Ruthie Tompson, a longtime Disney animation supervisor and now the oldest resident at the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s Country House and Hospital, turns 110 today.
She’s celebrating by attempting to raise $110,000 in support of a postproduction suite at the Woodland Hills campus’ in-house television and video facility, where she and other retirees have spent countless hours continuing to pursue their industry crafts.
Born in Portland, Maine, on July 22, 1910, Ruthie was raised in Boston, Massachusetts. Her family moved to California in 1918, arriving first in Oakland on November 11, Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I. As she later recalled, amidst the end-of-the-war celebrations she and others wore masks over their faces to guard against influenza, which was epidemic at the time.
Ruthie’s association with Disney began long before she was a Studio employee. As a child growing up in Hollywood in the 1920s, she lived a short distance away from the fledgling Disney Bros. Studio on Kingswell Avenue.
“I used to walk by the Disney Bros. storefront,” she once recalled. “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,” she continued. “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.”
Ruthie attended Hollywood High School. At 18, she took a job at Dubrock’s Riding Academy in the San Fernando Valley, where Walt and Roy Disney frequently played polo.
Walt soon offered Ruthie a job as a painter in the Ink and Paint department, where she helped put finishing touches on the Studio’s first full-length animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which premiered in 1937.
She was soon promoted to final checker, reviewing the animation cels before they were photographed onto film. By 1948, Ruthie again transferred to animation checking and scene planning. As a result of her adept skill at guiding camera movement for animated films, in 1952 Ruthie was invited to join the International Photographers Union, Local 659 of the IATSE. She was one of the first three women to be admitted into the Hollywood camera union.
Throughout her Disney career, Ruthie Tompson worked on many of the classic films we all love including: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (ink and paint – uncredited) (1937); Pinocchio (1940); Fantasia (1940); Dumbo (1941); Donald in Mathmagic Land (scene planner – uncredited) (1959); Sleeping Beauty (checker and scene planner – uncredited) (1959); Mary Poppins (scene planner – uncredited) (1964); The Aristocats (scene planner – uncredited) (1970); Robin Hood (scene planning supervisor – uncredited) (1973); Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (short; 1974), and The Rescuers (1977).
When asked about the secret to her longevity, Tompson offers jokes: “It’s because I’m a vampire!”; “How can I tell you my secret, because then it won’t be a secret!”; “I’m a dummy for living this long!” Then she turns serious. “I don’t know why I am still here, but I know that I don’t want to be revered for how old I am, I want to be known for who I am.”
As for wisdom she’s acquired along the way, she offers: “Have fun. Try to do as much as you can for yourself. Remember all the good things in life.”
Robert A. Iger, Executive Chairman, The Walt Disney Company, tweeted this special message to Ruthie.
For more than a century, the great Disney Legend Ruthie Tompson has inspired others through her remarkable talent, pioneering spirit, kind heart and infectious enthusiasm. Happy 110th Birthday, Ruthie, from all of us at @WaltDisneyCo! pic.twitter.com/QvUqx7cAAO
— Robert Iger (@RobertIger) July 22, 2020
Whoopi Goldberg, Disney Legend and Moderator of ABC’s The View, shared this special video message to Ruthie. They met at the D23 Expo 2017 when Goldberg herself was inducted as a Disney Legend.
The Motion Picture and Television Fund also tweeted a special birthday message to Ruthie.
Throughout Ruthie’s incredible life, animation has definitely evolved. While hand-drawn or traditional animation is still being produced, computer animation has been the focus of much of the last 30 years. Pixar has been and continues to be a main contributor to computer animation.
One film that is her favorite to revisit with family is the first one she worked on. Without hesitation, she said it’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: “We worked into the night, day after day, until we got it exactly right!”
There is one thing that Ruthie would like to do when it is possible – visit The Walt Disney Studios. She is also looking forward to watching her favorite baseball team – the Los Angeles Dodgers. “I can’t wait to watch my Dodgers and eat a Dodger dog,” she said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter.
Notes MPTF CEO Bob Beitcher: “She’s a lifelong Dodgers fan — I’m not — so we’ve had a nice little back and forth on that.” He adds: “It must have been four or five years ago that they got eliminated from the playoffs. I said, ‘Hey, Ruthie, too bad about the Dodgers.’ She said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get ’em next year!’ I thought, ‘That’s the definition of optimism.’ Not just for the Dodgers, but, past 100, for her. But then that’s Ruthie. She’s ferocious.”
We here at DAPS MAGIC wish Ruthie Thompson a very happy 110th birthday with many more to come!