Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World - Ann Shen (2016)
One of the most influential artists in Walt Disney Animation Studio’s history, Mary Blair (1911-1978) and her unparalleled color and design skills have continued to inspire generations that followed. Blair had fine-art dreams upon her graduation from Chouinard when the reality of the Great Depression compelled her and her soon-to-be husband, Lee Blair, to seek day jobs in the animation field. After brief stints at the MGM and Ub Iwerks studios, Mary joined the male-dominated Disney Animation Studio as a concept artist and colorist.
As part of the United States’ Good Neighbor policy at the dawn of World War II, Disney and a select group of his artists headed down to South America for a research tour to work on their next two films, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. When Mary heard of the trip (because her husband had been invited), she marched into Disney’s office and demanded she be on it too. And so she was. There her work flourished under the influence of folk art—and in the eyes of Walt Disney. He promoted her to art supervisor on those films, and her career took off. She went on to create the defining looks of Disney’s most iconic films, such as Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan.
After a decade with the studio, she left for a prolific freelance career that spanned fashion, advertising, and illustrations for multiple Little Golden Books, which are still in print today. In 1963, she was personally asked by Disney to design their newest attraction—the now classic “It’s a Small World”—for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. She developed the happiest work of her career in the darkest times of her life; Disney’s death in 1966 and Mary’s tumultuous personal life eventually led to alcoholism that sealed her fate. As is true of so many artistic geniuses, her incredible gift to the world came at a stiff personal price.