Disney’s “Nine Old Men” are widely credited for having shaped the look of Walt Disney’s beloved toons, but their unsung female colleague is finally getting her due thanks to a new book and special screenings.
Amid the hoopla of Mickey Mouse’s 75th birthday, John Canemaker‘s “The Art and Flair of Mary Blair” (Disney Editions) reveals that Disney’s sole female animator, Mary Blair, defined the look of such Disney classics as “Cinderella” (1950), “Alice in Wonderland” (1951), and “Peter Pan” (1953), as much as any male staff member.
But Blair, who died in 1978, was often overshadowed by her male counterparts, many of whom resented her presence and contrary animation style, which favored flatter abstract concepts over the three-dimensional approach used by the guys.
Walt himself liked Blair’s designs the best, however, particularly her sense of humor, and “most of Blair’s stuff survived on screen unaltered,” says Canemaker.
That Walt Disney was Blair’s champion and benefactor irked the men all the more. After Blair started freelancing, Walt Disney rehired her (rather than use his in-house team) to spearhead the landmark 1964 World’s Fair exhibit “It’s a Small World After All.”
Nevertheless, when the projects Walt set up for her before his death in 1966 were finished, “she was never again hired by Walt Disney Imagineering,” says Canemaker.
Not until 1991 did she receive a bittersweet posthumous honor from the Mouse House, when she was recognized with the Disney Legend Award.
Canemaker will deliver a series of illustrated lectures on Blair and her work, accompanied by a special screening of “Alice in Wonderland. The first is in Ludwigsburg, Germany Nov. 26. He’ll be at New York’s Museum of Modern Art on Dec. 5 and 6.