By Olivia Fleming
PUBLISHED: 15:59 EST, 30 April 2013 | UPDATED: 16:55 EST, 30 April 2013
A rejection letter from Walt Disney, addressed to a young woman who had inquired about a job as an animator in 1938, highlights the blunt gender inequality that plagued women before World War II.
Kevin Burg, a graphic artist from New York, discovered the 75-year-old Snow White stationary-printed letter which belonged to his grandmother, Mary Ford, shortly after she passed away.
The letter, posted on Flickr, informed Ford that ‘women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men.’
Women who wanted to work at Walt Disney were instead give the position of Inker and Painter: meticulously tracing the already-animated characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink, and filling in the tracings with paint according strict directions.
‘Their job was to make what the men did look good,’ wrote Vanity Fair’s Patricia Zohn.
However, the letter addressed to Ford, notably signed by a woman, also named Mary, even discouraged her from leaving her Arkansas home to pursue an Inker and Painter career at the Hollywood-based studio.
‘There are really very few openings in comparison with the number of girls who apply,’ the letter states.
‘Preparing the cartoons for the screen… is performed entirely by young men’
One 88-yeer-old grandmother, who had her granddaughter comment on the Walt Disney rejection letter via Jezebel, explained: ‘”Tut tut tut..” That was the usual response to young ladies applying to careers which could possibly lead them astray.
‘There was a graphics class in my high school that discouraged girls from taking it…”no future,” it was told to applicants. I wanted to try and be interviewed for a job for Disney. [But] my parents thought a young girl going down to a city all alone, no living accommodations etc. was not a wise idea.’
Reidun Medby, then 20, was one Ink and Painter who heard that Walt Disney Productions was ‘thumbs down on girl animators,’ because ‘each time [a woman is] beginning to get good they’ve quit to get married or something,’ as told to Vanity Fair via a letter Medby wrote to her boyfriend in 1937.
Role for women: Rejected from animation, women were assigned to an Inker and Painter tole – tracing characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink, and filling in the tracings with paint according to directions
Changing times: It wasn’t until 1944, largely because of the men who left their Disney posts after Pearl Harbor, that the first Ink and Painter was promoted to an ‘assistant animator’ position
‘There was much more to being an inker than merely shoving a pen around,’ Medby added, of the importance of a steady hand. ‘I didn’t bowl, smoke, or drink. We were worried that our hands would shake.’
At an average of eight to ten cels per hour, 100 girls working from 4.30am every morning with two 15-minute breaks, completed less than one minute of screen time per day.
At the time, Ink and Painters earned $18 per week, while top animators made $300.
But by 1940, the same year Mary Blair would join Disney to become one of the most influential figures in American animation, night training for animators had been reinstated to well-established Ink and Painters.
Blair, who attended the renowned Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, and married animation artist, Lee Everett Blair in 1934, later joined her husband at Walt Disney in 1940 to color-style Dumbo, and went on to style Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland and finally, Peter Pan.
It wasn’t until 1944, largely because of men who left their Disney posts after Pearl Harbor, that the first Ink and Painter, Reidun Medby, was promoted to an ‘assistant animator’ position.