There are more than a few stories surrounding the production of Disney’s first significant live-action production, the 1941 feature The Reluctant Dragon, that have never been properly documented.
Among those tales is the “beauty pageant” held by Walt Disney to find female artists that he could cast in bit roles for The Reluctant Dragon. The contest, judged by Walt Disney himself, was designed to purportedly find six women for the film. Here are some photos from the “pageant”:
It’s unclear what role the pageant played in casting people for the film (it may have even possibly taken place after the filming of the movie), but it was clearly more publicity stunt than anything. Looking at the film, a number of the Disney Studio’s key women artists at the time participated in the filming, and there is no evidence that any of them took part in this pageant. Those artists include animator Retta Scott, effects animator Mildred Rossi, and sculptor Lorna S. Soderstrom.
In Hollywood fashion, the pageant, like many other aspects of the film, was a carefully staged fantasy. Even the interiors of the Disney studio depicted in The Reluctant Dragon were film sets. The pageant’s key motive was most likely to create a publicity angle for the film, and it was a successful ploy in that regard.
June Patterson, one of the ink-and-paint artists standing on the wall, speaks about the pageant experience in the video below (starting at around the 3:50 mark). “That was so scary,” recalls Patterson, who is wearing the two-piece bathing suit in the photo. “I have a thing about heights anyway and I had high heels on.”