Funeral services were pending Monday for Disney Legend Ruthie Tompson — a celebrated camera technician and artist who added her talents to classic Walt Disney Co. animated features such as “Snow White,” “Dumbo” and “Sleeping Beauty.”
Tompson died Sunday at her home at the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Woodland Hills, according to The Walt Disney Co. She was 111 years old.
Tompson worked at Disney for nearly 40 years, retiring in 1975 after completing the 1977 film “The Rescuers,” according to company officials. As the employee with the longest history with Walt and Roy O. Disney, Tompson was officially recognized with distinction as a “Disney Legend” in 2000.
“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,” Bob Iger, Disney executive chairman, said 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.”
Born in Portland, Maine, on July 22, 1910, Tompson was raised in Boston before her family moved to California on Nov. 11, 1918, Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I.
As a child, her family lived in Hollywood near the Disney Bros. Cartoon Studio on Kingswell Avenue, and the curious Tompson would often spend time watching the animators work and interacting with Walt and Roy Disney.
At age 18, she took a job at Dubrock’s Riding Academy in the San Fernando Valley, where Walt and Roy Disney regularly played polo. Walt Disney offered Tompson a job as a painter in the Ink & Paint Department, where company officials said she helped put finishing touches on the studio’s first full-length animated feature, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937).
She later went on to major roles in final check, scene planning and the camera department. Among her many accomplishments, she became one of the first three women invited to join the International Photographers Union, Local 659 of the IATSE, in 1952.
Tompson was known to tell people, “Mickey Mouse and I grew up together.”
In addition to “Snow White,” Tompson worked on such feature films as “Pinocchio” (1940), “Fantasia” (1940), “Dumbo” (1941), “Sleeping Beauty” (1959), “Mary Poppins” (1964), “The Aristocats” (1970) and “Robin Hood” (1973).
Filmmaker Leslie Iwerks said Tompson was the last person left who had known Walt Disney since his earliest Hollywood years.
“Ruthie and I had great times together; she was fun, wacky, sharp as a whip, talented, and a dear friend to our Iwerks family,” she said. “I’ll never forget the road trip with Ruthie in my convertible driving up to the grand opening of the Walt Disney Family Museum, `Thelma and Louise’-style, two happy girls on a fun adventure with a happy ending. She will be greatly missed.”
Mindy Johnson, Disney historian and author of “Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation,” said, “The best way to describe Ruthie is simply `remarkable.”’
Johnson called Tompson a trailblazer and noted that “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,” Johnson said. “… We are indebted to her ingenuity.”
Tompson is survived by two nieces, Judy Weiss and Calista Tonelli, and a nephew, Pierce Butler III.
Donations can be made in Tompson’s name to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.