Walt Disney was noted for his many quotes – one famous line he quipped, “We allow no geniuses around our Studio.” Walt himself was one of the 20th century’s greatest. His many talents included voice actor, entertainer, film producer, director, animator and most important, visionary. Many of the hundreds of talented artists, story men and writers considered it an honor just to work with this “genius”
But Walt was never a man to give accolades freely, even to his most trusted and valued artists. And any veteran at the Disney Studios knew never to embellish his or her ideas on any project no matter how brilliant it might have seemed. All waited for Walt to give it the nod, then it would be incorporated into the plans. But even if the word “genius” was not bandied about the studio, the Disney Studios over the years produced a stellar list of artists that, even if Walt did not praise them personally, history accords them their due honors. One such a man was Imagineer, artist and animator, Marc Davis.
Marc’s career spanned more than 60 years, including 43 of them spent at the Disney Company. His “genius” and influence is evident among the “Classics” of the Disney Empire. The Haunted Mansion, It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and his genius was even tapped for the “Western River Expedition” the largest attraction that Disney had planned for Frontierland, but never saw fruition and is still known as the “most famous Disney ride that was never built” Marc also created classic characters as Tinker Bell, Cruella de Vil and Sleeping Beauty. Marc’s humor and amazing storytelling prose is evident in all the timeless Disney attractions.
Marc Fraser Davis was born in Bakersfield California on March 30, 1913. He was the only child of Harry and Mildred Davis. Because of his fathers’ job involving oil fields and their developments, Marc did a lot of moving around, attending more than 20 different schools while growing up. When Marc completed High School, his next stop was the Kansas City Art Institute. From there he went on to enroll in the California School of fine Arts in San Francisco and finally the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles.
He was hired by Disney on December 2, 1935 at a modest wage (Which he was glad to get!). He had little knowledge or skills in the workings at the Disney Studios. He began as an apprentice animator on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Marc loved nature and animals and would spend countless hours at the zoo, drawing animals, which became one of his special talents. This was a tremendous assist when he moved up to character design and story sketches on the film Bambi. In fact, his drawing designs of Bambi are considered some of the finest studies of animal characters from the Disney Studio.
Some of the classic Disney projects Marc lent his talent to Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella and Song of the South. He also animated many shorts, including “African Diary,” “Duck Pimples,” and “Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom.” As Marcs’ star ascended, he transferred to Disney’s design and development organization, known today as Walt Disney Imagineering.
Some of the animated characters Davis designed and animated are Thumper from Bambi ( 1942 ), Brer Rabbit from Song of the South (1946), Cinderella ( 1950 ), Alice of Alice in Wonderland ( 1951 ), Tinker Bell in Peter Pan ( 1953 ), Maleficent and Aurora in Sleeping Beauty ( 1959 ) and Cruella De Vil of 101 Dalmatians ( 1961 ). Marc was also responsible for the storylines and character in the classic attractions such as The Enchanted Tiki Room, America Sings, Country Bear Jamboree Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Carousel of Progress, The Haunted Mansion and Ford’s Magic Skyway.
Marc also found romance and marriage at Disney. Marc first met Alice Estes at the prestigious Chouinard Art Institute while he was teaching a night class in animation. Alice became a famous designer for the Beverly Vogue & Lingerie House in Los Angeles. Alice earned a reputation within the fashion community for her pattern-making skills and her expertise with different types of exotic fabrics. While working on the film Sleeping Beauty, Marc needed a costume for dancer Helene Stanley to perform for live action footage, he needed to observe how the skirt flowed to draw the animation He called in Alice for her expertise and eventually they fell in love and married in June of 1956. Walt Disney met Alice and Marc at a restaurant and hired Alice to work for him as a costume designer for the film Toby Tyler. Alice also created the original costuming for figures in the Disneyland rides Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World.
Marc worked for 43 years at the Studios and finally retired in 1978. Although retired, Marc still advised on the design of Tokyo Disneyland and EPCOT. Some of Marc’s many awards included a 1992 salute from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a 1989 Annecy Film Festival honors and a Disney Legends Award from the Studio, and the International Animation Society’s Winsor McCay Award.
One of Marc’s famous quotes about the Disneyland rides was, “We really don’t have a story, with a beginning, an end, or a plot. It’s more a series of experiences building up to a climax. I call them experience rides.” Marc was also an explorer and adventurer. He was a prolific traveler and made hundreds of painting and drawings of the people and cultures he encountered. He had a special affinity for the people of Papua New Guinea and produced over 400 works of art, forever preserving in time the lives of these peoples.
Marc was also an avid collector. He formed the official “Marc Davis Collectors Society.” From time to time he would pick previously unavailable works of art that will be made available to members only. All works will be numbered and signed for limited distribution. The Marc Davis Collectors Society is only way through which Marc Davis treasures will be made available to the public. The organization has a charter that allows only 5,000 founding members worldwide making the membership itself a rare commodity indeed. Founding members received a hand-signed print of a pirate character named “Jolly Roger.”
Marc Davis is also a member of Disney’s “Nine Old Men” and was the last of the group to join. In 1989 he was designated a “Living Legend” the highest honor the Walt Disney Company bestows upon any of its artists. Sadly he passed away in January 2000. This was the same month the Marc Frasier Davis Scholarship Fund was formally established at the California Institute of the Arts. And befitting their talents and loyalty to Walt and the Company, Alice Estes Davis was also named a Disney Legend in 2004. As long as there is a Disney, Marc’s influence will always be felt.