A Monumental Birthday!
In 1910, Glacier National Park was established in Montana, signaling the start of American tourism in the Western states; Wilbur and Orville Wright, the founders of modern aviation, took their only flight together in Dayton, Ohio; the Brooklyn Dodgers Baseball team finished in sixth place in the National League; and on July 22, 1910, in Portland, Maine, Ruth Irene Tompson was born.
Today, at the tender age of 110, our dear Ruthie Tompson celebrates a monumental birthday. These are strange COVID-laden times to be celebrating, but for Ruthie, this is not so unusual. It was the pandemic of 1918 that brought Ruthie and her family to the West Coast, and ultimately to her Hollywood destiny.
Roy & Walt Disney outside of the early Disney Brothers Studio in Los Feliz, CA.
After making their way from a brief stay in northern California, the Tompson family settled in the bustling town of Los Feliz, California, where Ruthie regularly wandered past a curious storefront in her neighborhood on her way to school. Inside, was a cartoon factory and she knew the group of young artists who were busy working inside. Ruthie quickly became the studio mascot — frequently sitting next to a young Roy Disney, as he worked putting inked cels under the camera lens at the back. "'Don't you hear your father calling you to come home?' Roy would say to me," Ruthie recalled, "and I'd always say, 'No!'" Her multi-decade career in Hollywood began at the Disney Brothers Studio, where Ruthie Tompson recalls her earliest introduction to animation. "They were making cartoons, with a girl in a cartoon land," she noted, "and as one of the kids in the neighborhood, Walt (Disney) would give us kids a quarter to be in the pictures."
Ruthie appearing in one of the early "Alice Comedies"
A few years later, with the Walt Disney Studios successfully creating Mickey & Minnie Mouse cartoons and the hugely popular Silly Symphonies, Ruthie Tompson returned to animation as a trainee for Hazel Sewell of the legendary Disney Ink & Paint Department. "They tried me as an inker, but when I came back the next night for training, I must not have been very good," Ruthie laughed. "They thought I'd be better with painting."
Ruthie with Dot Smith, Walt Disney and Donna Luppo of the Ink & Paint Dept.
Ruthie's career spanned from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to The Rescuers (1977) and then some. Over the decades, Ruthie became one of the first women to break barriers in Hollywood. She moved through the ranks. "I went into Animation Checking and became in charge of Scene Planning, which is doing all the mechanics," Ruthie recalled. "That was the part where I felt like I was really a part of the animation, because I was helping the Animators and I was helping the Background Painters."
In 1952, Tompson was invited to join the International Photographers Union Local 559 of the IATSE, becoming one of the first women admitted into The Hollywood Camera Union. As a young animator at the Disney Studios in the mid-1950s, Floyd Norman noted of this remarkable woman, "Ruthie was our computer before computers were invented. Whatever the technical problem, Ruthie could usually solve it!"
A lifelong Dodgers fan, Ruthie retired from the Walt Disney Studios in 1975. She became a Disney Legend in 2000, and in 2017, Ruthie was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. It continues to be one of my greatest joys to help honor and celebrate this remarkable woman!
Happy Birthday to our supercentenarian — Ruthie!!
Ruthie and her dear friend Bob Iger
(Also — here's a sweet interview Ruthie did from our sweet photo op where she's a mere 101 years young.)