to walk by the Disney Bros. storefront,” Tompson said. “I was curious and snooped around, and, finally, they invited me in for a look. After that, I’d visit quite often. I remember sitting on the bench and watching Roy shoot the animated cels onto film.”
“Once Roy asked us neighborhood kids to play tag in the street, while he photographed us with a movie camera. 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 age 18, Walt Disney offered Ruthie a job as a painter in the Ink and Paint department. Her first assignment: Putting the finishing touches on the studio’s first animated feature, Snow White And The Seven Dwarves. Over the next four decades, she worked on “virtually every Disney animated feature up through The Rescuers,” according to her Disney Legends page. She would also stake her claim as the first woman allowed in the Hollywood camera union.
“Ruthie was a legend among animators, and her creative contributions to Disney—from Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs to The Rescuers—remain beloved classics to this day,” said former Disney CEO Bob Iger in a statement. “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.”
Ruthie’s filmography includes Disney’s earliest and most beloved films, including Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Robin Hood. In addition to her time at Disney, Tompson worked on the 1960s Popeye The Sailor cartoon and Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord Of The Rings.
“The best way to describe Ruthie is simply ‘remarkable,’” said Mindy Johnson, Disney historian and author of Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation, in a statement. “She was perhaps the last link from the earliest origins of animation in Hollywood. Ruthie was a living witness and vital contributor to the progress and growth of the animation industry as we know it today.”
Ruthie retired from Disney in 1975, following her work on The Rescuers. At D23, she delivered some remarks in celebration of her 110th birthday. “Try to do as much as you can for yourself,” she said. “Remember all the good things in life.”