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Christmas Traditions, Surprises & Gifts

There are sure signs of the season—carols, lights, brightly decorated trees, the shopping hustle and bustle, friends and family gatherings—warm traditions that we treasure along with the sweet surprises that define this time of year. I'll admit, I'm a softie for these unexpected joys and for the vibrant magic of the holidays. It's a most wonderful time.

Fleischer Studios' 1936 Christmas Party

Fleischer Studios' 1936 Christmas Party

The annual traditions of the Christmas season are a large part of the history of animation. Customized greeting cards, spirited holiday parties, and colorful seasonal revelry, were some of the traditions kept within various animation houses over the years. From the elegant dining and raucous skits of the Fleischer Studios' Christmas parties, to the Schlesinger Studios' beer & bowling bashes which featured annual studio gag films, every animation studio had its own distinct traditions in celebrating the season. Sadly, it seems one studio was notorious for issuing pink slips to their employees before Christmas, then hiring them back in the New Year so they wouldn't have to pay them during the holidays! Surprise?!

Schlesinger Studios' 1930 Christmas Party

Walt Disney made a point of remembering his artists and staff at Christmastime with annual parties at the studio, and later Disneyland. Every year, customized holiday greetings (usually featuring the studio's latest characters), were sent to share the sentiment of the season. One particular year, following the premiere of the first hand-drawn feature length animated film in 1937, Walt Disney's unexpected surprise sparked a very special memory for the ladies of Ink & Paint. Ann Lloyd remembered, "(Walt) came around at Christmas with all these gifts. He felt the girls had been working very hard and he brought a present for each of us." Inker Gracie Godino recalled, "He brought compacts for the girls and he'd sit on the floor and give them out, and it was so cute because it even had the little card that had on it 'from Walt,'...he was such a sweet man."

The women of Ink & Paint that year, were also given another sweet surprise in the form of a week's vacation—with pay—between Christmas and New Year's while Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs debuted, but they were soon "back to the old grind," as Inker Rae Medby wrote in a letter. "In our first day back we had to work till 10pm on a retake of Snow White. The picture is showing—premiered at the Carthay & made a big hit—but it seems that we'll be doing retakes for years and years."

Production cel from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

For me, throughout the "years and years" of research and writing on 'Ink & Paint...', there were many delightful discoveries and unexpected surprises along the way. In researching these stories, several significant items were frequently referenced as part of the experiences and lore of these artists and departments. Much like Hitchcock's "MacGuffin" (a plot device—usually a goal or object that motivates the protagonist, and often without any narrative explanation), these items are what I call my "possible impossibilities," or the hoped-for items from the past that you'd love to uncover but the odds of physically finding them are pretty slim. Imagine my surprise this Christmas—exactly 80 years later—to find a family with one of my 'possible impossibilities' in the form of the very compact that Walt Disney gave to their mother for Christmas, for her work on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ! Thus far, this is the only known compact to exist of these special gifts from Walt! An unexpected Christmas surprise, indeed!

The journey of Ink & Paint – The Women of Walt Disney's Animation has brought so many unexpected surprises: the discovery of these extraordinary women whose stories I've had the true privilege to write about; the dear people I've met throughout this process; and the long-time friends and colleagues who kept me going in such unexpected and treasured ways. Yes, there are many more stories to share and discoveries to make in the new year (and in the years ahead), but for now, I am deeply grateful for the gift of each and every one of you in my life and for the sweet and unexpected surprise of just how much this volume continues to impact so many!

Wishing you the best unexpected surprises and "possible impossibilities" this Holiday Season!

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