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Virginia Davis 1918-2009

Virginia Davis of Walt Disney’s Alice Comedies passed away this morning. She was 90 years old and had been in failing health this past year.

In 1923, Davis was picked by Walt Disney in Kansas City to star in his proposed series of live action and animation shorts. Davis followed the Disney Studio to Hollywood to star in over a dozen Alice Comedies. She was Disney’s first movie star.

Later in her career, Davis appeared in Three On a Match (1932), with Joan Blondell, Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, as well as The Harvey Girls (1946). Virginia was in the scene with Judy Garland and Ray Bolger where they introduced the Academy-Award winning song “On the Achison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.”

Above, in tribute, is a particularly fun Alice from 1924, Alice and the Dog Catcher (pardon the foreign titles, and some politically incorrect humor).

(Thanks, Steve Waller)

  • My wife and I were lucky enough to meet and spend the weekend with Virginia Davis a few years ago. We had come to help raise money for the restoration of Walt Disney’s old Laugh O’Gram studio in Kansas City.

    At the time, Virginia Davis was in her eighties, but sharp as a tack. She told us all about working for Walt Disney in the twenties, and how the boss had encouraged her to move to Hollywood to continue the “Alice Comedies.”

    She was an amazing woman, and we’ll truly miss her.

  • We’ll miss you, Miss Davis. While I knew the day would come, the book may have closed on the most interesting era of Disney history—is there any other link to the studio’s silent years still living?

  • Thad

    That’s too bad, I met her two years ago, and she was an absolute sweetheart.

  • Tom Pope

    This truly closes the book on that era. Imagine being with Disney in Kansas City! Not since the deaths of Walter Lantz and Grim Natwick have we lost someone with strong ties going back that far.

  • Bugsmer

    This is unfortunate. I liked seeing her on the Disney Treasures DVDs. She brought a lot of insight into a period of time that many of us can only wonder at. Thus ends the full life of the woman whom Walt wanted to model for Snow White.

  • Matthew K Sharp

    Farewell, Virginia Davis – you were great.

    “I hope we never lose sight of one thing – that this was all started by a little girl and her cartoon cat.”

  • Farewell, Virginia.

    You will certainly be remembered.

  • Mike Fontanelli

    Apparently, she was a natural. She played the role of Resi in The Viennese Medley (1925) at First National. The film’s director, Curt Rohfeld, remarked that Davis “… has the technique of a finished artist, the unusual ability to follow direction and the disposition of an angel. Not once during the picture was it necessary for me to explain any angle twice and, with all of her mature understanding, the youthful charm still remains, making a rare and appreciated combination.”

    The film clip shows Disney channeling Hal Roach. Roach made an Our Gang short called Lodge Night in 1923, a year before Alice and the Dog Catcher. That film also satirizes a certain secret organization, as the gang calls themselves the “Cluck Cluck Klams”(!) True to the childlike innocence and equal status nature of the series, both Farina and Sunshine Sammy Morrison are members in good standing at the meetings.

  • Christopher Cook

    Virginia was a cutie back in her Alice days. Nice to know she never lost her appeal.

  • I made three appearances with Virginia in recent years. The first was in June, 2006 at The Hollywood Heritage Museum. The second was at The Disney Barn in Griffith Park in November, 2007, and the last was Memorial Day weekend, May, 2008. I also provided the ALICE IN CARTOONLAND program for three of her appearances including The MidAtlantic Nostalgia Convention of 2007 and her most recent appearance in Kansas City this past spring.

    Viginia was a dear soul, and a wonderful woman. I flet very privileged to have become friends with her and her family in these last few years of her life. What is most important to realize about Virginia is that she was the lone survivor who was a witness to Walt Disney at the beginning of his career, and always gave a very credible account of what he was like as a person especially when he was a young man full of imagination and ambition. What should be remembered is that we don’t really comprehend history as well as when it is revealed throught the eyes of the individuals who witnessed it. In this, Virginia’s place in the Disney legacy holds a very precious position, offering a balance to all the detracting remarks that have been made about the man by people who never knew him.

  • Sad news, indeed.

    But have to ask. In the short, is that Walt as the dog catcher? Or simply an actor who resembled him in one of those odd coincedence type of things…

  • Mason Ireton

    I recently bought Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities and enjoyed the primitive yet captivating Alice Comedies. Virginia had such spark in her acting, she was being herself in those Alice shorts.

    Ms. Davis was one of the finest child actress I’ve ever seen and will truely be missed.

  • J.V.

    Virginia Davis provided a vital link to an important event in American entertainment history. We were fortunate to have her as long as we did.

  • Didier Ghez

    David, actually there is still at least one a link to the silent era days: Ruthie Tompson, born in 1910, who knew the Disney’s in the early ’20s, baby sat for Uncle Robert, and appeared as a kid in some of the Alice cartoons. Ruthie then worked on Snow White in Ink and Paint. At 99, she is still alive and well.

  • I literally just finished reading about her in Walt’s People 4 a few hours ago. Weird. Would have been nice to meet her.

  • She was a cutie. I hope someone got all the oral history she had in her down on tape while she was still here.

    @ John Cawley… This site has reconstructed credits for the Alice comedies:

    I wondered if it was Disney as the dogcatcher too, but he seems to have been “just” director and animator.

