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Women Who Changed the Disney Parks Forever: Alice Davis

Davis makes her mark at last

Pirates of the Caribbean

Image: Sam Howzit, Flickr (license)

There was no question that Davis was both innovative and skilled at her job, but not everyone understood the rigors—or the necessity—of making durable, accessible costumes. Well before Disney realized they needed a dedicated costuming department, they sent employees to source clothing from local Goodwill stores and sew the pieces together to make rudimentary outfits for the figures and animatronics stationed around the park. That simply wouldn’t work for the intricate period pieces (and even more intricate Audio-Animatronics) Walt envisioned for Pirates of the Caribbean.

Though she hadn’t yet gotten the green light from Disney, Davis began strengthening the costume material and duplicating costume pieces in order to save time and money on future repairs. Those who were unfamiliar with the process saw things differently. They thought she was wasting the company’s money on unnecessary expenditures, and told her as much.

For Davis, this was the last straw.

“I went back to the shop and thought, ‘It is embarrassing and upsetting to me that they have so little respect for me after working for them for so long. Why am I doing all this for a day worker’s salary?’” she said in 2007. After returning to the office, where she was told a salary raise was out of the question, she packed up her tools and went home.

Had Disney not recognized the valuable work Davis was doing, they might have lost a truly legendary talent that day. Luckily for all involved, it was a short-lived error. They told Marc to bring her into the office again the following morning, where they promptly re-hired her—with a raise, to boot.

“They apparently realized that it wouldn’t be so easy to replace me because no one else knew how to make pirate costumes for Audio-Animatronic figures,” she added.

A Legend lives on

Alice Davis

Image: Disney

By the time Davis hung up her scissors and steam iron in 1978, her costumes could be spotted everywhere from the cherub-cheeked children of “it’s a small world” and swarthy-faced buccaneers of Pirates of the Caribbean to the multi-century family in Carousel of Progress and Mission Control technicians in Flight to the Moon.

Today, her legacy—and her role at the company—lives on. Davis may no longer design costumes for the Disney Parks, but the swatches and patterns she created are still used to keep some of the vintage attractions running smoothly and looking, pardon the pun, uniform.

In recent years, she’s also consulted on additional projects for Disney, including Pixar’s 2009 animated feature, Up, and appeared at various Disney gatherings and community events. She was inducted as an official Disney Legend in 2004 alongside fellow Imagineers Bob Gurr and Rolly Crump (among eight deserving others), and, in the spring of 2012, her influential body of work was further honored with an engraved window on Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A.

You can spot it just to the left of the Main Street Cinema, where it proudly reads: “Small World Costume Co., Alice Davis, Seamstress to the Stars.”

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