Alice Davis, a Disney Company costume designer who created the outfits worn by animatronic characters in two of the company’s most enduring and popular rides, It’s a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean, died Nov. 3 at her home. in Los Angeles. She was 93 years old.
His death was announced on the Walt Disney Company website.
Ms. Davis had been designing lingerie and other clothing for several years when Walt Disney himself asked her in 1963 if she wanted to work on the costumes for It’s a Small World.
She jumped at the chance.
“I could barely wait to get there for day one,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2014.
It’s a Small World, a 10-minute boat trip through a land populated by singing and dancing robotic children representing dozens of countries while the attraction’s titular earworm song plays, had to do its debut at the 1964 New York World’s Fair as a tribute to UNICEF sponsored by Pepsi. It was a huge success.
Clothing that accurately reflected the international theme was essential. So, in collaboration with renowned Disney artist Mary Blair, Ms. Davis designed more than 150 costumes while researching the nations involved to ensure the authenticity of the garments.
A wrinkle occurred, Ms Davis said, when she noticed the panties of the ride’s animatronic cancan dancers repeatedly falling apart and the fabric “skin” covering their knees constantly tearing. She solved the problem by adding long pants.
When Mr. Disney noticed the alteration shortly before the ride opened in New York, Ms. Davis recalled, he asked her why she had put long pants on the cancan dancers.
“You told me you wanted a family show,” she replied.
The accuracy of Ms. Davis’ designs was confirmed in New York, she told Disney fan site Laughing Place in a 2001 interview.
“When the UN people came by the day before the show opened, we had no complaints about the costumes,” she said.
It’s a Small World then moved to Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and Ms. Davis soon turned to the second flagship project of her Disney career: designing the costumes for Pirates of the Caribbean, which, in addition to being a popular ride, later became the basis of a successful film franchise. (There are also versions of both rides at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and at the company’s international parks.)
Ms Davis has often joked that she went straight from making costumes for ‘cute little kids’ to making costumes for ‘dirty old men’.
Alice May Estes was born on March 26, 1929 in Escalon, California, the fourth of five children. Her father, Bishop Estes, was a high school principal who later sold life insurance and took other jobs when he couldn’t find one in his chosen field during the Depression. Her mother, Naomi (McGrew) Estes, was an art teacher and also did weaving, sewing, and other crafts.
Alice’s mother encouraged her interest in art and unwittingly guaranteed the first notable recognition of her talent by telling a lie.
“She went back to work and lied about my age so she could enroll me in high school for kindergarten and she could get a job,” said Ms Davis – who was 5 at the time, and no 6 as required – in a 2016 interview with D23, the official Disney fan club. “That’s when I won the all-city paint contest for kids in the Los Angeles school system.”
When Alice was around 12, the family moved again, this time to Long Beach, California. She graduated from high school in 1947 and received a scholarship from a local arts group to attend the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles (now the California Institute of the Arts), a pipeline to Disney.
She had been fascinated by animation ever since she saw “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” when she was 8 (“I pretty much rattled out of my seat,” she said ), and she hoped to pursue this form as a career.
But when she arrived at the institute, the founder, Nelbert Chouinard, told her that animation classes were only open to men.
“I said, ‘I can’t understand this,'” Ms Davis recalled during the D23 interview. “‘I was brought up to understand that if you were able to do a job, it didn’t matter whether you were male or female.'”
She was steered into costume design, although Ms. Chouinard suggested she also take an animation drawing class with a new instructor at the school: Marc Davis, who was then part of a group of animators whom Mr. Disney referred to as his “nine old men.
She graduated in 1950 and married Mr. Davis in 1956; he died in 2000. She leaves no immediate survivors.
Ms. Davis’ other work on Disney included establishing costume and quality control procedures for the company and creating standards for three-dimensional characters in other rides and shows.
In 2012, Disney recognized Ms. Davis as its most famous costume designer with a tribute that is among the company’s highest honors: a memorial display installed in a Disneyland Main Street storefront. It sits next to a similar flap honoring her husband.