Norma Swank-Haviland, a Disney animator and an uncredited voice actor for Chip of Chip ‘n’ Dale, passed away in early April of this year.
Swank-Haviland was one of the few surviving artists who worked at Walt Disney Studios during the 1940s. She spent 28 years working for the ink and paint department as a painter and an animation final checker.
Born in Alaska in 1925, she spent her childhood in Washington before heading south to Glendale, California with her family. Once there, she began working in traffic for Walt Disney Studios before moving to the ink and paint department, where she would spend most of her career. Her first feature work came on 1944’s The Three Caballeros.
“That particular picture had a lot of feathers,” she once told historian Mindy Johnson, author of Ink & Paint : The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation, “that was a little difficult for a beginning painter with all those little pointy things!”
While at the studio, other opportunities came her way, and eventually she stated to do voice acting work. Her debut came in 1946’s Casey at the Bat, where she can be heard shouting “Kill him! Kill the umpire!” Swank-Haviland also helped out by doing voicework for the mice in Cinderella and singing on Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom.
But her biggest recurring contribution came when she was asked to voice Chip (the black-nosed chipmunk). Along with Dale, the two chipmunk brothers first appeared as side characters in the 1943 short Private Pluto before headlining their own theatrical shorts starting in the mid-1940s. The role of Chip during this period is commonly credited to Disney sound effects department head Jimmy MacDonald, however women from the ink-and-paint department were commonly recruited to perform voices uncredited in films. While it’s impossible to know where Swank-Haviland’s contributions end and MacDonald’s begin, it’s safe to say that both of their voices can be heard on the Chip ‘n’ Dale shorts of the 1940s-50s.
When Swank-Haviland retired from Disney in 1971, she worked as a final checker. “In the final checking, which was much more demanding, I had quite a bit of training,” she told Johnson. “We had to know everything about ‘camera,’ and we had to go through each scene as if we were shooting in camera.”
Swank-Haviland leaves behind a legacy that has held up for nearly eight decades. Chip, the character she voiced for many years, will appear later this month in a new Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers feature on Disney Plus.
“The main thing I was most proud of, was the fact that I was at Disney’s,” she recalled when speaking with Johnson. “I was doing motion picture work and I’ve always been a motion picture buff… I still am very proud of the fact that I worked at Disney’s.”
Pictured above, Norma Swank-Haviland, via Mindy Johnson’s website