  • To John Cawley:

    Yes, Walt Disney was the evil Dog Catcher and also the Italian Street Peddler. The assistant Dog Catcher is “Max” Maxwell.

  • The Dog Catcher sure looks like Walt to me.

  • David Breneman

    John Cawley writes: “But have to ask. In the short, is that Walt as the dog catcher? Or simply an actor who resembled him in one of those odd coincedence type of things…”

    I watched the film before I read these comments and the same thing jumped out at me. It sure looked like Walt. Good way to save a few bucks on the cost of a bit player in those hand-to-mouth days. Just because Disney isn’t in the actors’ credits, it could still be him. If one appears in the credits too many times, it makes the studio seem cheap.

  • JB Kaufman

    Thanks for posting this, Jerry. I can only echo what your other correspondents have been saying: she was a real sweetheart and we can be grateful she stayed as long as she did. Toward the end of her life, I think it meant a lot to her that her significance in Disney history had been rediscovered and recognized. I bet she’s smiling as she reads all these comments!

  • How sad to hear of Virginia’s passing.
    She was a true treasure and a definite Disney Legend!
    I was just telling a friend the other day about having met and spoken with her on numerous occasions and that she was such a joy in person.
    Rest well Virginia, you were, and are, indeed loved.

  • Professor Widebottom

    The whole KKK “klub” thing is unsettling in retrospect. The film is also a testament to how ambitious Disney was in rounding up whatever resources he had to push the medium. Both he and Viginia were amazing.

  • Derek

    The sign at the opening reads “Secret Club of Klik Klaks” (with the s backwards). The sign on the wall at the 1:30 minute point reads “Klik Klak Klub”, not “Cluck Cluck Klams”. There are no “C’s” on either sign, so I have no idea how you came up that name.

  • Mike Fontanelli

    The sign on the wall at the 1:30 minute point reads “Klik Klak Klub”, not “Cluck Cluck Klams”. There are no “C’s” on either sign, so I have no idea how you came up that name.

    I thought I’d made it clear in my comment. It’s from the Hal Roach OUR GANG short that Disney is copying, Lodge Night (1923).

  • Danny R. Santos

    It’s sad to hear about people passing, but it’s much deeper when it come to people that contributed to animation in a historic way, R.I.P Virginia, I’m sure you contributed a lot to Walt’s success.

  • Jim Korkis

    The best source of information on Virginia is still WALT IN WONDERLAND by J.B. Kaufman and Russell Merritt. This book should be in every Disney fan’s library.

    The last time I talked with her, Virginia regretted that she had sold off some of her memoribilia like posters and letters from Walt but they are now in the hands of collectors who will hopefully take good care of them and preserve them for the future. She was still full of the same mischievous spunk she demonstrated in the Alice Comedies.

    Here is a link to an interview with Vriginia that provides a quick glimpse of her work at Disney:

    Walt popped up as performer in the Alice Comedies (he is the wacky distracted driver in the car filled with kids at the beginning of AlICE’S FISHY STORY) and really seemed to enjoy himself. Roy O. Disney seemed content to stay behind the camera.

  • Billy

    That amazing long take near the very end, shot from behind the car nearly going over the cliff really delivers the goods. Pretty impressive for a shoestring operation, and a testament to Walt’s youthful filmmaking drive.

  • Jim Saehan

    I met Virginia Davis at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Aberdeen a couple years ago. She had so much energy I recall telling myself I wish I have that much electric personality and drive when I get to her age. She talked all about the film shorts.

    Funny story. She sat at the table signing autographs all weekend at the convention and only die-hard animation buffs went up for an autograph. In the afternoon, the convention folks played a tribute produced by Ray Pointer, followed by her on-stage interview combo question and answer session. After the event, she returned to her table and the rest of the day it was like pulling teeth to get an autograph as everyone who was not an animation fan realized just who she was and how important she was for the Disney legacy. And Miss Davis must have been signing autographs all day constant with no break in between signings.

    She was truly inspirational.

  • Bill Turner

    I posted the following on a facebook comment, so please forgive the repeat if you’ve seen it.

    It’s always been my opinion that the entire Disney company and perhaps the animation industry was due to this one person. Walt was failing in his attempt to sell cartoons in Hollywood. He was going to try to be an actor. He got his big contract only on the condition that Virginia be the star of his Alice series. He might have given up, otherwise. Alice led to Oswald which led to Mickey. His films encouraged others such as Fleischer, Lantz and others to make better films to compete. Shorts led to features and TV cartoons. As is, Fleischer, Warner Bros cartoons, Lantz and others eventually failed or petered out. Without competition from Disney, they might not have gotten as far as they did and animation might have gone the way of Newsreels and movie travelogues. Thank you Virginia!

  • Mark Sonntag

    Walt always said “It all started with a mouse.” It really started with Alice – Virginia Davis. Farewell Virginia and thank you.

  • Laurieanne Z.

    Wow, on behalf of Virginia’s family thank you for all of the nice comments, especially our dear friends, Ray, Steve and JB, and to Bill T. I don’t think I know you, but I already like you. My mom would love all of this as she did everything Disney. She always spoke highly of Walt and the entire Disney family. She will be greatly missed, and I am greatful her “Legacy” will live on through Disney History.

  • Michelle

    What a dear person, she will be missed by many. At least I got to meet and get her autograph at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Aberdeen Md. She was so cute at the convention she meeted and greeted everyone so nice.