The widow of Marc Davis, the creator of Cruella de Vil, talks about her fond memories of this film
Alice Davis has a lot of history with the Disney studio. Her late husband, Marc Davis, was the creator of Cruella de Vil, one of the most memorable villains in movie history. Alice herself was also named a Disney Legend for her contributions to the studio. I had the chance to talk to her over the phone for the new Platinum Edition of 101 Dalmatians, and here's what she had to say.
I read that your husband Marc's inspiration for Cruella was the actress Tallulah Bankhead. Can you elaborate on that at all?
Alice Davis: No. No it was not.
Alice Davis: I know who it is, but I promised my husband I wouldn't say until after she's dead, but she's still very much alive. She was a fashion person. She was in the fashion world.
Oh. I just read that it was Tallulah Bankhead.
Alice Davis: There was a movie magazine out, and my friend's wife was at the beauty parlor and she was reading this magazine and there was an article that they brought to Marc. They interviewed 30 women in the movie industry, some directors some writers and so forth, and asked them what villain scared them the most, or they enjoyed seeing the most? They mentioned Bette Davis and Tallulah Bankhead and a few others, and they threw Cruella de Vil in as well. And Cruella de Vil was. Marc was very pleased with it. He kept the article.
I read that Walt Disney himself initially disliked the rough drawing style that came about with this.
Alice Davis: For two reasons. One, if you ever went to the Disney company studio, when Walt and Roy were alive, that studio was the most pristine clean studio you ever saw, everywhere. You never saw any dirt anywhere. That's why Disneyland was pristine clean because they painted all the buildings once a year. Even in the animation department, where the ink and paint, it was all very clean. When he saw the rough drawings of the animators Xeroxed on the screen, it threw him because he was so used to everything being so pristine clean. All of the sudden, the ink girl's tracings weren't there. Then the background they did was a rough drawing too. He didn't like it at first. He started getting used to it, and then after a while he thought it was pretty good. He thought it was good to see the actual drawing of the animator.
This is obviously one of Disney's most time-honored films. What do you think sets this apart from some other Disney movies?
Alice Davis: There was something that not too many people know or observe and the reason why Walt's animated films that he directed are classics is because he never allowed any slang to be used. He didn't allow any body movement or any hand movement that would be accepted as improper in any country, including ours. Because of that, they are classics. There is nothing to taint them. It's classic. Walt would say, we'll keep them in the vault for seven years, and then we'll bring them out and a new group would see them and then we'll put them back in the vault, so no one would be sick of seeing them, but would look forward to seeing them every now and then. Like, if you saw Lady and the Tramp recently when they brought it out for the 50th year, and you saw this film, you knew that it was just made, because it was a classic before today.
Do you have any favorite special features on this Platinum Edition DVD?
Alice Davis: Well, I love Cruella de Vil (Laughs). I love how she throws the coat around and all of that. I'm very proud of Marc and he was very proud of the fact that he was able to animate her all the way through without any other animator working on it. That was the first time that has been done. He said everything that was bad, and everything that was good was all his.
I was also wondering what both you and Marc thought of the 1996 live-action remake of 101 Dalmatians with Glenn Close as Cruella?
Alice Davis: Well, the one thing that disturbed me the most was that you knew how the gag would end before it got started (Laughs). I think that they didn't have as good a story man as they had on the animated film.
What are some of your favorite memories from Marc and Walt from this movie?
Alice Davis: Marc always had to do the very straight, princesses and princes. Marc finally got a female that he could have fun with and have her funny as well as mean and nasty. And have her nastyness even be funny if you played it right, and I think he did a marvelous job on it and I think the reason for it was because he enjoyed it so much. He talked about it quite a bit when he'd come home, and he'd tell me, 'Wait until you see such and such a scene.' He wouldn't let me see any of the film until it was finished.
When it came out in 1961, it was the highest-grossing movie in America, but it was also coming off of Sleeping Beauty's financial failure. Did you or Marc or Walt imagine it would be so successful, financially?
Alice Davis: Well, yeah, because it was something that the whole family could enjoy. There were things in it that would scare children. I don't think to the point that some of the other films would. I think that it was a shame that Sleeping Beauty didn't go over as well as it should because the music was marvelous and they did a wonderful job of stylizing the background like a tapestry. Marc designed a wonderful pattern for her hair like when she was dancing in the forest and such. The whole thing was quite a beautiful film, but it was also a problem because it was a big wide screen, which they hadn't worked on before in animation. There was a lot of trouble in producing it.
What do you personally think of the animated films that are released today, and how do you think Marc would react to them as compared to the older Disney movies?
Alice Davis: Well, I think that the things that Pixar is doing are wonderful. I absolutely adored Ratatouille. It is marvelous. I've seen it four times already, and I'm going to see it again. I think Brad Bird is brilliant. All of those young men who are with Pixar, almost all of them were students of the Nine Old Men. In fact, in May at the Academy, the Marc Davis Lecture this year, we hope, will be the clips from the Nine Old Men animation chosen by, we hope Brad Bird will be one of them, John Lasseter, all of these men I've known since they were students. Pete Docter. And then show what they're work is with the computer and drawing and such, and what they learned from the Nine Old Men and what they changed with the times, but still keeping the heart in it, and keeping the stylized animation. I think they're doing a good job so far. I'm proud of them.
For the younger children that will be seeing this for the first time, what do you think this movie has to offer today's generation?
Alice Davis: How important it is to be kind to animals, and not allow things that are happening and to teach them how to take care of animals and be responsible for them. I think also they'll probably get scared a bit from Cruella, and that's good too to know that nasty people aren't well-liked, and it's better to be kind and enjoy beautiful things than to be evil and nasty.
That's about all I have for you, Alice. Thanks a lot for your time today.
Alice Davis: Thank you for calling me. It's a pleasure.
You can find the Platinum Edition of 101 Dalmatians on the DVD shelves now.