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CalArts Mourns the Passing of Alice Davis

Alice Davis with Pete Docter (Film/Video BFA 90) at the 2016 Producers' Show. | Image courtesy of CalArts School of Film/Video

Legendary Walt Disney Imagineering costume designer and Chouinard alum Alice Estes Davis, known for her design work for Disney theme park attractions It’s a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean, passed away on Thursday, Nov. 3. She was 93. 

Born in Escalon, California, Davis exhibited artistic talents from an early age. In 1947, the Long Beach Art Association offered Davis a scholarship to study costume design at Chouinard Art Institute, then known as a training ground for Disney artists and the precursor to California Institute of the Arts. During her studies, she took an animation night class taught by Marc Davis, who went on to become one of Disney’s legendary “Nine Old Men” and to whom Alice would be married from 1956 until his passing in 2000.

Davis began her career designing women’s undergarments and lingerie, earning a reputation as an accomplished patternmaker. Her prodigious skill with a variety of textiles earned her the title of head designer at Beverly Vogue & Lingerie House in Los Angeles, where she also helmed two exclusive lingerie lines. 

In 1954, Davis was brought into Disney’s fold when Marc requested she design a costume for Helene Stanley, who served as the live model for Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty

“Marc wanted to see how the skirt worked in live dance steps, and that was my first job at Disney,” Davis once recalled. Davis was subsequently hired to design costumes for Disney television shows and the 1960 feature Toby Tyler

The designer’s introduction to Disney Imagineering happened in 1963, when Walt Disney recruited Davis and fellow Chouinardian Mary Blair for costume design for the It’s a Small World attraction at the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York. Davis and Blair designed and oversaw the creation of more than 300 costumes for the iconic ride’s audio animatronic dolls.

Davis garnered numerous accolades throughout her career. In 2004, she was named a Disney Legend, the hall of fame program recognizing individuals who have made exemplary contributions to The Walt Disney Company. At the 2014 Annie Awards, Davis was honored with the June Foray Award for her contributions to the animation industry. 

Davis was also granted one of Walt Disney Imagineering’s highest honors in 2012: her own window on Main Street, USA in Disneyland. Her window was placed next to one honoring her husband Marc Davis. 

“I couldn’t be more happy accepting, knowing that for years both Marc and I have had the great pleasure of bringing great fun and joy to people,” Davis said at the induction ceremony. “That was the jewel of our hearts and will always be.” 

Read more tributes to Davis in Theme Park Insider, The Hollywood Reporter, and Collider.

Picture of Taya Zoormandan

Taya Zoormandan

As digital content and social media producer, Taya enjoys lifting up the stories and accomplishments of CalArts' students, alums, and faculty. She fancies herself a visual artist but is really more of an overzealous collector of art supplies.

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CalArts Mourns the Passing of Alice Davis