Much has been written about the prodigiously talented men who brought Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, and Dumbo to the screen. But if behind every good man stands a good woman, behind Walt Disney and his “boys”—the all-male assembly line—once stood 100. Walt was the impresario of a troop of young women, most under 25—a casting director’s dream of all-American acolytes—who made the screen light up, not with feathered swan dives or the perfect tip-tap of a patent-leather heel, but by making water shimmer or a tail wag just so. It was a job complicated by his unrelenting perfectionism—Jiminy Cricket required 27 different colors—but reducible to a simple imperative of the time: ever nimble but never showy, their job was to make what the men did look good.
Before my aunt Rae Medby McSpadden died, in 2002, she had begun to tell me the exciting, even cloak-and-dagger tales of her years at the Walt Disney Studios during its golden age. Inspired by her trailblazing career during a time when there were few professional female artists, I began interviewing the co-workers who had become her dearest friends. I came to realize they were real-life models for the dedicated working girls who populated movie screens in the 30s and 40s. Neither downtrodden factory workers nor madcap flappers who jumped into fountains, they may have been caught in a sand trap of repetitive, highly precise work where eyes strained, waistlines shrank, and some even fainted, but they loved what they did and wanted to be the best.
Really, that's your takeaway? That looking back at this is just pointless sneering?
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