A Disney Legend Has Died

Legendary Disney costume designer and animator Alice Davis has passed away.

By Charlene Badasie | Published

After a lifetime crafting some of the most iconic costume designs in Disney history, Alice Estes Davis has died at the age of 93 at her Los Feliz home in Los Angeles. The designer, who began her career creating women’s lingerie and undergarments, was named a Disney Legend in 2004 for her extraordinary and integral contribution to The Walt Disney Company. Her most notable work includes costume designs for It’s a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Alice Davis
Alice Davis

She also helped in animating the lead character in Sleeping Beauty, Briar Rose. Described as one of Disney’s original designing women, Alice Davis was married to animator and Imagineer Marc Davis until he died in 2000. As one of the company’s legendary “Nine Old Men”, he became a Disney Legend in 1989. Now, the couple’s names appear on side-by-side windows on Main Street at Disneyland.

Born in Escalon, California in 1929, Alice Davis earned a scholarship to L.A.’s Chouinard Art Institute and attended night school to study animation. Marc, who had already worked on several projects for Disney, was an instructor at the school, which was famous for training artists. While working for the Beverly Vogue & Lingerie House, Marc asked Alice to design a costume for Helene Stanley to wear during a live-action shoot to inspire his animation of Princess Aurora in 1959’s Sleeping Beauty.

“Marc wanted to see how the skirt worked in live dance steps, and that was my first job at Disney,” Alice Davis previously recalled via The Hollywood Reporter. Although she had little experience with clothes, the project led her to design costumes for the 1960 live-action Disney film Toby Tyler, starring Kevin Corcoran. Then in 1963, she was personally recruited by Walt Disney to work on the It’s a Small World attraction for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.

For the boat ride, Alice Davis collaborated with art designer Mary Blair to research, design, and supervise the creation of over 150 costumes. She also formulated costuming procedures, set up a manufacturing base, and developed quality control refurbishing techniques that established the standards for three-dimensional characters in other rides and shows created by Disney.

In 1965, Alice Davis translated the pirates’ attire from her husband’s original drawings of the shiver-me-timbers cast and crew into designs for the costumes featured in Pirates of the Caribbean. Two years later, when the attraction opened at Disneyland, guests were dazzled by the animated figures and their carefully crafted attire. In the years that followed, she contributed to General Electric’s Carousel of Progress and the Flight to the Moon attractions.

Her career served as an inspiration to many Disney artists who came after her. “When I was a little girl, my parents took me to Walt Disney World and I made them go on the small world ride about 24 times because I loved it,” Susan Goldberg, the art director of Fantasia/2000 said in a Disney company press release. “I didn’t know anything about Mary Blair or Alice Davis then, but I grew up wanting to be a costume designer. So Alice Davis is the reason I have a career in animation.”

Following her death, executives at The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco described Alice Davis as a compassionate and altruistic person who participated in discussions, panels, and special programs, while donating artwork and objects. “She was always Marc’s leading lady, and she will always hold a special place in our hearts,” they said. “We will miss her deeply.”