Ruthie Tompson, who worked for Disney for almost four decades, has passed away at the age of one hundred and eleven. She was one of the few female animators for Disney in the early days of the studio. Ms. Tompson was one of the first three women invited to join the International Photographers Union, Local 659 of the IATSE, in 1952.
Bob Broughton, a Disney Legend and former Disney supervisor of special photographic effects, said, “Ruthie was mechanically inclined. She was excellent at figuring out the mathematical and mechanical logistics of camera moves.” In the early 20th century, being mechanically inclined was considered unusual for a female. Fellow Disney Legend Floyd Norman, the first Black animator said “I’ve often said, Ruthie was our computer before computers were invented …. Whatever the technical problem, Ruthie could usually solve it.”
Bob Iger, Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board, The Walt Disney Company, praised her, ““Ruthie was a legend among animators, and her creative contributions to Disney — from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to The Rescuer s—remain beloved classics to this day. 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.”
She Knew Walt Disney Before He Created Mickey Mouse
Her association with Roy and Walt Disney began when she was a child. Roy filmed her and other neighborhood children running and playing as animation models, then gave them enough money to go buy candy. Ruthie Tompson was born July 22, 1910 in Portland, Maine. She lived in Boston, Massachusetts before moving to California with her family when she was eight. Eventually, her family moved to Hollywood. She lived mere blocks from what was then the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio’s office. She peered in the windows often. Eventually, the Disney brothers invited her to come in and watch. Later she became a model for the Alice comedies.
After graduating from Hollywood High School, Ruthie Tompson got a job at Dubrock’s Riding Academy in the San Fernando Valley, Walt and Roy Disney frequently played polo there. Walt recognized her and offered her a job as a inker in the Ink and Paint department. In 1937 she worked on the Mickey Mouse short Lonesome Ghosts and on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Then she moved on to Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo.
Inker, Painter, Checker, Camera Technician, Scene Planner
By the time she worked on the Oscar-nominated Donald in Mathmagicland she received a promotion from painter to scene planner. She worked as a scene planner and sometimes a checker (the person who reviews animation cels before they’re photographed onto film) for Sleeping Beauty, Mary Poppins, and The Aristocats. She branched out from Disney in 1960 for two years to work on Popeye cartoons. Her next work for Disney included Robin Hood, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too, and The Rescuers. She retired from Disney in 1975. Tompson then went to work with Ralph Bakshi on the 1978 Lord of the Rings. She was one of the 170 animators who worked on Takashi Masunaga’s Metamorphoses (also released in 1978).
Like her colleague, Ann Sullivan, she spent her final years at the Motion Picture and Television Fund (MPTF) Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. She died there, passing away peacefully in her sleep, Sunday, October 10, 2021.
Imagine how much history she witnessed, how many changes she saw, in one hundred and eleven years. Her name may be never be forgotten, and generations to come will admire and appreciate her work. She achieved the status of Disney Legend in 2000. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored her and other women of the early animation industry in 2017.
Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as short stories in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, “Supernatural Colorado”, “Barbarian Crowns”, “Cat Tails””Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions, Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.