Jun 7, 2022·edited Jun 7, 2022

Yes… the infamous “Nine Old Men”… 😑 But a little misleading. Walt really was incredibly supportive of the women artists at Disney, and he was very pro-active about hiring, and promoting them. He was also very open about the fact that the incomparable Mary Blair was his favorite artist of all of them. Hands down. Walt was not a misogynist.

Mary Blair was hired just two short years later in 1940. She created concept paintings for projects related to Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), and The Lady and the Tramp (1955). Also, Peter Pan, and It’s a Small World in its entirety.

She was at the top, HIGHLY valued, and designed virtually everything Disney.

I know the “women work in the ink dept only” was a thing, but it was very short lived.

There are innumerable other famous female Disney artists, including Leota Toombs (her real name)… who started working in 1940 as an Imagineer, and eventually for WED in sculpting the figures used in the animatronics. She also became famous as the face and voice for the floating head in the crystal ball at the Haunted Mansion.

I have encountered this many times in my life, including when I applied to Art Center in Pasadena (early 1980’s), and had the woman at the front desk tell me not to waste my time applying, I would never get in, they only accepted art students with at least some college level design experience.

I just moved on to Parsons. I then actually applied to Art Center again after I was at Parsons, with many of my high school portfolio pieces, and the admissions guy said “Why in the hell didn’t you apply here right out of high school??”

It is amazing how one person can alter the trajectory of a persons life.

My advice… if you **really** want it, step past the person telling you no and just keep going. 💛

Expand full comment

Can you imagine getting away with such a letter today? Yikes.

Expand full comment

Shaun: please have readers take a look at my story for Vanity Fair 2010, on the Ink and Paint department. Alas your post is a bit out of date, there has also been a full history of this department put out by the studio itself. But my story https://archive.vanityfair.com/article/share/125613a1-aaf1-4ee8-8b4e-1a54c5cf6cde?itm_content=footer-recirc has a very good summary of the time. Yes, it was a form letter. But your previous commenter is spinning it slightly. Walt Disney was both a man of his time, and more. He did support some women moving up, and he did change with the times, especially when the war drew away so many of his (male)animators. But for many years I and P was the repository. My aunt was enormously talented and eventually was one of the first to get in with the animators as an assistant. Mary Blair was a concept person. Very very important. But: The heart and soul of the studio was Animation. That is where the power resided. So to get out of I and P and move up, that's where the barriers had to fall. Later on, it was a bit easier. Not during the Golden Age.

Expand full comment

I'm not actually commenting on the Disney letter, but instead remembering a letter I received in the mid-1960's. I was about 15, totally engaged in the tv show "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." I was so inspired that I wrote to the FBI, asking how I could become a Federal Agent. Alas, I did not keep the letter that informed me that the FBI was not interested, as they hired only young men. Years later, watching the X-Files, I cheered for Agent Dana Scully in every episode.

Expand full comment

Wow! This is so crazy. I use letters in my classroom all the time. I think they help my high school students see not only the use of language in a variety of time periods, but it also helps them to get a stronger sense of history/historical context. I will definitely share this with them!

Expand full comment