Disney Legend Ruthie Tompson has passed away at the age of 111. In a post on Twitter, Disney Executive Chairmain shared the news. Thompson started her career at Disney working in the Ink & Paint department on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She would go on to work on nearly every Disney animated film up through The Rescuers before retiring in 1975.
Ruthie Tompson was born in Portland, Maine on July 22, 1910. She moved with her family in 1918 to California, arriving on November 11th in Oakland. This also happened to be Armistice Day, the day World War 1 ended. Thompson recalled celebrating the end of the war and wearing masks to protect from an influenza epidemic that was happening at the time.
In the 1920s, Tompson found herself growing up in Hollywood. “I used to walk by the Disney Bros. storefront,” Thompson shared once. “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.”
This began a long-standing relationship between Tompson and the Disney Bros. “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.”
Eventually, Tompson would attend the Hollywood High School. At 18 she began working for Dubrock’s Riding Academy in the San Fernando Valley. Walt and Roy Disney both played polo there and Walt would eventually offer Ruthie a job in Ink & Paint.
Through the years, Tompson would take on several roles at Disney. She started as an inker and then after several films took on the final checker position. In this role, she inspected and reviewed animation cells before they were photographed. During World War II, Tompson was promoted to animation checker. There, she worked on films for the United States Armed Forces. By 1948, Tompson had moved to the camera department. There she worked on developing camera moves and mechanics for shooting animation. She also was one of the first three women to be invited to join the International Photographers Union, Local 659 of the IATSE. Throughout the rest of her career at Disney, she continued to rise through the ranks and eventually became the supervisor of the screen planning department.
Throughout her Disney career, Ruthie Tompson worked on many of the classic films we all love including:
- Lonesome Ghosts (1937) (ink and paint – uncredited)
- 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)
- The Rescuers (1977)
On her 110th birthday, she was asked about the secret to her longevity. She responded, “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.”
She also offered some life advice at the time saying, “Have fun. Try to do as much as you can for yourself. Remember all the good things in life.”
Ruthie Tompson was a beloved Disney Legend who will be missed by all of the Disney community.