hyperionstudios_b hyperionstudios_b

Photo Flashback: Disney in the late-1930s

Disney Hyperion Studios
(click for hi-res version)

This is a shot of Disney’s Hyperion studio circa the time of production on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Not to glamorize a past where artists made fifteen dollars a week, but sometimes it’s fun to take a look back at how things were. The girl in the foreground is wearing some type of uniform which makes me wonder if she was a visitor rather than an employee.

  • MichaelDair


    Maybe she was a piccolo player, from the nearby Marshall High School Marching Band?

  • i’m guessing she was some sort of model? everyone is totally checking her out in that photo!

    and heck, i remember when you guys posted a check from WB that was from back in the 40’s saying they got about 90/week. that’s about 1,000 a week today. i doubt disney was paying less! maybe in the beginning though eh?

    either way, it ain’t bad, and considering it was pretty steady and totally gratifying work! i just waited a couple months to get a check, and that’s “normal”.

  • amid

    Smo – A couple starting salary examples for studio newbies in the Thirties: David Swift was hired as a traffic boy at Disney around 1937 for $12/week. Hank Ketcham was hired to work as an artist in 1939 for $25/week. Disney could name its price during the Depression and it often wasn’t very high.

    • Tim Hodge

      I think Jack Kinney mentioned being hired for about $23/week in the 30s (from his biography “Walt Disney and Assorted Other Characters “). It wasn’t much but Disney was one of the few places that was hiring. And an artist was lucky to find work anywhere.

      • NC

        Worst part is that’s how much I’m making doing right now doing caricatures.

  • man those guys shouldda gone on strike! [har har]


  • my rule of thumb for $ amounts you see in old movies or articles… for the 1920’s or 1940’s you can multiply by 10 to get today’s dollars. In the 30’s there was deflation so the dollar bought more. Multiply by 15 for that period.

  • Shamus Culhane wrote in his memoir that Walt himself, who was familiar with his work, offered him a position with the incoming trainees in about 1935 at $50 a week. Walt knew that Culhane had been a director in NY and had made much more money than that, but that was what the entry-level promising men got and that was the only offer he was able to extend to Culhane-who took it(he wanted to work there that badly. He said that his dependents-his wife and mother-in-law-offered him no “back-slapping” when he got home with that news).
    The women inkers and assistants made much less than that.

    I’m thinking the majorette/usher here was either a model hired to pose for some drawing study, or a hired employee made up for a special event at the studio.

  • dbenson

    Maybe it’s just a peculiar dress design, perhaps homemade. She could be carrying a hat or a novelty handbag.

    Notice a few women among the onlookers, so wondering where this was taken. My impression was that the boys and girls were kept separate during actual work hours, so this might be near the cafeteria (the awnings seem a bit much for offices) or some other “neutral” ground.

  • chris george

    It would appear to me that the woman in the foreground is part of a parade and the people in the background are spectators.

  • Hell, a lot of us young kids took home forty bucks a week, and that was in 1956.

    But, you know what? That was a lot better than the “rat race” you’re all enjoying today. And, one added thing. We had a helluva lot of fun.

  • I’m currently writing a book on the history of the Hyperion property, covering the years 1925 through to 1939.

    The people watching are on the steps and lawn outside the front door of the bungalow, which was added to the property in late 1932.

    The bungalow had been home to various departments including: Publicity: Story: and Comic Strip. There is a great image of the bungalow in the “Ingeborg Willy” Robert Cowan published.

    The bungalow was located to the south of the sound stage, which was built in 1931, and to the east of the original studio building, which had been constructed in January/February 1926. The bungalow was one of several structures to make the move to Burbank in 1939/1940, where it is still used today.

    I don’t think the woman who is the focus of all the attention is wearing a uniform. I think it’s just a classy looking dress of the day.



  • Sylvain Dufour

    Regarding the girl in uniform with a little circular hat in her hand, it could be a model for a feature or a short in production. This uniform seem to be a circus one… I wander if it could be possible that the picture date from early 40s instead of 30s… perhaps during the production of Dumbo.
    Also she could only be a pedestrian who pass in front of the studio during the walk from her home to the marching band office…

  • David Breneman

    dbenson writes that “the awnings seem a bit much for offices”, but in the days before air conditioning, such awnings were common, even on very tall office buildings.

  • Thomas

    She was F*ckin mickey mouse.

  • The flat perspective of the background suggests this was shot with a long lens, creating a compression of distance. She might be not anywhere near the people in back and they might only appear to be looking at her.

    My mother would have been about that age then; I don’t think she or anyone she knew ever wore outfits like that as normal attire.

  • The oufit looks like that of a telegram delivery employee.

    To compare…


  • Nik

    I was watching the 1945 film “Leave Her to Heaven” and in one scene, the actress Gene Tierney is wearing a dressing gown with a very similar design on the front.

    The girl in the photo is probably carrying a little round leather purse.